Review of 2022

2021 brought a tremendous change to our lives when my wife Jun and I moved from New York City to the Washington D.C. metro area. We honestly thought we were going to live in NYC forever and therefore the move (necessitated by my new job that I am still very happy with) required a ton of adjustments, especially for Jun who had been living in the Big Apple since she graduated from college. One of the biggest question marks of course was what type of impact the move would have on our culinary journey. I did live in DC during my college years at Georgetown but back then the city was not known for its dining scene. After being spoiled from all the outstanding restaurants in New York City, would we be able to find our favorite dining destinations in the District? Initially, we weren’t so sure, after several misfires at even some of the more popular and highly reviewed places (I won’t name names here), and I had to constantly console Jun that we would eventually find our spots. On our second year in DC, I feel like we have finally found our bearing and discovered places that we would absolutely love to be regulars going forward. Additionally, we visited New York City from time to time to reconnect with people at our favorite restaurants from time to time (and also check out a few newly opened places). For our anniversary in April, we also visited France to travel around the Burgundy wine region (our favorite wine region in the world for sure) as well as spend a few days in Paris; not surprisingly, we found some really memorable gems during that trip. Lastly, after encouragement from Jun and colleagues at work, I finally decided to start regularly writing on the blog again in the second half of this year. I felt like it was about time when things are starting to get back to normal and restaurants are not as constrained in their operations as they used to be during the height of the pandemic. It took a bit of time to get my writing going again, but I think I’ve finally re-anchored myself in this endeavor. I hope to continue to keep up the work of exploring restaurants (both old and new) and writing about our experience in 2023 and beyond.

Top Dishes of the Year

1. Honey and Soy Lacquered Chicken @ Rose’s Luxury (Washington, DC)

I honestly don’t know how Jun and I never ended up visiting chef Aaron Silverman’s Rose’s Luxury, which arguably put DC on the dining map after it was named the best new restaurant of 2014 in the Bon Appetit magazine. The ingenuity of the kitchen that prepares New American dishes in an unexpectedly brilliant manner is probably second to none in the District and we were struggling to think of a place that gave this type of memorable experience during our time in New York City. I dare any fine dining restaurant to come up with a chicken dish as delicious as the honey and soy lacquered poultry that we had on our first visit. 

2. Duck Magret @ Imperfecto (Washington, DC)

One of the best restaurants we visited in 2022 was Imperfecto where we had the opportunity to explore the degustation experience at the communal chef’s table by Venezuela born chef Enrique Limardo. We loved the restaurant’s motto that it will seek perfection (but will never achieve it nor does it want to), and the tasting menu with Mediterranean and Latin American accents was an impressive tour de force. Among all the outstanding dishes that we had tried at the restaurant during our three visits in 2022, one of my absolute favorite was the impeccably roasted duck breast with pan seared foie gras; it’s hard to beat a duck dish as meticulously prepared as this one.

3. BBQ’d Lamb Kebobs @ Albi (Washington, DC)

Albi, which means Arabic for “my heart,” has been labeled one of the best new restaurants in the country (not just DC), and for legitimate reasons. The swanky restaurant from chef Michael Rafidi showcases the Levantine cuisine inspired by the chef’s roots in the Middle Eastern region, many of them prepared over a hearth at the center of the kitchen. We found ourselves visiting Albi time after time (yes, a formal KenScale review is on its way in the near future), and one of the biggest reasons has to do with the absolutely wonderful lamb kebobs. The kitchen really delivers on this signature dish and makes a statement on how to properly cook a lamb dish.

4. Spaghetti alla Chitarra @ Reveler’s Hour (Washington, DC)

Jun is an awesome pasta cook so my expectations when it comes to pasta dishes at restaurants can be unrealistically high at times. We weren’t sure if we would be able to find great pasta restaurants in DC, but Reveler’s Hour resoundingly answered that question. This is the best pasta restaurant in DC, period, and you will know that is an absolutely true statement after taking the first bite of this spaghetti dish with wood roasted mushrooms and shallots. We are generally partial to pasta dishes with meat or seafood ingredients, but at the time we tried this exceptional dish with earthy note, we did not miss any animal products and was very sad that the same dish was not available on our subsequent visit.

