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Jordan Wright
April 28, 2016
Photography by Jordan Wright 

Hula Girl Bar & Grill Brings Authentic Hawaiian Food to Shirlington – Bobby Flay Promises Vegan Burger – Bangkok Joe’s Returns to Georgetown – Palette 22 Celebrates Artists All Day, Every Day – Burton’s Grill & Bar Opens with Style in Fairfax – At B Penn Quarter Brunch Just Got Damned Serious – Ready for Mint Juleps? Suntory Jim Beam Wants to Name Your Poison 


Food Truck Goes Bricks-and-Mortar 

Hula Girl

Hula Girl

Aloha, from the sunny shores of Campbell Avenue.  Well, not exactly, although this latest addition to the Village of Shirlington is a cheerful ray of King Kamehameha sunshine.  Mikala Brennan, owner and operator of the madly popular Hula Girl food truck, which was launched in 2011, has brought Hawaiian comfort food to our area, and from the looks of it, anyone who has ever been to Hawaii, been stationed there or is just downright curious about this hipster cuisine, is digging the retro, laid-back vibe.  Featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods America (as one of Zimmern’s top five picks) and on Street Eats both shows on the Travel Channel, Brennan’s DC food truck drew enormous attention to her Hawaiian cooking.

Chef/Owner Mikala Brennan ~ Brennan's family photos line the restroom walls

Chef/Owner Mikala Brennan ~ Brennan’s family photos line the restroom walls

Brennan, a diminutive fireball of kinetic energy, has spent considerable time researching the cuisine of her childhood.  She discovered its polyglot culinary history of Chinese and Japanese cooking came from immigrant workers who came to the islands to work on pineapple plantations.  Its North American influence is expressed by the salmon that missionaries brought over in the 1800’s.  As for the surprising national favorite, Spam, islanders can thank the U. S. Government who provided cans of the pork-based meat to soldiers after World War II.  As proof of its lasting influence, 6 million cans of Spam are eaten in Hawaii each year.  Don’t judge.

Spam sushi

Spam sushi

To showcase this eclectic heritage Brennan presents a varied menu of classic Hawaiian fare including teriyaki, chargrilled chicken, steak or tofu; root beer sticky ribs; and dishes like Kalua pork crispy gau chee, a Chinese-style folded dumpling served with hot mustard and chili-soy dipping sauce.  Spam Musubi a sushi-style preparation gets a turn, as do tako, grilled octopus, lomi, banh mi sandwiches and poke (pronounced PO-kee) – the traditional raw tuna dish with sesame, shoyu, ginger and green onions.  If you’re craving a burger, be sure to ask for a side of katsu sauce – a blend of Worcestershire, ketchup and garlic – and a side order of the monster Maui onion rings.

Barbeque Shrimp

Barbeque Shrimp

Hula Girl’s desserts are traditional too – Haupia, a firm coconut milk-based pudding similar to panna cotta and served with a mango drizzle, and Malasadas, a popular Hawaiian confection similar to doughnuts – a good bet.

Ribs with sesame seeds and micro greens

Ribs with sesame seeds and micro greens

But let’s get to the spirits, and it is an extensive menu.  As to serious suds Maui Brewing is well represented.  Their Coconut Porter, Bikini Blond lager and Big Swell, a Belgian-style IPA are here.  Obscure brews like Dead Guy, a German-style Maibock from Oregon’s Rogue Ales and Yin & Yang, a Black & Tan style IPA from Brooklyn’s Evil Twin Brewing are a few other hard-to-find brews.  Organic nigori sakes from Oregon’s Momokawa (the top-selling sake in the U. S.) are here too, as are tropical fruit juices, sodas from Waialua Soda Works (try the lilikoi made with passion fruit) and the “Shrub of the Day”, made with muddled fresh fruit.

