Like what you see? Follow DC Wrapped Dates on Twitter for last-minute date ideas and other food news. @dcwrappeddates

Saturday, February 27, 2010

CC Reports In From the DC International Wine and Food Festival

Editor's note: This post is CC's recap of the 2010 DC International Wine and Food Festival, which ran from February 11th - February 14th. You can see our tweets from the day here.

My festival festivities began a few days before Kim’s. I had tickets to the PS7 kickoff event, which was sadly canceled due to the freak snowstorms DC was privy to. I braved the storm anyway with the promise of an ice bar serving up some of mixologist Gina Chersevani’s creations. I have to say, with ice bars and snowmen being constructed across town, DC’s a jovial place to be in a storm!

After that I hit up the Poste event on Friday, with the city’s best mixologists whipping up love-inspired cocktails for Valentine’s Day, featuring absinthe, tequila, whiskey, and a few other liquors I shouldn’t have mixed. The favorite, from the mumblings I overheard, was Equinox’s Simo’s cherry-topped and sugar-rimmed martini. The appetizers were few, a theme of the weekend, but what we could snag from the trays was worth it—oysters, mmmmm.

Saturday’s tasting was what I had been looking forward to the most. Kim and I geared up with notebooks, cameras, Twitter-ready phones, and an empty glass each.

The Kingdom of Navarra was a sponsor for the festival this year, and had a huge presence in the main atrium. All the bodegas were a little overwhelming, but these Spanish wines were good for the most part, focusing on medium reds from grapes I don’t know in Spanish! I think I had a better experience tasting the Navarra wines in the food pavilion, where the atmosphere was a little less frantic and the representatives catering to a smaller crowd. This is true of the food pavilion as a whole (a new feature this year), which was a welcome retreat from the crowds downstairs, as well as a much needed break for some snacking. Even if you choose to spit while you taste, the food vendors scattered throughout were very necessary. This is a wine AND food festival after all, and I believe the coordinators of the event are moving in the right direction to bring more balance to the beverage-heavy event.

That said, the pairings with food were the most fun, and the most informative. Kim and I paired ZenZen ice wines with Hudson Valley foie gras, and especially enjoyed the Brix chocolate pairings of milk chocolate with tawny port, and dark chocolate with a cabernet sauvignon. These weren’t altogether new or particularly innovative matchups, but for someone who’s never really taken the time to think about wines with chocolate, it was exciting and informative. If I can give you any advice after this festival, it’s to pair wines with food. The experience of both will be heightened.

We braved the crowds for Jose Andres’ demo. As a TV personality he is great in front of a crowd and though we didn’t get to taste any of his tapas, we had a lot of fun. I have similar feelings about Todd Gray’s demo the following day—he’s a very accessible and outgoing personality both at home in the kitchen and in front of a crowd. The biggest question for Gray as he whipped up his famous risotto was “when does Equinox reopen?”. It was nice to see that the festival brought out all the chefs’ biggest fans!

As usual, I am liking the wines coming out of New Zealand and Australia these days, trying to appreciate our local wines, and excited about domestic absinthe production. I’m all for American products, though that doesn’t mean I’ll stop drinking, eating and using the high quality imports, like the Navarra wines.

I’m excited to see what next year’s festival will bring. For a date, this was great for Valentine’s Day (I also attended the brunch at Ris, as did Kim, though not as a couple), and an awesome opportunity to taste and buy new wines while learning things along the way.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Margaritas at Lauriol Plaza

I think it's best to describe this week's Friday Night Flight in testimonials: the margaritas from everyone's favorite after hours Mexican landing spot, Lauriol Plaza. Sandwiched in between Dupont Circle and Adams-Morgan, a night at Lauriol Plaza is always described with the following sentence: "The food was pretty eh, but the margaritas were sooooooo good."

Well, objectively, it might be that nobody's actually tasted the food at Lauriol. As Official Friend of DCWD Lawyered put forward, "The margaritas are so good that by the time you get your food, you can't even taste it and/or you are blacked out." She adds, "Margaritas at Lauriol are nothing if not effective. Because it is like drinking a milkshake, but there is alcohol in that milkshake and I always get a brainfreeze because they taste so good." Adds Raj: "They're great because they're relatively inexpensive and sweet." CC sums it up by relating that she's never had a bad time at Lauriol with margaritas in hand. And isn't that what you want out of a drink?

It should be noted though. Lines are long, and the bar is packed on a typical drinking night. Be prepared.

