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Saturday, January 30, 2010

J&G Steakhouse

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #4, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Downtown, White House

The Setup

I was planning a quiet weekend at home, when, while perusing some DC food blogs, I noticed that J&G Steakhouse was extending their Restaurant Week lunch deal. Now lunch during RW is really the good deal to be had, but between work and a trip to Manhattan, I couldn't quite squeeze one in. But with the extension and a free lunchtime slot, I just had to go. Official Friend of DCWD The Suit jumped at the chance, and we headed over for lunch.

J&G Steakhouse in DC is Jean-Georges Vongerichten's 25th (!) restaurant. On the other hand, within months of it opening, it had already shot past many well-regarded, and more importantly well-established restaurants into the Washingtonian Top 5. So while the buzz about the restaurant was huge, I had to reserve my judgment lest it was just another disappointing celeb chef outpost in DC.

The Vibe

J&G Steakhouse sits in the back of the W Hotel, the renovated former Hotel Washington. The entire hotel is swanky and chic (see: my previous post on the sloe gin fizz at the rooftop bar POV for reference) and walking through the lobby, even at noontime, is like walking through a nightclub (no joke, when we came in at midnight for the drinks at POV, there was a fashion photoshoot in the lobby). The ground floor is decorated with spiral glass chandeliers, video fireplaces, and large glass cube sculptures.

The decor at J&G has similar themes. The walls are a warm ecru with white trim accents, while the ceiling is covered by a giant white and gray pattern that was somewhere between paisley and speckles and fleurs-de-lis. The furniture is modern, and focuses around high-backed brown couches that sit in the center of the room and make up half the seating. The other seats are angular chairs of maroon and white leather, which sit around dark brown wood tables. The mood is spectacular; even at noon, you could tell that at nighttime the vibe would be fantastic. What's more, from certain tables, there are views of the Washington Monument and the White House lawn through the large colonial windows. Probably the only downside is that I don't think I saw anything even resembling a two-top; the smallest was a four-top.

The Food

Drinks

This being a lunch, and J&G having a pretty extensive drink selection, we decided to indulge, first with the house made sodas, and then with actual drinks. For the meal, The Suit had the Ginger Ale, and I had the Cherry Yuzu. If you've ever had ginger beer, that's exactly what The Suit's tasted like, and mine came across very much like a maraschino cherry, though the yuzu flavor kept it from becoming too cough-mediciney. In all honesty, probably not worth the $5 charge more than once.

Like POV, the hallmark cocktails at J&G are expensive, but we figured we might as well live it up. The Suit went with the Calvados Sidecar (Calvados apple brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice, in a glass rimmed with cinnamon and sugar), and I picked the Yellow Jacket (tequila, St. Germain Elderflower, Yellow Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, and prosecco). Both were pretty good, though by the end of the meal, The Suit was too full to finish his, and I barely finished mine. Still, the quality of the drinks adds to the quality of the restaurant.

Appetizers

For our appetizers, The Suit went with the crispy calamari which came with pickled peppers and a yuzu dip. The calamari was a good mix between crispy and airy, and the breading was pleasant and light. The dip was nice and tart from the citrus of the yuzu, and the peppers added the right amount of spice (though I had a hard time determining if they were actually pickled or not). I chose the salmon tartare, which came on top of a guacamole base, topped with radishes in a ginger dressing. Given my feelings on avocado, I actually thought the flavor profiles were spot-on (though then again, not exactly a mind-blowing combination since it occurs all the time in sushi). The ginger dressing was also a nice addition. The crunch of the radishes also provided a good texture contrast with the fish and avocado. Then again, I also love tartare.

Entrees

The problem with ordering my entree was that every review of J&G emphasizes that it's not just a steakhouse. And yet, when ordering, I felt compelled to order steak. The only problem was that The Suit ordered first, and he got the only steak dish offered for lunch, hanger steak with mashed potatoes. I ordered that as well and felt okay about it, until another waitress brought out a J&G Cheeseburger for the table next to us, and I rethought the doubling-up. This conversation happened as our waiter came to clear our plates and he overheard us, saying "So if you did want a cheeseburger, what kind of cheese would you want on it?"

I think now is an appropriate time to interrupt the food conversation for a quick talk about the service. Our waiter was fantastic, funny and wry, joking with us twice about ordering a bottle of Dom Perignon. This might have been patronizing in a sense, but it was always said in a way that didn't make us feel juvenile (in stark contrast to my experience with the manager at Teatro Goldoni). But there were two particular instances where the waiter really shone through. The first was the above conversation, which resulted in my actually getting a cheeseburger (though he brought me a steak knife anyway to "fake me out"). The second was at the beginning of the meal, when he asked The Suit, who was seated on the couch side of the table if he wanted pillows... and then actually brought some for him. This kind of attention really adds something to a restaurant, and certainly is comforting on a date.

As for the quality of the actual food, both the hanger steak and the cheeseburger (which we were told was 80% chuck and 20% sirloin) were perfectly enjoyable. Which is to say that the dishes were great but nothing amazing. The sides actually were probably the better part; the mashed potatoes with the hanger steak was amazingly buttery, and the fries on the cheeseburger were crispy. But again, nothing too out of the ordinary.

Desserts

For desserts, there were only two that were interesting, the green apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream, and the creme fraiche cheesecake with glazed figs and a concord grape sorbet. Both were delightful; The Suit commented that it was the best apple crisp he'd ever had. The cheesecake I had was pretty good in and of itself, but was probably spoiled because of the perfect cheesecake I had the night before. Still, it was a very nice and soft cheesecake, that combined well with the fig and grape flavors.

The Verdict

Perhaps it didn't live up to the high expectations or the, in all reality, premature #4 rating. But the dishes were all plus meals (just nothing amazing) and the service was fantastic. The atmosphere was actually very date-friendly, as long as you don't mind the extra space of a four-top. The decor, the dining area, and if you're lucky, the view, all make for a wonderful experience.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe: Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: The Warner Theater is a block and a half away. Last season's run included Avenue Q and Rent, and Tegan and Sara and Norah Jones are both on the schedule for this coming spring.

J&G Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout

We're gonna keep it a little more basic for this week's Friday Night Flights, and recommend a beer for a cold Friday night in: Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout. Ommegang is a Belgian-style brewery from upstate New York that produces a number of extraordinary beers, most of which are offered year-round. However, in September, they brew one of their two seasonal beers, the Chocolate Indulgence Stout, which uses real Belgian Chocolate (!).

