Candy Sagon fills in for Tom Sietsema this week, filing a review of Arlington's Americanized hot pot spot Mala Tang. Though she fills up too quickly on street snacks on her first visit, Sagon works her way around the menu and concludes that chef Liu Chaosheng's latest venture is worth a solid two stars. She approves of all the proteins that accompany Mala Tang's individual hot pots, but reserves the highest praise for the street snacks (the pork dumplings "rock") and entrées:
"I'd give the cumin fish four stars. It has a light, crunchy fried coating and is peppery with ginger and garlic. Ditto for the gong bao chicken, stir-fried with dried chilies, garlic, green onion and peanuts. It's sneaky-hot, but so good you'll mop your sweaty forehead and keep eating."
Not as good are the "doughy and underseasoned" green onion pancakes and desserts as an afterthought — though apparently the restaurant has some ideas in the works for Asian-inspired gelato. [WaPo]
Todd Kliman adds Bangkok 54 and Fiola to the list of places where he's eating now, saying of the latter that it has moved beyond the early months in which it earned 2.5 stars from the critic and some lecturing about it needing to "pick a direction and stick with it." Now Kliman reports: "The best of these plates—an astonishingly flavorful ragu of wild hare with thick bands of papardelle, a double-cut, prosciutto-wrapped veal chop with toasted hazelnuts that accent the sweetness and nuttiness of the meat, a bowl of tender meatballs in a tomato sauce that frankly puts most Italian grandmothers to shame—marry rusticity with refinement." [Washingtonian]
Chris Shott goes into Jamaican Joe's, despite being put off by the restaurant's tagline that reads "Want to get jerked?" He once had a jerk chicken sandwich this one time when he was in Jamaica and is "pleasantly surprised" by how much he likes the Adams Morgan version: "The pulled chicken is smothered to almost McRib-like proportions in the spiced sauce, interspersed with slivers of plantains, topped with lettuce and tomato and a tad of mayo. Maybe the tastiest part of the whole thing, though, is the coco bread it's served on, which kind of reminds me of a pillow-soft dinner roll." [WCP]
THE BLOGS: DMV Dining says Mia's Pizzas is both casual and unpretentious, while Taqueria La Placita is "one of the most authentic taquerias in the Washington metropolitan area"; DC-Wrapped Dates likes Burger Tap and Shake just fine but wouldn't go through the trouble of having it again, but meanwhile files a rave for Fiola; We Love DC revisits Cuba Libre after its first year.
Mala Tang [Photo: Tiffany P./Yelp]