Bar Review: 3.5 Cheers
Perfect for:
A drink to get drunk night, a girls' night out, reliving Spring Break Cancun 2003
Where to find it: Lauriol Plaza, 18th St NW b/w Swann and T.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vapiano

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: One in Farragut/Dupont Circle, one in Arlington, one in Chinatown

The Setup

Part of the great food weekend of February 2010, fresh off the Wine and Food Festival, my old roommates Shams was in town, and our friend had organized a birthday get-together for him. Because it was going to be a large group, she decided on the Vapiano on the border between Farragut and Dupont.

The Vibe

Vapiano is one of the best places for large groups, who normally would have to deal with splitting the check; upon entering Vapiano, every individual is handed a chip card which serves as their portable tab for the night. This has obvious benefits for parties, though on some level we could say that it also facilitates dating Dutch-style. Each Vapiano is different, but they have similar decor themes; the one we went to was trimmed in black, white, and crimson red, with each of the walls decorated with photos and murals or shelves of herbs (holy crap, there are a lot of herbs everywhere). The dining area is group-oriented as well, with chef's-counter-style tables, surrounded by cushioned high chair seating. There is a pretty sizable bar area, which has lower red leather chairs, with a fireplace column and dim lighting. This makes for a general trendiness which reverberates through the whole restaurant. All in all, it's not crazy, but certainly it's a hectic, bordering on noisy scene.

The Food

Accordingly, Vapiano is a do-it-yourself kind of place, in that there are various stations where you order the different varieties of Italian food that Vapiano features: pasta, pizza, salad. With your card, you are charged as you go, paying when you leave the restaurant. Fresh off the festival, I wasn't looking for too much, so Official Friend of DCWD Monica and I decided to split some pizza, drinks, and dessert.

I've been to Vapiano a couple times, and this instance was pretty emblematic of all those trips; for one no matter when I go, it always seems to be happy hour (Peronis for $4... yes, please). This time, Monica and I got the Diavolo, a mozzarella pizza with pepperoni, peppers, and onions. The pizza style there is New-York-style, greasy and thin to the point of falling apart (which, having grown up in New Jersey, is exactly what I want). The pepperoni was also a nice surprise, looking as if it actually came from a pepperoni sausage, thick cut in small circles. It was a very pleasant tasting pizza. What tastes I did get of other people's pastas were also pleasantly surprising.

The desserts were more along the "eh" line; they have either slices of cake, or cups of dessert. For this meal, I got a chocolate mousse cup and a tiramisu cup; both were perfectly satisfactory

The Verdict

All in all, I would rate Vapiano as a little above average on both food and vibe; given expectations and this blog's general scale, I wouldn't call it 3 star/heart good, but certainly better than satisfactory. I just would caution that around 7pm on any weeknight, with the happy hour crowd coming up from Farragut, it could take a considerable amount of time to just get your food, and the noise level is considerable. Not a terrible date, but maybe more of a blind date/first date kind of place.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating:
Closest described as Party in the USA
Vibe: Energetic to noisy
Cost:
$ (out of 5) (Less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Vapiano is right around the corner from the DC Improv Theater, located at 1140 Connecticut Ave NW. Acts range from improv to standup, and tickets are between $10 and $30 depending on the act.

Vapiano M Street on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Indique Heights

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #65, Washingtonian 2009 #66, Washingtonian 2008 #86,
Neighborhood: Friendship Heights

The Setup

DCWD isn't just limited to the downtown area; sometimes, especially for good food, we find ourselves out in the suburbs, even (gasp!) Maryland and Virginia. In this case, Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I were out on the fringes of DC in Friendship Heights, jonesing for a light dinner before we went back into the city. We opted for some Indique Heights.

The Vibe

Indique Heights is nestled away in an office building above the Friendship Heights Metro, and despite the multiple signs around the building, you kind of have to know it's there. The restaurant saddles the interesting space between trendy and full ethnic. The decor embodied that split; what's normally booth seating at other restaurants was flat backless cushions with those large cylindrical pillows in bright colors, and there were of Indian-motif paintings on the walls. On the other hand, all the four-top tables in the middle of the dining area were all modern, and the place seemed equipped for similarly bright-colored mood lighting, the kind you find in upscale lounges. The service, for its part, was a little slow, considering we were the only people really in the restaurant. So take that for what you will.

The Food

Unfortunately for us, CC and I arrived right in the middle of the lunch and dinner shiftover, so the only place we could eat was at the bar. Which was fine, but I think the bartender was a little wary of us when we didn't order drinks. Like any good bar menu dinner, CC and I settled on three appetizers to split between the two of us.

For its part, the bar food was actually pretty good, but exactly what I was expecting coming in. One of the courses neither of us can recall without a menu, so I guess that says something (though we certainly didn't have a bad dish there). The chicken samosa chaat we got was light and crispy, though the only really unexpected part about it was the presentation (CC said, "this doesn't really look like a samosa"). The mini oothapam, a savory pancake with chicken, lentils, and assorted vegetables was probably the best course for us, but only because they gave us 5 different chutneys to try on it (which of course, CC and I were split on). So the variety of things to dip it in was nice. I wish I had more to say on the place, but we were in a rush, so we only noshed on these three things. Overall, I would say that it was on the better side of Indian food I've had in DC, but not the best.

