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Busboy

DC: Cheap Eats in Ward 1 (north central)

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Back in Olden Tymes the District of Columbia had several separate incorporated jurisdictions within it and the city limits of Washington proper (as envisioned by L'Enfant and executed by Ellicott and Banneker) were, in part, marked by the passage of Boundary Street, today known to crowds of club-goers as Florida Avenue and U Street.

Despite creeping gentrification (I plead guilty), this path at the foot of the hill still serves as a rough divider between the increasingly affluent inhabitants of Logan Circle, Dupont and even parts of Shaw on the one side and -- up the hill -- we proles who just can't shell out a million bucks for a modest row house. Up in Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant (my 'hood), Petworth, the Howard U. neighborhood, 14th Street Heights and so on we're a little less well-scrubbed and a little more likely to be immigrants, students or members of a minority group. Not that one bunch is better than the other, just that our neighborhoods play "yin" to the ritzier areas' more-publicized "yang." So, in this topic I hope to shine a little more light on the "yin" side of things (and hope that others will pitch in, as well).

If any place gets "hot," we'll give it its own thread, in the mean time, we'll have a little romp through the kind of neighborhoods the tourists never see and the guidebooks never note. This isn't fine dining, it's fun dining, and honest, competent cooking (and cheap) is the ultimate goal.

First up, two establishments almost right next door to one another, just on the edge of our turf: Pyramid Moroccan Restaurant and Zebenech Injiera, Deli and Grocery. There are certain connoisseurs who claim that the best Moroccan, Ethiopian and Thai (I'll get there, eventually) restaurants in the city are three pocket-sized family-run (what else) places within a block of one another on a not-unskeevy block of T Street, NW. I'll agree just because it makes me (and now, you) feel like one of the cool kids to be in on that kind of secret. And, without a doubt, Pyramid and Zenebech are worthy spots.

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Modern truck stop wisdom: Always eat where the cabbies eat.

Zenebech only has two tables and bay window ledge looking out over the intersection of Florida and T. But you've tasted its cooking: they make something like 90% of the injera served in Washington's Ethiopian restaurants and, as you wait for your dinner, you'll likely see Ethiopian singles and families pop into to pick up a load to take home.

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This guy works the front and mom cooks in the back.

In fact, if you've a hankering to try cooking Ethiopian on your own, they also offer an array of spices, beers and even CDs so that you can set the mood. The kitfo (raw beef with drawn butter, home-made cheese and spices) is excellent and the doro wat (stewed chicken) a powerful version of what is considered Ethiopia's national dish. And, my friend met Haile Selassi's grandson there the other day.

Service is friendly and quick and, if you want carryout, you can do what the regulars do: just pull up on the sidewalk and dash in -- no need to hunt down a parking spot.

Zenebech Injera, Deli & Grocery

608 T Street NW

Washington, DC 20001

202-667-4700

Three doors down from Zenebech sits Pyramid, boasting an equally unassuming front and equally homey food inside.

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Easy to miss.

I'm not sure what Pyramid considers its house specialty, but they describe Bastilla as a "must try" on their menu and you must try it. It's almost a little chicken pie, with shredded chicken encased in a phyllo-type crust (they say they make it in house) and -- here's the cool part -- spicing dominated by cinnamon, cardamom and a dusting of powdered sugar. It's freakin' addictive.

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Bastilla: Be still my beating heart.

We've been twice, both times relatively early, and both times gotten a friendly kind of "we're wrapping up for the day but what can I get you?" vibe from the proprietress, Khadija Banouas. 'deed, if you're not careful, she'll sit and talk with you all night while the tangine is finishing up (a little dry the one time we tried it) and, if it goes on too long, you might get some tea and a selection of hors d'oeuvres to munch on while you wait. Think about the carrot salad and the non-pita bread (similar to naan) as something to grab in addition to the bastilla, and my wife was quite partial to the fried okra. And the hummus is divine.

The menu is relatively long for a small place, so there's still a lot to explored. But nothing on it's over $8.00 (for the "lamb chunk," among other dishes) and it offers burgers and a tuna sub for your unadventurous friends. Khadija (aided on our second visit by Sihab, who is Syrian but is the go-to gal for Egyptian food, as well) promised that there will be quite a spread for Ramadan, which begins September 13th this year. She's invited us to come by and we surely will.

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Sihab and Khadija wielding their tangines.