A few months back, Official Friend of DCWD Elana and I found this beer at Costco of all places, in a three pack of Ommegang beers with a commemorative chalice (which is probably why we bought it in the first place). These Ommegang beers came in large 40 oz corked bottles, and truthfully I've never seen them in a smaller size. It being a night-in kind of weekend, we decided to crack our two bottles open.

The beer is a stout, with an obviously strong chocolate taste (in terms of major brands, Guinness is the closest touch stone). So if you're like Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and you think stouts taste like licking the backs of dirty pennies, this is probably not the beer for you. But for my part, even as someone who usually likes hefeweizens and pilsners, this is a really nice full-bodied beer with a smooth taste that warms you a little. In all, a solid beer for a low-key night. It's almost sad that they brew it in September, when it's a very nice beer in the winter time. Be sure to catch it soon before this year's supply runs out.


Bar Review: 3 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect For: People who like Guinness and/or Belgian chocolate, cold nights in watching a movie
Where to Find It: Trader Joe's carries Ommegang brand beers, and some larger liquor stores may also carry it. Also, apparently Costco.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Art and Soul

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #88, Washingtonian 2009 #77, 2009 RAMMY New Restaurant of the Year Finalist
Neighborhood: Capitol Hill

The Setup

So in a dicey moment on a recent dinner when I couldn't get in touch with my dinner companion, I panic called Official Friend of DCWD Chi to fill in for a reservation. But within ten minutes of telling her to get dressed, my friend had arrived, so I had to call Chi back with my tail between my legs, and apologize profusely for bothering her and getting her all dressed up for nothing. So in apology, I offered to take her out for dinner, and we ended up picking Art and Soul, which had extended their Restaurant Week deal a week.

The Vibe

Art and Soul is a hotel restaurant (actually like many of the top restaurants in DC), but unlike the others, the restaurant isn't separated into its own unique space; the bar area bleeds out of the hotel lobby and bleeds into the dining area. The one word to describe the restaurant is modern. The whole space is bright red, white, and black, and all of the decor is built around straight lines (for instance, the window curtains were actually thin white strings). The furniture is minimalist and square; there are right angles everywhere. The wall decorations are mainly giant 7ft x 7ft black and white oil paintings of historical figures (MLK, Gandhi, Obama). All in all, our reservation was at 8:45 on a Friday, and from what I could tell, the bar scene was nice and upscale and chic, but low-key, which is a hard combination to find.

The dining area itself is interesting in that it is one continuous space except for a small private dining room separated behind a swinging red door. However, this space is capable of being broken down into smaller segments, one by steel string curtains, another sliding panel doors. The tables are almost exclusive four-tops, either freestanding tables or booths along the wall, which makes it good for groups, but a little more inconvenient for dates. The spacing between tables is nice, especially considering how busy the restaurant is and how that could be remedied by cramming a few more tables in. The service was pretty fair; our waiter was pleasant, and the host staff was inoffensive. There's nothing bad about the service leaving no impression on you.

The Food

I guess I should mention first off that until February 13, Art and Soul is offering a special Drink for Haiti, made of Haitian Rum Barbancourt, almond liqueur and oranges, where 100% of the profits go towards the American Red Cross relief effort. On the food end, it was a tasty drink. On the reality end, it's always nice to see a restaurant with a conscience.

Appetizers

Chi is a recently converted pescatarian (thank God we got one back... at least halfway anyway). Part of the reason we were at Art and Soul was because of their vegetarian/pescatarian-friendly Restaurant Week menu (the other part was the RW extension). For her part, she ordered the crab bisque, which came with jumbo lump crab, bourbon cream, and chives. Both of us were pretty unmoved by the dish, which is to say that it was fine, but nothing mind-blowing. The taste of Old Bay was what came through for me the most.

My appetizer was much more satisfying; I chose the ahi tuna, which was served on top of breaded fried green tomatoes with what seemed to be tartar sauce, and a green tomato relish (green tomatoes, pickles, maybe some cucumbers). The tuna sear was nicely done, and the contrast of textures between the light and soft fish with the crispy crabcake-like breading on the tomatoes was fantastic. The flavors were pleasant enough (though perhaps not as bold as I wanted), but again, that breading I just loved.

Entrees

I think that it's safe to say that the meal only went up from there. The portions for the entrees were huge (we both had to take them home in boxes), and all of the options were off of the regular menu. Chi went with the butternut squash ravioli, in a citrus butter sauce with green and yellow string beans and carrots. The ravioli was delicious; neither of us could figure out what exactly what it was, but something in the butternut squash filling gave it an extra tang in addition to the squash's sweetness, which was a welcome surprise. With the savoriness of the butter sauce, it was a very nice, light dish.

I ordered the braised pork shank, which came topped with some microgreens and fennel, in a black eyed pea stew of bacon and celery, and spicy greens. The braise was wonderful; the pork fell apart very nicely, and certainly came right off the bone. I admittedly am not that into soul food, so the ceiling wasn't as high as for other meals. But the stew and greens were wonderful and filling, and the pork shank was cooked as well as could be. Given the season, it was the perfect dish for the weather and the mood.

Dessert

At this point in the meal, the dishes had all been good, and the restaurant was heading for a solid four stars. Until dessert. Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC is of the opinion that dessert can make or break a meal; I only order dessert half of the time, and usually anything decently sweet will sate me. Dessert at Art and Soul might have changed my mind. What's astonishing about it is that neither of the desserts we had is on the regular menu (I can only imagine then how good their famous "baby cakes" are). I picked the banana bread pudding, which came topped with caramel, and some vanilla ice cream. I already love bread pudding, but this particular one tiptoed the line perfectly between light and decadent, and was an absolute perfect texture: firm but not chewy or mushy, which some bread puddings can get.

Chi's choice of the almond cheesecake with a raspberry compote was even better. Most cheesecakes are the New York style variety, which made poorly can be very heavy. This however was a different sort. I am very liberal with my use of the word "revelation," but this actually was a revelation. Instead of a thick firm cheese filling, this was light and almost foam-like, but maintained all the creaminess you expect out of cheesecake. It was essentially all of the melt-on-your-mouth sweetness without the heavy feeling afterwards. This is also not to ignore the crust, which was also nice and crumbly and with a pitch-perfect almond taste.

