Friday, May 21, 2010

Did you bike to work today?

Today was the annual Bike To Work Day in the DC area.  Local biking organization WABA organized the event and even had 'ride convoys' today to help beginners bike into their offices.  Did any of you bike to work today?

I took the plunge and rode my bike in from Wheaton to Farragut West where my office is.  It's about 13 miles each way (whew!).  I've been strategizing on bike routes since I moved to Wheaton because I would bike into downtown DC every so often when I lived in Silver Spring using either the Capital Crescent Trail (longer route but car-free) or Beach Drive.  A few weekends ago, I did a test run into my office using Plyers Mill, snaking through neighborhoods down towards Capitol View, then onto Jones Mill, which connects into Beach Drive.  The route worked, but the windy, curvy roads to get to Beach Drive were an issue both from a car safety standpoint (no shoulders) and because they were damn hard to bike up on the way home!

So after talking to some people and looking at a suggested route on WABA's website, I devised a new route, which I tried for the first time today.  Here's my disclaimer:  Part of my route to get to Silver Spring involved riding my bike on sidewalks along Georgia, which you're not really supposed to do.  I was thinking on my ride in how nice it would be if they widened the sidewalk enough to have a bike lane that people could use as a direct route to Silver Spring.  A link like that would give easy bicycle access to downtown S.S., the metro station, and the Capital Crescent Trail

Going from Wheaton to downtown DC:
-Ride the sidewalks along Georgia, using the 'bridge to nowhere' to cross the Beltway
-Take the right to 16th St., continuing to use the sidewalk until the road opens up into multiple lanes.  Then, I moved into the street
-At the weird intersection with Colesville Road, make a right turn onto North Portal.
-From there, I used the directions provided by WABA
Biking time:  1 hour
Distance:  13 miles

This route in was nice, but because of the hills, I devised a different route home through the city along streets with more gradual hills instead of the steep ones in Rock Creek.  I was pretty happy with this route.  You're always going to go uphill heading out of the city, but this route felt easier than alot of ones that I've tried and the traffic was fairly light:
Going from downtown DC (around Farragut West) to Wheaton:
-Go north on 18th St.
-Right on Florida Ave
-Left on 11th St (bike lanes)
-Hop over one block to 10th St once 11th becomes one way in the opposing direction
-Left on Randolph, then a quick right onto Kansas (bike lanes)
-Left onto Missouri, then a quick right onto 3rd St
-When 3rd ends at Blair Road, take a left then quick right to under the Metro Bridge.  This puts you onto Sandy Spring Road, which turns into Maple Ave
-Continue on Maple Ave through beautiful Takoma Park until you reach the intersection with the Sligo Creek Parkway.
-Hop onto the Sligo Creek Trail.  Once the road gets better shoulders (after you cross Colesville), I left the trail and used the road instead.
-My route home from Sligo Creek was to turn left on the trail connector leading to Windham Ln.  Windham eventually dead ends, but a foot/bike trail continues on and connects up with another section of Windham.  This road then intersects with Amherst Ave, and you're back in downtown Wheaton!
Biking Time:  1 hour 20min (like I said, there are some hills!)
Distance:  13 miles

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Encouraging Redevelopment News

A newly posted article in the Gazette covers some encouraging news about the county's redevelopment efforts for Wheaton.  The county has received multiple bids by developers for both the metro bus bays and the surface parking lot #13 in the triangle retail area.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Planning Board Update - Costco

Last week, the planning board unanimously disapproved the proposed ZTA 10-04, which would have allowed Costco to bypass the standard county process for installing a 16-pump gas station.  The Gazette has an article discussing the latest planning board decision.  The county council has the ultimate say in whether or not this goes through, and as I've mentioned before, the hearing for this decision is on May 20th.