Pyramid

1840 6th St. (at Florida Avenue) NW

Washington DC 20001

202-232-6776

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Thank you, thank you, thank you Busboy/Charles :wub: for these intriguing and delicious looking recommendations. My how T Street has changed. I grew up on 1st and T--aka the "unit" block--but haven't been back to the 'hood for a while now (does it have a new, gentrified name yet?). I look forward to checking out these two places since I adore both Moroccan and Ethiopian food. Now if we could just get Mr. T's Carryout back with his "famous" chicken wings and Mambo sauce, that neighborhood would be absolutely perfect. :wink:

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Thank you, thank you, thank you Busboy/Charles :wub: for these intriguing and delicious looking recommendations.  My how T Street has changed.  I grew up on 1st and T--aka the "unit" block--but haven't been back to the 'hood for a while now (does it have a new, gentrified name yet?). I look forward to checking out these two places since I adore both Moroccan and Ethiopian food.  Now if we could just get Mr. T's Carryout back with his "famous" chicken wings and Mambo sauce, that neighborhood would be absolutely perfect. :wink:

In a lot of ways the area around sixth is much the same -- both in good ways (though ethnicities have changed, both Pyramid and Zenebech are very much working-class establishments) and bad (the Howard Theater is still a menacing hulk). As for the new, gentrified name, my bet is that they'll allow "LeDroit Park" to jump across Florida Avenue and annex a little bit of Shaw. :wink:

There's now a farmer's market every Sunday about two blocks from your old house. It's still a little mentally jarring to stumble across it.

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For those of us who cling to the other side of the ward as tenaciously as Eva St. Marie NNW, this is valuable as well as entertaining. I look forward to more reports, especially if you charm your way into the kitchen and get to document more of what goes on there.

I'd like to learn more about that phyllo-like dough, especially after reading this report of a Kurdish meal.

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Ercilia's

3070 Mt. Pleasant St. (Mt. Pleasant and Irving)

(202) 387-0909

I've been living on Irving Street for almost eight years now and that means I've probably literally walked past Ercilia's a thousand times. Something there is that does not love a pupasa, apparently and besides, in Mt. Pleasant, when you get a jones for Latin food you just go to the grocery store and cook it yourself. So for years we never made the quick stroll to the corner of Irving and Mt. Pleasant.

Bit of a mistake, that.

Ercilia's is the kind of neighborhood joint where you feel a little bad interrupting the counter ladies who seem to be preparing for some kid's birthday party, they're all showing off the little dwarf-sized soccer uniforms the lucky dude's going to get, still in their cellophane wrapper from the dollar store down the street. And someone's friend is folding her laundry on a table -- there's a laundromat next door -- and catching up on the gossip while keeping one eye on the telenovella on the TV. It feels like a girls' place -- when was the last time you were in an ethnic restaurant and it was the soaps, rather than soccer on the TV?

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For whatever reason I've always thought of Ercilia'a as a pupuseria, but it offers a lot more than that. Pupusas, for the uninitiated, are white corn tortillas stuffed with a a variety of savories -- cheese being perhaps most prominent -- fried and served warm and gooey. These were pretty good, about a buck-an-a-half a pop, stuffed with queso and chicharrones and, my favorite, shrimp and cheese. I may have to abandon chicken wings as my fall Sunday junk food fix.

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But what blew us was was not the pupusas (which came with a tasty slaw and some excellent salsa on the side, btw) but the sopa de mariscos, a shellfish soup that -- had we been wearing socks -- would have knocked them off. Hey, it probably wasn't Marseillaise bouillabaisse but is was chock full of tasty sea creatures -- shrimp, scallops, crab, mussels and so on -- in a broth with a bit of tomatoes and a lot of garlic. And don't be ordering the sopa de mariscos saying that you don't want your fish to taste "fishy," 'cause this soup tastes of the sea. And, at $8.95, it's dirt cheap.

Lot more to explore at Ercilia's, but the soup is a keeper.

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Ercilia's

3070 Mt. Pleasant St. (Mt. Pleasant and Irving)

(202) 387-0909

Lot more to explore at Ercilia's, but the soup is a keeper.

gallery_7296_5130_775034.jpg

So tell me: how do you manage to eat the crab in the soup with those plastic spoons? :blink:

On the basis of your review, I believe Mr. Rosebud and I would be available to continue the exploration of the menu with you and Mrs. Waitman. :raz:


Edited by rosebud (log)

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Ercilia's

3070 Mt. Pleasant St. (Mt. Pleasant and Irving)

(202) 387-0909

Lot more to explore at Ercilia's, but the soup is a keeper.

gallery_7296_5130_775034.jpg

So tell me: how do you manage to eat the crab in the soup with those plastic spoons? :blink:

On the basis of your review, I believe Mr. Rosebud and I would be available to continue the exploration of the menu with you and Mrs. Waitman. :raz:

We cracked the crab with our fingers and sucked the meat out, though I have no idea if this is the traditional strategy.

