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D.C. Dining
Yenching Palace, IndeBleu win raves
(Published February 20, 2006)

By MARTY PEARL

As my eyes look at puddles seeping from below melting piles of dirty snow, my heart turns to memories of palm trees, sandy beaches, and hollow coconuts and pineapples filled with rum and topped with paper umbrellas that shade maraschino cherries.

Yes folks, I attended the trade conferences at the Adventures in Travel Expo at the convention center last week. There was a slight difference of opinion, as my idea of an adventure is walking from my luxury suite to the first tee, and theirs is swimming with great white sharks and playing about on mountains that make Everest look flat. That said, there really was a lot in the middle that allowed for travelers who have not attended the Indiana Jones School of International Running Around.

If the promoters are to be believed, hiking and riding horses through people's back yards in Ireland is big this year, as are the submarine rides in the Caribbean and the always-popular bouncing off big rocks in rubber boats while you shoot the rapids in lots of canyons around the world. Eco-tourism is still in; you were there but nobody (especially the local flora and fauna) is supposed to know it. The typical ski resorts and deep-sea fishing vacations were well represented, but the biggest adventure of all -- visiting what used to be your money in Las Vegas -- was conspicuous in its absence.

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Today we examine three of my favorite searches all in one paragraph: Sunday brunch, a nice buffet and inexpensive-but-good Chinese fare. At what may well be one of the truly great bargains in town, the venerable Yenching Palace at 3524 Connecticut Ave. NW offers its Sunday buffet for only $6.95. Okay, it's not fabulously exciting, but they have a pretty nice selection of old standards like hot and sour soup, egg rolls, chicken wings, a half dozen hot entrees including beef, squid and chicken dishes, some plain fried rice and lo mein, and a few cold veggies and salads. The food quality is pretty good overall if you aren't expecting New York City Chinatown exotic delights, and it is usually fresh and replenished often in small batches. They list the hours as noon to 2:30, but I have seen them go on a bit later if there are a few customers still eating. This place is now in its 51st year, which suggests that they are doing something right, and I think that includes a meal that is one of the best values around for the money. Now, just to get even, I think I'll write up the fanciest $100 brunch I can find next issue.

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If you caught any of my TV cooking demos in the last few weeks, I have been showing off some interesting sauces that feature organic dried mushrooms. I want to give a tip of the hat to the supplier, both for putting out a nice selection of very high quality products and for having picked the best name for a mushroom company I have ever seen: "FungusAmongUs." You can order their stuff from www.fungusamongus.com. Dried mushrooms aren't cheap, but just a little goes a long way for flavoring dishes.

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I am a little behind the curve on this one, but I finally got a chance to visit IndeBleu, at 707 G St. NW, for dinner last week. I have tasted Executive Chef Vikram Garg's excellent foods at several charity events in town over the year or so that they have been open, but for some reason hadn't been in the restaurant. They are still one of the hottest locations in town and don't need my recommendation to fill more seats, but they have it anyway. The service was top notch, the room lovely in minimalist decor, and the food was first rate across the board. Chef is trained in French Classical technique and adds enough Indian spicing and ingredients to create an intriguing fusion style the likes of which I only have seen before on Central Park South in what was then America's most expensive Indian restaurant. We sampled several dishes with lobster as a primary ingredient, some lamb, a touch of vegetables and some really decadent desserts. Their wine list is a wake-up call for investment bankers. My only complaint was the portion size, which was a bit small to my reckoning. Chef Garg doesn't want his diners to leave too stuffed to move. Prices are high here, and although I certainly appreciate the philosophy of keep 'em wanting more, I would prefer a couple of bites more stuffing for the money -- otherwise a great meal throughout.

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Josh Gibson e-mailed the following questions to us this week and hoped that he won the free dinner for two at Smith Point. He did.

-Who has the best baguette in the city?

-Who has the best macaroni and cheese?

-Who has the best cheaper-than-Starbucks cup of coffee?

-Who has the city's best cheese course selection?

-Who has the best french fries (low-end version and high-end version)?

-Who has the best milkshakes?

-Who has the best alternate frozen beverage? (granita, smoothie, slurpee, etc.)

Now answer them for us and you may win this week's dinner for two at Smith Point, where Executive Chef Nate Bearfield will cook for you and select some nice wine to match your meal. I have a few ideas on some of the answers, but I won't judge you on whether you agree with me, but how you frame your responses. Other ways to win the prize all involve e-mailing me at chefmartydc@aol.com with your comments about the food scene in town or additional questions, and whoever writes whatever interests me most eats free.

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If you like good wines (and if you are reading this column, you probably do), you should know about an organization that is really doing some great events and serving some of the best. The French Wine Society sponsors many tastings and classes at restaurants around the area and at the French Embassy. Most of their events are in the $50 range and offer pretty good value in relation to the price of the wines they serve. You can find them at www.frenchwinesociety.org.

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Write to Marty Pearl at ChefMartyDC@aol.com or at The Common Denominator, 3609 Georgia Ave. NW, Suite 100, Washington, D.C. 20010. Messages may be left on his voicemail at (202) 722-6397.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator