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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings, April 2015

If you missed it, here's our explanation of the power rankings, and the initial post. Now for the updates:

10 Restaurants We're Excited About 

1. Water and Wall
2. Osteria Morini
3. Bluejacket
4. Unum
5. Thally
6. Et Voila!
7. Restaurant Eve
8. Sona Creamery
9. Thip Khao
10. Macon Bistro and Larder

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings

With the New Year comes the opportunity to rethink how these meals lasted the test of time, and the true value proposition - is the cost of a tasting menu of Marcel's worth the price difference relative to a pizza from Ghibellina? Also, removed Garden District, Kramerbooks/Afterwords, Sushi Taro - fell off rankings. Added Crane and Turtle, Maketto, and Mango Tree.

1. Komi 
2. Proof 
3. Toki Underground 
4. Rose's Luxury
5. Red Hen 
6. Rasika
7. Inn at Little Washington
8. Crane and Turtle
9. Birch and Barley
10. Rappahannock Oyster Bar
11. Mintwood Place 
12. Thai X-ing 
13. Iron Gate
14. Blue Duck Tavern
15. Fiola
16. Volt

17. Compass Rose
18. Ghibellina 
19. Society Fair
20. Minibar 
21. Trummer's on Main 
22. Comet Ping Pong
23. Vermilion
24. Bar Pilar
25. Granville Moore's 
26. Maple Ave
27. Southern Efficiency  
28. Estadio 
29. Little Serow
30. Cork
31. Zaytinya
32. Boss Shepherd's
33. Smith Commons

34. The Partisan  
35. Eat the Rich
36. Jaleo
37. 2941 
38. Marcel's
39. The Source 
40. Equinox
41. Posto 

42. Corduroy 
43. Graffiato
44Lyon Hall 
45. Brasserie Beck 
46. Rogue 24 
47. Kapnos
48. Casa Luca
49. ChurchKey
50. Ted's Bulletin 

51. Izakaya Seki
52. Cava Mezze 
53. 701
54. Maketto
55. BLT Steak 
56. Bourbon Steak
57. Etto

58. Big Bear Café
59. DGS
60. Four Sisters
61. Meridian Pint 

62. Seventh Hill Pizza 
63. Bearnaise
64. Ripple
65. The Pig 
66. 2 Amys 
67. Rasika West End
68. Bistro Bis
69. Medium Rare
70. BlackSalt 
71. Central Michel Richard
72. Sushi-Ko 
73. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace 
74. Hill Country
75. Vidalia
76. 1789
77Le Diplomate 
78. Hank's Oyster Bar
79. Oyamel
80. Tabard Inn
81. Obelisk
82. Right Proper Brewing Company 
83. Satellite Room 
84. Oval Room 
85. Art and Soul 
86. Poste
87. Range
88. Doi Moi
89. Table
90. Del Campo
91. Roofers' Union
92. Nava Thai Noodle 
93. Pho 75
94. Café Saint Ex
95. Masala Art 
96. Vinoteca 
97. Smoke and Barrel 
98. Mussel Bar
99. The Brixton

100. Mango Tree

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mango Tree

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Downtown/Metro Center

The Setup

One particularly lazy evening, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I found ourselves hungry and downtown. Despite groceries waiting for us at home, she and I decided to try new restaurant Mango Tree instead.

The Vibe

All I really need to say is that Mango Tree is a Richard Sandoval restaurant. That alone should conjure images of the inside decor and the vibe: dark, trendy, see-and-be-seen. Take the multi-floor set up of El Centro, black palette of Masa 14, add the Asian-kitsch-lite of Zengo, and dab a little Toro Toro polish over all of it and you have Mango Tree. A relatively small first floor bar is the only entry way that we can pick out, which makes for a pretty confusing first thirty seconds (where's the host stand, for one?). Only the intervention of a helpful bartender leads us to the stairs; one can imagine on a busier night that helpless diners are stuck thinking the limited bar tables are the entirety of the restaurant.

Should you make it to the second floor, a brief interlude past a host stand and the bathrooms leads to a more traditional dining room, with a dominating bar on the far side, and an incredible mix of booths and seating of all combinations throughout an expansive dining room. Everything is black and a dark red, save for a decidedly varied mix of light fixtures that seem to come like both stalactites and stalagmites in this cavernous space.

The Food

On some level, the appetizers intrigued us more than the entrees, so we ordered two of the former and only one of the latter. The universally well-regarded one is a baby octopus salad, with a few quite large chunks of wonderfully charred pieces floating among a small bowl of cucumber, cherry tomato, celery, and peanuts - which provide a very nice crunch and counterpoint to the savory and refreshing flavors otherwise present. The chili lime dressing is a bit heavy on the pepper, which pulls it a little astray, but the salad is a solid turn.

