Alexandria, VA: Sam Phao Means "Stuff Your Pie Hole With Great Food For Little Money"

Sam Phao Thai Cuisine
1019 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Old Town Alexandria
Phone: (703) 548-3736
To start, I love Thai food, so I appreciate good Thai when I taste it. Next, comparing the DC area to Lawrence, Kansas is like comparing Dom Perignon to Andre, “not gonna do it, wouldn’t be prudent”, particularly when it comes to restaurants and prices. Lawrence restaurant options are bleak at best, hardly a decent restaurant in town, but DC has an abundance of excellent restaurants and they ain’t cheap compared to the Midwest.
Enter Sam Phao, a small place in central Old Town Alexandria. I checked several menus in Old Town after a day at Mount Vernon and the prices in Alexandria (for “average” food) were not cheap. The $$ options on Yelp were running $20-$30 for an entree and we did not really want to blow another C-note for dinner (my blog is named “TravelValue” after all), then I saw Sam Phao. Their prices were very reasonable and the reviews excellent, so I hit “Directions” and off we went.
The ground floor room we entered was very small, so we were taken upstairs to a larger dining room and a table for two by the window. For starters, we ordered a Chicken Satay ($5.95) and a Crispy Wonton ($4.95). There were four large skewers of chicken satay along with the peanut sauce, cucumber relish and four 1/4 pieces of toast. The satay and peanut sauce were yummy and the toast a novelty, but it made it easy to get the chicken, peanut sauce and relish all on a fork. The six wonton had a savory minced chicken inside of the crispy fried wrapper as well as sweet and sour sauce and cucumber relish for dipping. They were excellent as well … what a great start!
For mains, my wife got the Pad Thai “J” ($10.95), thin rice noodles and mixed vegetables stir-fried with egg, bean sprouts, scallions, tofu, and crushed roasted peanuts. I ordered the Yellow Curry ($13.95) with beef, potatoes, carrots, and onion, all of them my favorites are a rare find in one dish. I was not wild about the Pad Thai because of the egg (which is optional), but it was massive and my wife loved it. The yellow curry was divine, one of the best curries i have had in a long, long time. There was plenty o’ beef, big chunks of potato, large slices of carrot, and pieces of onion along with the white rice. The curry sauce was an incredible combination of hot spiciness along with a very slightly sweet aftertaste, so I dumped the rice in the bowl of curry, instead of the other way around, and delightfully spooned the contents into my pie hole until gone … HOOAH!
At $40, including tax, for two appetizers and two entrees, we could not have been more pleased. The prices rival those of similar, but inferior, restaurants in Lawrence, so in Alexandria and the DC area, this place was THE BOMB.
CombatCritic Gives Sam Phao 9 Bombs Out Of 10, A Rare And Near Perfect Rating … More Bombs Are Better Of Course!
Nine Bombs Equates To:

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

TripAdvisor – Top Contributor

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

View my food journey on Zomato!

… And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Sam Phao Thai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Title: Alexandria, VA: Sam Phao Means “Stuff Your Pie Hole With Great Food For Little Money”

Key Words: Sam Phao Thai Cuisine, Sam Phao, Sam, Phao, Thai, cuisine, food, curry, Alexandria, VA, Virginia, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu, review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: OOH-RAH! = “U.S. Marine Expression Of Enthusiasm”

Washington DC: Oui, Oui … French With A Kick … Mon Ami

Le Grenier

502 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
H Street Corridor/Atlas District/Near Northeast
Phone: (202) 544-4999

Excellent, reasonably priced French cuisine in a historic building just northeast of the Capitol, Le Grenier was a delight.

We were cheerfully accommodated while dropping in last minute on our way back to our room in eastern DC, having decided on French instead of German while en route. The service was excellent and the food tasty, not traditional French, but spicier with possible north African or Caribbean influences. The bread was OUT OF THIS WORLD, warm and soft on the inside, crispy on the out, we ate far more than would be reasonable … oops!

