Taste of Bethesda

Posted October 5th, 2007 by Deepa and filed in Food
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Bethesda and Washington area. Given constraints of time and money, the progress has been slow but delicious. So, when we heard about the Bethesda Annual Street Festival, held on the first Saturday in October, we knew we had to check it out.

4-5 streets were cordoned off in downtown Bethesda , each street ending in a make-shift stage where artists performed live. All the streets were lined with food-stalls from nearby Bethesda restaurants ranging from standard chains to the haute-cuisine establishments. About 45 different restaurants offered small servings representative of the cuisine that they make & sell. At the entrance to the street festival, we could buy “food tickets”- about 16 tickets for 20$. We could then exchange the tickets for the food items in each stall, one serving cost either 1, 2 or 3 tickets depending on the type of food and restaurant rating.

It was a wonderful way to sample cuisines from various restaurants without needing to commit to an entire entrée. I have always loved appetizers, so having an entire meal full of appetizers was great fun! And then again, it allows me a chance to decide which restaurant to pick if I wanted to sample the full menu. Of course you have no way to judge if you would like the ambience of the restaurant, but the atmosphere of the street-festival was similar to a carnival.

It reminded me of the Khau-gallis of Bombay ( and perhaps there is one in every city in India ) where eating food from the street carts was one of the few guilty pleasures we all indulged in. Generation of mothers must have warned their kids , from school to colleges, against eating food from the street cart, yet no restaurant pani-puri compares to the one made by the unkempt looking bhaiyya at the street corner. I was very excited to have the chance to eat food from the street stalls again—even if they displayed their “hygenity certificates” prominently.

We made our way through the crowd and religiously sampled the food by almost all restaurants. Some of the highlights for us included the smoked salmon on crispy toast from the Rio Grande Café and the rich crab-cake from Mcormick and Schmicks. The Shephard’s Pie, topped with the mashed potatoes (3 tickets) from the Ri-Ra Irish Pub was especially hearty and quite a surprise because I’d never order this off the menu in any restaurant. The onion tarts (3 tickets) from Brasserie Monte Carlo was another lovely treat, the pastry was perfectly flaky without being overly greasy and the onion was different from the usual sweet pastries that are generally available.

Some of the disappointments were the Argentinian chorizo from Divino Lounge and restaurant which we picked instead of the beautiful mussel paella which we should have tasted instead. We had the last few servings of filet mignon from the upscale Ruth’s Chris steak house, after standing in a long queue but the steak was cold and unappetizing & the bun was hard. The Crab-cakes from Tommy Joes were nice and cheaper (2 for 2 tickets) but was easily upstaged by the ones from Mcormick and Schmicks.

By the time we reached the end of the lane, the paella from Jaleo , offerings from Olazzo and Saphire Café had already been sampled and finished by the crowd before us. Chicken Satay was the staple food from all southeastern restaurants while the Indian staples were Butter chicken (3 tickets), samosas (2 tickets)and mango lassi(2 tickets). The only thing we didn’t sample were the ice-cream stores (Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry) and fast food chains(Chicken out Rotisserie , Papa Johns, Chipotle) and some staple restaurants (Tara Thai, Uno Chicago Grill).

The food was accompanied by your choice in music , the stage at each street end had singers and performers performing jazz, afro-Carribean music, latin American flamenco groups, some Asian (Thai or Malaysian dances) performers and a group of belly dancers performing to some upbeat middle eastern music. All in all , a great way to spend a nice October afternoon—with street music and street food.

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