Food Decor Service Cost
19 21 16 $30

August 7th, 2009
Zentan recently opened in the Donovan House Hotel in Thomas Circle. The restaurant itself is good, in theory. We went before their site was up so we didn’t know much about the menu except for the fact that it was Asian. At first glance, the menu reads like a confused and slightly pretentious pan-Asian mash-up. Our server, slow to the table, “guided us through the menu experience”, which took about ten minutes. When we asked for recommendations, the most expensive and most boring dishes were recommended (Was it because they were having trouble selling them?).

Also, Asian Crudo is ceviche. They assume you don’t know what ceviche or little sashimi salads are, so they European-ize and call it crudo. Right when I heard the explanation of “crudo”, I steered clear from that menu section on principle. We ordered the tempura rock shrimp, Singaporean Slaw, and spicy scallop sushi. Everything was mediocre but the slaw. Even though the overall package of service and food wasn’t anything special, this slaw coupled with the decor of the restaurant and hotel over all and the rooftop view is worth going back. The slaw has over 19 ingredients including several types of nuts, a salted plum dressing, carrot, jicama, and other things I couldn’t find in the dim light. It’s served mostly dry, but it’s condensed and mixed table-side to become the ultimate delicious-ness that hits your mouth.

Alone, I don’t think Zentan is worth going to. The publicity photos make it seem much larger than it is. In person, it has a hotel lounge feel to it. But the hotel really jives with the overall hotel’s decor, which is modern and organic and includes a currently un-matched rooftop view. Unfortunately, the rooftop is quite popular and is often reserved. We didn’t want to go to Zentan without the option to go on the roof, so that’s why it took us so long to go here. If you have to choose between the restaurant or the rooftop, go to the roof. The drinks are better up there and so is the service. Not that I’d know about the service since I was resting on an ultra-comfortable lounge chair the whole time while my boyfriend fetched drinks at the bar next to the fireplace and pool.

Donovan House Hotel Rooftop View


Food Decor Service Cost
19 15 13 $6

Summer 2009
I am officially listing Iceberry as my favorite cold-treat place in the area. I’ve tried Mr. Yogato, SweetGreen, tangysweet, Shilla, Pitango Gelato, Something Sweet, Coldstone Creamery, Milwaukee’s Frozen Custard, Maggie Moo’s, Baskin Robbin’s, Dolcezza, Boccato, and Yogen Fruz.

Sure sure sure. I love my pat bing soo at Shilla like nothing other, but I can’t be expected to gorge on a $9 trough of craziness at the drop of the hat. I also love Milwaukee, but its sometimes a bit rich for my tastes. And I won’t even mention the ridiculously delicious Banana Split at Central, but that’s a little more “special occasion” than your standard fro-yo run.

I don’t care what you say, the honeydew yogurt here is amazing. I can eat it plain, but I love topping it with gummy bears as well. The flavor is tart and refreshing. It quenches my thirst, but it cleanses my palate enough so that I can devour the whole cup myself.

The portions are a little chintzy here–the yogurt is poured into the cup as an outer-ring and this hollow in the bottom is strategically covered by a swirl on top. Very sneaky if you ask me. They have frequenter punch cards, but they only punch per visit, so when I was with my family and we bought four yogurts, they were only going to punch it once. Can you believe that? I tried arguing with them, but they were really stubborn (at the Chantilly location) and allowed us to get two stamps, but “Only this one time”. Geez. Also, they don’t offer samples at the Georgetown location. I understand because they only have three or four flavors, but still. I like that they’re conveniently located and stay open late though~


Chocolate and Strawberries Cozy Yogurts~ Mom, Sister, Brother iceberry5

Buzz Bakery

Buzz Bakery: August!

This is an update on my previous post about Buzz Bakery. We’ll leave the scores all the same, but I’ll share my experience, which I have mixed feelings about.