I had a glass of complimentary Shiraz, courtesy of a Yelp Check-In Offer (thanks Yelp!), to start things off as well as the Casserolette de Moules (mussels and melted leeks in a creamy saffron sauce – $6.75) for my appetizer and the Pissaladière (a caramelized onion tart with herbes de Provence, creamy goat cheese, and Kalamata olives – $8.75) for my wife. The mussels were delish, but there were just five and they were, surprisingly, still in the shell, so by the time I deshelled them, there was not all that much to eat. The tart was wonderful, savory and oniony … YUM, YUM!

My wife ordered the Paupiette de Veau ($20.95), “cumin infused ground veal with crimini and oyster mushrooms wrapped in cabbage and accompanied by wild rice and a green peppercorn velouté”. The dish was excellent albeit a bit too spicy for my non-heat-seeking spouse of Italian origin, so I had to finish it for her … poor me. I had the Terre é Mer ($22.95), described as “seared merguez sausage and shrimp over chorizo confit with a goat cheese sauce, sundried tomato and pine nut dust”, accompanied by saffron infused mashed potatoes. The sole sausage was extremely thin and, unfortunately, very dry, being topped with three small grilled shrimp. The chorizo confit actually came in a flaky pastry on the side, not over, making the dish difficult to eat. Trying to get a piece of the dry sausage, shrimp, the wonderful cheese sauce, the chorizo, and the extremely flaky pastry together in one bite, with a fork no less, was next to impossible. The few times I was able to mix the appropriate ingredients together in a single bite was heavenly, but most were masticated solo or in pairs, resulting in a less than thrilling culinary experience. 

By the time we were done, we were satiated and happy, the bill coming in at $100 more or less, including tip. Not bad for a nice meal in the big city, including appetizers, entrees and two (paid for) glasses of wine.

CombatCritic Gives Le Grenier 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

Seven Bombs Equates To:

Read Reviews By CombatCritic:

Yelp – Elite ’14/’15/’16

TripAdvisor – Top Contributor

Tabelog – Official Judge (Bronze)

Zomato – #1 Ranked Foodie

View my food journey on Zomato!

… And Don’t Forget To Subscribe To TravelValue TV on YouTube

Le Grenier Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tabelog Reviewer CombatCriticView my food journey on Zomato!

Title: Washington DC: Oui, Oui … French With A Kick … Mon Ami

Key Words: Le Grenier, le, grenier, Washington DC, Washington, DC, French, cuisine, food CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, restaurant, menu review, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Zomato

Translation for Civilians: S&G = “Shits & Grins”

Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!

Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!

Little Saigon Cafe
1524B W 23rd Street
Lawrence, KS 66046

Open 10AM to 8PM daily 
Closed Sundays

Our friends told us about Little Saigon Cafe, a small, unassuming diner on 23rd Street, claiming that it is a terrific value.  I love Vietnamese food, particularly deep fried Vietnamese egg rolls with fresh mint, wrapped in lettuce leaves, and accompanied by a mild sweet and spicy dipping sauce.  Unfortunately, the fried egg rolls ($3.25 for two) only come with dipping sauce, so I asked if I could get some lettuce and mint and the lovely young lady that took our order was happy to comply.

Kitchen and Counter
You enter through what looks like a (black) service door next to what is supposed to be the main service entrance and give your order to the hostess at the cash register.  There is a large menu on the counter for reference, but it was slightly uncomfortable arriving for the first time, being unfamiliar with the menu and having to make a quick decision while trying not to hold-up the line behind us. The restaurant is small, four four-top tables and a counter that seats six, so after submitting our order, we were lucky enough to have one table still available.

I did not see a curry on the menu, for a Vietnamese restaurant an unusual experience, so I asked if they made any curries.  The man whom I assumed was the owner and knew was the chef (the kitchen is right there in front of you behind the counter) overheard me and said “we can make a curry with beef, chicken, tofu”, telling me the “Saigon Beef ($8.99) is not on the menu”.  Sold!  My wife, who is predominantly vegetarian, ordered the Vegetable and Tofu Pho ($6.99).  We also ordered the fried egg rolls, one order of pork and one vegetable (also $3.25) for my wife.

