Foodcation 2012: Gluttony

…continued from the 2nd leg of Foodcation 2012

Our next destination was Montreal. Flights were really expensive between Toronto and Montreal ($700+ roundtrip for 2) so I had decided that driving would the best option. However, I didn’t realize, or rather, I didn’t think to check how much gas cost in Canada.

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Yikes

With the exchange rate at the time, this came out to about $5.26 or so for regular! This was when I thought $4.20 for regular at home was crazy!! As far as total cost was concerned, it was definitely still cheaper to drive, but I’m sure Henry would have rather flown than drive 5 hours to Montreal and 7 hours back to Buffalo at the end of our trip.

When you drive through Ontario, Canada, you will find these cool, modern rest stops with gas, food, restrooms and free WiFi! The best part… they were CLEAN!

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ONroute… get it? hehe πŸ™‚

After about 5.5 hours on the road, we finally checked into our room at Hotel du Fort. This was probably the most dated hotel we’ve ever stayed in.

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Exhibit A

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Somebody please explain this to me…

Now, this doesn’t mean we had a bad experience. Our room was really big, the location of the hotel was great, the bed was comfortable, the towels and linens were clean… I mean, you really shouldn’t need much else right? Anyway, we got a great deal that included parking so I was happy with our experience. My only issue with Hotel du Fort was that the hallway seriously smelled like ASS. Only the hallway!

The main reason we came to Montreal was Au Pied de Cochon and this is where we had dinner our first night.

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We wanted to order so many things, but our waitress put her foot down and said no. It’s a good thing she did. Everything was rich and heavy, even the clams! It was really difficult to finish our meal.

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Clams (appetizer special of the night)
Foie Gras Poutine
PDC’s Melting Pot
Duck in a Can

Given the foie gras ban in California, I wanted to consume as much foie gras as possible at PDC. So obviously, I was a little disappointed when we finalized our order and I knew we would only have a couple of pieces (in the Poutine and Duck in a Can). Turns out, it was more than enough.

For first timers to PDC, I definitely recommend the Melting Pot since it gives you a little bit of everything: pork belly, pork loin, pork sausage and boudin noir served over creamy mashed potatoes. Man, I love me some blood sausage! The Foie Gras Poutine was just how I imagined: cheesy, creamy, melt in your mouth goodness.

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By the time we were served, Duck in a Can (the can is opened table-side), I was already stuffed. So stuffed, in fact, that I actually found it to be unappetizing after a couple of bites. Blasphemy, I know. First of all, I’m not a fan of fat that isn’t rendered down so the huge slab of fat on top of the duck breast? Yuck. Second, the duck breast itself wasn’t as tender as I thought it would be. And lastly, I prefer my foie gras pan seared. Apparently, I was the only one that felt this way because Henry really enjoyed this signature dish. To each his own.

Because we felt extremely guilty after eating this overly indulgent meal and also because I wanted some coffee, we rented bikes from BIXI and rode to a cafe that was open late.

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Umm yea… no English option 😦

It’s a good thing we rode bikes in DC because had I not been familiarized with the rental process, I would have no idea what was on the screen. And by the way, not only are the BIXI kiosks in French, the street parking signs are as well AND IN MILITARY TIME!

The next day was a mixture of eating and exercising. We rode our BIXI bikes to lunch spot #1, Resto La Banquise.

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La Petite vie (ground beef, onions & corn)
La T-Rex (ground beef, pepperoni, bacon & hot-dog sausages)

When in Canada, right? πŸ˜‰ I β™₯ poutine!

I used to think that Henry and I had big appetites, but watching everyone around us finish their poutine while we struggled to finish half of ours made me think otherwise.

After checking delicious poutine off our list, we rode our bikes to lunch spot #2: Schwartz’s.

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There was absolutely no way we could each eat a sandwich, so we decided to share. Sharing is caring.

At Schwartz’s, you have three options for your smoked meat: lean, medium or fatty. We left it up to our waiter and as you can see above, we got fatty. Personally, I would have ordered either lean or medium, but Henry likes the fattyness so I compromised. The meat was flavorful and tender and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the fattier cut. Now, I have to say, Schwartz’s smoked meat > Katz’s pastrami. I would’ve thrown Langer’s into the mix, but I’ve never had a plain pastrami there so it wouldn’t be a fair comparison. Another thing in Schwartz’s favor is the price! A sandwich at Schwartz’s only sets you back $6.30 CAD while a sandwich at Katz’s is more than double at $15.95.