5. Les Oeufs en Meurette @ Ma Cuisine (Beaune, France)

Our trip to the Burgundy wine country in April was simply magical. I was very humbled to walk around the most sacred vineyards in the world and sample some of the most highly coveted wines. We also ate very well, and one place that we were particularly fond of was Ma Cuisine in Beaune. There is nothing fancy about this modest bistro that doesn’t try too hard and focuses on putting together soulful French classics. If you have a chance to check out this homey establishment, this dish of poached eggs in red wine sauce is an absoulte must. We just couldn’t stop enjoying the savory combination of the eggs and pork lardons in the wonderful wine sauce. A perfect pairing with some refined Burduny red wine!

6. Barbecued Pork and Beets @ Le Soufflot (Meursault, France)

The best restaurant we visited during our Burgundy trip was Le Soufflot in Meursault. We were very impressed with the modern French cuisine at this upscale restaurant that showed very good creativity and execution overall (plus, the extensive wine list helped). The best dish of the night was this beautifully plated barbecued pork with beets. The pork was simply perfectly smoked to give the type of texture that you want from this meat. After getting a bite of this beauty and a sipping a glass of gorgeous Gevrey-Chambertin red, your magical life in the wine region is complete. Also, don’t skip the optional comte cheese plate at the restaurant. You won’t regret it.

7. Meuniere Turbot @ Granite (Paris, France)

When we planned our itinerary in Paris after Burgundy, I was struggling to choose from all the outstanding restaurants in the city for our culinary excursion. After browsing the blog of the noted food critic Alexander Lobrano, I decided to give a try to a fairly new restaurant helmed by a young chef named Tom Meyer, and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in our trip! Granite’s modern French cuisine was truly outstanding and there was simply no boring dish. We’ve certainly had our share of turbot fish before, but the one at Granite, accompanied by smoked beet cream, deserves a case study of how this highly coveted dish should be prepared.

8. Oabika Sweetbreads @ Granite (Paris, France)

Similarly, the last savory course at Granite was just as fantastic. Sweetbread (made of calf or lamb organs) is certainly the first piece of meat we would go after, and its rich flavor can turn some people off. What the kitchen at Granite did was to add passion fruit flavor to give the citrusy touch to neutralize that effect to an outstanding result. And the tender texture of the sweetbread made me crave this dish even after we went back home. A true showstopper that makes Granite a truly worthy dining destination in Paris. I know we will certainly be back here next time we visit the City of Light. 

9. Catfish Dry Curry @ Thai Chef (Rockville, Maryland)

Jun and I are obsessed with Thai food and while we had a very good dinner at Baan Siam in DC last year, we were hoping to find a place somewhere close to our home in Maryland where we could just drive for a few minutes. We were very lucky to discover Thai Chef in Rockville, and whenever we have a craving for Thai food, it quickly became our go-to joint to savor deliciously spicy dishes. The star of the restaurant’s menu is this catfish dry curry, where the carfish filet is lightly battered and sauteed with addictive curry paste. If you are in need of some heat, this dish will most certainly deliver, and even after sweating out the heat, you won’t regret having ordered it.

10. Green Asparagus @ Oyster Oyster (Washington, DC)

One of the best new restaurants in DC is Oyster Oyster which was named No. 1 restaurant in Washington Post’s 2021 Fall Dining guide. As much as Jun and I are meat lovers, we also are open to try a vegetable-only menu as long as it’s delicious. Oyster Oyster really delivers in showing how vegetables should be prepared, and the kitchen’s focus on sourcing the right ingredients and executing well makes it a worthy dining destination in the District regardless of your dietary types. Exhibit A – this artful dish of green asparagus with foraged ramps and peanut broth that we had on our second visit to the restaurant with seasonally changing menu. I didn’t know that asparagus and peanut can work together to create this magic.

11. Spring Lamb Manfredi @ Rose’s Luxury (Washington, DC)

Our second visit to Rose’s Luxury was just as memorable as the first one. When visiting the restaurant, you get to choose dishes from the menu (with the number of dishes depending on the party size). If there is any pasta on the menu, don’t skip it. You will know why after getting a bite ouf ot this marvelous spring lamb manfredi pasta. Jun, who is an exceptional ragu pasta cook, couldn’t stop raving about this dish with its perfectly textured extra thin lasagna noodles tossed in very well-balanced tomato and lamb ragu sauce. It was hands down one of the pasta dishes we’ve had at a restaurant.