More to the point are the cocktails.  We’re thinking tiki bar this summer and these delicious concoctions do not disappoint.  Yes, there are margaritas, but have you ever had one made with sambal, passion fruit, lime, agave and milagro tequila?  Hula Girl’s Mai Tai is even more exotic with Appleton rum, ginger liqueur, roasted pineapple puree, macadamia nut syrup.  Now that the weather is cooperating, I’m looking forward to the Gosling’s Black Rum float.  Those twenty-five patio seats are gonna go quickly.

Bobby Flay Makes a Promise 

Bobby Flay on K Street

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay brought his charm to his K Street outpost last month.  The purveyor of all things meat, when asked when he would put a vegan burger on the menu, Flay told this reporter that he’s working on perfecting a version to put in all 19 Bobby’s Burger Palaces.  When pressed as to when that might be, the adorable and eternally self-effacing chef insisted that Whisk and Quill would have the scoop before anyone else.  We’re holding him to it.

Bangkok Joe’s Returns to Georgetown’s Washington Harbour 

The bar is ready to receive the guests at Bangkok Joe's

The bar is ready to receive the guests

In a wildly anticipated return, the beloved Bangkok Joe’s returned to its roots as a casual sophisticated Thai lounge.  With all new glamorous décor featuring a ten-seat dumpling bar and room for 32 on the patio, guests can revisit the cuisine that mixes Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and French and endeared its charms to locals.

The new Bangkok Joe’s is the restaurant I wanted to open 20 years ago,” said Co-Owner Aulie Bunyarataphan adding, “Over the past decade, we’ve seen customers become more adventurous and more willing to explore traditional Thai ingredients, flavors and cooking styles.  I’m really looking forward to doing what I do best, which is sharing my culinary roots. Of course, with my own creative spin.”

The revamped decor at Bangkok Joe's

The revamped decor

The authentic Thai menu features dumplings, wontons and rolls, a variety of small plates, soup and salads, noodle bowls and rice bowls as well as their popular fried rice dishes.  The menu category of “Not Your Ordinary Joe’s”, a selection of elevated entrée specialties, is also back.   And on the Dumpling Bar menu are 20 different types of ethereal dumplings paired with house made sauces.

The dumpling ladies at Bangkok Joe's

The dumpling ladies

Simple, fresh and unique cocktails playfully highlight unique Thai ingredients.  Thai herbs and ingredients such as Thai chili, Thai basil, ginger, lemongrass, tamarind, and hard to find traditional herbs like blue hibiscus find their way into drinks and specialty cocktails.

Crispy Salmon Roll with salmon roe at Bangkok Joe's

Crispy Salmon Roll with salmon roe

Beverage Director Brad Macbeth, who was trained by noted mixologist Todd Thrasher, oversees the cocktail and beverage program as well as the creation of the many house made juices and syrups.

“We’ve heard from so many of our longtime customers that they really missed Bangkok Joe’s,” said Partner Mel Oursinsiri. “So we decided to bring the restaurant back, but with a more traditional influence that showcases authentic Thai ingredients and Aulie’s creativity in the kitchen.”

In addition to Bangkok Joe’s, Mel and Aulie own T.H.A.I. in Shirlington Village and Tom Yum District in Arlington, Virginia.

Palette 22 – Calling All Artists 

Brick Oven

Brick Oven

Another new spot in Shirlington is Palette 22 – a hip, art lover’s hangout that showcases hand-picked local artists working in distinctly varied mediums.  There are always two artists on site and sometimes three – one behind an easel, one at a drafting table and every six months a muralist who will paint an entirely new wall design.

Brazilian Muralist Miss Chelove poses with her latest creation

Brazilian Muralist Miss Chelove poses with her latest creation

On my first visit Brazilian Muralist Miss Chelove, Watercolorist Jennifer Lillis, and Collage Artist Jennifer L. Schmidt were alternately creating their artworks and explaining their process with guests.  The immediate connection between a working artist and a serious collector often translates into sales – two oil paintings, a still life and a portrait, were sold during two of my visits.  Look for receptions to introduce new artists to the fold.