To fight off food coma, we rode our bikes to Mount Royal and hiked up to the summit. There are quite a few trails you can take up to the summit and I’m pretty sure we took the most difficult way up.

We started at the Sir George-Γ‰tienne Cartier Monument…

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… followed random trails…

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… until we reached Camilien-Houde Lookout…

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See Olympic Stadium in the distance?

We thought this was it and started our hike back down when a local informed us that we hadn’t actually reached the summit and that there was another lookout. So, on we went. Once at the summit, we were rather disappointed to find that it didn’t offer any views so we started our trek down to the famous Mount Royal Cross via Ch. Olmsted…

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So so so pretty at night when illuminated

… from the cross, we hiked through what seemed to be a forest…

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… until we found the Chalet and Kondiaronk Lookout…

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Much better view!!

I’m really glad we continued from the first lookout because at that point, I wasn’t impressed and pretty much felt that the hike wasn’t worth it. But taking in Montreal from Kondiaronk Lookout totally made up for it!

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Hiking down Mount Royal towards the Rue Peel entrance was so much easier with the stairs. If you’re OK with stairs, this is definitely the fastest way to and from the Kondiaronk Lookout. The leisurely way would be to follow Ch. Olmsted all the way around.

Check out Henry’s shirt after our hike…

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A new deadmau5 shirt! hahahhahahahahahhahahhahaa

Our last dinner in Montreal was at Joe Beef. Unfortunately, it was so damn dark in there, we left without any good food pictures 😦

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So, here’s my beef with Joe Beef. The menu is written in French on a chalkboard and only the chalkboard. This meant that before we could even sit down (in cramped quarters, nonetheless), we had to stand behind people eating at the bar, look up at the chalkboard and try to translate the menu so that we could have an idea of what to order.

It is dark.
The chalkboard is small.
The menu is extensive.
I DON’T KNOW FRENCH.
WHY SO DIFFICULT!?!?!

We were able to make out some foie gras items (ie. Foie Gras Double Down, Parfait de Foie Gras), but PDC foie gras’d us out so we kept looking. After 5 minutes or so of cranking our necks to look at the chalkboard, I gave up and we took our seats. I was really hoping our waiter could help us out with a recommendation, but unfortunately, our waiter wasn’t much help. Like, AT ALL. When we asked for his recommendation, he actually said he didn’t like giving recommendations. WTF?!?!?! Instead, he referred us to the specials for 2 that night: suckling pig and lamb shank. We got the lamb shank. It was… OK…

After a disappointing dinner, we walked down to the Starbucks on the corner for some coffee and to get a Montreal Starbucks Cup. Yes, I collect them!!! πŸ˜€

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Tip: half and half is Creme 10%

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The next morning, we prepared for the last leg of Foodcation 2012. I didn’t know if we would find any markets near our last destination so we picked up some groceries a block away from our hotel. As we were walking back to the car lugging several heavy bags, a bottle of olive oil somehow fell out of one of the bags, shattered right by my feet and showered my legs with oil.

Awesome.

… to be continued.

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Montreal Eats (+our verdict):
Au Pied de Cochon, 3.5/5
Resto La Banquise, 4/5
Schwartz’s, 4.5/5
Joe Beef, 3/5

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Foodcation 2012: Lobsta, eh?

… continued from the 1st leg of Foodcation 2012

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Crossing the border into Canada was pretty much a breeze (in contrast to returning to the US). It could have gone even more smoothly if Henry was able to answer the border agent himself when she asked, “What is your business in Canada?”. Sure, Henry can easily remember lines from Predator, Commando, and every Rambo and Rocky movie, but simple vacation plans? No, that’s crazy.

The first thing we did in Canada was stop at Tim Horton’s for some coffee and donuts. I’ve always thought that Tim Horton’s was exclusive to Canada, but I was wrong; they do have locations in the US, just nowhere near me. And I ain’t gonna lie guys, Tim Horton’s coffee > Dunkin’ Donuts coffee (but this really isn’t saying much… :P).

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Decent coffee, Boston Cream donut

After our coffee and donut fix, we continued our drive into the Toronto area. It was a little frustrating that we could see Toronto on the other side of Lake Ontario but could only get there by driving all the way around! Instead of staying in downtown Toronto, we booked a room at Monte Carlo Inn & Suites in downtown Markham, about 30 minutes north of Toronto. Two reasons: 1) save money and 2) eat at Omei Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant that serves lobster 4 ways! Residents of Markham and neighboring Richmond Hill are predominately Asian. Being from SGV, I felt right at home. Henry and I even spent an hour or so in an Asian market stocking up on snacks and candy πŸ˜€

Well, I’m not ashamed to say that my favorite part of visiting Toronto was NOT the Hockey Hall of Fame… it was eating LOBSTER!!!!