The pork neck salad - a dish that can come with either the aforementioned meat or with steak - is Little Serow level hot. If you're not into that, then the flat mention of "dried chili" on the menu belies the discomfort you'll have with this dish. If you can make your way past it, there's some interesting bits of shallot and roasted rice in between the well-cooked meat. I couldn't however, and had to wave the white flag on this one early. Perhaps less would have been more here.

For our shared main, we ordered the crispy fried fish - on this night, a branzino - which comes in six or seven unexpectedly small chunks, drenched in a sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce, and bracketed by the fried remains of the fish. Again, the menu underplays the heat, which is once more offputting for me. Plus, I can't quite figure out what one is supposed to do with the fish carcass: there's a couple morsels of meat to be had - fish cheeks are quite enjoyable, to be fair - but it seems more like a distracting, see-we-gave-you-a-whole-fish-it-just-happened-to-be-a-small-fish, arguing point than something meant to be seriously eaten. When you cut through the thick spicy sauce, the fish is decent, but a side of something - which doesn't come automatically - is a necessity.

Maybe the highlight of the evening is a side dish that our hostess mentions in passing as she seats us: the crab fried rice, which is surprisingly light, given the protein, and something that gets better with each bite.

The dinner wraps up with two desserts that are quickly summarized. A Thai tea creme brulee is pretty disappointing, sort of a mess and a tad bit cloying, lacking the depth that draws one to Thai iced tea. The mango sticky rice however is a good bite: subtler than the other dessert, and straightforward.

The Verdict

Decent food - if you can deal with the heat. Expensive though.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

Mango Tree on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Look: Maketto

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: H Street NE

The Setup

A beautiful bright spring day, and a still-green restaurant. Count Official Co-Writer of DCWD Texas, Official Friend of DCWD Looshifer, and me in.

The Vibe

Normally, you sort of shrug at the idea that something is truly going to be a "multi-use" space. Even when confronted with the early Fundrise plans for Maketto, I still had my doubts. Then the space actually opened. And frankly, it's awesome. A two story, multi-building space, one walks into a small storefront with a small display case in the middle, and walls lined with clothing store shelves. Further back is a small cafe space, with a bar to the right, and a row of half-booth seating to the left. Upstairs is a carbon copy of the downstairs space, but with a coffee shop - and its respective coffee shop style seating - replacing the bar. The entire space is bathed in a restrained and stylish black and white trim - save for the restored wood floors - all sleek lines and modern decor and furniture.

If that weren't enough, beyond even that, is a handsome courtyard space, with one large communal table stretching alongside a tree, which leads to the restaurant's second building: a sizable open kitchen with a row of bar seating on the opposite wall. Think Toki Underground, but if the balance between kitchen and seating were flipped, and the real estate were that much bigger. The same decorative tastes from the first building apply.

All in all, it's incredibly casual but yet devastatingly cool. Lots of good options for a meal here.

The Food

It being the first look - of what we'll tell you will probably be multiple - the opening day menu is limited to four dishes; of course we order them all. Two of the orders are bao, one a steamed pork bun, the other a pan-fried leek and vermicelli bun. The dishes are familiar to anyone who's gone beyond the ramen menu at Toki, and they're similarly delicious here. That being said, despite the fry, the pork version is much better than its vegetarian cousin, which sort of is shrugworthy. Both come with a spicy hoisin sauce that perks everything up.

The other sizable dish available on this trip is a bowl of pork soup, which plays basically like pho, with its wide rice noodles and deep meaty broth, and its accoutrements of lime, cilantro, fried shallots, and bean sprouts. If you take it like that, then this is one of the better bowls of pho in the region: a solid real-slurpable broth, generous chunks of grilled pork, really really enjoyable.

As for the dessert, some Chinese doughnuts - the kind that looked like churros familiar to many an Asian person - provide a nice taste memory for those that grew up with them. For those that didn't, prepare for a little more grease than you might expect from a donut, and you'll need to really sop up the soy milk to get a flavor other than, well, fried dough. But then again, I loved these growing up, and I love them here.

The only real niggling point here is the size vs. price point of the coffee: a chai latte that comes in at half a cup goes for $4. Not even a small gratis bite of almond cake can make up for that.

The Verdict

A really promising start for an already beautiful space. If the food is consistently like this, then expect another smash from Chef Bruner-Yang.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)