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Ercilia's

3070 Mt. Pleasant St. (Mt. Pleasant and Irving)

(202) 387-0909

Lot more to explore at Ercilia's, but the soup is a keeper.

gallery_7296_5130_775034.jpg

So tell me: how do you manage to eat the crab in the soup with those plastic spoons? :blink:

On the basis of your review, I believe Mr. Rosebud and I would be available to continue the exploration of the menu with you and Mrs. Waitman. :raz:

We cracked the crab with our fingers and sucked the meat out, though I have no idea if this is the traditional strategy.

That soup looks amazing. Thanks for covering these places. The little ethnic places are trully gems.

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La Molienda Restaurant

3568 14th St NW, Washington 20010

Phone: 202-291-0855

If you make your way to the corner of 14th Street. and Park Road NW you’ll find yourself at ground zero of the latest yuppie bomb to explode over DC, surrounded by girls with tattoos peeking out of their high-top Chucks or cascading down their upper arms, boys with goatees and baby strollers, and the kind of affluent young urbanite that doesn’t feel weird walking down the street in a T-shirt declaring his or her participation in a kickball league. Whether this is a) bringing new life to a run-down residential and commercial corridor; b) sucking the soul out of a soulful place; c) a

condo bubble waiting to burst; or d) all of the above, remains to be seen.

One thing is clear, though: there’s an invisible blast wall that seems to run down Newton Street that for better or for worse effectively contains the yuppie hordes just a couple of blocks north of ground zero. Walk up past the restored Golden Age Movie House -- with a hip bar where the projection room used to be, a Spanish-language performance space and an odd warren of offices favored by left-ish non-profits – past the almost always almost empty Ruby Tuesdays, past the ugly office building rising where the last great slummy Giant Foods used to stand (the new version is next to the movie theater) and the neighborhood changes in an instant.

Instead of coffee shops and organic dry cleaners, you have pupuserias and used furniture stores. The people on the front steps aren’t waiting to go the wood-oven pizza place, they’re just hanging out, ‘cause that’s what they do. The kids hollering and racing along the sidewalk wear polo shirts from the local public school, not their soccer league or the kind of private schools people like me send their children to. Of course you’re not surprised to find yourself the only person not-of-color (if you are indeed not-of-color) on the block, or to see that annual household income statistics have collapsed since you left the condo canyons. But even in a city where affluence and poverty bump against one another in a number of neighborhoods, it’s a bit breathtaking how suddenly dramatically the social, economic and commercial character of the neighborhood changes (and a bit fun – you came to the city for its diversity, right?). And it’s surprising that so many are willing to wait so long to pay so much for Park Road Yuppie Chow, when there’s so much cool stuff so few blocks away.

Take La Molienda (“The Milling” -- your guess is as good as mine; that’s what it said on Babelfish).

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In a strip marked by storefront carryouts and the kind of Chinese places where you order through bullet-proof glass, La Molienda catches your eye with its cool neon and handsome front. And, once inside you realize that you’ve stumbled into not just a joint, but a pleasant little restaurant, with low lights, a nod in the direction of décor and large windows that allow you to keep tabs on the show walking by outside and give the place a friendly feel.

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OK, the music’s a touch loud, and there’s two TVs –one for football and one for the telenovellas. But the TVs are blessedly small-screened, low volume affairs and music louder than I like it seems to be yet another highly-contagious cold sore of the current age.

And the food is pretty dang good.

I mean, a pair of flat-grilled quail (Codorniz la Parilla) with crispy, salty skin served with sides of rice and beans for $11.95? You really can’t beat that with a stick. And while I thought the whole grilled rockfish was a smidge overdone, my dining companions – whose credibility in these matters far exceeds mine – tore into it without hesitation.

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Backtracking a bit, the appetizers were far more hit than miss. My wife’s hearts of palm salad was a deeply misguided attempt to get some green into the meal; the less said, the better. And I was not keen on the batter-dipped plantains with drawn butter on the side; YMMV. But the cheese pupusas were pretty good, kind of a macho variation with a heavier tortilla and a cheese that doesn’t telephone wire out on you when you bite into it. The CD-sized white corn tortillas deep fried and topped with shredded chicken billed as Salvadoran Chicken Chiledes delivered the requisite zing and crunch.