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1. Steamed
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2. Sauteed
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3. Deep Fried
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4. Fried rice (with the innards/liver)

6 pounds, 4 ways. 2 people. YESSSSSSSSSSSSS. My favorites were the steamed claws and fried rice.

Our agenda for the next day was packed! We only had 1 full day to check out Toronto so that meant a lot of stuff to do and a lot of stuff to eat. Henry hates this, but sometimes, I just can’t help it!

For lunch, we picked up from two places… killing two birds with one stone, I guess?

Porchetta sandwich at Porchetta & Co.

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The fatty pork belly layer just melts in your mouth. We added truffle sauce (+ $0.75) which made the sandwich extra special.

Haddock, halibut and poutine at Fresco’s

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For each fish, one piece was fried with regular batter while the other piece had Miss Vickie’s (the chips) extra crisp batter (+ $1). I really liked the crunch from Miss Vickie’s batter so I would recommend spending $1 more for that. And of course we substituted poutine for regular fries (+ $2)…I β™₯ poutine!

We pretty much ate our lunch in the car on the way to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Limited time, you know.

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During the Fall, the Hockey Hall of Fame closes at 5:00PM on weekdays. I was sad at first because we were only going to have about 3 hours or so to visit, but it turned out to be just the right amount of time.

Main floor:

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Luuuuuuuuuuccccccccc β™₯
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We sat in this theater for a while and relived the Kings 2012 Playoff run… yes, I cried, again.

Esso Great Hall & NHL Trophies:

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NHLPA Be A Player Zone:

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Here, you can test your goalie or shooting skills (no slap shots). Henry was really good at blocking shots while I was better at shooting.

After a fun afternoon at the HHOF, we stopped for coffee at Second Cup before making our way to dinner at Hoof Raw Bar. Initially, I had planned to eat next door at The Black Hoof, but it is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and unfortunately, our final plans had us in Toronto on a Tuesday. As a reference (for those from LA), Hoof Raw Bar is to The Black Hoof as Son of a Gun is to Animal.

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Raw Scallops
Smoked Mussels
Ceviche
Shrimp & Toast
Smoked Octo & Grits

Everything we ordered was delicious! From the light and refreshing scallops topped with apple to the incredibly tender octopus and deep fried grits, we LOVED every bite. My favorite was the Shrimp and Toast because the juicy shrimp and sous-vide egg reminded me of my favorite childhood dish, scrambled eggs with shrimp.

While we were finished with dinner, we weren’t quite done with Toronto yet.

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Even though both Henry and I had been to the CN Tower as kids, it was so long ago and I wanted to go back… together.

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Yes, we’re lying on the dirty glass floor πŸ˜€

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You have no idea how long it took me to grow a pair and walk out onto the glass. SO SCARY!!!

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Before we left the Toronto area for our next destination, I had to pay a visit to one last place: Pacific Mall.

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Pacific Mall holds a special place in my heart because I came here with my grandparents during one of my summer breaks. It was just as I remembered and walking down past all the different shops made me feel close to them again β™₯.

… to be continued.

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Toronto Eats (+our verdict):
Omei Restaurant, 5/5
Porchetta & Co., 4.5/5
Fresco’s Fish & Chips, 3.5/5
Hoof Raw Bar, 4.5/5

Foodcation 2012: Crabby

Even before the start of the 2011-2012 NHL season, I had planned to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Obviously, when the Kings won the Cup, this trip meant a hell of a lot more. And though the presentation cup wasn’t on display while I was there (since it was still traveling with the Kings organization), it was nice to see the case dedicated to the 2012 Champs and to relive the Kings 2012 playoff run in the Hartland Molson Theatre (aka Stanley Cup theater). More on this later…

Our trip began with a weekend in Washington DC. We were fortunate enough to have a friend house us and take us around. We arrived late Friday afternoon and after settling in a bit, Henry and I went to dinner at Blue Duck Tavern while our host and his brother went to a ballgame. They totally missed out on an AMAZING meal.

