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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
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: 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:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Pick up a board game or three at Labyrinth Games and Puzzles.

Rose's Luxury on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday Munchies: Donburi

Normally a review of Donburi would have to include a measurement of its other qualities as a restaurant. But in this case, we ordered out. Like the proliferation of ramen shops in the neighborhood, Donburi focuses on multiple versions of a singular dish, the eponymous Japanese comfort food. All of us order a bowl, which all come with a fluffy rice base, a fried egg, and some vegetables (grilled onions and pickled peppers). Mine comes with a mix of panko-crusted pork and panko-crusted shrimp. The whole affair is comforting and steady, with a slightly sweet soy-based tang.

The Verdict


Fun, relatively inexpensive, and filling.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)