I returned back to Buzz Bakery August 15th to try their much-famed flavor-of-the month cupcake: Bacon. The bacon cupcake consists of a chocolate cake topped with peanut butter mousse and sprinkled with crisped pieces of thick-cut applewood smoked bacon. Sounds all fine and dandy right? Wrong! This cupcake, touted as the cashier’s “second-fave” really leads me to wonder the staff’s tastebuds! (re: previous visit & toffee cupcake)

The cake itself just tasted wrong wrong wrong — lighter-fluid-doused kinda wrong. Paired with the frosting that tasted like the chipped gravy poured over biscuits in dining halls, I was turned off. After several bites of disbelief, trying to *force* myself to like this cupcake after all the media it’s received, the rest of the ‘cake went uneaten. Shame on you buzz, shame.

The trip was redeemed by some awesome Candyland and a glass of fresh, thirst-quenching lemonade. And I know it’s fresh because the same guy that sold me the disgusting lard-cake fresh-squeezed it and mixed it in front of me! Mmm Mmm!

Co Co. Sala

August 9th, 2009

Because a friend and I both purchased $50 for $25 coupons for co co. sala we decided to try their brunch and dinner. I will re-review/re-post ratings with the upcoming dinner, taking into account this brunch and the past two dinners that I have had there. I can’t believe that by the end of this, I will have gone to co co. sala four times! It’s really not that great of food, but it’s the novelty of going to a chocolate lounge. I met one of the managers/co-owner (?) at the “Best of Washingtonian” party about a month ago and told him that I did not enjoy my last experience there. He gave me a card and invited me back, but I was still hesitant. But then I saw the coupon deal and figured that I would get them another try (at half price). I took my friend there for her first time since she loves Brunch and I informed co co. sala ahead for time that I would be re-visiting for a special occasion.

My friend was running a little late, so I waited for her at the bar. The manager told me they were launching a new “bubbly” menu today and encouraged me to try one. I was torn between the ginger liquer (canton) and the chocolate/coconut/roobis tea one. In the end, I didn’t choose the canton one because it seemed a bit heavy for 11:30 in the morning. Once past the slight acidity of the champagne, the real subtle notes of chocolate and coconut were quite pleasant. I also liked the chocolate swirl accent that traveled through the glass with the level of liquid.

We were seated in the “back room”, and it was beautiful. Nice wooden tables with either stubby chairs on one end or cushy red crushed velvet booths on the other. Gold curtains separate most tables on at least one side, which leads an air of privacy that you wouldn’t expect in a lounge. The menus are also printed on beautiful iridescent paper and are substantial and of good quality.

Our server, Melissa, was attentive and friendly and had no qualms about sharing her likes and dislikes on the menu. We both ordered the prix fixe menu and shared each dish with each other. The amuse chocolat reminded me of a chocolate donut with a caramel sauce that had some hints of orange juice. Inside the fritter was a warm mini-volcano of chocolate. My friend ordered a frosted salted caramel co co since it was so hot outside, and it really hit the spot. It was the perfect richness and balance between salty and sweet.

The hotcake obsession was delightfully light and citrus-y, the perfect brunch fare. The pancakes were thinner and thicker and consistency than most household pancakes and had a texture similar to crepes. The lemon thyme butter with just a bit of the berry compote made this dish delicious.The S’Mores, which our server had warned was her least favorite dish, was alright. It was all just a little too much for a brunch meal. The french toast had a hole carved out of it which was oozing dark chocolate and had been stuffed with house-made marshmallows. Some bites of it had the texture of bread pudding because it had absorbed the marshmallow and chocolate, but at times it was too rich for even me. The milk chocolate mousse cracker and banana compote were separate from the french toast. I could have done without the milk chocolate mousse and wished the banana was served on the french toast because it was a bit awkward to keep going back and forth between the two.