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UntitledOpen kitchen on the way to the fanciest bathrooms (inside Park Hyatt Hotel)

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Untitled UntitledAmuse Bouche, Oysters
Wood Oven Roasted Bone Marrow, Creamed Corn
Muscovy Duck Breast, 12 Hour Roasted Suckling Pig
Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Goat’s Milk Caramel

The bone marrow with truffle shavings and roasted garlic was TO DIE for. BEST. EVER!!! I also LOVED the creamed corn side. The jalapeno added a refreshing aspect to the dish without the heat (surprisingly). I thought the presentation of our sweet corn ice cream dessert was so so so cute. Our waitress was kind enough to give us the goat’s milk caramel on the house so our dessert became caramel corn ice cream! πŸ˜€

After devouring our meal, we decided to take a post-dinner walk to the Lincoln Memorial.

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Apparently, the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial had been out of commission for a couple of years due to renovations and was just reopened 2 weeks before our trip! Woooooooo!

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There’s just something about seeing these famous monuments and memorials at night… so so beautiful!

While we were sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, our friend CN called us up. He was back from the ballgame and wanted to take us to the infamous Ben’s Chili Bowl. We’re not ones to turn down food and besides, we just walked off our dinner πŸ˜‰

At first we took the car, but parking in DC is seriously impossible so we dropped off the car and took the Metro.

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Luckily, the line at Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1:30AM wasn’t too long since we beat the bar crowd. The four of us shared 6 Chili Half-Smokes and Chili Fries.

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There’s no denying that the chili dogs were deeeeeelish, but the price for one is a little ridiculous… $5.70 for one chili dog!!! whattttttt the whattttttttt??????????!!!!!!!! Still… I would recommend visiting this landmark if you’re in DC and you’ve never been.

The next day, our friends led us on a bike tour of DC.

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We used the Capital Bikeshare system, which for those familiar with BIXI is pretty much the same thing. For those not familiar, here is a brief guide for travelers:

* Membership fees: 24 hr = $7, 3-day = $15
* For 24 hr or 3-day memberships, a security deposit of $101 per bike will be held on the card you used for the rental. 2 bike maximum on 1 card.
* To complete rental, an unlocking code can be viewed or printed. Pick a bike and enter the code.
* The first 30 minutes is included with each bike that is rented. Extra time with the same bike is at an additional charge (see website for rate table). In other words, for the most affordable experience, consult the station map and plan accordingly. No matter where you want to go, I assure you, there will be a station on the way. If your destination is clearly more than a 30 minute bike ride away (and you really want to use Capital Bikeshare), just check in the bike at a station along the way and rent out a new bike.
* Downsides include 1) not having an empty bike dock available to return a bike and 2) not having bikes available for rent. The fix for both is to find another station – for returns, if you come across a full station, you can add 15 minutes free to your rental to avoid additional charges.

Despite the downsides above, I think these bike systems (Capital Bikeshare, BIXI) are a great alternative to walking, driving or public transportation. You get to exercise, sight see and have fun, all at the same time!

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We rode the bikes along the Potomac River to the Jefferson Memorial.

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Another view of the Washington Monument

We were supposed to stop at Maine Avenue Fish Market to snack on some crabs, but CN wanted to show us Washington Nationals Park first. The day started out bright and sunny, but as we rode towards the ballpark, I noticed dark clouds and thought to myself, geez, that can’t be good. And it wasn’t…

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… we were caught in a crazy storm!!!

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People running for their lives!!

Luckily, the high winds and rain started right after we checked in our bikes and ran across the street to take cover.

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The storm passed relatively quickly, but it held us back enough so that we weren’t able to get crabs. Our friends had another ballgame to go to and we had dinner reservations at Rasika, a swanky Indian Restaurant.

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I’ve always tried to steer away from fancy schmancy Asian restaurants. I’m spoiled because I live in an area where I have access to yummy Asian food ON THE CHEAP! So why would I want to pay a 100% mark-up for essentially the same thing just dressed up? Well, with almost 1000 reviews on Yelp confirming Rasika as the best Indian restaurant in DC, of course I had to try. And honestly, I didn’t know it was upscale until I arrived. Sure, the prices listed online seemed a bit high, but weren’t to the point of being ridiculous (FYI, $$$ on Yelp).

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We ordered the dishes that our waitress highly recommended and added an appetizer because we wanted some lamb. For starters, we had two barbequed items.

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Mango Shrimp – fresh mango / cashew nut / ginger / coriander / mint chutney

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Seekh Kebab – minced lamb / garam masala / mint chutney

The shrimp was good, but at $12 for 4 pieces, not good enough. Our waitress warned that the minced lamb was really spicy, but when I took a bite, it wasn’t too spicy at all. I actually liked the amount of heat and it had good flavor.