In addition to giving me a bad opinion of Westfield management, this whole ZTA issue has also given me a fairly bad opinion of Ike Leggett.  The ZTA was originally proposed by him, in addition to the $4 million that he wants to give Costco to further sweeten the deal.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cabanita Review

I spent lunchtime on Sunday trying all sorts of tasty ethnic food at the Taste of Wheaton, then spent the afternoon over at Brookside Gardens strolling around and enjoying the nice weather.  For dinner, I was feeling adventurous, so my boyfriend and I headed over to Cabanita on 11305 Elkin St. around the corner from the Royal Mile.  This place has been on my radar ever since Eatin in Wheaton mentioned it in one of his posts

The restaurant specializes in food from the Arequipas region of Peru.  The place doesn't look like much from the outside, but inside the walls were painted a cheery yellow color with photos of Arequipas decorating the walls.  The wall-mounted TV was tuned to a spanish-language sports channel, but it was later changed to a spanish music channel.  It was a little loud, but not too distracting.

They had a fairly big menu, with just about everything listed in both english and spanish.  We did notice that a spanish-only part of the menu listed 'cuy' as being available if you give them 5 days notice.  Cuy (pronounced 'kwee') is guinea pig, which is a fairly popular traditional dish in Peru.  Well, since we didn't give them 5 days notice, cuy wasn't in the cards for us, so we looked over the rest of the menu.  It wasn't quite as cheap as we had hoped - most of the entrees were in the range of $12-$18.

We shared a pitcher of chicha, which is a corn-based drink (non-alcoholic at Cabanita).  It resembed a red fruit punch with a little bit of a cinnamon taste.  I liked it, but the pitcher was way too big for two people to share.  We then ordered an appetizer of roasted sliced potatoes, which came with a 'mild sauce' that was thick and tasted a little like peanut sauce.  It was good, but not super-exciting.

Next we ordered two entrees to share.  First was grilled beef heart, which came with crispy sliced potatoes and a vareity of corn that has really huge kernels.  It was one of the cheaper dishes at $9.  I've never had beef heart before, but the grilled skewers of meat were tender and very flavorful.
The other dish we ordered was lomo saltado.  It was about $13 and consisted of roasted beef tenderloin, onions, and red peppers all cooked in the beef broth with french fries thrown in with them.  Peruvian people really like their potatoes, but that's okay because I also love taters.  The dish came with a side of rice, which was great for soaking up the broth.  Again, the beef was very tender, and all the vegetables and beef cooked together gave the dish a rich taste.
Our bill came to about $38, but you could definitely eat for less if you skipped the appetizer and maybe ordered a glass of chicha instead of the pitcher we got.  We just happened to get two beef dishes, but they had a number of fish dishes that also looked good as well as some chicken.

The restaurant was empty when we first walked in around 6, but a few families came in later in our meal, which livened things up.  Our waitress was friendly and helpful, and I got the impression that she would have been happy to help us out if we had any questions.  I give Cabanita two thumbs up!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Tasty Taste of Wheaton

I attended my first Taste of Wheaton today with a few friends, and it was a good time.  Lots of people there enjoying the nice weather, good food, and questionable music (we had a drum circle as background music the entire hour we were there). 
Here are some reviews of the 'tastes' we had today:
Pollo Sabroso:  I had a tasty chicken pupusa with tangy cole slaw and red sauce (fairly good as far as pupusas go) with a side of fried yucca (good, but not super crispy).  My boyfriend also got some fried chicken that he enjoyed.

Hollywood East:  We had a number of smaller dim sum items from them - a baked pork bun, steamed pork bun, spring rolls, pork dumpling and a sweet sesame ball.  Both pork buns had yummy barbequed pork inside, and I really liked the sesame ball, which was filled with a sweet bean paste.  Based on the tasty food we had today, checking out the new incarnation of Hollywood East is high on our list.

Global African Cafe (an amusing website, especially if you click on 'menu'):  I got the last meat pie (sorry to Good Eatin' in Wheaton for buying the last one) and the chicken yassa.  The meat pie had a crispy shell and was filled with ground beef and spices.  It had some heat to it, but wasn't super spicy.  The chicken yassa was moist stewed chicken on the bone with carrots, peas, and onions on the broth.  Again, spices gave it a little bit of heat, but not much.  Based on what we had, we'll definitely be heading over to their restaurant sometime to try out some other dishes.

Marchones:  We all shared some mini cannolis, which were a nice sweet break from all the savory food we were having.