By the time the last course came, we were completely stuffed. But, we had to make room for the delicious desserts! We each received a two choices of four desserts, so naturally we got all four so we could try them all! They were each all the perfect size and very rich. From left to right below: Pistachio panna cotta, raspberry/dark chocolate tart, triple chocolate mousse, and chocolate peanut butter “cup”. I liked the light flavor of the pistachio, but the peanut butter dessert was too rich. The triple mousse was alright, but the three different flavors weren’t distinct. The raspberry chocolate tart was the worst because it was plain and the pastry itself seemed store-bought. That, and I don’t care for hairy berries~.

co co. sala has an interesting and unique idea for brunch, and for $22 its a real deal. It might be just a tad too decadent for my taste, so I’ll reserve it for special occasions like an afternoon tea at the Ritz.


La Sandia

Food Decor Service Cost
20 20 20 $30

This is an update of a previous review.

At the request of the manager, I went back to visit La Sandia for an “eight course tasting menu to showcase the traditional ingredients they use while executing dishes in a modern way”. I didn’t know this the first time I went to La Sandia, but they’re in the Zengo family, and I love Zengo (despite their refusal to change the statement zengo means giving and receiving in Japanese, even though I told the marketing manager that it in no way or interpretation means that and means before and after, but I digress). Long story short: take this review with a grain of salt. This is not going to be the average dining experience since I had the manager(s) personally visiting after every dish and asking my opinion, and the waiter and chef were made aware of my presence ahead of time. I try to keep my opinion objective as possible, taking into consideration my previous experience, the taste of the food itself, and the decor. Also keep in mind that I don’t have a real taste for Mexican food (in general).  Namely, I like a few other cuisine types (including Asian) far better.


It seems as if this La Sandia is a different one than I visited before. There are the same decorative lit walls made to look like stained glass here and the menu still has the Cobb salad and sangria, but it just feels different. There still is something that still doesn’t quite work here, maybe I can’t get over it that this restaurant is in a mall, but the vibe has pulled together nicely and the restaurant is considerably full for a Wednesday night. Our server, Alex, is attentive at all the right moments and even adds a dish at the end of our meal “because he likes chocolate too”. The manager who meets us before and after each course tells the dishes’ stories effortlessly, as if he farmed the ingredients and cooked them himself. The other manager lingers a little too long and seems a bit nervous, but it’s fine. Chips and salsa are brought out, but the chips are slightly stale and cold. Salsa is nothing to have an epiphany over, but it’s edible. We receive our drink orders (which are both for me) of a Passion Fruit Mojito and the Aguas Frescas  of the day, Watermelon. The frescas is warm, but after a few swizzles of the the straw becomes drinkable. I like the watermelon taste and it’s not too sweet. The mojito tastes like a regular mojito, with no strong passion fruit taste. If I wouldn’t have ordered it myself, I wouldn’t have guessed it had passion fruit in it. The menu is thoughtfully left with us so we can read along with our courses and muse over other dishes we might have chosen.

Courses and Detailed Thoughts

I’ll list our courses in order with responses to each one to break it up a bit.

Roasted Corn Soup

The soup was served in small cups with a drizzle of huitlacoche vinaigrette on top. It tasted very similar to creamed corn, so if you don’t like creamed corn, you won’t like this. The vinaigrette, which was explained as “a mexican truffle oil […] is taken from a very rare mushroom that grows on corn”, and the sips which had it were exponentially better than sips without.

Ceviche Tasting

The mahi mahi ceviche in a sauce made of ketchup or tomato (I got two different answers) was okay. It would have tasted alright on it’s own if it hadn’t have been pair with the rock shrimp ceviche, which was great. The mahi mahi had a very strong fishy taste, which brought to mind the question of freshness, and the flavors of the sauce fell flat. The rock shrimp came to life in the orange juice-jabanero ceviche, which did a great job of balancing sweetness with spice. Both the mahi mahi and the shrimp were blanched for about five seconds before being added into the mix.

Beef & Chorizo Empanadas

The empanada dough itself on the outside was too thick and fried too deeply for my taste, but this was one of my favorite dishes (not that you can go wrong with chorizo). I really liked the play of sweet and savory in this dish with the raisins, almonds, oaxaca cheese, crema fresca, and chile chipotle. People that do not like having sweet sides or sauces with their proteins will not like this though.