I almost might run out of superlatives for these desserts. And if the pastry chef can make this during Restaurant Week, I can't even imagine what the regular menu desserts are like.

The Verdict

It's very well possible that the wonderful end to the meal has me in a good mood while I'm typing this. But with the exception of the ineffectual bisque, all of the dishes were good, and one of the dishes bordered on perfection. That to me says 4.5 stars. As for the date atmosphere, it gets bonus points for the positive date vibe (especially the nice glow it has at night), though I do have to take it down a tack for the lack of two-tops and the trendy modernness (which I like as a decor, but is not everyone's favorite). Coming in, my expectations were not as high as they were for other restaurants, but Art and Soul surpassed all of them, and even broke through with dessert. Overall, a very pleasant surprise and a wonderful experience.

Food Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: Would it be too easy to say The Capitol Tour? The Capitol is only a block away from Art and Soul, and I'm told the tour can actually be some manner of fun (the last time I went, I was in the eighth grade).

Art and Soul on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday Munchies: Mr. Yogato

This week's Monday Munchie is the frozen yogurt at Mr. Yogato. DC residents will remember that before cupcake shops became all the craze, frozen yogurt was the mom-and-pop dessert of choice, explaining the sheer variety of specialty yogurt shops that opened up (Tangysweet, Sweetgreen, Yogen Fruz, Iceberry, just to name a few). So what separates the wheat from the chaff in the crowded frozen yogurt race? Certainly the quality of the yogurt, but also the atmosphere. And it's because of that the DCWD's personal favorite frozen yogurt is Mr. Yogato, despite a number of closer yogurt shops.

What is it about Mr. Yogato that makes it so different? The mood is just decidedly more fun. Unlike Tangysweet's club-like lighting (which I don't really understand), Mr. Yogato is an understated and kid-friendly shop, filled with a few cartoon paintings on the walls and an SNES that sits on a kindergarten-sized table in the middle of the store (a console that is not only a throwback for everyone in their 20s/30s, but one that is always being played by someone). The atmosphere in general is low-key, relaxed, and has a tinge of the oh-so-familiar childhood wonder.

The other key aspect of Mr. Yogato's playfulness are the rules employed by the store that offer discounts on the yogurt in exchange for certain tasks. Answer a trivia question correctly (usually about geography [!]) and get 10% off. Get a stamp on your forehead declaring your love for Yogato, get an additional 10% off. Recite the whole Stirling battlefield speech from Braveheart in a Scottish accent and get 20% off. And the best one of all, have a frozen yogurt at Mr. Yogato for 30 straight days and get a flavor named after you (full disclosure: I have a flavor named after me at Mr. Yogato). This is why there's a giant white board on the wall that both tracks 30-day hopefuls, and the near-fifty flavors that have been claimed by Yogato Champions (heck, I think two guys on separate occasions went there for like 100 days straight).

Which gets us to the yogurt. Despite the panoply of flavors, Yogato only offers four at a time, two of which are always the standard soft and tangy. In point of fact, only 20 or so flavors even exist in reality (mine, for instance, had been "in development" for months though a recent switch means it's coming soon!). The yogurt is house-made and the menu is responsive to demand. Steve, the owner (and funnily enough, also an actual rocket scientist at his day job), is incredibly friendly and all about customer satisfaction; if a flavor isn't popular, it'll be adjusted or scrapped for a new one. The other point of note is the variety of toppings that can be added to your yogurt, ranging from the standard (fruit, sprinkles, chocolates) to the strange (agave nectar, wheat germ) to the secret menu. Oh yea, and the yogurt? Tastes great.

The vibe and the yogurt combine into an incredibly friendly, convivial atmosphere that's perfect for those warm, summer night dates sitting out on the patio with something sweet.

Taste Test: 4 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Late night dessert runs, Trivia nerds, Quirky people

Mr. Yogato on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 24, 2010

DCWD Travels: Crif Dogs, NYC

Once in a blue moon, DCWD travels around the country (and even more rarely around the world). And as good food isn't just limited to the District, there'll be reports about places a little more far-flung, lest you find yourself outside Washington in search of good eats.

Two weekends ago, DCWD was up in Manhattan. After a busy day in Gotham, I had already scarfed down an 8pm noshing of McDonald's chicken nuggets, and a midnight meal of shawarma and hummus at Tahini, which was actually delicious in its own right (Official Friends of DCWD HR Intern and Elana really wanted some falafel). And yet, as 1:30am rolled around, our group of eight found ourselves next door at The Continental, the famous bar that sells 5 shots of anything for $10 (apparently famous anyway; I had literally heard about this place from five different people). The Continental had been the destination before the falafel sidestop because we were anxiously waiting for it to be 2am, and happened to be on St. Mark's Place anyway. 56 shots later, our group of 8 was all jonesing for some more food.

So why was our group killing time in the East Village in the first place? Among other reasons, Crif Dogs, a small hot dog shop that was packed to the brim when we arrived at 1:30am and still packed when we left around 4am (one might argue that it was packed because it was so early in the morning). Crif Dogs has some pretty stellar hot dog varieties though, each of which seem absolutely delicious.

The standouts for me were the two that were collaborations with two "it" chefs in NYC: Wylie Dufresne of WD-50, and David Chang of the Momofuku empire. The Wylie Dog, which I had, is what NY Mag describes as "a deep-fried Crif Dog wiener nestled against a baton of WD-50 deep-fried mayo that’s been breaded not with the usual panko but with hot-dog-bun crumbs. It also comes with tomato molasses (Dufresne’s answer to ketchup, or perhaps red kimchee), freeze-dried onions, and shredded romaine." The Momofuku dog, on the other hand, is " a deep-fried hot dog wrapped in bacon and smothered with Chang’s own Momofuku Ssäm Bar red kimchee purée" (again from NY Mag).

Perfect high-end treats for the foodie out past midnight that are so amazing, you should call home about them (maybe even use the phone booth inside Crif Dogs).