Fried Egg Roll with Lettuce and Mint
The hostess, who doubled as a server after taking our order at the counter, quickly arrived with the lettuce and mint, followed shortly thereafter with the egg rolls.  Unfortunately, both of our orders were overcooked, dark and crispy, and even though I like my egg rolls crispy, they were burnt and not golden brown as they should be.  The flavor was still good and the filling mostly pork in my case, a nice surprise for a carnivore such as myself.  The lettuce and mint helped mask the flavor of the overcooked egg rolls. I have had better Vietnamese egg rolls, with all of the accompaniments, elsewhere, but they filled the void in any event.

Saigon Beef – $8.99
The entrees arrived a little too quickly as we had only just received our appetizers, but it worked out well because the entrees had time to cool off enough to be able to eat.  My Saigon beef was massive, but mostly (egg) noodles and very little beef for the price.  There were six or seven very small pieces of sliced beef at the most, less than two ounces I would guess and not nearly enough to satiate my hunger for meat. Mostly noodles, the curry sauce was tasty at first bite and the dish was infused with stir-fried green onion and what appeared to be egg, a strange new addition in my experience. The combination of curry and egg was not something I have had before and after the first bite, it became a bit off-putting and with the small amount of beef rapidly depleted, I did not finish my dish.

Vegetable and Tofu Pho – $6.99

My lovely wife’s Vegetable Tofu Pho came in a massive bowl and was quite pleasing to the eye.  A savory blend of snap peas, tofu, bean sprouts, carrot, kale, peppers, green onions and egg noodles, the broth was light but flavorful and a nice choice for a cold winter’s night.

Little Saigon Cafe was decent, but not the best Vietnamese food I have eaten by far.  The entree prices seem a bit high for a few vegetables, broth, and noodles. With the Pho’s ingredients in the neighborhood of $2 to $3 max, $4.99 to $5.99 would be more reasonable than the current $6.99 price tag.  Many University of Kansas (KU) student reviews on Yelp and elsewhere indicated that the prices are in-fact a bit high and in a college town such as Lawrence, restaurants must cater to the needs of cash strapped students or face the music.  Little Saigon’s staff are very friendly and helpful, and that is a rarity these days, particularly in Lawrence where the food scene is not well known for excellence or customer service based on my experience.  The food is prepared to order and the ingredients fresh, so give Little Saigon Cafe a try … maybe the food will be more to your liking than mine, but then again, I am a bit finicky when it comes to Asian cuisine where lots of meat and thick, flavorful curries are more tantalizing to my tastebuds than broth, veggies, and noodles.

CombatCritic Gives Little Saigon Cafe 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: little, Saigon, cafe, Vietnam, Vietnamese, cuisine, food, eat, restaurant, diner, pho, curry, broth, vegetables, noodles, Asian, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic

"Namaste" … India Palace is a "WELCOME", but Expensive, Delight!

Lawrence, Kansas

India Palace
129 E 10th Street,
Lawrence, KS 66044

Telephone:  785-331-4300

“Namaste … India Palace is a WELCOME”, but Expensive, Delight!

Chutnies Accompany the Meat Samosas (not shown … Oops!
“Namaste” is a term used in India and Nepal as well as many other places around the world.  A customary greeting when individuals meet and a valediction upon their parting, Namaste is the most common form of such a salutation and is considered a non-contact form of salutation.  Namaste actually is formed from two Sanskrit words, “namah”, meaning  “salutation” or “ adoration” and “te”, meaning “you”. When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. This gesture, called Añjali Mudrā or Pranamasanacan also be performed wordlessly, carrying the same meaning. We were made to feel very welcome on our visit to India Palace.

