Monday, November 7, 2011

Marathon Weekend: Four Restaurant Reviews

The “marathon” reference in my title is not just referring to the fact that I went on a binge of visiting many restaurants last weekend, it has a double meaning… I also ran my first marathon!  (As did Jarrett!)  It was definitely one of the most difficult things I have ever done, not only the event itself, but also the 17 weeks of training in which I ran over 350 miles, as well as 2-3 days a week of cross and/or strength training.  It was also one of the most rewarding.  I am happy to say that I smoked my original goal of 4:45, and even beat my updated goal of 4:30 to finish in 4:26:48.  Maybe not legendary, but I ran the entire time and am still very pleased with myself.  And I have plenty of time to run many more marathons and beat this time.

Anywho, part of marathon success is attributed to “carbing up” in the 3 to 7 days prior to the race.  As this blog progresses, you’ll realize that my eating habits are usually in a state of “carbing up” so there wasn’t much I needed to change.  However, I do contribute my successful race to the food choices I made in the days leading up to it.

Nando’s Peri-Peri
224 Boardwalk Place
Gaithersburg, MD 20878

Nando’s specializes in Portuguese chicken and they have multiple locations in the DC metro area.  Similar to Buffalo Wild Wings (Bbubs!) in that you can “choose your own heat” for any of the chicken items, they also have extra sauces and condiments that you can bring to your table.

Nando’s was Friday lunch with coworkers (I work in Rockville, hence the Gaithersburg location), so I can’t speak to their dinner atmosphere or their cocktail quality (they did have what appeared to be a decent alcohol menu).  However, it worked extremely well for a group lunch… you were seated, then you order and pay at the counter, then your food is brought to your table.  This was my first time here, and I would definitely go back to sample more of the menu and “heats”.

I got the Chicken Breast Sandwich with “Lemon and Herb” as my heat. 

Not very hot, I know.  Normally, I would be more adventurous, but considering that my marathon was less than 48 hours away, I felt like throwing spicy things into my plumbing was not the best idea.  However, the chicken was very moist and the fact that it was grilled made me feel like I was being healthy:)  The bread left a little to be desired, but just a little… not a lot.  And the pop machine (sorry, I’m from Michigan… so it’s “POP”, not soda) was AWESOME!

781 7th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Friday dinner was date night at Zengo, a Latin-Asian fusion tapas-style restaurant.  LOOOOOVE fusion restaurants!  Probably because I’m a very indecisive person.  I also LOOOOOVE tapas-style restaurants because I like to eat as much off of the menu as possible, especially if it’s my first time somewhere (P.S. not my first time here, but it's been awhile).  That being said, my overall view of Zengo is about average.

Again, I didn’t want to irritate the plumbing so close to the marathon, so I had made 7:15pm reservations, a bit earlier than we would normally do dinner, so that we could get to bed early, get plenty of sleep, and wake up early.  I also wasn’t going to have any alcohol to keep myself in tip-top condition.  (Trust me, when you get to know me better or if you already know me well, not having any alcohol at dinner is extremely rare, and a big deal for me.)  Both of these intentions got completely destroyed.

So when Zengo calls to confirm your reservation, they make a big deal about how you must arrive within 15 minutes of your reservation or else they will give away your table.  Totally understandable.  We were a few minutes late, which was par for the course for me, arriving at 7:22pm.  Upon checking in with the hostess, we were informed that they were running “just a little bit behind”, but people were asking for checks and leaving so it shouldn’t be too long.  Though they couldn’t tell us exactly how long, or even provide us with an estimate.  Except that there were 5-6 groups in front of us.  Damn!  Normally, I would just eat elsewhere (plenty of options in Chinatown), but I should probably mention that it was my intent to use a livingsocial deal that was expiring on Sunday.  I didn’t want to lose my $25 that I paid for $50 worth of food!  So we waited.  I did, however, ask for a menu so that we could order immediately upon sitting down.

After an indeterminate amount of time, I forced my way through the masses that were quickly accumulating by the front door, to check in with the hostess again.  Now only 1 group in front of us.  But I was pretty mad.  So I asked, “Aren’t you going to offer us drinks or anything for not being able to honor our reservation?”  Apparently Zengo follows an “ask and you shall receive” mantra so at least we each got a free glass of wine.  Finally, at 7:55 pm, we were seated!

Our first three dishes came out at the same time:  Salted Edamame, Lobster Sushi Roll, and Charred Tuna Wonton Tacos.

