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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

El Camino

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Bloomingdale

The Setup


With Official Co-Writer/Husband of DCWD Kim out of town on business, I decided to use the time to catch up with friends and try new brunch spots. Official Friend of DCWD Audrey lives in charming Bloomingdale and fortuitously saw that El Camino was starting brunch service the weekend we were looking to get together. With that clear sign from the universe, we decided to give the brand new brunch at El Camino a try.

The Vibe

From the outside, you might miss El Camino. There isn't clear signage, and I was happy to have Audrey's inside neighborhood knowledge, or I would have walked right past it. Once inside, the restaurant had a small, cozy feel with a few round half-booths and two tops tucked up front by the big windows, a large bar that begs you to come back at happy hour in the middle, and additional half-booths in the back near an open window to the kitchen. The decor included solid dark wood furniture and red plush booth backing, yellow walls and colorful framed artwork of the Virgin Mary. Our server was friendly and helpful, always with a smile.

The Food


I was happy to see that El Camino clearly marks their vegetarian and gluten free items, a practice that I've really come to appreciate. Audrey and I are both vegetarians, so on this trip we decided to go for the egg and green chile torta with queso oaxaca, lettuce, pico de gallo, salsa verde, and house made crema, and the chilaquiles with smoked gouda, caramelized onions, and fried eggs.

Audrey's torta was delicious, with lightly cooked scrambled eggs and lots of flavor from the salsa verde. In my opinion, the bread is what makes or breaks a torta, and the bread was definitely on the right track, though not overly special.

For the chilaquiles, the chips are clearly key. Too often chilaquiles suffers from overly soggy chips. I'm happy to report that was not the case here! The perfect crisp-to-liquid ratio, I really enjoyed this. My only complaint might be that the ratio of (delicious) chips to filling was just a little heavy on the chip side. However, the flavor with the gouda and caramelized onion was really on point.  If I'm being picky, I wish it was a little warmer and the cheese a little more melted... but the speed at which I lapped it up indicates I wasn't being picky.

The Verdict


Solid neighborhood brunch location. It was easy to grab a table on a Sunday afternoon and a great place to catch up with friends for tasty dishes inspired by Mexican staples.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

G by Mike Isabella

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


On our monthly anniversary date, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I ventured over to G.

The Vibe

G is the latest in the Mike Isabella empire, and perhaps best represents the dual pathways that the former Top Chef-testant is headed these days. By day, it is a high end sandwich shop, a putative rival to 14th Street neighbor Taylor Gourmet. By night, however, the concept is tasting menu only, sort of like Iron Gate without as many choices. Because of that needed versatility, the space is a little bit of a mash-up, with an open kitchen sitting behind a fast-food-style counter with a few bar seats to one side, and a mish-mosh of two-tops and four-tops within a structured set of walled-off booths. G share some stylistic touches with neighbor/sister restaurant Kapnos. But where the latter aims for trendy in the club sense, the latter aims for trendy in the stripped-down, converted sense. It's fun, if simple, and incredibly dark (see: no pictures).

The Food


Like Iron Gate, the meal starts out with a family-style antipasto course, though these are a skooch smaller, fewer in number, presented on a huge board, and Italian in style. Our dishes that night include strips of prosciutto, a plate of pickled vegetables; eggplant and pine nut crostini; mozzarella di bufala slices topped with fava beans and mint; and sweetpea aricini atop a ricotta smear. It's hard not to compare with Iron Gate, frankly: the pickled vegetables for instance, aren't nearly as tart or crisp. Of the dishes provided, the standouts are the arancini (fleetingly small, but pleasantly flavored) and the mozzarella which is nicely mild and smooth.

For both the primi and secondi courses, Texas and I split the two options. I have the fettucine, which bathes in a creamy pecorino sauce dotted with bits of guanciale and chili. It's a dish that's fun, more oily than creamy, with a slick and punchy mouthfeel. It's the bits of pork that provide a fun salt and gamey flavor every once in a while, and there's enough to keep it interesting. The pasta itself also seems miniaturized along with the size of the portion; these aren't your typical fettucine alfredo noodles. Still the most noticeable characteristic is the freshness of the housemade pasta, which is pleasing.

For her part, Texas gets the sunchoke tortellini with yellow squash atop a spread of ramp pesto. Her pasta is similarly excellent, though the starring flavors of sunchoke and ramp are unique and therefore a tad strange. It's the epitome of seasonal, which is appreciated, but a bit combative and restless; it's almost too bright.

On the main course, I order the lamb shoulder, a slow-roasted chunk among small cubes of yukon gold potatoes, in a gremolata and rosemary sauce. This was certainly not what I was expecting, in a good way. The meat is stringy and falls apart like butter with the mere suggestion of a knife. The flavors are all there, but the distraction here is how oily the whole affair is. Not a huge obstacle, but still something noteworthy.

Texas gets the roasted striped bass filet, perched atop a bed of garbanzo beans, carrots, and romesco sauce. The point of note is the sear on the fish which produces a nice caramelized crust. The parts here are well complemented, with a solid romesco providing the strongest taste; only the slightly undercooked beans detract.

The Verdict


At times innovative, at times a little wild.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)


G Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Munchies: G Sandwich at Nationals Park

This week we've got two different reviews of essentially the same place: Mike Isabella's G concept. Today's focuses on the sandwich shop side, specifically the newly opened outpost at Nationals Park. Thursday, we'll look at the tasting menu at the original 14th Street location.

On this occasion, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I were attending a Nats game and looking for a dinner. In earnest, we sought out G stall, where four options are available (only one of which is vegetarian). I ordered the Drewno, an eponymous creation of The Source chef during his run as a guest chef at G) - a housemade kielbasa topped with Italian beef, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut. Texas picked the roasted cauliflower, topped with a romesco sauce, pickled vegetables, and paprika.

The sandwiches are surprisingly long and thin - ficelle-sized is probably the most accurate way to put it. Mine was pleasant enough, though the promised beef was quite sparse (if not altogether lacking). It also begs the question: are the marginal benefits of better bread, a housemade sausage, and pickled versus grilled vegetables enough of a difference relative to a regular Senators Sausage? Similarly, Texas's cauliflower was fine, but felt lacking, likely a function of the realities of a vegetarian ballpark sandwich. It's flavor points were nice, but it seemed to miss that critical central theme - the cauliflower just couldn't cut it in that role. The cost here too is something to weigh; while the price isn't as inflated as other ballpark entrees, I'm not sure that either is worth the double digit outlay.

The Verdict


Good, but probably not my first choice at the game.

Taste Test: 2.5 Forks
(out of 5)