Pork Carnitas Sopes

I did not like the texture of the corn masa cake in this dish, and even though it had a lot going on (black bean puree, shredded napa, blood orange-habanero glaze, pickled onion) I didn’t really taste it. This was due in part to the plating of the dish–the masa was piled so high with layers that it was impossible to get everything in each bite, which was in my opinion a disservice to the dish itself.

Chipotle Shrimp

This was another dish that seemed to have so much going on that it just fell flat. The prawns themselves were perfectly cooked and had a great texture. The white rice sauteed with market vegetables seemed bland despite the fact that there were so many ingredients. The bites with the fresh sweet corn saved this dish for me.

Tacos al Pastor

If I had read the menu description of this dish, I would not have ordered it. But on the plate, everything came together perfectly. The adobo marinated pork was juicy and cooked to perfection with a great texture. It played well off of the pineapple in the dish, even though I thought the two would compete more then complement. Served with a tomatillo salsa (which we were informed is actually a berry!).

Chipotle BBQ Ribs

The story for this dish is about how the chef is from Northern Mexico and spent ten years in Kansas perfecting barbecue. The meat was very tender and delicious, but the sauce overpowered the meat itself.

Corn Tamal

Apparently, this is one of the favourites at La Sandia, even though it’s a side. This, in theory, is a great dish–I could see where it was going. As it was being explained to me, I understood how it was supposed to taste, but it didn’t taste that way. The sweet corn filling walked the perfect line of sweet and savory, but I was lost when the topping came into play. The cubes of cheese and cilantro did not integrate at all with the corn. In fact, when I tried to take the first bite, all of the (poblano?) cheese cubes bounced off of the top of the tamal and onto the plate, taking the cilantro with it. In theory, the cheese is served warm on top of the corn and adds a real creaminess to cut the sweetness the corn has. In reality, the cheese was cold, hard to cut (even with silverware), and had the consistency of tofu. The corn itself is similar to the taste of warmed-but-not-yet-baked-into-a-corn-muffin cornmeal.

Caramel Flan

I thought I would like this, but it tasted as if someone took a container of condensed milk, burned the bottom, and turned it upside down on a plate. The pineapple-strawberry pico de gallo on top was nice, but did nothing to cut the richness and odd flavor of the flan. I thought Mexican desserts were supposed to be “light” ?

El Tres Leches

This dessert was odd. The chiffon cake itself was shockingly cold but the sauce was warm. The sauce comprised of three milks (including evaporated and condensed) was very interesting and I still cannot make up my mind whether I like it not.

Morenita Sundae

When we expressed that we liked the two desserts, but they weren’t amazing since we’re more “chocolate people”, our server brought out this little dessert out of empathy because he “likes chocolate too”. The cinnamon ice cream made with goats milk was amazing, but the brownie tasted like it was sold by a place that doesn’t quite specialize in baked goods.


It’s unfortunate that La Sandia is in a mall. The type of customers that frequent Tysons Corner generally aren’t going to be the type to try real Mexican food, down a shot of one of their 100 tequilas, or appreciate the stylized decor. And unfortunately, the clientele of a restaurant becomes part of its decor. As a result, I see La Sandia as a restaurant still struggling to find its identity. One thing that I do appreciate is that while they acknowledge that patrons are looking for a quick bite of fajitas (similar to Don Pablo’s or Rio Grande), they encourage diners to try one of their many dishes that blend familiar territory with fresh and new ingredients. And there are great dishes to be had.

La Sandia is on a mission, however, to stay true to Mexican cuisine, and is doing the right thing by reaching out for feedback and changing as a response. They are participating in this summer’s restaurant week with a menu that rings of Oyamel (grasshopper tacos, beef tongue tacos, excellent drinks) and are undergoing another menu change in September. La Sandia brings comfort food mixed with downtown class to Northern Virginia, but I’m not sure that this shopping mall is ready for it.

La Sandia, Courses 1-4

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