IHOP:  We just got some lemonade from them.  We sat near the stand to eat some food and noticed that the funnel cakes they were frying were pre-cooked and sitting in a plastic bag.  If they had been making funnel cakes with fresh batter, we would have probably gotten one.  Still, it was a better idea than trying to get people to buy pancakes at a street festival.

Los Cobanos:  This was the last place we stopped by, and were getting pretty full by this point, so I just got the chicken tamale.  After eating some amazing tamales in Mexico last year, I've been on a quest to find tamales around here that rival the ones I had on my trip.  So far, Samantha's in Silver Spring has been the best.  The tamale from Los Cobanos was still wrapped in the banana leaf when I got it and had a nice smooth texture.  It wasn't as good as the ones from Samantha's, but not bad for street food during a festival.

On deck for dinner exploratory mission to Cabanita on Elkin Street.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kensington Heights Costco Website

I found out yesterday that the Kensington Heights Citizen's Association has put together a website on all things Costco-related - a calendar of important county meetings, info on the potential hazards of gas stations, maps of the neighborhood in relation to the proposed gas station and more.  The association has been quoted, both in the Gazette and on their own website, as supporting the Costco store, so their main concern is with the gas station.

I, on the other hand, am against the whole thing completely (see my earlier post).  Regardless, their website looks like a good resource for information on the proposed development.  Check it out at

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saturday Night Dinner at Jackie's

Some good friends were visiting me this weekend and wanted to take me out for a nice dinner to celebrate a certain milestone birthday that I just had.  After considering a number of factors (a celebration-worthy venue, quality food to impress my friends visiting from Philly, etc.), we decided to go to Jackie's in Silver Spring.  After a number of recent chef changes, I wasn't sure how the experience would be, but the new chef at Jackie's didn't disappoint.

We started dinner with a complimentary breadbasket and truffled cheese fries that were cheesy, but classy (fitting in perfectly with the vibe at the restaurant).  Between the three of us, we got the hot pot tuna sashimi, seared lamb rack, and a chargrilled mexican shrimp dish (not listed in the online menu).  Each dish was very different, but they were all very flavorful and satisfying.  The mix of different ethnic cuisines seemed a little scattered to me.  In the end, though, all the dishes were modern interpretations of the international dishes, so I think they all worked.

We were planning to skip dessert because we were stuffed, but the chef herself stopped by our table and talked up the desserts, so we shared the cheesecake with shortcake crust and the banana split.  Both were simple dishes, but that was welcome after some of the more complex flavors of the entrees we had.

Jackie's is not a cheap restaurant option, but the festive atmosphere and good food make it one of the best choices in the area for a special occassion meal.  What's your pick for a special occasion dinner?

Planning Board meeting on Thursday

This is just a reminder that the planning board is meeting tomorrow (Thursday) to vote on the zoning text amendment that would allow Costco to bypass the required environmental study for their proposed gas station.  See my earlier post on information about attending the meeting or sending the board an email about this issue.

A Taste of Wheaton

This Sunday is the 15th Annual Taste of WheatonGood Eatin in Wheaton just posted about this, and I thought I'd add my own post for good measure.  I've never gone to this before, but I'm hoping to make it this year.  Tastes of food cost from $1-$5.  When I was in Marchone's last week, the owner mentioned that the will be participating, so that should be good.  The Wheaton Urban District has posted a PDF listing the rest of vendors.  I'll be looking forward to trying food from Ming Tree, El Boqueron, Umberto's, Pollo Sabroso, Los Cobanos, and Global Cafe African Grill, all of which I've never been to before.

Other non-food businesses that I'll be checking out are the Green Wheaton Sustainable Initiatives group, Brookside Garden, and the All Eco Center.  Tables that I will be booing and heckling as I walk by include Westfield Wheaton, Bob Erlich for Maryland, and Verizon (with their screwed up Fios billing that has wasted hours of my life!).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Saigonese Review

After enjoying some delicious bahn mi from Saigonese over the weekend, I went there this week for a sit-down meal to further explore its menu.  First of all, the dining room was nicer than I expected it to be - fairly clean, soft classical music playing, asian-looking musical instruments decorating the walls.  A few other tables were occupied, but it wasn't crowded.  We were seated next to their goldfish tank, and it was kind of fun to watch the fishies swim around while we had dinner.

