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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.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Del Campo, Part Deux

Plaudits: Washingtonian Top 100 2014
Neighborhood: K Street/Chinatown

The Setup

It was time again for our monthly celebration of marriage, so off Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I went to Del Campo.

The Vibe

Del Campo took over the old PS7's space in Chinatown, with its strange L-shape, and its multi-tiered, multi-section dining room. Many of the features remain the same (the general layout, the large windows), with the former restaurant's blacks and blues and yellows replaced with shades of brown and tan, all the better to replicate the Platonic ideal of an Argentinean steakhouse for cowboys - at least that's what I'm getting from the cowhide attached to the wall. Certainly nice enough, though a bit crammed, and a tad impersonal.

The Food

I'm not sure what the crossover is between South American steakhouse and smoking (other than the capability and desire to do so), but there are plenty of smoked items on the menu including, tantalizingly a handful of smoked cocktails. We order a negroni and an old fashioned, which come assembled and presented tableside in a particularly fun way. The smoked taste is only faint, but it's still nice.

To start, we each order an appetizer. I order the mix of pork types, with thick cubes of belly on a sweet potato smear topped with a charred rib, and chicharones. It's nice and fatty with a fine crisp and fatty flavor, but the rib is a bit dry and the whole thing is little one-note.

Texas gets the grilled octopus, a plan on the traditional Peruvian dish causa, which layers the seafood amid chunks of tuna confit atop two different types of potato purees. The presentation is bright and handsome, and the rich deep flavors play well among bursts of grilled ramps and avocado and piquillo peppers. It's immaculately cooked and lives up to the server's "this is one of the most popular dishes" billing.

For the main course, I order grilled beef tongue with a side of gnocchi, hearts of palm, and smoked mushrooms. The tongue is wonderful, two chunks of perfectly seared fatty chunks of meat, with a pleasant crust and an excellent capacity of absorbing the spicy olive oil-based sauce. The gnocchi is the clincher though: a messy cheesy creamy batch of perfectly pillowy pasta that is mellowed by the vegetable inclusions; it's so good that Texas actively fights me for bites from it.

For her part, Texas gets the grilled swordfish, a sizable filet sitting atop a perch of charred cherry tomatoes and assorted vegetables (subbed from eggplant), with pearl onions and an olive tapenade. It's fresh and light, a solid bite that presents exactly as it sounds.

The Verdict

Solid food that presents exactly as one might expect with the occasional out-of-the-parker.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
: Sixth and I Synagogue has a full calendar of talks, including Senator Kirsten Gillebrand and Nicholas Kristof.

Del Campo on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rose's Luxury

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2014 #11, Bon Appetit Best New Restaurant, basically 100 other accolades
Neighborhood: Capitol Hill

The Setup

It was time for our annual Anti-Restaurant Week date with Official Friends of DCWD G, Baboon, HR Intern, and Tony. We picked the restaurant that Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I have been chasing for about a year now: Rose's Luxury.

The Vibe

It’s hard to innovate much on the reclaimed space theme that has become so ubiquitous in the DC restaurant scene; how much could possibly be new about another space with exposed brick and refurbished wooden chairs and tables? Then again, that’s about where the comparison stops between Rose’s Luxury and every other dining space in the city. Quirkiness abounds in this long-thin dining room that looks equal parts carved-out-of-a-townhouse and built-into-in-alley. A modest set of two and four-tops line the front of the restaurant, which features a handsome country kitchen built-in to one wall that serves as a service station. Towards the middle of the space is a bustling open kitchen and a handful of bar seats that face it, while in the back, regular seating and a back bar rest easily under a multitude of string lights. Upstairs is another few bar-height tables and the full bar section, which serves basically as the packed way station for the crowds waiting for their table, as well as the rooftop garden which hosts larger parties.

Many restaurants try really hard to achieve the antique charm that Rose’s Luxury so effortlessly achieves, and for me it comes down to execution. Even the finer details have their appeal: the gilded kitschy glassware, or the 50s style refrigerator and wide basin sink of the service station, to name a few. What really gets me is the overall aesthetic, the feeling that you’re sitting down at a relaxed garden party amidst a whir of hustle and bustle. It’s fun.

The Food

Food comes mostly in “small plate” size, with probably a minimum of 3 to 4 dishes needed to satisfy even the most calorie-conscious of stomachs, save for two family-style offerings that are a little heftier. A particular dream of ours is met when we order one of everything (with the lone exception of caviar, and a glazed carrot dish), doubling up on two dishes on the advice of our server.

The first round brings a number of bright seasonal plates: discerning slices of tuna sashimi with grated wasabi; peaches with mint and ricotta; and one of our doublees, a pork sausage, habanero cream, and lychee salad. The sashimi was very good, flavorful and sushi-grade, but in retrospect, perhaps a forgettable one-note dish, especially when compared to its two compatriots. The peaches were a delight, fresh and sweet and perfect, especially when balanced out with the note-perfect house ricotta which was creamy with a hint of honey.

But by far the best dish of the night was the sausage and lychee salad which encapsulated in a single bite what the restaurant was all about: interesting and unique combinations of American flavors that were punctuated by international influences. Encouraged to blend the whole dish together, the warm coconut milk cream sauce bursts with piquant notes, while the lychee’s sweetness counterbalances the savory sausage chunks. I would eat this every day and twice on Sundays.

Round two begins with some of the other warm plates: jerk chicken with a raita sauce and a mango and papaya salad; a salad of grilled corn, guajillo cheese, lime, and cilantro; and light caramelized cauliflower in Greek yogurt. The former falls apart at the mere suggestion of a knife, and is wonderfully spice forward; the latter perfectly captures what makes elote so desirable, with its elegant bites of char and cheese and citrus.

Pasta was the theme of the next round with the other double, the gnocchi with black pepper and parmesan; fusilli with basil-walnut pesto and golden raisins; bucatini with sungold tomatoes and parmesan; and the lone non-pasta, grilled octopus with a burnt lemon and squid ink smear. I’ll often times describe gnocchi as pillowy, but this was a step beyond even that, with a consistency and flavor that evoked buttered mashed potatoes, melting in your mouth. The fusilli is what shines through, with its powerful and forward basil flavor; perhaps the only complaint is the limited number of golden raisins, which had been soaked in white wine and saffron. The other two dishes are a mixed bag, with the bucatini a well-made pasta, but one that ultimately doesn’t present the same bold flavors we’ve come to expect from the kitchen; and the octopus a bit of a toss-up, with our table split on whether its sweet almost-candied lemon flavoring is a boon or a distraction.

The last two dishes of the night were the family-style portions: house smoked brisket with a horseradish crème fraiche, Texas toast, and a carrot-cabbage slaw; and a lemongrass-shellfish stew with a fennel salad and garlic bread. This is wonderful brisket, though both Texas and I feel it’s a hair too salty. The horseradish though is spot on and a wonderful balancer. The stew, which clearly draws its influences from Thai and French cooking, is a mix of clams, mussels, shrimp, and prawns, luxuriating in a tomato-based stew that evokes a spicier bouillabaisse. It’s a fun dish that falls into the middle of the dishes we have that night.

The Verdict

Worth all of the accolades. And then some.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
: Pick up a board game or three at Labyrinth Games and Puzzles.

Rose's Luxury on Urbanspoon