Sitting a half a block off of Massachusetts Avenue, the hub of activity and the centerpiece of downtown Lawrence, Kansas, India Palace is walking distance from our home and convenient for those shopping downtown.  The décor is basic and the staff friendly and welcoming.  We were greeted immediately as we walked-in, having a reservation for a Friday night which was apparently not necessary as would be the case in most downtown restaurants on a weekend.  Based on our experience, there is only one possible reason for not being busier, a fact I will get to in a bit.  But first, let me talk about the cuisine …

Lamb Rogan Josh with Basmati Rice

I ordered a Fat Tire ($3.00 – 12 ounce mug), one of two draft

beers available on the menu, the other being Boulevard Wheat (also $3.00) and Coke products are available in addition to an assortment of bottled beer and wines.  I started with the meat samosas ($4.95 for two), a blend of ground beef and lamb, lightly seasoned with Indian spices and containing less vegetables than other samosas I have eaten at chow halls around the world.  They were moderate in size, crispy dough outside and hot, flavorful meat inside, accompanied by three sauces, two of them chutneys.  It was one of the better samosas I have had, having eaten in dozens of Indian restaurants stateside and in the United Kingdom where Indian food is a weekly staple.

We ordered the Lamb Rogan Josh ($14.95): tender morsels of lamb cooked in an onion sauce with yogurt, nuts, and a unique blend of spices and coriander; Sag Paneer ($11.95): simmered with fresh spinach cooked with homemade cheese and spices; and Beef Curry ($12.95); succulent pieces of beef cooked in thick curry sauce with herbs, all accompanied by large servings of bismati (white) rice.  I asked the server if they had pilau rice, my favorite, a kind of Indian fried rice with peas, onions, and other vegetables and spices, much more flavorful than the bismati rice we received, but unnecessary because the rice is quickly covered with the entrees when consumed.

Beef Curry with Onion Nan
All entrees and the bismati rice are served in small copper pots, piping hot from the kitchen and easily shared amongst our table.  The lamb rogan josh came with medium size chunks of tender lamb in a medium-thick, creamy and mildly spicy red sauce which was delicious.  At $14.95 for entrée with rice, I would expect more food, but would recommend lowering the price instead because the serving is more than enough for one person.  I have seen entrees that size and quality in the $8-$12 range at other restaurants, so maybe that explains why India Palace was not busier on a Friday night.  It is a shame because so many restaurants, including India Palace, try to generate profits by raising prices instead of providing quality food at a reasonable price or through competitive marketing (e.g. Social media, coupons – Groupon).  In a college town like Lawrence, you are not going to generate much business by charging $10–$15 for entrees (ala carte) and that seems to be the case at India Palace.

The sag paneer is a thick, spicy, creamed spinach concoction with chunks of Indian cheese and was mild enough for my Italian wife who cannot handle spicy dishes.  Slightly sweet, yet spicy, it was one of the better sag paneers we have tried in recent memory, but again, at $10.95, slightly overpriced based on the inexpensive ingredients.  The majority of India is vegetarian and I am a carnivore, but Indian chefs use exotic spices such as curry and coriander so well that I do not even miss the meat!  The beef curry was also a bit pricey at $12.95, yet rich and delicious.  As a comparison, I recently had a wonderful beef Massaman curry at Zen Zero, a Thai restaurant down the street from India Palace on Massachusetts, including jasmine rice for just $7.69 … $5.26 less than my curry at India Palace!

Sag Paneer with Nan

The lunch buffet may be a better value, but unsure of the price, I will have to get back to you on that one.  I absolutely love butter chicken, rich, creamy boneless chicken chunks cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, and a touch of tomato in a light creamy sauce and spices, also served with rice and the server indicated that it is sometimes on the buffet (it is on the menu).  Delightful staff, we felt very welcome during our entire meal, and the food was some of the best Indian I have had, and that is “a lot”.  Unfortunately, our bill totaled $75 including tip, $25 per head and not an inexpensive proposition.  Considring the fact that there are two fast-food Indian restaurants within a few blocks either way on Mass, India Palace should seriously condor lowering their prices and focusing on “value” by utilizing coupons and Groupons to drawn 30,000 hungry students.

CombatCritic Gives India Palace 6 Bombs Out of 10 … Bombs Are GOOD!
India Palace on Urbanspoon

Key Words: India, Palace, Indian, food, cuisine, eat, curry, samosa, nan, rice, rogan, josh, vindaloo, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, combat, critic, twitter, Facebook