For an appetizer, we shared an order of summer rolls and stuffed squid.  The summer rolls were okay, but a little unexciting.  There were stuffed with pork, cabbage, and vermicelli noodles.  The rolls came with fish sauce for dipping.  The pork didn't seem to have much seasoning on it, and the rolls didn't have the cilantro, mint, veggies, the other summer rolls sometimes have.  So, I would say they weren't bad, but they weren't super exciting.  My favorite place for summer rolls is the Lotus Cafe in Silver Spring around the corner from Jackies.  I was hoping Saigonese would unseat them, but no luck.  The stuffed squid was filled with a meatball-like mix of seasoned pork, crab, shrimp, and a few veggies.  It also came with fish sauce for dipping.  The squid was a little chewy (not unusual for squid), but I liked the mealball filling, even though it was kind of falling out of the squid because they cut the whole concoction into slices for easier eating.  Overall, I liked the squid better than the summer rolls, but my boyfriend found it a little greasy.

For dinner, we shared the pork vermicelli with imperial rolls and the crepe.  The pork in the vermicelli dish was more marinated and flavorful than the pork in the summer roll, so that was good, and the dish came with the usual mix of veggies, cabbage, and noodles.  I liked it and would probaby get it again. The imperial rolls were a little grease-laden, but ok.  The crepe was different from other vietnamese crepes I've had - most were like frittatas with bean sprouts, shrimp, and chicken cooked into the egg mixture.  The crepe at saigonese was extremely thin and fried to a crisp, then folded over with the sprouts, shrimp, and chicken in the middle (but not mixed in with the egg).  It almost reminded me of a really thin taco shell with the fillings inside of it.  The fillings were pretty good, but the crepe itself was kind of greasy.

So, overall, I would say that my favorite items at Saigonese were of the non-fried variety.  On my way home from work tonite, I picked up some more bahn mi for dinner, and that remains my favorite thing so far from the restaurant.  We also tried some of their fresh spring rolls with our bahn mi tonite, and I liked those better than the summer rolls we had when went there for dinner (more variety in the fillings and peanut sauce to dip them in).

Costco Updates

The Gazette posted an article on their website yesterday quoting Westfield Wheaton management saying that the Costco project will probably not move forward unless the county council waives the environmental study requirements currently in place for new gas stations at shopping centers.  I was totally scooped on this by Good Eatin in Wheaton and What's Up Wheaton, so check them out for some great coverage.

I have a big deadline at work this week, so I'm going to keep this short.  These demands by Westfield and Costco are complete crap, and I'm going to be really pissed if the county council actually passes the ZTA (zoning text amendment) that would allow the environmental study to be bypassed.  The Gazette article states that right now, a majority of council members say they will vote against the ZTA and I just hope they stand their ground as Westfield attempts to add pressure to their decision.  I also think this says alot about how Westfield views its 'neighbors' in Wheaton if its strategy for bringing in a new tenant is to try to bulldoze over any concerns that the community has.

I know the county would love to get the added tax revenue and jobs that Costco will apparently bring in, and that's why I'm still a little nervous that the council members won't hold their ground about denying the ZTA.  If something like this was going down in Bethesda, I think the council would have a much stronger reaction to it, but unfortunately, I'm just not sure if the council will stand up as strongly to defend Wheaton.

I'm posting the relevant meetings noted in the Gazette article if anyone wants to attend and have their voice heard:
1.  The Planning Board will discuss the ZTA at their meeting on May 13, 8787 Georgia Ave, Time TBD.  Right now, it's the last item listed on the board's agenda for a session that starts at 1:30pm.  Also, you can send an email to the board, and if you reference the issue you're emailing about (ZTA 10-04) and they receive it at least 24 hours before their meeting, your email message will be provided 'for the consideration of the board'.  Send your emails to MCP-Chair at My understanding is that after this meeting, the planning board will their recommendation to the county council, which will make the ultimate decision in whether to pass the ZTA.