Crif Dogs on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Teatro Goldoni

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #34, Washingtonian 2009 #21, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry Top 50 Restaurants, 2009 RAMMY Your Favorite Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood: Downtown, Farragut

The Setup

I arrived at Teatro Goldoni about 10 minutes early for my 7pm reservation, and my dinner companion Official Friend of DCWD Kelly hadn't yet arrived. So I checked in with the manager, and ordered myself a Peroni at the bar. Five or so minutes later, the manager walks by to talk to the bartender, and asks him sidewardly if he's checked my ID. The bartender responds in the affirmative, and when I look at the manager to acknowledge I've heard him, he looks at me and smiles weakly saying, "Well he didn't look older than 12."

Um.

Let's just say that this did not put me in the best mood to eat.

The Vibe

Teatro Goldoni's space is divided into two seating areas, both pretty similar in setup, though the back area where we were seated is decidedly more colorful. The restaurant takes its theater theme very seriously, to a level that one might find kitschy; the doors separating the seating areas are a colorful jester diamond pattern, one of the walls is covered in paintings of Italian opera masks, while another had actual masks on it. In a way the decor was theatrical, in every sense and connotation of the word. It certainly wasn't a romantic setting for me.

What's more when we were seated, the table we were seated at was the only one missing wine glasses and we were never offered a wine list until I asked; isn't this de rigeur at a white cloth restaurant? Look, I understand I look young, but not that young. These are the little things that really irked me, and made it hard for me to concentrate on the meal.

The one positive is that it seemed they made a conscious effort to put couples on a dinner date in the corner booth seats (I think corner booths are underrated; they're just as romantic as the face-to-face two-top, and the setup makes it that much easier to share your food, which amplifies the romance). Now, Kelly and I weren't on a date, so one might interpret that as presumptuous, but I took it at face value. I thought it was a nice gesture.

The Food

Appetizers

Teatro Goldoni offered a pretty limited selection for Restaurant Week: just three appetizers, three main courses, and two desserts. But what they lacked in quantity, they made up in interesting offerings. For our first course, I went with the diver scallop carpaccio with crispy leeks, pink peppercorns, roasted artichokes, and gelatins of balsamic, basil, and spicy red bell pepper; Kelly picked the white asparagus puree soup with artichoke chips, prosciutto, and black truffle oil (the appetizer I secretly wanted, but I let her pick first).

The scallop carpaccio was a shade away from perfect. The presentation was a little sloppy; the mess of additions were just wantonly thrown on. And unlike, the capers on beef carpaccio, it obscured the scallops on the plate. All the components worked together texturally, but there was a little too much acid, which made it a good eat, but not the great one I wanted it to be. That being said, the white asparagus soup was exactly what I wanted it to be: perfect. I might have eaten five bowls of it had they been placed in front of me. Not everyone loves white asparagus, but I thought it was very well done, and the prosciutto provided a nice balance. It's too bad this isn't on their regular menu.

Entrees

For the second course, I chose the braised veal cheeks, served over fontina cheese mashed potatoes and a mushroom ragu in a port wine reduction. The veal braise was immaculately done, the meat so tender it was literally falling apart as you cut into it. The mashed potatoes were fine as well, though probably a bit oversold on the fontina cheese. It wasn't the perfect entree, but it was decidedly very, very pleasant.

For her part, Kelly chose the roasted gulf shrimp, which was served with roasted artichoke hearts (okay, I love artichokes as much as the next guy, but did they get an extra case in bulk or something?), and a combination of chick pea and roasted red pepper purees. I'm not a fan of roasted shrimp (I think it gives shrimp a weird taste and texture, but I'm relatively new to the shellfish train, so what do I know), but Kelly loved it, and said the purees, which I didn't get a taste of, really made the dish.

Desserts

There being only two options for dessert, we obviously ordered both of them, with Kelly drawing the almond cake, and me going for the white chocolate panna cotta. Both were very well done, with the slight edge going to the almond cake, for the absolutely wonderful almond aftertaste it left. The fun fact about dessert was that my panna cotta came free form and topped with a pistachio wafer. Because the wafer was so hard to cut, I had to remove it, revealing both the top of the panna cotta and the fact that it had been molded in a Solo cup. We both had a good laugh about it.

The Verdict

Well, it being a food blog, I have to acknowledge that a combination of the asparagus soup, the veal cheeks, and either of the two desserts would have made for a very good dinner. And really our waiter and the service in general was otherwise decent. But in a date situation, where it's the little things that matter, I couldn't overlook the questionable decor, the obnoxious comment from the manager, and the wine glass/list snafu, which kind of dampened the whole experience for me. On some level, it was the rudest I've ever been treated at a restaurant (thus my 2.5 hearts rating for an otherwise fairly average date spot). Perhaps on a return trip, I might find it a little bit more friendly.

Food Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business
Bar Rating: Suits Scene
Vibe: Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: K Street is kind of a vacuum in terms of doing anything romantic, so we'll go with an arts and crafts project (scrapbook, collage, paint a picture frame) with supplies from Plaza Art Supplies, located on 20th St NW between I and K Sts.

Teatro Goldoni on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Sloe Gin Fizz at POV

This week's Friday Night Flight is the sloe gin fizz at POV. I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of what sloe gin even is stems from my crossword puzzle addiction (sloe gin, as it were, is made from sloe berries, the fruit of the blackthorn, and tastes like plums). But after having a pisco sour, and thus having my mind opened about egg white foam in my drink, I decided to go with it.

POV is the rooftop bar at the W Hotel (formerly the Hotel Washington). The view is absolutely spectacular and romantic, but you'll have to put up with the fact that it is the single trendiest bar I've ever seen. The counter of the bar seats is at least a foot lower than the bar surface, the bar is backlit with a giant modern feel to it, the whole room glows black, white, and red, and there are zebra-print high chairs by the windows. Trust me, trendy was the only word that came to mind. So like I said, if you can stomach that and $15 cocktails, then it's a stunning view. Luckily, our group was there for Official Friend of DCWD The Suit's 21st b-day, which was a Monday at midnight, so the lounge was practically empty.

Sloe gin fizzes are made with sloe gin, carbonated water, simple syrup, and lemon juice. This one also included an egg white for the foam, and some other slight variations. POV prides itself on custom ice for each drink; this cocktail came in a highball glass with a giant cylinder block of ice in it. It kept the drink nice and cold, but it also made me overestimate just how much liquid I had just gotten for my $15. All the same, it was delicious, light and pleasant, with lovely citrus notes, and just enough booze to keep me honest. It also reinforced my new love for egg white foam in drinks. I wouldn't open up my wallet for it too often, but it did add a new drink to consider for the future.

