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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bazin's Next Door

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2014 Top 100
Neighborhood: Fairfax

The Setup

It had been a long time since we had eaten with Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas’s aunt, who lives out in parts Virginian. So we settled on a midpoint in Vienna, Bazin’s Next Door.

The Vibe

It’s not often that a relatively unheralded and non-fine-dining restaurant in Virginia makes the Washingtonian Top 100. Which makes the case of Bazin’s Next Door even more curious. Fresh off a newly earned Washingtonian seal of approval as Alegria, the restaurant revamped its concept, appending more traditional American and European fare to what had previously been a Mexican/Latin American menu.


 Having never been to the spot before this reinvention, I can’t say what remains from the old décor. But what is there reflects the strange marriage between Old World and New World, a dark European tavern flitting with Mexican themes. To wit, castle-style chandeliers hang alongside white butterfly mobiles, old wooden tables and chairs alongside exposed brick and striped wallpaper. A semi-circle bar sits up front with the dining area in the back, a cramped set of two and four-tops. The overall effect is one in which light and space is at a premium.

The Food


To start, we order the guacamole, which comes prepared tableside. Its cilantro forward, which makes it a mixed bag for folks, though I quite like it with nice amounts of salt and piquancy.

Texas orders to the roasted portabella tacos, which come topped with a dusting of Chihuahua cheese, chipotle sauce, brown onions, and roasted pumpkin seeds. They’re full of flavor, with the pumpkin seeds the best bit, though for me, it lacks a little heft, and is a smaller-than-dinner-sized portion.

Paulette gets the short-rib enchilada filled with chilies, Chihuahua cheese, black beans, and rice. The shortrib is cooked to perfection, perfectly tender and meaty, and is balanced well with the rest of the dish. Definitely something to look out for.

For my part, I’m the only one who goes for something non-Mexican, ordering the duck and foie gras ravioli which is drizzled with a sweet onion truffle sauce. It’s a fun mix of flavor, with dumpling-esque ravioli that lack perhaps the meatiness or size that is desired, but that have punches of savory goodness when you do find them. The sauce is wonderfully sweet, and might be the highlight of the dish. In the end, it’s something fun, but perhaps not something to write home about.

The Verdict


You wish they perhaps had stuck with what they did best (the Mexican food of Alegria), but a fun space nonetheless.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
:A little bit further out, if you've got a whole day, Pev's Paintball.

Alegria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 10, 2014

First Look: The Gryphon

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


For this edition, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I were invited to sample the menu and give a First Look of newly reopened The Gryphon.

The Vibe

This is something like the third iteration of The Gryphon since the restaurant came into being early last year (if memory serves). Since occupying the cavernous space on Connecticut Avenue that was formerly inhabited by Kabaji Grill, The Gryphon first launched itself as an upscale sports bar, something that combined the gilded lily atmosphere of the typical Dupont nightclub with the utilitarian purpose of watching March Madness. It relaunched again last October as a "high-energy steakhouse," a phrase borrowed from its sister restaurant Lost Society.

This third iteration, since reopened a week or so ago isn't that much different; to wit, the decor still reminds you of a Lost Society North: the ostentatious flash of horn chandeliers and tiled ceilings, the segmented eating and drinking stations, the TVs tuned to sports behind the bar. The difference is the use of a curtain that separates the bar section from the main dining area, ostensibly to provide separate spaces for the happy hour sports fan and the upscale diner. While the number of TVs in the bar section has been reduced, this section, an L-shaped space sitting upfront interrupted only by a newly installed raw bar still presents itself very much like the upscale sports bar it started out as. The back dining area is a blend of browns and golds, a sea of four-tops surrounded by half-booths on two walls and a bar on the other, with an overhead playlist that reads like an indie pop channel on Pandora.

The Food


Perhaps the larger shift is in the menu: a raw bar has been added and the steaks have been de-emphasized. But the most notable difference is the introduction of what The Gryphon calls Social plates, which can be thought of as either small plates with more portions or entrees that are pre-cut for sharing (to wit: a ribeye that has been pre-sliced into inch thick slivers for the table). In some ways, it's almost as if the owners visited the corner of 14th and U at one point and tried to smush together everything they saw there (Lost Society, the since-gone Blackbyrd Warehouse, Masa 14 slightly further down). Cocktails have also been revamped, though in this case, it's more a function of raising prices to meet the market price point for mixologist-style drinks without actually bringing in anything creative; at $12, one probably expects more than a Honey Jack Daniels-based whiskey sour and a Hendricks and cucumber mix that everyone has seen by now, but that tastes overwhelmingly of lychee.

