Quick Hits: Chaia

Chaia
3207 Grace Street, NW
Washington, DC 20007
Hours: M-W 11-8, Sat 10-8, Sun 11-6

When I first heard the idea of a vegetarian taco shop in Georgetown, my immediate reaction was one that any meat eating person would have: That doesn’t sound good.

I was wrong.

Chaia’s tacos are in fact very good.  Using some interesting combinations of hearty vegetables, the tacos have a ton of flavor and you won’t be left feeling hungry afterwards.  There aren’t a whole lot of options, but the three that I tried were all quite good (all with corn tortillas).  I put them in order of my favorite here:

  • Creamy Kale + Potato with pepperjack, poblano crema, green sauce + pickled onions
  • Winter Squash with caramelized onion, ricotta salata, chipotle yogurt + mint
  • Mushroom with feta, red sauce + cilantro

Do I still think tacos with meat are better?  Yes.  However, my view of what typically makes good taco filling has been significantly altered and I can honestly say that I’ll be going back.

Bandolero

Bandolero
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007
202.625.4488

Bar opens at 4pm Monday – Wednesday
Dinner service begins at 5pm.

MONDAY – TUESDAY
4pm – 10pm

WEDNESDAY
4pm – 11pm

THURSDAY – SATURDAY
12pm – 11pm
bar and until 12am

SUNDAY
12pm – 10pm

Mike Isabella has certainly been keeping himself busy.  The Top Chef contestant fame recently opened up a second restaurant in the Washington, D.C. area with the same small plate style offerings that he’s known for.  While Graffiato is his restaurant with small plate italian offerings, Bandolero is a mexican twist on the small plates – again not to be confused with tapas.  Similar in look and feel to Graffiato, the downstairs level of Bandolero has a loud bar and and open kitchen and the upstairs has a quieter dining room.  However, Bandolero promises to be far busier than Graffiato with its location right on M street in the heart of Georgetown, so be prepared to see a lot of the yuppie types drinking and dining there.

Because the restaurant just opened last month, the service was extremely attentive – but almost too attentive.  Our waitress, while very polite, friendly, and on top of everything, was almost suffocating with the amount of times she came over to check in on us.  My guess is this will tone down once Bandolero has been open for a while.  That was pretty much the only really negative thing I could say about the place.  The cocktail list is impressive and the margaritas are excellent.  The food was quite good, but priced in the same way that Graffiato prices its food – expensive, small portioned, but high quality.

Despite what our waitress said about each person usually getting 2 or 3 plates for their own – I was quite content with splitting 4 plates between two people (that being said, some of the small plates may be larger than others).  Here’s a quick review of what we tried:

El Mata Amigos Margarita – super tasty, but because they use seasonal fruits to make it the one you get might not be what we had, which was pickled pear.  In all honestly however, it tasted at first like a spiked watermelon sherbet cooler which was awesome on a humid 90 degree Washington, D.C. summer day.

Guacamole – very good, but probably not worth $13.  I’ve had similarly good guacamole at other restaurants, so while it was very good – it wasn’t standout.  They do give you a healthy portion to dip your chips and chicarrones (what I’m pretty sure were large pork rinds) in as well as a side of spicy salsa.

Crispy Mahi Mahi Taco – order comes with two fish tacos and the Mahi Mahi is crisp to perfection.  Sprinkle some lime juice on there and it makes for a really, really awesome fish stick taco (I try to say that without it sounding too sarcastically…though that’s what it was).

Suckling Pig Taco – the waitresses recommendation, order comes with three pork tacos with a healthy helping of shredded pork and pork skin on each.  You can taste a fair amount of spiciness from the habenero, and while I thought it was still a little dry for my palate – it’s worth giving it a try.

Alambres – my favorite dish of the meal, the order comes with four silver dollar sized spiced hangar steaks.  The meat was definitely spicy and it was matched well with the morsel of chimichurri sauce that accompanied each piece of meat.  The meat itself was cooked to a perfect medium rare.

So all in all Bandolero gives you a fun dining experience, but at a pretty penny.  Because of the location and the way the food is prepared, this is a pretty great place to take a date.  So, like Graffiato, I would only recommend going there if you have a special occasion and you’re not famished because while the food is good, you don’t want to regret not going to the Chipotle next door because you didn’t know what you were getting into at Bandolero.  Grade: B+

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Kafe Leopold’s

3318 M Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20007
(202) 965-6005

Open Mon-Wed,Sun 8am-10:30pm; Thu-Sat 8am-12am

Now that the spring weather is starting to slowly come upon us, I like to try and take advantage of any restaurants with outdoor seating.  So on the first comfortable Sunday of March, my buddies and I tried to find a place to have brunch in Washington, D.C. and decided on Kafe Leopold‘s.

Located off the main drag of M Street in Georgetown, Kafe Leopold’s is a yuppi-ish, European joint with clientele that falls under the category of either having western European decent and/or upper middle class Georgetowner.  Needless to say my friends and I don’t really fit into either one of those categories, so we were sort of out of place (but not uncomfortably so).

With the goal of trying to get one of the tables outside, we came upon Kafe Leopold’s and the couple dozen other people trying to do the same thing.  There are about twelve tables on their patio, however only about five of them can accommodate more than two people.   And by the way, the outdoor section is dog friendly if you decide you want to bring your pooch along.

My party was hungry enough that we decided to pass on waiting for outdoor seating and signed up for first available.  The wait was long; we were told 30 minutes and it ended up being more like an hour.  The host was apologetic and checked in on us several times, which softened the irritation a little, but still an hour wait was a pretty long time.  We couldn’t really blame anyone however.  Sunday brunch is a time to lounge around and enjoy the company of the table you’re at, so we couldn’t really fault the current patrons who were enjoying their meals slowly.  Like I said, the clientele was very European.

When we did get seated, we were taken indoors.  The interior will remind you of a IKEA dining room, with a lot of white space all around and the solid, modern looking furniture.  The only hint of color was a curious orange couch in the middle of the room which reminded us of Gaudi’s bench in Park Guell in Barcelona.  There was also a fairly large display case of mouth watering pastries and cakes sitting there and teasing our rumbling stomachs.

Once seated, we ordered a few appetizers and bunch items.  I had a Mrs. Palmer cocktail (Sweet Tea Vodka, Lemonade, and Ginger Beer I think) which was the best part of the meal (sadly).  The croissant I ordered (I succumbed to the temptation of the pastry display) was buttery, flakey, and quite good, but nothing special.  We ordered a prosciutto platter as an appetizer as well, which was alright as well, except for the fact that it annoyingly showed up with our main dishes.

My $15 chive and cheese omlette however was pretty boring and I probably could have made a much better one myself at home.  The omlette came with a small green salad and three small pieces of toast (which added up to maybe one piece of white bread), and those didn’t really pair that well with the eggs.  One of my friends ordered the same thing and had the same reaction.  Our third friend had the Belgian waffle with chocolate and he too was underwhelmed by his meal because the waffle itself was no larger than a frozen Eggo waffle (probably better to get your brunch waffles at Belga Cafe in Eastern Market).

Bottom line: All in all, the experience wasn’t horrible, but it’s not worth it unless you get the outdoor seating on a nice day.  But I’m always willing to give a restaurant a second chance and I might go back to try their regular lunch/dinner because those menu items did look much better on other customers’ tables.  C+