Bar Review: Four Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for: Classy people with lots of disposable income and who have a secret love of Mike's Hard Lemonade
Where To Find It: This particular one is at POV, the rooftop bar at the W Hotel (15th and F Sts NW) though I'm sure there are number of other places that have one.

Pov on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Oval Room

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #7, Washingtonian 2009 #9, Washingtonian 2008 #13, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry Top 50 DC Restaurants
Neighborhood: Farragut Square

The Setup

Official Friend of DCWD Deal is leaving for Buenos Aires in a month, and she prepared a bucket list for DC before she flees for at least a year. I couldn't talk her into skydiving, but among the things that I did convince her to do was splurge and throw away her food budget for a Wednesday night Restaurant Week reservation at Oval Room. And yes, I know: three Ashok Bajaj restaurants in three days? It wasn't intentional, it just happened that way.

The night before I had gotten two hours of sleep due to some leftover illness and an unsettled stomach, which still lingered with me during dinner. It also meant that when I unwisely decided to lie down on my couch after work, I fell asleep and somehow bolted awake only 5 minutes before our 7pm reservation. Obviously sprinting to the restaurant isn't a good way to shake off indigestion.

The Vibe

Unfortunately, this was not a night in which my dinner companion was late. In fact, she was early. Now Deal by her own admission is not a white cloth kind of diner, so she was a little disoriented upon entering, and actually took someone's seat at the bar. The hosts were apparently a little curt with her, or at least not as understanding about her confusion. They finally seated her down at one of the extra bar tables until I arrived, which luckily happened by 7:15.

The setup of Oval Room has you enter into the bar area which is a narrow area, and a little difficult to navigate when the restaurant gets fuller. Oval Room has two main dining areas which are both decorated very similarly; ecru walls covered in contemporary art, with the whole room accented by red and brown. We were seated in the middle of the large dining area, which isn't an oval room, though it did have a giant oval cut out in the ceiling where a modern light fixture hung; the lights that hung from it gave the whole room a soft but warm brown glow. The only downside to the space was that, as Deal noted, was that the whole space seemed cramped and small, a fact augmented by the little armchairs that made up most of the seating. So while this might make it a little more intimate, but it also means other parties are on top of you.

The Food

Appetizers

For the Wednesday of Restaurant Week, the menu was already very different from the one that Washingtonian had posted. Whether that was the product of running out of items, or misreporting is unclear. In any event, for the appetizers, Deal went with some thin sliced hamachi cured in citrus, which was good, but utterly unmemorable, a quality reinforced by the fact that she and I both had a hard time remembering what it was exactly that she even had.

For my part, I had the cauliflower soup with cheddar and pickled apricots. The soup itself was wonderful (reminiscent of a lighter version of a creamy potato soup), and I thought the cheese was a pleasing addition, but the apricots were the confusing aspect for me. They would be a wonderful taste contrast as soon as they hit my tongue, but actually eating them wasn't as pleasant an experience.

Entrees

I knew that I wouldn't be able to stomach much, so I went with the diver scallops, which were seared and presented with what I remember as crispy leeks, and some white sauce. For such a quality kitchen, I was actually unimpressed by the dish; I've had much better scallops in a number of other less regarded restaurants. In fact, the overwhelming memory I have of the meal was that the scallops were a little gritty, as if they hadn't been thoroughly cleaned. Not exactly the best impression.

Deal had a much better experience, going with the pork medallions. This was much more spot on, with each piece maintaining a pink center (as it should) and working absolutely perfectly with the reduction it was in. After stealing a bite from her, I instantly realized I should have ordered it. Deal was totally blown out the water by it, saying it was one of the most delicious things she had ever eaten.

Dessert

For dessert, Deal played it safe and went with the blonde brownie chocolate bar with coffee ice cream, which was good but not spectacular. She remarked that, "in making it high end
it lost some of the deliciousness that comes with a gooey brownie and ice cream dessert at other places." I had a similar feeling about the upside-down pineapple cake with white chocolate ice cream I ordered; it was good but not spectacular. I felt underwhelmed enough by it that when my stomach started saying no to it, I didn't feel completely terrible about asking for a box.

The Verdict

It's tough to say exactly what my final impressions of Oval Room are; the entire experience was up and down. The host staff seemed dismissive and haughty, but our server was warm and friendly, and was only MIA when we were trying to flag him down for the check (perhaps he thought Deal and I were on a date, or maybe he was giving us time to finish the bottle of wine we had ordered). The space was intimate, but the table next to us was within arm's length. The meal had its high points (the soup, the pork), but also was disappointingly unmemorable given my expectations for the meal, a feeling that Deal shared. Given that, I can only rate it as above average.

Food Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe: Calm to Chatty
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: The Oval Room is literally across the street from Lafayette Park, and thus the White House. A walk around the Ellipse/White House at night is always fun, especially if its Christmastime, and the National Christmas Tree is up.

Oval Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Rasika

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #8, Washingtonian 2009 #18, Washingtonian 2008 #41, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry Top 50 Restaurants, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants, 2009 RAMMY Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood: Penn Quarter

The Setup

Legitimately, I was having a terrible night. I had been looking forward to this night for weeks. But my dinner companion for the night cancelled on me with only a few hours before our reservation, which was for a Tuesday night at 10pm during Restaurant Week (probably the absolute least favorite reservation for a restaurant ever), leaving me scrambling to find someone to fill it (the manager had just called that morning to confirm). And to top it all off, I was physically ill, and was having problems keeping food down. By all accounts all these things should have ensured that I would have a miserable experience.

Except the food was amazing.

The Vibe

Rasika is not your father's Indian restaurant. Part of Ashok Bajaj's empire, Rasika is upscale and modern in its decor, with a sizable bar section front and center as you walk in. To the back of the restaurant is a six-seat section, which I can only assume is a chef's table, and some tables for larger parties. To the left and right of the entrance are the main seating areas which vary from square four-tops in the middle of the of the space to much cozier tables in the various nooks of the restaurant. The space's decor is classy, with a beige and tan color scheme that makes it seem inviting, and some other nice touches, including some hanging crystal strands separating the bar area and the seating area, and mosaic work.