A work in progress from artist Jennifer Lillis

A work in progress from artist Jennifer Lillis

With a menu reflecting small plates that borrow liberally from Spanish, Peruvian, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and French cuisines (none topping ten bucks), it’s fun to sample and share.

Slow-cooked Pork Taquitos ~ Fava Bean Purée on flatbread

Slow-cooked Pork Taquitos ~ Fava Bean Purée on flatbread

I was particularly drawn by the variety of crisp-bottomed flatbreads from the large brick oven – Wild Mushroom with truffle oil topped with arugula and one called Bacon + Eggs made with pork belly, caramelized onions and smoked cheddar.

Other world-inspired offerings, under “Street Eats” on the menu, are alluring too.  Peruvian Style Grilled Octopus, Singapore Chili-Crab Potstickers and Peking Duck + Moo-Shu Pancakes are super tasty.

Wild Mushroom Flatbread with truffle oil and arugula ~ Vegan Ceviche

Wild Mushroom Flatbread with truffle oil and arugula ~ Vegan Ceviche

On the cold side, Vegan Ceviche and Jicama Salad deliver bright, citrusy flavors.  Last week on my fourth visit (I confess I can’t get enough of this place!), Fava Bean + Goat Cheese flatbread was a wonderfully addictive special of the day.

Stuffed Mussels

Stuffed Mussels

A large rectangular bar dominates the front room serving up well-balanced artisanal cocktails and fruity sangrias that add the right zing to the flavor-forward dishes.

The bar

The bar

Located within minutes to three theaters – Theatre on the Run which hosts Avant Bard, Signature Theatre and a luxury-seat AMC arthouse movie theater featuring indies and docs – it’s a great spot to grab a few bites before the show returning for drinks and dessert after.  Yummy churros with Mexican hot chocolate and strawberries or Sweet Banana Spring Rolls with jackfruit and vanilla ice cream prove to be perfect nightcaps.

Artist-in-residence Jennifer L. Schmidt creates original collages

Artist-in-residence Jennifer L. Schmidt creates original collages

Getting Selected – An Interview with Art Manager Jennifer Motruk at Palette 22 

Motruk is the current Arts Manager for the Artist-in-Residence program at Palette 22.  In addition to directing the Calls for Submission, she is involved with the selection of artists and the rotating works on display.

Jordan Wright – What is the process for selecting the artists?

Jennifer Motruk – Calls for entry have gone out for our second rotation of artists (to occur mid-May).  We contacted more than a dozen different arts groups throughout the region, asking for their assistance in getting the word out about our P22 AIR program, and to encourage their members and subscribers to check out the opportunity.  We have made ‘ads’ for social media platform profile pages (Facebook, Instagram) and will send out an email blast to our guest database in another week or so to encourage more interested artists to apply.

Have you held receptions for the artists yet?

We had our first rotation opening reception back on March 22nd.   The next one will likely be on or about June 20th or so for the second rotation of artists.  There is one reception per ‘group’ of new artists that debut.

How do interested artists contact you?

The website is the best way for arts groups to reach the restaurant and to inquire about the AIR program, or to learn more about partnering with Palette 22.

Do you tweet or post art sales and information on current artists?

We do not share art sales amounts, but we have created a series of Artist Profile videos, which are hosted on our website  And we have sent out an artist profile in our last two email ‘newsletters’ to our guest database.  Artists and artwork are a regular subject in our Instagram and Facebook page posts as well.

Is there a schedule of upcoming artists?

We are currently adding artists so the roster will have approximately 25 in the program, and some of our current (from the first rotation group) artists will carry over as the program has been successful, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial. The next rotation of artists will be on view throughout the middle of summer or so, then we’ll do another more extensive rotation again.

How has the program been received?

