By Amanda Grace Johnson - 11/19/08 05:31 PM EST
Nothing says cozy like a hot meal on a cold day. Be it soup, stew or simple hot chocolate, the fall and winter months beget comfort foods to warm the stomach and soothe the soul.
Soup, a common craving when the temperature starts to dip, often grows dull after the seventh helping of chicken noodle or broccoli cheese. But a spicy, steaming trough of pho, a popular Vietnamese noodle soup, radiates fresh warmth throughout shivering bodies.
Appearances count for little at Rosslyn’s Pho 75, where the sterile decor is just about as unglamorous as the food is satisfying. Silky rice noodles swim in savory, aromatic broth, their sidekick a small mountain of bean sprouts, bright cilantro, fresh jalapeno and other accoutrements. Some pho fanatics dump the whole plate of garnish with reckless abandon into the steaming bowl (along with a hefty squirt of Sriracha, a strong hot chili sauce), while others prefer to choose their stylings.
Slender slices of tender beef are hidden among the tangle of noodles and sliced red onion. Pick your poison — meatballs, flank steak, eye-of-round, tendon, brisket, tripe, vegetarian — the menu may be simple, but the options keep it interesting.
But the best has certainly been saved for last: a large bowl of the hot, hearty noodle dish goes for $6.45. The establishment is open for breakfast, a surefire cure not only for a cold but also for warmth on a chilly, damp morning. And if you’re craving a big bowl but can’t bring yourself to wait more than a few Metro stops, there are acceptable alternatives to be found at Pacific Café on Capitol Hill and Nam Viet in Cleveland Park.
Pho might fit right into your budget, but sometimes a splurge is justified. Equinox isn’t the type of place many can afford to frequent, but it’s worth a visit at 5 p.m. on Fridays to indulge in the hard cider happy hour while nibbling on complimentary fall hors d’oeuvres.
I keep reaching for the adorable pumpkin fritters, tossed wisely with salt that keeps the soft balls out of cloying mush territory. Sweet potato pot stickers aren’t bad, stopping a bit too shy of crunchy, but are salvaged by a side of maple crème fraiche. A commendable attempt at caramelized onion and fig flatbread is perhaps too light on both bread and fig, but the flavor succeeds nonetheless. Venison chili easily takes the lead. It’s filling, savory and not too gamy, dotted with petite green onions and a tiny dollop of the maple crème fraiche.
The snacks are a nice touch, but the hard cider cocktails are the stars of the restaurant’s show. Sipping the fragrant, house-made cider by itself is pleasure enough, but the bar is raised when a little booze enters the fray. Though served over ice, the spirits stirred into the appley drinks warm stomachs and cheeks alike.
The tealike Autumn Sunset includes delightfully unordinary hints of hibiscus. Its herbal taste may go slightly overboard for some, but tea connoisseurs won’t be disappointed. Presentation merits initial praise for the Bloody Sour, with a floating layer of red liqueur atop a blend of citrus vodka, cider and lemon juice. Lovely, yes, but still shy of being tart enough to please the palate of a sour loyalist. Fresh mint makes an appearance in Falling Leaves No. 2, a pleasant mix of ginger-orange rum and maple syrup. The drink steals the spotlight; you may not want to order anything else.
For those who prefer their drinks sans alcohol, you can’t go wrong with classic hot chocolate. In Logan Circle lies ACKC Cocoa Gallery, where colorful tables are laden with playful products like chocolate shower soap. Most of the vibrant artwork splayed against the specialty shop’s bright red walls is for sale.
The chocolate store, which looks and feels like a coffeehouse, offers 12 specialty hot chocolates called “Divas,” all named after Hollywood starlets. I loved Lucy, a smoky drink laced with chipotle and cinnamon, but couldn’t stop sipping the Carmen Miranda, a velvety blend of dark chocolate and tart fruit that tastes like a melted raspberry cordial. Also featured are a homey hot mulled cider and a rich pumpkin spice latte, making the trip worthwhile even for those who don’t like chocolate.
Blustery evenings can make a homebody of even the most daring among us. But a trip to any of these places — or, for the truly adventurous, all of them — can make for a memorable night out with friends or a first date with a new love interest. Brave the wintry weather in favor of exploration, for now is the time of year when Washington truly comes to life.