2.  The County Council will have a public meeting at 7:30pm on May 20, 100 Maryland Ave, 7th Floor (Stella B. Warner Council Building).  I checked the county council website, and they don't post meeting agendas as far in advance as the planning board does, so right now, you can't view an agenda for the meeting on the 20th.  Their website does note that as an alternative to participating in a council meeting in person, they will accept written material either in person before the meeting starts or by mail.  It sounds like you may want to include 15 copies so that each council member can have a copy.  I would keep letters short, since in-person testimony is limited to 3 mintues, and reference ZTA 10-04 and the May 20th meeting in the letter.  The address is:
Council's Office of Legislative Information Services
5th Floor
Council Office Building
100 Maryland Ave.
Rockville, MD 20850

Between these two meetings and the Wheaton Sector Plan meeting on the 19th, there are lots of opportunities to have a say in what direction Wheaton's development heads in.  Even if you don't have time to attend one of the meetings, at least send an email to the planning board or a letter to the council.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Forum on Wheaton Sector Plan

I got an email from an employee of the county planning department about an upcoming forum to discuss the Wheaton Sector Plan.  It's being held on Wednesday, May 19th starting at 6:30pm at the Gilchrist Center on 11319 Elkin.  For more information, including a good summary of the goals for the Sector Plan, click here

I put it on my calendar and will try to make it.  This forum will be good opportunity to have your voice heard by the planning department as they work to finalize the plan that will guide Wheaton's development over the next 20 years.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wheaton Bahn Mi Report

While I'm a fan of Vietnamese food, I've never had bahn mi before.  My boyfriend, on the other hand, very much enjoys it and has been talking for a while about finding a place in Wheaton that sells it.  First of all, for any of you that have never heard of bahn mi, it's a sandwich made with a french baguette.  Side note:  there are lots of French tie-ins with Vietnamese food due to its status as a French colony until the mid 1900s (yes, I had to look that up in Wikipedia).  So the bread is French, but the filling is all Vietnamese - typically some kind of marinated grilled meat, fish sauce, cilantro, peppers and assorted other veggies.  Yum!  Check out this photo for an idea of what it looks like.

So, my boyfriend went on a quest to find us some bahn mi.  He stopped in at Hung Phat and Song Phat, but didn't see evidence of any bahn mi making at either of those locations.  He hit the jackpot, though, when he stopped by the Saigonese Restaurant on Grandview Ave right in downtown Wheaton.  Their menu in the window had a few types of bahn mi available - pork, chicken, beef, ham, plus a few other options that he couldn't remember by the time he walked back home with the payload.  We both got a grilled pork bahn mi, which costs a whopping $3.  The sandwiches were each about a foot long, which makes this a great deal for lunch or dinner.

On my first bite of the sandwich, I just bit into bread but didn't hit any fillings, and it was still a great first bite!  Wow, the bread alone was impressive.  It had a nice crispy crust that was very light and easy to bite through, and no toughness at all, which was impressive for how crispy the outside of the bread was.  The grilled pork pieces inside the sandwich had nice crispy bits on them from the grill, with the fish sauce giving it that sweet/tangy taste that I really like in Vietnamese cooking.  Other fillings included cucumbers, cilantro, and thinly sliced hot peppers.

Alas, I don't have any photos to share because I had just gotten home from a morning of hard labor at my community garden plot.  At that point, grabbing my digital camera was the last thing on my mind when I had a nice big bahn mi sitting in front of me!  The restaurant's online menu strangely doesn't list bahn mi, and the paper menu we got from them only lists bahn mi in a section that written in vietnamese, so it's not much help.  The easiest way to check out what they offer is to walk by their store front and check out the list of bahn mi that they have in their window.  Their menu has lots of other interesting food options in it, so this place is definitely on our radar for a future meal.  Also, the restaurant has seating inside, but they also have a take out counter for food to-go.

Has anyone else gotten food from Saigonese before?

Saigonese Restaurant, 11232 Grandview Ave, 301-946-8002, website