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Palak Chaat – crispy baby spinach / sweet yogurt / tamarind / date chutney

This baby right here is Rasika’s signature dish. As I browsed through reviews on Yelp, I noticed that almost every review mentioned the Palak Chaat. Even after reading these reviews, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, how could fried spinach be that good? But man, it was. It really was. The Palak Chaat was unlike anything I’ve ever had. Crispy, light, a mixture of sweet and spice. So simple and delicious!

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Black Cod – fresh dill / honey / star anise / red wine vinegar

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Chicken Makhani – broiled chicken / tomato / fenugreek

The best dish of the night came next: black cod. OMG, I DIE. It was MELT IN YOUR MOUTH AMAZING. The only other experience I’ve had with fish that matched this was when I tasted Roy’s Misoyaki Butterfish (Black Cod) for the first time (subsequent experiences have been sub-par).

One of my favorite Indian dishes is butter chicken and Rasika’s Chicken Makhani was pretty damn good. The chicken was incredibly tender and the sauce had a nice balance of tomato, butter and cream. I only wish the dish had more heat.

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Date & Toffee Pudding

I love sticky toffee pudding, but many restaurants make it way too sweet. This is usually masked by serving it with ice cream. Rasika’s sticky toffee pudding was moist and not too sweet. Just… perfection.

As with the night before, we took a walk after dinner. This time we made our way to the opposite side of the National Mall, the Capitol.

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To get home, we were going to walk back to the Metro stop by the restaurant, but Henry was struggling with a sore calf. The night before we flew to DC, Henry thought it would be a good idea to run a couple of miles, ya know, so that he wouldn’t feel as bad for all the food we would be consuming on our trip. The problem was, Henry hadn’t run in a very long time. So yea, instead of walking back to the Metro, we biked back. Good thing for Capital Bikeshare! πŸ˜€

Our last full day in DC was museum day. I’ve been to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, USS Midway in SD and Intrepid Air & Space Museum in NYC. So, of course I had to visit the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum while I was in DC. For those on a budget, the Smithsonian Museums are great because they’re FREE! Sure, the Air & Space Museum was dated and didn’t have the “cool” aircraft that the other museums have, but I still enjoyed the few hours that I spent there.

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Since we had a few hours to kill before dinner, we went to get crabs with CN. The crabs usually take some time to prepare so instead of just waiting around, we stood in line for oysters thinking that we would snack on them while we waited for the crabs to cook. Well, we were STILL in line when the crabs were ready and ended up waiting an additional 20 minutes for the oysters. There was only one shucker and the people ahead of us probably ordered 10 dozen oysters combined!

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Appetizers πŸ˜‰

After indulging in a seafood feast, we reluctantly cleaned up and headed to dinner. I had high expectations for our last dinner in DC. Not only because we’ve had delicious meals the nights before, but because this was the only dinner CN could make and we wanted to treat him out for being such a great host.

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Amuse Bouche, Eggplant w/ Lamb Shank
Pappardelle w/ Smoked Duck Breast, Raviolini w/ Braised Veal Shoulder

Unfortunately, dinner at Siroc turned out to be one of the worst in recent memory. Hopefully this was just an off night because I don’t see how Siroc is deserving of a 4 star rating on Yelp. Even though the restaurant was not busy, service was lacking and the food was mediocre at best. My dish, the raviolini, seemed to be the only one that turned out as the menu described. There was definitely something wrong with the eggplant w/ lamb shank and we all think it was the cheese; it tasted and smelled rotten! At first I thought, perhaps this is a type of cheese that I’m not familiar with, but when I looked at the menu again, I was surprised to see, “Pecorino Romano”. I’ve cooked with pecorino romano! The pappardelle was overloaded with mushrooms and had very little duck. I don’t understand how this pasta with mushrooms and duck bits cost $20 while the fabulous Muscovy Duck Breast at Blue Duck Tavern cost $28!

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We had a great weekend in DC with great company. I wish we could have stayed longer!

The following day was a travel day. We took the subway to Union Station and caught the MARC train to BWI Airport (Baltimore). All this to save money because flights from BWI to BUF (Buffalo) were much cheaper πŸ™‚ The ride on the MARC took about 40 minutes.

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From BWI, we flew to BUF and then drove to our next destination, Toronto πŸ˜€

… to be continued.

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DC Eats (+our verdict):
Blue Duck Tavern, 4.5/5
Rasika, 4.5/5
Ben’s Chili Bowl, 3/5
Siroc, 1.5/5
Captain White’s Seafood City, 4/5