12. La Nube @ Imperfecto (Washington, DC)

As impressive as all the savory dishes personally prepared by chef Enrique at Imperfecto’s communcal chef’s table are, we also immensely enjoyed all the desserts from the restaurant’s pastry chef Generis Flores. My favorite (from our second visit) was a dish named “la nube” that was skillfully plated with passion fruit lychee gel, amaretto vanilla custard, white chocolate foam and pistachio meringue. Our visit at the time was in late May when the summer was approaching, and the dessert was such a great fit for the season with its refreshing flavor without being overly sweet.

13. Lamb Shoulder @ Maydan (Washington, DC)

Ever since it opened in 2017, Maydan has consistently been considered one of the best restaurants (and also one of the toughest tables to get a reservation for) in DC. We certainly never had bad meals at the restaurant where the concept is on food ideal for sharing, and many of them prepared from the gigantic wood-burning hearth in the middle of the kitchen. When it is on the menu, I suggest not skipping the lamb shoulder (and also not eating too much from all the delicious spreads and appetizers befor the lamb arrives). Lamb is always a tricky meat to prepare because of its gamey flavor, but this decadent dish was not only not gamey at all but its texture enhanced by the touch of fire will make you fall in love with lamb meat instantly.

14. Blackened Shrimp Tacos @ Maricsocs 1133 (Washington, DC)

It took a while to discover our go-to Mexican restaurant in the DC area but we finally found one in Mariscos 1133. As the name mariscos implies, the restaurant’s specialties are in seafood, inspired by traditions of Mexico and other parts of Latin America. One dish that ordered again and again during our two trips to the restaurant this year was the blackened shrimp taco. We’ve certainly had our share of good shrimp tacos before, but the one at Mariscos 1133 was truly wonderful, especially with the way the shrimp was lightly grilled to give smoky flavor. Before you get to the main dishes (the best bet here is the whole crispy flounder), don’t skip these tacos.

15. Sunchoke and Caviar @ Reverie (Washington, DC)

Reverie is one of the best restaurants we discovered in our culinary journey this year. The unique culinary philosophy from chef Johnny Spero using ingredients largely from America’s East Coast is a compelling statement of the Mid-Atlantic tradition. We were extremely sad to learn of the restaurant’s closing a couple of months after our visit due to fire, and wish it bounces back soon into Reverie 2.0. On our visit, one of my favorite dishes was this savory course of sunchoke-flavored ice cream with caviar. I certainly didn’t expect sunchoke could be a great ingredient for an ice cream, or that sunchoke and caviar could make one hell of a combination.

16. Kohlrabi @ Reverie (Washington, DC)

My other favorite dish during our trip to Reverie was neither seafood nor meat. It was this beautifully plated kohlrabi with vegetable glace on top. Jun and I probably can’t forego animal products in our culinary journey together, but at this point we were happy to be converted to vegetarians. The impeccable flavor and texture that this kohlrabi displayed was something I will cherish for a long time. I can’t wait to see Reverie 2.0 put together more dishes like this.  

17. Eggplant @ Frevo & Florilège (New York, NY)

One of our go-to restaurants in New York City, Frevo, invited us to join them for a special event with an acclaimed French restaurant Florilège in Tokyo. Last time I visited Tokyo a few years ago, I tried very hard but ended up not securing a reservation at the restaurant so I took this as an opportunity to finally check out what made Florilège so special. And this collaboration dinner turned out to be the best meal I’ve had this year and certainly one of the best meals of my entire life. I don’t even like eggplant that much outside of a few dishes, and I could eat this beauty from that night every day! The complexity of texture from eggplant prepared three ways was just surreal.

18. Cocoa and Matcha @ Frevo & Florilège (New York, NY)

Another dish I won’t forget soon from the magical Frevo and Florilège collaboration dinner was this simple combination of “omelette” of Amazon cocoa and matcha foam. By the time the dessert arrived, Jun and I were beyond full, but it was just so delicious that we couldn’t stop cherishing it. As simple as the display of the dessert looks, the flavor combination was absolutely profound without being overly sweet.