Even at 9:45, when Official Friend of DCWD Kelly and I arrived, the bar table seating was full of diners, and the place was lively and energetic (and this was a Tuesday!). The noise level abated as the night went on, but I can imagine that there would be more than a decent buzz earlier in the evening when dinner date reservations are more likely. Even so, the wait staff was polite, especially our waitress who made great suggestions, and was friendly despite the late reservation. Perhaps the only downside was our table's location which was perfectly positioned to receive the brunt of the cold draft every time the front door was opened.

The Food

Appetizers

My original choice of Rasika for Tuesday's reservation was part because of the tremendous buzz about the quality of Vikram Sunderam's food, and part because of the restaurant's quality vegetarian options. These two factors came to a head with almost everyone's suggestion for the appetizer: the palak chaat, crispy spinach with yogurt, tamarind, and a date chutney. Each bite of the appetizer was a revelation, the flakiness of the spinach mixing with the yogurt to give you both gritty and smooth textures, and spicy and sweet flavors. Even writing about a week later recalls back the taste memories very vividly. Kelly went with the lamb meatballs in a garam masala, which were tender, and reminded me favorably of an Indian version of the polpette I had at Bibiana the night before.

Entrees

For our entrees, Kelly selected the mahi-mahi in a malai curry, which came with rice and naan. The fish actually came across almost like chicken (so much so that Kelly had to correct me), and the curry gave really wonderful notes of coconut, which was very pleasing. They also gave a considerable amount of the curry relative to the protein, which I always enjoy as long as they give you enough rice or naan to soak it up, which Rasika did. Win.

I went with the waitress's suggestion of the restaurant's signature dish, black cod with honey, dill, and star anise. To say that this was the most amazing piece of fish I have ever had would be an understatement. The cod was perfect, with a texture as if it was poached, absolutely melting in your mouth. The honey and dill gave it a dull but pleasant sweetness, but the absolute brilliance was the star anise (though star anise, as the most important part of Vietnamese pho broth, is a flavor that I grew up loving). And the portion was generous; if not for my considerable and intolerable stomachache, I would have finished both of the sizable filets. I cannot recommend this entree enough. It was phenomenal.

Dessert

For my dessert choice, I went with the black cherry and pepper sorbet, and Kelly got the gulab jamun with cardamom ice cream. The sorbet was delicious and interesting , with the fruitiness of the cherry and the sharpness of the pepper interacting with one another. The outcome was reminiscent of the taste of jam on pepper crackers, but in a much smoother and lighter vehicle. Once again, my companion picked the superior dessert. Gulab jamun is a fried cream dessert which Kelly said she spent an entire Indian Sweet 16 eating once. The one bite I snuck in was beautifully light. Paired with the ice cream, it was an absolute pitch perfect ending to the meal (it helps that I absolutely love cardamom; my old roommate used to add cardamom into the cookies he baked).

The Verdict

Even though I could barely stomach half the meal, even though I was having one of the worst nights in a long while, this was absolutely an instant Top 5 meal. All of the courses ranged between exceptional and best-in-my-life flashes of genius. In fact, I found I couldn't write as much about this meal despite how much I loved it, because honestly how many ways are there to say that something was perfect. The service was pleasant and the dining area was full of places that would be perfect for a date. The noise level was a little energetic, but nothing that the pleasant atmosphere didn't offset. Like I said, instant Top 5.

Food Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe: Energetic to noisy
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two) (though you can certainly have a meal here for $50)
Pairing: Almost right next door to Rasika is the Woolly Mammoth Theater, which usually has a very interesting season; in fact the best show I've seen in DC (Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind) was at Woolly Mammoth.

Rasika on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 18, 2010

Monday Munchies: Guacamole at Cafe Atlantico/Oyamel

Every Monday I'll feature a small plate, bar food, or a grocery food you can snack on and where to find it, or a recipe and how to make it.

This week's Monday Munchie is the guacamole at Cafe Atlantico/Oyamel; both are Jose Andres restaurants in Penn Quarter, the former a Nuevo Latino restaurant, the other specializing in Mexican cuisine. Because of that, the guacamole is just slightly different between the two restaurants. But they share the most important parts: the absolute freshest ingredients, and being made tableside.

Now if there is one food that I can say that I dislike, it's avocado. I can't really explain why, other than there's something about the combination of taste and texture that I'm not sure about. I'm getting better and better with my avocado dislike; I think it's okay in sushi sometimes, among other things. But it's still not my favorite.

All that being said, this guacamole was fantastic. The freshness by itself made it a notable snack, but it was also mixed with enough cilantro and tomato to give it a couple layers of flavors (cards on the table: I also love cilantro). It's a little expensive, but totally worth it, and the portion is large enough for two, making it perfect to share.

Taste Test: 4 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Vegetarians, Appetizer Dates

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bibiana

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #99, The Daily Beast's Hungry Beast - Fall's Hot New Restaurants
Neighborhood: Downtown/Metro Center

The Setup

Bibiana is the latest in Ashok Bajaj's DC restaurant empire (his 7th restaurant now) and represents the restaurateur's foray into Italian cooking. It opened in late 2009 to a lot of buzz and expectations, expectations which probably led it to its premature showing on 2010's Top 100. Official Friend of DCWD Elana and I went last Monday for Restaurant Week.

The Vibe

The first thing you notice about Bibiana when you walk in is that the space is divided very clearly. The front door opens to the bar, a sizable and very trendy looking expanse. To its left is the dining room for larger parties, and to the right is its main dining space, where we were seated. The decor is modern, with dark brown and black wood paneling, candles floating in large cylindrical vases along the edges of the room, and giant metal light fixtures which look vaguely like dandelion parachutes. By our 8:45pm reservation, the whole area had a nice pleasant amber glow to it, and was only reasonably chatty, making it very a nice atmosphere to talk (which was nice, since I had a lot to talk about with Elana).

Our waiter at Bibiana insisted on peppering his speech with Italian, something I first experienced at Bistro Bis with French; the jury is still out for me on whether I think this makes a restaurant more authentic or more contrived. On the whole, the wait staff was polite and timely... and made no impression on me whatsoever. Which is a good thing. The one concern was that we were given the worst table in the dining area: a four-top that literally had to be moved for Elana to get into her seat, and one where my chair got bumped into by the wait staff at least three times during the evening.

