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Friday, October 17, 2014

The Red Hen

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2014 #22, RAMMYS 2014 Best New Restaurant, RAMMYS 2014 Rising Culinary Star
Neighborhood: Bloomingdale

The Setup

Official Friend of DCWD Mark was in town and looking to try the best of what Washington had sprouted since his last visit. So Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas, Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, and I took him out to the Red Hen.

The Vibe

Laid back and rustic, the interior of The Red Hen plays like the inside of a country inn. An open kitchen sits in the middle of the space, surrounded by bar seating, with wood piles in shelving above. Refurbished tables and chairs abound, as do some of the more ubiquitous flourishes in this decor style: exposed brick, stained wooden floors, exposed ceiling, hanging garage lights, kitsch on shelves. Still, here they seem less hackneyed and more welcoming, like a comfortable neighborhood joint that always exists with a quiet hum around the restaurant. The service is excellent; our server is friendly, jovial, and knowledgeable.

The Food

The nice thing about eating with a bunch of food lovers is that it doesn't need to be labeled a "share plate" to actually be shared. Still, of the order four appetizers we order to start off the night, everyone has their favorite. For me, that was the charred beef tongue, a supple piece of meat topped with a shredded carrot slaw and radishes on top of a horseradish crema. When I was a kid, I used to work in a deli where someone first introduced me to combining roast beef with horseradish cheddar; eating this dish harkened me back to that first sensation, except if I was flying on a rocketship while I was eating it. Delicious.

The other appetizers are similarly exquisite, each with their own personal fan. Texas, as per her usual, loves the burrata, a massive softball-sized portion on top of a salad of corn, grilled zucchini, pea shoots, and pesto. Given the summer season when we have this meal, it's a bright and sweet burst made almost too extravagant by the incredible cheese. CC latches onto the grilled octopus with white beans, tied together with fennel, frisee, and a romesco sauce which is perfectly clean, wonderfully clean, and nicely acidic. For his part, Mark loves the heirloom beet salad with smoked mozzarella, with its beautiful flavors and textural shifts, punctuated by wheatberries and pistachios and the caper vinaigrette. The one thing we really notice though is how amazingly things are plated, and how bright all of the colors are. If you eat first with your eyes, then you can probably do no better than the beautiful red and gold beets, or the sharp contrast between bright whites and yellows and greens on the corn dish.

We move on to entrees, where we debate between the restaurant's numerous housemade pastas. The one thing we bat around is the fennel sausage ragu rigatoni, a dish so legendarily buzzy in the restaurant's short history that we feel compelled to order it, but compared to some of the other offerings, we hedge. That is, until we ask our server for recommendations and the rigatoni's almost jumping off his lips. So we capitulate. And how glad are we that we do: for something so straightforward, it meets you right at each bite with a light tang that is instantly pleasing. Everything blends so well, and is so bright that it's unsurprising that this dish has made it so big (even the sauce itself is a brilliant tangerine color).

In comparison, the solid saffron zucca, as canary yellow as the rigatoni is orange, is stuck playing second fiddle. Which is unfortunate as, much like the burrata dish above, its summery brightness plays well with bits of sweet corn puree, squash, mascarpone, and shitakes. Similarly, the chicken fra diavolo, another server suggestion, is a wonderful dish that might have been superlative if the superlative hadn't already been seized. Paired with fingerling potatoes and kale, it's a shade below Palena's in my book (mostly due to the latter's more interesting spice mix), but it piques the interest with its inclusion of currants. It's homey, in a good way.

Dessert runs similarly: two good plates overshadowed by a boss. Both the gianduja brownie with hazelnuts and vanilla gelato, and the sweet corn cake with blueberry preserves and maple gelato are earthy and non-overpowering (and I really can't emphasize this enough, magnificently bright colored). But the winner by everyone's estimation is the maple custard with toasted hazelnut crumble. Imagine a creme brulee on steroids; the maple kick is enough to make you go bananas on its own. We ate it so fast, I didn't even have time to snap a picture.

The Verdict

At the RAMMYs this year, when Red Hen won for best new restaurant, co-owner Sebastian Zutant started his speech but jokingly thanking Aaron Silverman of Rose's Luxury for not being a part of RAMW, since it would've taken the award away from him. Having eaten at both in quick succession to one another (and fully noting how amazing our experience there was), I'm not so sure it wouldn't have been real close.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
: Why not start the night off by visiting the National Geographic Museum's exhibit on food? It's across town, but "Food: Our Global Kitchen" will get your appetite going.

The Red Hen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Oyamel's Day of the Dead

This post from Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern

Looking for a fun fall and Halloween-style event to go to for your next adventurous outing? Oyamel's got you covered with its Day of the Dead celebration. We covered this in anticipation of last year's event, and are excited to see that Chef Jose Andres is bringing it back for the eighth annual celebration.