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I was particularly gratified to see my friend woof down the Chicharrones con Yucca (or was it Yucca con Chicharonnes?) because that’s the dish that had lured me back, after I stumbled across La Molienda while looking for another restaurant earlier this year. Mexican chicharrones are deep-fried pork rinds – fresh cracklins, if you will – but Salvadorans apparently deep-fry the meat itself, coarsely chopped, and give it the same name. Served with thick batons of yucca and topped with some of the powerful green chile sauce set on every table, it’s quite tasty.

I finally found out what that cole slaw stuff that comes with pupusas (often topped with tomato sauce) and any number of other dishes is: cortido. And La Molienda’s is excellent. On the other hand the lettuce and tomatoes were unsurprisingly horrid. And, for what it’s worth, there’s a “Mexican Corner” on the menu if you’re in the mood for the same old stuff.

Service in the too-empty restaurant (get up here you yuppies! spend some money!) was wonderful, provided by a sweet young woman who seemed positively nervous to be waiting on us and who worked with around our odd Spanglish to deliver food and drink with aplomb. And such a deal! Aside from a curiously pricy round of tequila (maybe my wife ordered the good stuff, my Spanish is virtually nonexistent), the whole bill for four apps, five entrees and a smattering of beer and wine came to less than a hundred bucks, after tax.

La Lomienda is a too-rare reminder that you don’t always have to choose between an authentic hole-in-the wall and a nicer spot that’s diluted its cooking to appeal to American tastes and our craving for mediocre Tex-Mex. We shall return.

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Unlike my erudite dining companion, I kinda liked the plantains, but, then again, I pretty much like anything that's fried, so don't count on me to be an accurate judge.

Also, I had some Salvadoran style enchiladas that were filled with black beans that I was pretty crazy about. They were surprisingly large, with a thick masa skin (say, maybe, 1/2" thick) and the bean filling was slightly spicy, slightly salty, slightly perfect. They were really inexpensive and would make a good quick lunch. I'll be doing that soon, I suspect.

The chiccarones con yucca were the bomb. I loved those things. A really good dish that I had never had, at least not in that form, before. Delicious. Too bad my dining partner is such a fast eater. I would have liked to have had a few more bites. Whatever happened to good manners and sharing? Ms. Manners would have been appalled.

I did really like the whole fish, as did my dining partner, so I suppose that's just a matter of taste in terms of "how fried do you want that pesca, buddy?" It was a good piece of fish and pretty easy to bone, which means that they did a good job with it before they brought it out to the table.

I'm totally with Busboy on the tomatoes. I just don't get it. Even in an inexpensive kind of place, why serve crappy ones when you can get tasty ones. Good ones, especially in that area of the country with a unusually warm early fall like they are having, aren't that hard to get and not particularly expensive. I bought a whole bag of great ones, probably 7 pounds or so of mixed varieties, on the way home from Rehoboth and I think that the whole deal was about a dollar a poun)d (it was very late in the day, on a Sunday, and the fruit stand guys didn't want any left to take back-but still, they don't cost that much unless you only shop in the Dupont farmers market for them-then they cost alot. That's pretty reasonable no matter how you like to slice them.

Anyway, I really liked the place and look forward to going back.

As for the neighborhood, well, being from New Orleans and seeing what's going on there gives me some ray of hope. While there is certainly a new, hip factor to the hood, there is also a solid base of multi-ethnic housing all over the place and businesses of all sorts that, according to my friend who has lived in the place for a very long time, mostly have long term leases so they will be able to enjoy the new traffic, as well-either that or sell their leases for a ton of money, which is a good thing too.

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(Tired of this yet?) :wink:

Adam Express,

3211 Mount Pleasant St. NW

202-328-0010

8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday

It’s hardly news that Koreans own a huge percentage of the independent shops, groceries and fast food joints in many cities (though here in DC that they’re beginning to retire and sell off to more recent immigrants). So how come you can’t get good, cheap Korean fast food downtown?