The Food

Appetizers

Like many of the other restaurants I picked for this year's Restaurant Week, Bibiana passed the smell test of serving almost its entire regular menu. Elana, a vegetarian, picked the Barbabietola, a salad of winter beets, gorgonzola, saba, and almonds. My own negative thoughts and feelings on vegetarianism aside, there is something to be said about the difficulty of finding quality vegetarian food in DC, or anywhere for that matter. I can recall the look on Gael Greene's face on the last run of Top Chef Masters when Zooey Deschanel and her tragically hipster friends were flabbergasted by the quality of the vegan meal they had been presented (it was a cross between shock and the face people reserve for when they watch Save the Children commercials). Elana thought it was interesting, but was reserved about it. My own view of the salad was a little similar; the presentation was nice enough, but my mom makes a similar version with goat cheese, and this salad didn't do much to outpace the homemade variety.

For my part, I ordered the Polpette, described as braised veal meatballs in white polenta and sugo finto; in actuality, it was one giant meatball. My dinner companion's dietary restrictions being what they are, she couldn't offer her opinion, but for me this was the highlight of the meal. The meatball was sumptuous and mixing the polenta and sugo finto created a nice creamy sauce that complemented the veal well.

Entrees

I see skate so rarely on a menu, that anytime it shows up, I immediately jump at the opportunity (it helps that one of my most pleasant meal memories is of the skate at Vidalia). So when I saw the Razza, a plancha seared skate on borlotti and cannellini beans and an herb salad, I ran with it. Unfortunately, the skate was a disappointment. I wanted the skate to melt for me, but instead it was crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside. The bean mix was uninspired; the dressing it was sitting in was probably its only saving grace. Granted, I probably should have ordered something more Italian to get a feel for the restaurant, but considering the hype, I was expected something a little better.

Elana went for the Paccheri, large rigatoni with cauliflower, raisins, pine nuts, and pecorino. Large was an understatement; some of the pieces of rigatoni were the size of a Mars Bar. I thought her entree was of a much higher quality, probably because it was a much better representation of the restaurant's cuisine. Both of us thought the pasta was a little over-oiled, though she was definitely more peeved by this fact than I was. She also was a little disappointed that the vegetarian options seemed uninspired; she just couldn't bring herself to give Bibiana any creative props for that aspect. Then again, like I said, the heavy hand on the oil didn't bother me too much, and any combination of almonds/pine nuts and golden raisins is a winner in my book, so that probably accounts for my preference to it.

Dessert

For dessert, Elana went for the Crema Fritta, a Venetian fried pastry cream, and I ordered the Panna Cotta, which came on a liquid orange center and was topped with mandarin orange slices and streusel. I thought both desserts were top flight, with Elana's taking the slight edge over mine; the orange was just a degree too tart for my liking. Still, I was only a few steps away from licking the panna cotta cup. On the other hand, the crema fritta was light and refreshing, and was a good ending note on the meal.

The Verdict

It's hard to judge a restaurant during Restaurant Week, or during its first couple months of operation. With all the hype and the backing of DC's preeminent restaurateur, I just wanted Bibiana to live more to its lofty expectations. Still, for me, the polpette proved that the kitchen can produce brilliant food when it's on, and that it's still just working out its kinks. On the date meter, the vibe was just perfect for a first or second dinner date, with exactly the kind of quiet, candlelit atmosphere that seems just about right after dusk.

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Vibe: Chatty
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: If your date is into sports, the Washington Kastles of World Team Tennis play their home games at 11th and H during the summertime. WTT usually features a big name or two (last year's Kastles included Serena Williams), and a bunch of hungry young players. Matches usually start at 7pm, and tickets can usually be had for less than $10 apiece.

Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Allagash Curieux

Each Friday, I'll feature a beer/wine/cocktail that I've had recently that was excellent and deserves praise.

This week's edition of Friday Night Flights features Allagash Curieux, an aged Tripel that I stumbled on at The Big Hunt last Saturday night (In a cool coincidence, Young and Hungry posted just yesterday about the story behind Curieux). Sitting in Big Hunt with a college friend in town from NYC for a week, I was perusing the handles behind the bar when the blue list of things on tap caught my attention. My eye automatically focused in on the Curieux; my favorite beer is the Allagash White Ale, and so Allagash always jumps out at me on a menu. My companion ordered one for herself as well.

Curieux is not for the casual beer drinker. It's created by letting an Allagash Tripel age in Jim Beam barrels, two facts that rocket the alcohol content up to a healthy 10.5%. The end result is a rich but tantalizingly light beer, with strong notes of honey that come across pleasantly with the hops (it is a Tripel after all). Perhaps it's because I love a good Belgian-style beer, or because I already have a massively positive impression of the folks at Allagash, but this was a drink that exceeded already high expectations. It's wonderful for those times where you're not sure if you want a beer or something stiffer. For this occasion of catching up with an old dorm neighbor, it was spot-on.

Bar Review: 5 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for: Men who normally drink bourbon or whiskey but don't want to seem like a Mad Men stereotype on the first date, Women who appreciate craft beer (read: not always looking for a cocktail), Anybody in the mood for a pleasant but strong ale
Where to find it: Big Hunt has it on tap right now, Brickskeller has it on its beer list

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hook

UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.


Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #81, Washingtonian 2009 #79, Washingtonian 2008 #57
Neighborhood: Georgetown

The Setup

Restaurant Week. Poll any group of foodies about this biannual DC tradition, and you'll probably yield the same kind of polarizing opinions that you might get from a discussion of Napoleon Dynamite; you either love it or hate it. Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, who up until recently worked in the industry herself, argues that this is exactly the worst time to go to a restaurant; chefs and restaurateurs know that this is a clientele that will probably not be coming back and so are perfectly willing to dumb down menus and use subpar ingredients. I for one am decidedly for Restaurant Week; as a self-admitted food lover on a budget, I think it's a gift-wrapped opportunity for those with lower salaries to experience places they normally wouldn't get a chance to. And it's not like the best chefs in DC are going to cook worse for one week. You just have to search for places that offer meals off their regular menus, and where you couldn't normally get a quality meal for $35.10 (this year's dinner price).

The Vibe

Hook is one of those places. Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern and I arrived at Hook for our 7pm reservation and were led on a maze-like path through the restaurant, first up the stairs (who knew there were two floors?) and then into a side dining room. This caused HR Intern to make the obvious joke that they were hiding us away from all the real diners; the host smiled weakly at this.