One of the most exciting things about the event might be the introduction of El Luchador Tequila, making its debut. The mixologists at Oyamel are putting some new specialty cocktails, including The Witches Attack, which is the Luchador Organic Tequila with a grapefruit-lavender soda, and El santo contra los zombies, Luchador Organic Tequila, 123 Organic Tequila Blanco, 123 Organic Tequila Anejo, D'Aristi, Combier L'Original, orange, lemon and pomegrante. If you like tequila, this might be one to try. The cocktails go for $12-$14.

Likewise, Oyamel has a series of fun small plates to try for $10-$15, such as: Pescado Veracruz, wild-sourced fish in a Veracruz-style sauce of tomato confit, caramelized pear onions, garlic, capers and olives; Huatape de Hongos, a green chileatole-style of wild, foraged mushrooms served over an herbaceous sauce of epazote, sorrel and jalapeño; Sopa de Fideos, a rich tomato broth with toasted vermicelli and mixed seasonal vegetables topped with fried Chile Pasilla de Oaxaca; Ancas de Rana en Mole Verde, frog legs served over a green mole of tomatillos and serrano chilies; Puerco en Chile Morita, local pork spare ribs braised and lacquered in a salsa of chipotle chile morita; Mole de Olla con Rebo de Res, braised local oxtail and vegetable stew served with pickled vegetables; Bistec con Pasilla, local hanger steak over a sauté of cactus and seasonal squash mixed with salsa pasilla negra, finished with an egg and pickled chile dressing; and a sweet finish of Arroz con Leche.

Interested in attending the kick-off celebration on Monday October 20th? Tickets are $60 and can be purchased here: It's an all-inclusive event, so be prepared to live it up Day of the Dead style.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First Look: Vino Volo

This post from Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Bethesda
The Setup

Vino Volo, a wine bar that operates mainly out of airports (with the cute play-on words of having a flight of wine before your flight), opened up a brick-and-mortar store in Bethesda (one of two - the other is located in Tyson's Corner). As part of the grand opening, we were invited to participate to check out the new spot.

The Vibe

The cozy wine bar is situated so that you can see all of the wines clearly as they sit around the space, while not feeling overly cluttered by their presence. The bar is large enough for several people to sit and sip, while the cafe space has enough seating for probably 50 people. There is also a patio area that seats even more for some of those great spring, summer and fall days that should be sent outside with a glass of wine in hand.
One of the big perks of Vino Volo is that you can try a glass of the wine and then purchase a bottle of it right there on the spot. While you still experience some mark up, because of the blend of wine shop and cafe, it's not as much as you would pay in a true restaurant. Though it is more than you would find in a wine shop, the convenience of being there and not having to remember, in conjunction with the ability to sample a glass and then ask the knowledgeable staff about the wine is well worth the price.

The Wine (and Food)

When we arrived, we were greeted with a glass of sparkling chardonnay from Spain. As a primarily red drinker and a non-aficionado of chard in general, I was skeptical. Boy was I was wrong. For anyone who enjoys a good glass of champagne on a warm summer's day, this is the way to go. That definitely started us off on the right path.

Following the initial mood-setter, we dived right into our wines. We had a flight of white waiting for us. Rather than setting a direction, the server said that Vino Volo doesn't believe in steering you one way or another, but encouraged healthy exploration. The wines here included a 2013 Blanco from Solar Teules Winery from Spain, a 2012 Veltlinsky from Graf Hardegg Winery from Austria and a 2009 Divinity from Jankris Winery from California. Again, my red preference was out in full force before arriving, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that these bright and fruity wines were the perfect match for the heat.

This was later followed by a flight of reds, all of which were handpicked from Sonoma by the staff on an earlier trip to the region. The flight included a 2012 Pinot Noir from La Follette winery from North Coast, a 2012 Estate Syrah from Alexander Valley Vineyards from Alexander Valley and an Angela's Table Zinfandel from Seghesio Winery from Sonoma County. Based on my palate, these were the real winners of the evening, particularly the Zinfandel. I would have gladly had a second glass of the reds as the night settled in.

To keep us satiated and help our minds wrap up the best matches for our beverages out in our daily lives, the chef had prepared a summer menu that he was pairing with all of the wines. This included a watermelon, feta and mint salad, delicious chicken pate (which was my personal favorite), lamb meatballs with mint pistou and Atlantic salmon rolls.

The Verdict
When you're looking for a great date spot to enjoy a glass of wine, the options abound at Vino Volo. Likewise, you can earn some points by finding something you like and then subsequently taking it home. Not a bad way to go, right? The food was solid, and very handy in case you need a snack to go with that glass (or two), so you could definitely make a night out of it.

Wine Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Food Rating: N/A (Editor's Note: The food was great paired with the wine. However, I never seek out a wine bar specifically for the food, so it's hard to rate it on it's own.)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Vibe: Energetic
Cost: $$ (out of 5)
($25-$50 for two)
Wine + Food? Seems like a great pairing to me. If you're looking for more, the Barnes & Noble across the street could be of interest, and for anyone with a sweet tooth, there is (naturally) a Georgetown Cupcake location right around the corner.