Overall the AIR program has been going very well, with great interaction between our artists and the guests that dine, and we’ve seen steady art sales over the last two months.   In one of the most successful art sales weekends, we sold more than 7 works of art, for more than $1,100 in sales totals, with 80% of that going back to the artist.  The 20% covers administration costs, supplies, and equipment for hanging art, etc.

Burtons Grill & Bar Gambles with Its Latest Outpost 

On the line in the open kitchen at Burtons

On the line in the open kitchen

Burton’s Grill & Bar is taking a gamble that its new 200-seat location in the Hilltop Village Center, across from the newest Wegman’s, will translate into a great gathering spot.  And they might be right.  The off-the-beaten-track location is nevertheless a great draw for military from nearby Fort Belvoir as well as for Kingstowne and Fairfax families looking for an upscale casual destination that has something for everyone.  Be prepared to hear more about this eatery as they expand their footprint from seven New England outposts to three more in our area.

Kevin Harron, President, CEO and partner of the restaurant group brings years of experience from the New England restaurant industry, and calls Burton’s concept “between casual and fine dining.”  With a menu that changes twice annually and a ‘Whim Menu’, that allows Executive Chef Dylyn Coolidge to create daily seasonal specials, Harron trumpets the open kitchen concept.   “I believe people like to see what’s going on.  It demands a higher standard from the people who work for us.”

Those standards are found in the details – consistency, creativity and service.  Guests can customize dishes and a kids’ menu lets them be picky eaters.  A commitment to allergy awareness here, transcends the average restaurant.  A celiac patient his whole life, Harron is uber-conscientious of guests’ dietary issues and gives allergy awareness training to both kitchen and wait staff.  In addition, there’s a gluten-free menu.  Chefs use separate kitchen equipment to prepare those dishes.

Interesting factoids: In 2015 Burtons was named “Most Allergy-Friendly Small Chain” restaurant by AllergyEats.

VP of Operations Denise Baron Herrera of "Chopped" fame at Burtons

VP of Operations Denise Baron Herrera of “Chopped” fame

If you’re a Chopped fan, you’ll be thrilled to know that one of the finalists on the 2011 season was the company’s VP of Operations, Denise Baron Herrera, a noted chef in her own right.

The from-scratch menu has aged beef burgers and creative salads, hearty sandwiches, vegetarian options and upscale entrees, that appeal to date night as well as family night.

Lobster fettuccine at Burtons Grill & Bar

Lobster fettuccine

I love that the salt grinders contain sea salt and that well-trained servers use cell phones to customize orders.  However, I was disappointed to learn the restaurant does not serve bread.  At least not for now, that is until enough of us register our dismay.

Baked Avocados stuffed with crab and quinoa

Baked Avocados stuffed with crab and quinoa

But there’s a bright spot that benefits the soldiers and their families from neighboring Fort Belvoir.  Harron is currently collaborating with the Fort Belvoir Soldier and Family Assistance Center (SFAC) as their first community partner to launch the restaurant’s “Good Neighbors” outreach.  In addition, there will be a “Military Mondays” offer for active duty military personnel can enjoy a 20% discount on all food and non-alcoholic beverages during lunch and dinner service.  The generous offer continues until June 7th.

B Stands for Burgers, Bourbon and Beer 

At the newly revamped b Penn Quarter across from the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, B stands for a whole lot more than the name suggests.  At brunch we found the Southern-influenced menu to harbor mouth-watering biscuits and sausage gravy; thick cut peppery bacon by the bucket;

Basket of Bacon

Basket of Bacon

Cajun shrimp and grits; big, fat Maryland crab cakes served with an egg from Kreider Farms in PA, greens and Cajun bacon aioli; and killer skillet-baked pecan sticky buns oozing with bourbon caramel, that we’re still dreaming about.  And that’s not the half of it.  The brunch offerings are so extensive you’d be forgiven if you thought it was the restaurant’s entire menu.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Executive Chef Shannen Smith, formerly of Del Frisco, hails from DC and knows down home Southern cooking.  Be sure to order her lobster hush puppies.  What’s not to like about a Maine-centric crustacean marrying an old-fashioned classic?