Hook's dining space is divided into four spaces: the downstairs bar area, a downstairs space for about 30 divided into what seemed like mostly four-tops, an upstairs dining area with a small bar (no seats) and a slew of four- and two-tops, and a smaller dining room which is off to the side. We were seated in this last area, and the atmosphere of the room was decidedly more casual and intimate (it gave me the sense that it was a private dining room, but there were at least 20 people seated with us, including a large party of 12). The vibe in each section is also different; by the time we left, the downstairs area was energetic and buzzing and it took at least a little effort to leave, while the upstairs maintained a quieter feel to it (granted, this was a Thursday night). The most interesting aspect of the dining space we were in was a flatscreen TV on the wall, which played a DVD of Our Blue Planet, a documentary featuring a melange of fish swimming about (dinner theater I guess?). But considering the difference in buzz level, depending on your date, it might be worth calling ahead to request a specific one of these areas.

If you couldn't tell by the name itself, Hook is a seafood restaurant. More importantly though, like a handful of restaurants that have popped up in the last few years in DC, Hook prides itself on its mission: sustainable and locally-procured food. And like many of these restaurants, that's the first thing the wait staff impresses upon you. That's not a make-or-break point for me, but for others, especially given the state of the overfishing of certain high-end species (Chilean Sea Bass comes to mind), this is a huge factor. hook actually just scored a two blue fish score Fish2Fork's sustainability index, on a scale of five red fish to five blue fish (wow, too cute by half), so it does a decent job of living its creed. Just a thought.

The Food

Like I mentioned before, Hook offers many of the same courses for Restaurant Week as it does normally. Our waiter, who was exceedingly friendly the whole night, was also pretty knowledgeable about the varieties of fish (though I guess that's to be expected in a seafood restaurant) and was spot-on in providing us reference points on taste and texture for some of the more obscure entrees.

Appetizers
Even without the waiter's suggestions, HR Intern focused in on two appetizers that we both wanted equally: the tuna tartare and the grilled calamari. The tuna tartare was served alongside what was described as lady apples and spiced carrots, but tasted more like cranberries, with microgreens on ginger/cilantro oil. The tartare was very nice, and the cranberries' tartness played well with the tuna. For me, the grilled calamari, which sat in vichyssoise and was topped with a crispy potato salad, was the better of the two. I am an absolute sucker for vichyssoise, and the calamari was well done. The potatoes were a nice addition.

Entrees

HR Intern went with the Artic [sic] Char which was served on top of a sweet potato and celery root puree. The bite that I had of it was delicious, cooked very well with just enough of the dark pink in the center to maintain the original ingredient's freshness. I went for the Bluefish (partly because I'd never had it, partly because it was sourced from my home state of New Jersey), which came with a creamy polenta spread, green beans, carrots, and basil pesto.

Now, fish to me is best when it melts in your mouth. By that metric, this bluefish was absolutely divine. I couldn't stop raving about it to HR Intern (who agreed with my opinion wholeheartedly). The fillet slid apart beautifully along the grain of the fish as I cut it, and each bite maintained the perfect texture balance between the crispiness of the skin and the smooth substance of the fish. The saltiness balance was also spot on. On the downside, outside of the polenta (another one of my food loves), the vegetable sides were blah, and the basil pesto seemed wholly unnecessary.

Dessert

Dessert was something of a letdown after the pitch-perfect entrees. I was seduced by our waiter's suggestion of the "Tiramisu" (the quotation marks are Hook's), which he described as a deconstructed version of the classic dessert. The actual dessert was decidedly less exciting, and was basically a thin bar of semisweet fudge-like chocolate, served alongside a dripping of darker chocolate sauce, a ladyfinger, and mascarpone ice cream. HR Intern went for the cheesecake, served on a blood orange sauce, which made a better impression on both of us.

The Verdict

Overall, Hook was a really enjoyable experience, and admittedly unexpectedly so. Obviously the fish at a good seafood restaurant is going to be good, but I was surprised at the perfection of my bluefish (in my opinion, a better meal than I had at much more highly regarded Kinkead's), which ratcheted up the meal from a run-of-the-mill 4 stars to a 4.5 star rating. The dessert was probably the only thing holding this from being a 5-star meal (and maybe even knocking on the door of my all-time Top 5 DC meals). The service was excellent and knowledgeable, even with it being crowded, Restaurant Week, and us not ordering wine. The crowd at the downstairs bar was vibrant, and probably good for a informal first date/meet-up albeit a little noisier than some would like; the upstairs dining space is much more suited toward a date down the line.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe: Energetic to noisy.
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: Shopping on M Street (there's a couple small bookstores right as you come into GTown that I love, and depending on your budget, window shopping on the right night in GTown is always pleasant)

Hook on Urbanspoon

The First Course

In the wake of a terrible breakup, and a string of bad rejections, there I was sitting at dinner with a brilliant meal in front of me, saying aloud to my dinner companion, "If I could just keep this meal down, it's good enough to turn me around." And it crystallized what I've always known about myself; if there's one thing that I love beyond all things, if there's one thing I will spend exorbitant amounts of money on, if there's one thing that can elate me or disappoint me, if there's one thing I love to share my passion about, it's food.

So what is this blog about? Official Friend of DCWD CC and I were talking one day about how it's only when you need to plan a date on short notice that you run out of ideas. So we started collaborating on a date book, a short list of things to do and places to go in DC that would be perfect for dates. This blog is an extension of that, but more food-focused. It's our opinion that a good date revolves around food; by its very nature, eating together with someone is an immeasurably connecting experience. So we'll write about the places we eat in DC, the foods we love and where to find them, and how they stack up in the date book. We'll also pair them with a fun thing to do near the restaurant so that each entry can be used as a full date recipe (did you see what I did there? Two food puns in a single sentence!)

Kim's note: In the interest of full disclosure, this blog does have its biases. While I'll spend gobs of money on a good meal, I don't make that much money. So some of the dates will be of the "on a budget" variety, while some will be more of a "special night" type. I also have a fondness for lists and ranking things; I think lists help us sort our thoughts, and they give us something to aspire to. So a good deal of the restaurants I go to are drawn from the Washingtonian Top 100, or Young and Hungry's 50 Best in DC restaurants, or some other ranking of what's hot in DC.

So there it is. Hopefully this venture will be a fruitful one, and if someone else gets a single good date out of it, then I've done my job. Bon appetit!