19. Lamb Shank Nihari @ Dhamaka (New York, NY)

Jun and I are always in search for good Indian restaurants, and this year we discovered the best Indian restaurant in New York City. Ever since its opening, Dhamaka has been universally praised for its “authentic” take on Indian cuisine featuring ingredients and regions that are not as prominently featured in the mainstream Indian dining scene in the United States. Our first visit to the restaurant, which is one of the hardest tables to secure a reservatino, had a succession of awesome dishes, and this lamb shank with red chili was a blissful one (with no gamey flavor typically associated with lamb meat), even with all the heat and spice that made us sweat profusely.

20. Rohan Duck @ The Dabney (Washington, DC)

Since moving to the DC area last year, Jun and I should have visited Dabney more often (especially after we had a pretty special pop-up dinner that the restaurant did in New York City a few years ago). We visited the restaurant shortly after we moved and somehow never visited it again until this summer (right before its revamp in the fall). Featuring ingredients sourced from the Mid-Atlantic, the New American dishes at Dabney will never disappoint you. If there is a duck dish at Dabney, don’t hesitate to order it. The Rohan duck with cherries and golden beets was an absolute winner and the best duck dish we had all year. The remarkable texture of this poultry will be something I will not easily forget in a while.  

21. Blueberry Bundt Cake and Sorbet @ The Dabney (Washington, DC)

One of the best desserts we’ve had this year was this blueberry Bundt cake with buttermilk and blueberry sorbet. It more or less perfectly encapsulated the summer season of blueberry when we visited Dabney. I admit I’m not particularly a fan of either blueberry or Bundt cake but after a few scoops, I was one happy eater of this wonderful dessert. I hope the restaurant decides to feature it again in the summer next year. What a wonderful treat!

22. Mont Blanc Pasta @ Pineapple and Pearls (Washington, DC)

Ever since we discovered Rose’s Luxury earlier in the year, I had my eyes on its sister restaurant Pineapple and Pearls. It has one more Michelin star than Rose’s Luxury and was featured in a glowing piece on Washington Post so we would have a transcendental dining experience, right? We both decided that going forward, we will just go to Rose’s Luxury where we had much more memorable time. Our mixed experience at P&P doesn’t mean, however, there were no standout dishes. Just like Rose’s Luxury, the team knows how to cook some truly delicious pasta dishes like this decadent mont blanc pasta inspired by the famous Italian dessert with chestnut filling and parmesan-white chocolate sauce.  

23. Pork Loin and Scallop @ The Dabney (Washington, DC)

Dabney is one place in DC that we are happy to go back again and again, especially after the retaurant revamped itself into more of a fine dining restaurant with a longer (and more expensive) tasting menu. We visited the restaurant shortly after the transformation, and Dabney 2.0 certainly delivered as much, if not more, satisfaction as its original iteration. The one dish I couldn’t stop thinking about was this pork loin with scallop. I think this might’ve been the first time I got to taste the two ingredients together and this “Surf and Turf” combination was sensational, especially with the watermelon molasses that enhanced the flavor of the dish.

24. Wagyu and Caviar @ Minibar (Washington, DC)

A prolific chef and restaurateur, José Andrés requires no further introductions, and Minibar is most certainly the crowl jewel of his mini-empire in DC. While Jun and I had a pretty good meal at Minibar on our recent trip to the restaurant, we both agreed that there were a few other establishments in DC that were more memorable for us, and at a more attractive price point. That doesn’t mean we won’t happily eat again this beautiful dish of wagyu beef tartare and caviar surrounded by a cup of nasturtium flower. It was a delightful experience to scoop up all the deliciousness out of this art piece of a dish.  

25. San Sebastian Cheesecake @ El Mercat Bar de Tapas (Rockville, Maryland)

El Mercat Bar de Tapas was a surprise discovery for us this year. Located in the Rockville city center, Jun and I really enjoyed all the Spanish dishes from this neighborhood gem. Any successful meal at El Mercat requires that you try one or two dessert dishes after indulging on the fantastic tapas and paellas. Jun and I had had some outstanding cheececakes before, but it would be hard to beat this delightful Basque burnt cheesecake with strawberry on top. The silky soft texture of the cheesecake is one of the highlights during our culinary journey this year, and we would be happy to order it every time we come by the restaurant to satisfy our cravings for Spanish tapas.