The edamame was great and had somewhat of a smoky flavor.  I had very high expectations for the sushi and the tacos and was let down.  I couldn’t really taste the fish in either.  In the case of the tacos, there were a lot of accompaniments which overpowered the fish, but most of them were awesome (including guac, mmmm) which made the situation better.  However, the wonton tacos were not formed as well as they could have been, and a lot of the toppings fell out/ran all over my hands.

Our next dish:  Pork Belly Steamed Buns.

My expectations were average, and these buns blew them out of the water!  The pork had a great flavor with great accompaniments, and the buns were the perfect consistency.  My only complaint is that you only get two buns in an order so each of us only got one:(

Usually our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we would normally order another dish before dessert, but we somehow exercised self-control on this occasion and went straight for dessert:  Churros Y Chocolate.

Note:  This was a few churros in.  Sometimes I forget to take pictures when I'm excited about eating.  Working on that.

I felt like we got the proper amount of churros for the price, and while the chocolate was a tad thinner than I would have liked, it had a great flavor.  (And since it was on the thin side, Jarrett let me drink it once the churros were gone!)

So even though this experience started off poorly, it did end well.  P.S.  I always look at the menu if I have to wait for a table… saves so much time!

425 7th St. NW
Washington, DC 20004

By Saturday night, it was time for our most carbilicious meal (and in my opinion, this is the most important meal before a race).  We, stereotypically, wanted pasta, and since my rents and Jarrett’s mom arrived in town on Saturday afternoon, I also didn’t feel like making it myself.  So Carmine’s it was!

I used to not be a huge fan of Carmine’s.  I was very put off by the fact that their pasta was not homemade, and you weren’t really saving that much money by going to a family-style palce.  And you do have to be somewhat in sync with your fellow diners.  However, I have a number of friends who love Carmine’s, and I was forced to go over and over again.  At some point in time, I started to enjoy it.  I think perhaps, my tastes were becoming a bit “snobby” and I was expecting “creations”.  I’ve now changed my expectations and appreciate Carmine’s for their traditional family-style Italian food (and the fact that you feel like the mob could walk in at any moment).

We started off with the Carmine’s Salad, meat on the side (Jarrett’s mom is a pescetarian).  Good traditional starter.  For the main carb-loading event, we got the Penne Marinara and Chicken Marsala with Rigatoni.

This picture does not do the amount of pasta justice.

Since 4 of us eat meat and one does not, this was a way to make everyone happy.  Normally, I would prefer something with lots of garlic (the more, the better), and was trying to go a bit on the bland side… but the marinara was delicious and not bland at all.  Enough garlic to make me happy, but not so much that I was sweating it out as I slept.  With respect to the chicken marasala, my mom kept saying, “this is the best chicken marsala I’ve ever had”.  I don’t usually get chicken marsala, so I’d probably have to agree!

Pizzeria Paradiso
3283 M St. NW
Washington, DC 20007

This was a post-marathon recovery meal, and in retrospect, we could not have picked anywhere to eat that would have been as perfect:)  And it was complete accident that we ended up eating here.  So Jarrett and I finished the marathon meeting our time goals, found our parents, and set off to the metro.  Line for metro was a block long… and that was only outside the station… so we decided to walk across the Key Bridge to catch a cab and along the way decided we’d rather have Pizzeria Paradiso than go home!  And carbs covered in cheese was exactly what our bodies needed anyway!  We were lucky enough to get one of their last open tables before the place was packed with other marathon finishers who thought like we did.

I started with the Insalata Mista to get my veggies in (lettuce is carbs after all).  Nothing special here, but the pizza is where it’s at!  We got the Margherita with Buffalo Mozzarella and the Bosco with Sausage, which was perfect for the 5 of us and again, everyone had meat and non-meat options.  And their wood-fired pizza was excellent, as always.  To make matters more awesome, they also have a very extensive bottle and draught menu featuring beers from around the world.  I was in the mood for a nice wheat beer to wash all that pizza down (side note:  beers is carbs, too), and ordered something off of their draught list with “Hopslosion” in the title.  All in all, awesome regardless of if you just finished a marathon, or are just looking for some great pizza.  And sorry, no pictures from here… my brain may or may not have been operating properly… cut me some slack, I had just run 26.2 miles!

Our post-marathon dinner was Buffalo Wild Wings, but since BDubs is inherently awesome, and a chain, it requires no further write-up at this time:)

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