Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Museums and Dim Sum in Warshnin

I headed down to the DC area today for a little bit of this and a little bit of that, and a little bit of something else to boot.

A Little Bit of This: Sharper Image goes out of business

Get to a Sharper Image soon because they have been liquidated! Every Sharper Image store in the nation is closing down as of late July or early August at the latest. You might find a nice knife set. I picked up the Ion Tape2PC USB Cassette to MP3 device, a device the likes of which I have craved for years. Yes, I know all I have to do is hook my stereo up to my sound card and I can get the same results. But I don't have a stereo with audio jacks in the back - the speakers connect in a totally different way. So basically I'm connecting the headphone jacks of my PC and my stereo, which produces a very quiet sound with lots and lots of static. And even with that, my stereo and my computer are in two totally different rooms. Hopefully this won't sound like crap, but most reviews I've read suggest that it won't. Normally it sells for about $140 to $150. Not this one! I got it for $100 before the $10 tax - about 33% off. The prices are just gonna keep droppin' so be fast. But just to inform you: the Sharper Image in Towsontown Center closed down months ago. The closest one is in Bethesda's Montgomery Mall - a "Westfield" Mall. There are three others in the DC region - Georgetown, Dulles and McLean.

A Little Bit of That: Dim Sum at A&J Restaurant

On the advice of the Washingtonian Magazine's 100 Best Bargain Restaurants in and around DC, I went to the very first one on their list, Rockville's not-so out of the way A&J Restaurant, which serves Northern Chinese dim sum (there's a second one in ArlingtonAnnandale). Oh! My! God! This place was just fantastic! They were very busy but the waitress seats you as quickly as you come in, hands you a menu and a pencil and comes back with a pot of hot green tea ready for your order. You just indicate what you want. Prices range from about $1 or $2 for a nice, palate-cleansing bowl of millet congee to bigger chicken, pork or beef dishes for $4 to $6. No one dish is very big or pricey - think Northern Chinese tapas if you're not familiar. But like tapas, if you order too many, you fill up and your wallet gets drained very quickly. And BRING CASH, PEOPLE! A&J does not take credit cards.

As is usually the case, I ordered too damn much (no, not a single dumpling or meat bun). And it was all wonderful.

Pardon the blurriness. I took these with my camera phone. Left to right - boiled peanuts, pickled cabbage, and millet congee

Millet congee - I think the waitress was surprised that a non-Chinese guy was ordering congee. She actually asked if I like congee. The reason I ordered it was as a palate cleanser. But I wouldn't have ordered it had I thought it was nasty, so I said, "Yeah". It's plain, bland and thick, but it's supposed to be. The perfect breakfast food to get you up and energized in the morning.

Pickled cabbage - I was thinking a Northern Chinese version of kimchee, though I knew it wouldn't be exactly the same thing. I was right - not the same thing. Not too spicy, very crunchy and tangy, but unlike kimchee it will not burn your tongue or drip everywhere.

Spicy boiled peanuts - This was one item recommended by the Washingtonian's staff. I ordered it because I was intrigued, and hey, I like boiled peanuts. These are very different from any boiled peanut you will find below the Mason-Dixon Line. Alone, each peanut is savory, spicy but not too spicy. Together the spiciness can build. Fortunately, it's tough to eat more than one or two at a time with a pair of chopsticks (they will offer you a fork if you want one).

Left to right - green tea, chicken smoked-on-the-bone, the peanuts, pork shao bing, and the cabbage.

Smoked chicken - As I heard on NPR yesterday, many Chinese believe that the tenderest chicken meat is next to the bone. They don't play around. I got to find this out today. The skin was fatty and the meat was so moist - not dry in any way. True, there were little bits of bone everywhere, but not too difficult to break apart from the meat. The flavor was just remarkable. I only regret that I couldn't take this with me, lest it sit in my hot trunk all day.

Pork shao bing - Another thing that the Washingtonian raves about is shao bing, or little flatbread sandwiches, often covered with sesame, stuffed with meat. Mine had pork in it. This was really my least favorite dish, as the bread was too dry for my liking and the pork kinda got lost in the mix. But you might like it.

Left to right - Thousand Layer pancake. Yep, that's all that's in the photo.

Thousand layer pancake - I had forgotten about this when the waitress brought it out. My first thought was "Oh shit, as if I didn't have enough to eat!" This is pretty difficult to eat with chopsticks, and it makes a terrible mess flaking all over the place. So I just gave up and asked them to box it, along with the peanuts and cabbage. What little I had was a sometimes-flaky, sometimes-chewy, sometimes-flavorless pastry that really needs some spicy sauce on top. Which they have aplenty.

Total cost of the meal was $16 for all that food. It would have been less had I exercised some temperance. It's more than one group of lunchers could do -two women and a man, all co-workers came in and pretty much didn't know what to expect. The guy spent a few minutes asking if they had General Tso's chicken, then if she had even heard of it, and then if they had any kind of fried chicken dish on the menu (no, na-ah and nope). Not that kind of a Chinese restaurant. So they gave up and left. The woman behind me, a woman with her Chinese-American parents, remarked at how they had just given up! I should have recommended the smoked chicken.

By the way, right next door there's an Entenmann's Outlet Store. Go to it if you like cheap Entenmann's products.

A little bit of something else to boot - After lunch I hopped on the Red Line (the Metro stop is very close by the Twinbrook Station) and museum-hopped. It's great that the museums are open late in the summer. it sucks that they were closing early just for today, the day I came down. But I did get to see a sneak preview of the Natural History Museum's underwater mammals exhibit, their gems and minerals, the National Gallery of Art's "Treasures of Afghanistan" traveling exhibit, and a great exhibit showcasing dresses of Native American woman artists at the Museum of the American Indian (only there until early August and it's breathtaking so get down there to see it). I stopped in the Mitsitam Cafe, only to leave daunted by the $3 price tag on the absolutely cheapest item (the Washingtonian had this place on its "cheap eats" list a few years ago!?!?).

After getting back to my car, and further daunted by the Capitol Beltway, I circumvented it with my trusty GPS and took the backroads back from Rockville to College Park (technically Hyattsville though I did cut through University of Maryland). This time, I wanted to stop by a favorite international market I had gone to in my days as a student at the University of Maryland. The market was still there, though now not under the same owners. In the pat it had a wider range of Latin American, African and (mostly) Asian ingredients - and I don't mean the kind you will find in the "ethnic" section of Giant. Ten years later, and now it's a Bestway Market, a predominantly Latin American chain with four stores in DC, Maryland and Virginia, with some African and (much less so) Asian foods thrown in. Actually, it's mostly Mexican and Central American, with some South American, African and Asian foods thrown in. I went in to get some annatto seeds to make a cochinita pibil, and picked up some Yucatecan hot sauce and couscous to boot. Total cost: about $6.50. They had cheeses from Michoacán, Oaxaca and El Salvador, but it cost me too much, so I had to pass. These I can probably get on Eastern Blvd.

A & J on Urbanspoon


Meghan said...

I looooove dimsum... so glad it turned out great for you. Gotta add that to the list of places to try!