Were you to walk out my front door and stroll for half an hour on the kind lovely autumn evenings we’ve been having hereabouts lately you could probably find 20 joints owned and operated by Korean families dishing out the kind of cheap Chinese food that always somehow tastes of the bullet-proof glass behind which it is prepared and sold – along with cigarettes, chicken wings, shrimp baskets and other indigenous junk. Just thinking about the hours I’ve spent in the fluorescent forecourts of these storefront grease factories is enough to make my liver hurt; surely there is no better reason (surely there is no other reason) to visit the 14th Street Yum’s than that drinks before dinner became drinks for dinner became after dinner drinks until the potent aroma of MSG and peanut oil lured you off menacing and deserted streets and you found yourself saying “extra peppers, please,” beneath purgatory lighting and sliding crumpled singles through the slot.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. Just get over to Mt. Pleasant Street, pass a couple of the aforementioned Kung Pao palaces and hi yourself over to Adam Express. Adam Express certainly offers Chinese food, which has never crossed my lips. And they have sushi. Blessedly, they specialize in the kind of rolls that feature cooked or vegetable stuffings rather than those that rely on impeccably fresh fish. My teenage kids and their friends find it the height of adolescent sophistication to blow of McD’s in favor of Adams Express sushi and, if you’re in the mood for eel or a California roll, it ain’t bad.

But the reason you want to go to Adams Express is because the Korean owners actually cook Korean food. I am no expert on Korean food – DC’s “Koreatown” is, regrettably deep in suburbia and I don’t get out much – but I am confident in asserting that owners Bae Hyolyuk wife Boo Hyang are turning out tasty food in large portions, featuring sharp spicing and substantially less grease that your average fried rice platter or jumbo slice.

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The bi bim bap is a personal fav, with slow-cooked beef encircled by an assortment of sautéed and pickled vegetable – seaweed, eggplant, mushrooms… -- topped with egg and served with a little chili sauce. I was disappointed that the last version I ate came with that kind of scrambled egg you get with sushi, rather than a fried egg over easy and ready to goosh all over the meat and sides. But it was tasty just the same and next time I’ll order in person rather than over the phone and see what I can negotiate.

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Bibim bap

Also quite swell: the Sea Food Pajun, an egg torta or tortilla (Spanish, not Mexican), encasing shrimp, squid and copious scallions. Drizzled with a smidge of soy: perfect.

I was uninspired by the Bulgogi, even after hitting it with a little Vietnamese garlic-chili paste, but it was passable if you’ve a serious meat jones going on. Similarly, the dumpling soup was forgettable as well. What’s memorable – not only to the person who eats it but to everyone he comes in contact with until the their breath gets fixed -- is O-jing-a bokum: broiled squid with onion, garlic, cabbage and copious garlic and peppers that almost smells like rotting fish when you get it but -- like certain cheeses and fermented fish condiments -- tastes nasty good once you shovel it into your mouth.

And, of course, everything comes with a decent Kimchee on the side.

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Clockwise from upper left: Bulgogi, Bi bim bap, dumpling soup, seafood pancake.

Mostly a carryout, the space does have a few stools and a window ledge in case you’ve just dropped in after a stroll through the zoo or are on your way to the Raven and to get something in your stomach before the night really kicks off. Reading material ranges from Interior Design to 7th Day Adventist Tracts. Bae and Boo are friendly as can be and are clearly pleased to have turned at least of small slice of the city onto some simple classics of Korean cooking. And it’s a delight to watch them working, doing the kitchen ballet with grace and the kind deep and tangible affection found in couples that have only grown closer in their decades together.

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Old, not in the way.

Try it – you may never eat General Tso's again.

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See, this is what excites me about food here, the little ethnic gems you find when you really look. How far a walk is from the Zoo to Adam express? Are they open for lunch on Sat. or Sun.?

Thanks

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See, this is what excites me about food here, the little ethnic gems you find when you really look. How far a walk is from the Zoo to Adam express? Are they open for lunch on Sat. or Sun.?

Thanks

Adam Express (and Erecilia's) is probably a ten or twelve minute walk from the Zoo's lower (non-Connecticut Avenue) entrance. Just get on a named street (as opposed to a numbered street) and walk away from the zoo until up find yourself in the midst of the multi-culti grunge that is Mt. Pleasant Street.

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Has it really been this long since I wrote something up? Shame on me. I'll have to get out next week so I can stay nourished and rested for my role whipping up the Thanksgiving feast.

In the mean time, one of the places I've been meaning to check out got a nice notice in the Post yesterday: Henty's Soul Cafe, on U St. NW.

A pie from Henry's is a Washington tradition, stretching back to 1968. That's when Henry Smith, Jermaine's father, opened his shoebox-size carryout on U Street NW. Sweet potato pie can be a bland, pasty misery, especially in its supermarket incarnation. But the real thing is a heavenly mystery, an exotic journey of spices and textures, and customers at Henry's vie to figure out the secret ingredients that make this pie different.

Word is the fried chicken is pretty tasty, as well.

1704 U St. NW

Washington, DC 20009

(202) 265-3336

www.henryssoulcafe.net

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