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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mourayo

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #46, Washingtonian 2009 #53, Washingtonian 2008 #34,
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup

Official Friend of DCWD G is very well aware of two facts in my life: 1) I write this blog, and 2) As cavalier as I am about spending money on food, it's starting to run low. So when a Groupon came around for Mourayo, G's first reaction was, "It's a $40 for $20 coupon, and it's on the Washingtonian Top 100. How can you say no?"

She knows me too well.

The Vibe

G brought along Official Friend of DCWD Baboon (editor's note: we let people pick out their own nicknames, clearly) and we met up for Sunday night dinner. Even for a Sunday night, the restaurant was pretty full, and was actually sort of loud, especially with the two gentlemen next to us having a loud debate about immigration or high speed rail or something. Still, for a Sunday night, it was a pretty loud buzz.

The decor is the most up and down thing about the restaurant. On the one hand, it's cozy, trimmed mostly in blue and white (it's a Greek restaurant after all), with brown wooden floors and a nice soft glow provided by tracked lighting and an interesting spidery chandelier of blue-shaded individual bulbs. On the other hand, the dining area looks like you're eating inside a yacht. The same wood as the floor is used for the paneling and the bar, and possibly the tables and chairs. The walls are covered in a significant amount of nautical paraphernalia, including small picture frames that are designed to look like portholes. Even with the bar area, which is small and quiet, like I said, it feels like you're eating inside a boat. A nice boat, but a boat nonetheless.

The Food

Appetizers

For appetizers, G and Baboon split the butternut squash keftedes with a raisin and sesame seed paste, and I decided to go with the recommended grilled octopus served on squid ink vinaigrette with fava bean paste and a small squid and pepper salad. Their appetizer was perfectly light, the keftedes serving mainly as a pleasant vehicle for the wonderful paste, which was just the right amounts of sweet and savory. As for my squid, it was good but relatively unexciting, which was sort of a disappointment given how well it was plated (see photographic evidence). The paste was nice, and the salad was okay, though a little undersalted. The squid itself was a tad chewy, and I just wanted more flavor out of it. Squid ink, if you were wondering, doesn't have that much of a taste; the char on the squid overpowered the slight saltiness it did provide.

Entrees

I ordered the ground duck mousaka with potatoes, eggplant, and kefalotyri cheese, served in a duck stock reduction. I start with my entree because it was the most underwhelming of the three. Essentially it was a giant duck meatball sitting in sauce. This is not to disparage the dish; it had decent savory tastes and when I did find some eggplant, the combination with the meat and potatoes was pleasant. But all in all, it was just satisfactory in that it tasted okay and it filled me up. Just nothing to call home about.

Baboon decided to go big, and ordered one of the grilled whole fish, the branzino (a European sea bass). The fish was baked in salt, and presented tableside, with the waiter disassembling the fish right in front of us with two spoons (a feat not to be understated, since he had to dig it out of the ridiculous amount of rock salt it was buried in, and remove the tender, flaky filet from the bones). The dish came with two vegetable sides (Baboon went with beets and asparagus) which were forgettable. But the fish itself was light and tender, and overall well-cooked. The table as a whole agreed that it merited a step up from the mousaka.

But the meal's winner was G, who got the Pythagoras "Theorema" (the name was admittedly a small factor in its order, haha), pork loin medallions topped with manouri cheese, almonds, and figs, and a honey-yogurt sauce. When the dish came out, we all remarked again at how well it was presented, which caused the waiter to chip in, "It's actually one of my favorites here. It's a really good combination of sweet and savory." Truer words were never spoken. The pork was perfectly cooked, tender and pink at the center, and the combination of the cheese and the figs was absolutely to die for. Definitely a meal I would order everytime I came.

The Verdict

I will say, I never quite got over the nautical theme. I mean I get it, but I don't necessarily want to feel like I'm eating on a yacht on a date, you know? All the same, there was a lot to like about Mourayo, from the decent vibe and the warmth that the wood floors and paneling gives to the restaurant to the solid dishes that came out of the kitchen. All in all, the few inconsistencies means I'll have to put it in that wavering space between good and great.

Food Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Vibe: Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: Go see the Phillips Collection at 21st and Q Sts NW. The current exhibition on display is Georgia O'Keeffe; not a personal favorite, but there's also some real cool Intersections Art Projects and the permanent collection is pretty nice as well. Admission costs vary depending on the day.

Mourayo on Urbanspoon

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