As for the food choices, we're feted with quite a variety of samples, all of which fall into a basic formula: if it's indulgent or luxuriant, it's nice; if it's not, it's a little bland. A raw bar tower of peeled shrimp, oysters, and a striped bass ceviche is decent if mild; it's hard not to get a little spoiled with Rappahannock Oyster Bar and its wider range of oysters and its drinkable mignonette sauce. The ceviche wins out here, nicely heavy on the citrus and with meaty chunky bits of fish.

On the top end are the lobster gnocchi and the pork belly dishes. The former, swimming in a pea puree with trumpet mushrooms is buttery and soft. Perhaps not the most pillowy of lobster gnocchis, but a very good representation. The pork belly, sitting on a piece of toasted bread topped with chicharrones and a fried egg, is wonderfully fatty though only a complete bite if you get only three components at once. A mac and cheese dish made with smoked gouda, gruyere, and cheddar; a dish of brussels sprouts drenched in Caesar dressing and parmesan, and serrano ham partnered with grilled bread, watercress, and radishes are also on the enjoyable end of the spectrum.





On the flipside is the charred octopus, which comes layered with black eyed peas, braised kale, and something the menu describes as a turnip puree - though it's strangely orange. The featured protein is rubbery and the rest of the accoutrements are fairly unexciting lacking some needed salt or spice. A similar problem afflicts the caramelized cauliflower and roasted fennel, which needs more out of its romesco sauce.



As for the ever present steaks, they are fairly good, with a nice crisp on the outside. The ribeye, layered with a chimichurri sauce, is our favorite on the night.

The Verdict


It's strange really: the food and environment are probably not enough to make this a standalone dining destination, but is probably better than some of your other options in the neighborhood (especially amongst those with the option to catch sports, if that happens to be your jam). File this one under solid but inconsistent.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Party in theUSA
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

The Gryphon on UrbanspoonTma

Monday, July 7, 2014

First Look: The Pursuit Wine Bar

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: H Street NE

The Setup


Today’s First Look looks at H Street’s newest opening: The Pursuit Wine Bar. With me, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas.

The Vibe

The Pursuit sits at the very end of the H Street bar stretch, where Florida and 14th intersect H. So unlike every other bar for blocks, there’s a bit of quietness to this bit, something which works in The Pursuit’s favor. The wine bar is clearly a labor of love – its name comes from the pursuit of happiness – an establishment opened by two wine lovers trying to bring something to the neighborhood that is in limited supply: relaxed but upscale, wine-focused.

The décor reflects a concept that has been adjudicated over and over by the D.C. restaurant scene. The downstairs is pure bar, with a sole bar table in front, a thin 12-seat poured concrete main bar, and a smaller five-seat bar perch in the back, across from a charcuterie kitchen. Exposed brick dominates the bar wall, transitioning to a white subway tile in the back, opposite dull slate blue paint. Out back is a slim patio, as yet unfinished, but with shoeshine-style seating to one side. Light is at a premium, coming either from the bay window up front or a few Edison bulbs overhead. Upstairs is more of a lounge setting, with a few two-tops and four-tops with living room furniture seating (though a row of half-booths along one wall has built-in wooden bench seating that looks and feels uncomfortable with its sharp white angles and knee-unfriendly height).

Still, the space is friendly and low key, exactly what is asked for in a wine bar.

The Food


We sample a few cocktails and wines, enough to get a feel for what will be offered as the wine bar grows. While the owners mention that they ambitiously aim for 50 wines by the glass, at the least, there are four or so on tap and a decent number on hand. On the cocktail end, we sample a sparkling ginger – ginger-infused vodka, and an apple-berry mix – and an Anjoy mule – a Moscow mule with pear. The former is refreshing though a bit light on flavor, while the latter is a nice play on the traditional Moscow mule.

As for food, a charcuterie board has some fun notes – a decent Serrano ham, a fun smoked gouda, and a mango chutney among the notable bites. Bar snacks also get bumped up a notch, with honey-coated olives, focaccia with curry butter, and a nut mix of marcona almonds and macadamias. The best bite comes in the form of a caprese panini, gooey and with intense hits of pesto and a wonderful mozzarella.

The Verdict


A fun spot made even more notable as an alternative to the traditional H Street experience.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)