Baked Pecan Sticky Buns with bourbon caramel sauce at b Penn Quarter

Baked Pecan Sticky Buns with bourbon caramel sauce

For a restaurant next to the tony French Paul Bakery in a high-end hood, and notwithstanding B’s polished good looks, prices are more in line with an out-of-town roadhouse.  Here bourbon is exalted like no other pour, and to reinforce that notion the menu has a bottomless bourbon sour offer using the house’s well bourbon which is McAfee’s Benchmark from Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.  Not too shabby.  For $15 you can drink bourbon sours till the cows come home.  Just put Uber on speed dial before you sign up.  Another way to drink your morning coffee is to cheer it up with a shot of Kentucky bourbon and cream.  Hell’s bells!  I think I just fell off the porch swing!

Okay, everything isn’t bourbon-based, though there are over 120 bourbons and rye whiskeys to choose from.

American Basil Cucumber Gimlet

American Basil Cucumber Gimlet

Bar Manager Dave Moscolo has concocted freshly made cocktails like the American Cucumber Basil Gimlet made with Aviation American Gin.  It plays well with the menu’s lighter fare like breakfast kale salad or mixed berries crowned with bourbon whipped cream.  But don’t come here if you’re looking to cut calories, or play in the vegan sandbox.  This is hearty fare, straight from the heart of a Southern kitchen.

I’ll Have Five Bourbons Straight Up, Please

The line up from Suntory Jim Beam

The line up from Suntory Jim Beam

A few weeks after my brunch at b Penn Quarter, I returned for a bourbon tasting hosted by Suntory Jim Beam.  Did you know last year bourbon outsold vodka in the U. S.?   Somebody’s drinking it and it’s not just here in the South.  Again I had the opportunity to sample Smith’s kitchen handiwork.  On this occasion small bites were conjoined with some potent varieties of bourbon, which only goes to say that this food stands up to serious drinking.  Apart from finding the perfect bourbon for mint juleps, we had a crash course on processing techniques and unique flavor profiles from Tanner Smith who travels the country extolling Suntory Jim Beam products.  What a life!

Duck Spring Rolls

Duck Spring Rolls

We began with Maker’s MarkCask Strength”, a variable, 111.6 proof wheated bourbon, aged to taste for a minimum of three years.  Paired with duck spring rolls, it gave off an aroma of caramel, black tea and cinnamon sticks from the charred oak it is aged in.

Distiller's Masterpiece from Jim Beam

Distiller’s Masterpiece from Jim Beam

Moving on we sampled another great pour – Jim Beam “Bonded”, a 100 proof product made from a 1795 original recipe that is kept safely under lock and key.  Showing sweet tastes of candy corn, toffee and caramel too, it stood up well to a pork belly taquito, as did the Jim Beam “Signature Craft”, a 12-year old small batch that adds more corn to the mash, and lent itself nicely to tender beef Wellington accompanied by smoky beet puree.

Basil Hayden, a personal favorite, is an 80 proof rye bourbon.  A classic from a 1798 recipe, it is aged for eight years in oak casks and single-column stills. This smooth-as-silk pour balanced out coffee-rubbed lamb lollipops drizzled with a cinnamon and vanilla sauce.

Lamb Lollipops with cinnamon vanilla sauce

Lamb Lollipops with cinnamon vanilla sauce

But the piece de resistance was “Distiller’s Masterpiece”, a rare and pricey bourbon that shows a sophisticated, neo-cognac profile – sweet, smoky and smooth.  Aged in sherry casks for 12-13 years, it’s assuredly an after dinner sipper that likes dessert.  In this case we capped the night’s festivities with burnt orange chocolate mousse.

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