26. Langoustine and Potato Sujebi @ Atomix (New York, NY)

We visited our favorite New York City restaurant Atomix twice this year, and the restaurant’s seasonally changing modern Korean tasting menu was still going very strong. My favorite dish from our visits in 2022 was this playful take on Korean “bunsik” (refrerring to inexpensive snack dishes) inspired by tteokbokki and twigim. Really, who else could think fried langoustine (that conjures memory of your favorite fried snacks) and potato gnocchi (that is inspired by Korean noodle soup sujebi)? Aside from the brilliant idea behind it, the dish itself was supremely delicious, too, with an attractive spicy kick that gave us smile while savoring it.  

27. Carrot @ Frevo (New York, NY)

Besides the life-changing meal from the collaboration with Florilège, we also visited Frevo a couple other times this year. Really, I think this restaurant deserves another Michelin star (it recently got one star, very belatedly), and the thoughtful French-accented cooking behind Brailian chef Franco Sampogna at this speakeasy restaurant behind an art gallery is exemplary. On our recent visit in the fall, we couldn’t stop raving about this sensational carrot mousse dish with impeccable flavor (and we both are not carrot persons, either!).

28. Eel, Foir Gras and Beef Tongue Terrrine @ Imperfecto (Washington, DC)

On our last visit to Imperfecto in the fall, we were very happy to find a vastly revamped menu from chef Enrique, who promised that his menu will change again significantly in the near future (so we should visit again early next week). The showstopper during our fall dinner was this terrine with in insane combination of eel, foie gras and beef tongue. I never knew these ingredients could work together in a single dish, and the way chef Enrique experimented with them to come up with this magnificent layer of food was quite remarkable. Even after the menu change, we wouldn’t mind seeing this beautiful terrine again.

29. Foie Gras, Baklava and Fig @ Albi (Washington, DC)

In the fall this year, we visited Albi again, this time at the chef’s table at the hearth. The menu itself wasn’t dramatically different from the regular menu, but as always we had a very good meal. One big difference, though, was this surprise dish of seared foie gras on top of baklava and with fig. It came in the middle of savory dishes even though it looked more or less like a dessert. Regardless, I absolutely enjoyed this decadent masterpiece, especially with a glass of smoky madeira prepared right in front of us. I hope this becomes a regular staple of the restaurant’s menu the way the signature BBQ’d lamb is.

30. Baby Squid @ Bar Spero (Washington, DC)

While Reverie is closed due to fire, we will settle for now with enjoying all the seafood from chef Johnny Spero’s eponymous restaurant Bar Spero that opened in the fall. We pretty much loved everything from the menu inspired by the Spain’s Basque Country. When visiting Bar Spero, do try at least a few dishes from the Daily Card section featuring limited edition dishes that can sell out quickly. You will be rewarded with a showstopper like this perfectly grilled baby squid whose texture was just out of this world and would’ve been a perfect dish to drink with some white wine in San Sebastian.  

31. Octopus Naengchae @ Naro (New York, NY)

We were not surprised at all that Atomix became the global sensation with all the accolades and one of the hardest tables to get a reservation. What surprised us was that the highly anticipated opening of a new project behind the husband and wife duo of chef JP and Ellia at the touristy Rockefeller Center, with a deeper focus on Korea’s culinary traditions. Despite some non-food related kinks that we encountered (not atypical in any newly opened restaurant), we very much enjoyed the dinner at Naro, especially this octopus naengchae (a type of mustard-based cold salad) that was a perfect appetizer to kick off the meal.  

32. Carrot Cappelletti @ Bresca (Washington, DC)

After having a mixed experience at Jônt, Jun and I never bothered to check out the restaurant downstairs from the same chef Ryan Ratino. Our visit to Bresca taught us that giving a second chance to a restaurant can be rewarding as we were very impressed by the smart French-accented cooking with precision from the kitchen. The winner of the night belonged to this beautiful carrot cappelletti whose earthy flavor with pear, hazelnut granola and lamb neck was phenomenal. We weren’t expecting to find a standout pasta dish at Bresca and now we know the team knows a thing or two about how to cook an awesome one.

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