The Verdict

What can I say? The restaurant was exactly what I was expecting; the food was nice but not spectacular. The vibe was decent, but nothing to write home about. Overall, I guess it made no impression on me whatsover, which might not exactly be the best thing for a date. Everything about the experience just came across pretty average; take that whatever way you will.

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: The reason we were up there in the first place was for a dance practice, so I'm almost obliged to pair this with a dance lesson up at our favorite dance studio, Chevy Chase Ballroom. It's located just up the block on Wisconsin Avenue, and there are plenty of group classes for all dances and levels.

Indique Heights on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Munchies: Olive Oil Salmon at Zaytinya

This week's Monday Munchie is the Olive Oil Salmon from a restaurant that we'll definitely be returning to (for what would be the fourth time), Zaytinya. Considering the size of the dish, it almost seems unfair to call this a "small plate", but we make the rules here, so we're going to call it in-bounds.

We've previously explored how much I'm a sucker for well-cooked fish, especially ones that melt in your mouth (see: Hook and Rasika). Served with spicy eggplant and topped with a green olive salsa, this salmon is slow poached, and so it's absolutely perfect in its texture, and a textbook example of the things that this Jose Andres restaurant (headed by Top Chef alum Mike Isabella) is capable of: great Mediterranean food. Other than vegetarians, everyone can enjoy this bite.

Taste Test: 5 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Everyone

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pete's New Haven Style Apizza

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #97, Washingtonian 2009 #83, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50 Restaurants 2009
Neighborhood: Columbia Heights

The Setup

With the Snowpocalypse rapidly shifting plans, and more importantly canceling work, my lunch schedule suddenly freed up, so I decided to start hitting up the cheaper restaurants around town with my newfound snow days. First on this list: Pete's Apizza, right off the Columbia Heights Metro station. I recruited Official Friend of DCWD The Suit to come with me; The Suit is a New Haven native, and not only desperately craved some home-style pizza, but also would be a valuable source on authenticity.

The Vibe

Pete's Apizza is caught in between two places; it wants to be both a friendly neighborhood pizza place, but it also wants to be on the up-and-up (on some level, you can say this about Columbia Heights as a whole). The net result is a small dining area with window counter space, and plenty of small, but modern wooden two-tops and chairs. The color scheme is all different shades of brown, which makes feel a little cozy, as does the hanging candle light fixtures around the restaurant. I could see how it could get chatty if the place was full, but for the time being it was just quiet.

The Food

Before I get to the pizza, I should mention that Pete's offered a fairly decent selection of beer (I got myself a Great Lakes Eliot Ness), as well as Boylan's bottled sodas. In fact, they had a Boylan's soda fountain, probably the only place outside of Zebu back home in New Jersey that I've ever seen that. Major awesome points.

Pizza

The one thing you'll notice is that for a pizza place, your options are pretty upscale. The menu is almost entirely specialty pies, though only about eight or so are available by the slice at a given time. This being a lunch, we decided to just go by the slice, instead of ordering a whole pie. I went with a slice of the New Haven (white clams, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pecorino romano, and oregano), and a Chef's Choice (which on that day seemed to be sauteed spinach, caramelized onions, and some ground sausage), while the Suit went with a New Haven and a pepperoni.

On the ride there, The Suit explained to me about New Haven pizza: like New York-style but thinner, and more burnt, so that it falls apart in your hands. In fact, it was his passion for the pizza that was probably the only reason we didn't stop for food someplace else as the snow and DC's inability to deal with it sidetracked us a couple times. The pizza was very good, crispy and nice, though by no means the greatest pizza I've had in my life. The New Haven was the better of the two, but probably only because it's regularly made. I'll defer to The Suit on this one: "It was a little too thick, and not burnt enough for my tastes, but it's the best pizza I've had in DC." This is certainly a sentiment I would echo, but considering that my current DC pizza diet consists of half-price pizza at Froggy Bottom Pub, drunken late night Jumbo Slice, and a slew of takeout places (see: Domino's), I'll withhold judgment until I get to 2 Amy's and Comet Ping Pong. I will say one thing though: by the time we got the pizza, I was so starving and it looked just good enough that I forgot to take a picture of it. Letdown.

Dessert

Having eyed the cannoli, The Suit decided to get one, and I decided I should have dessert as well, and ordered the coffee creme brulee. I think it would be safe to say that our feelings on the dessert mirrored our feelings on the pizza: good, but not the best ever by any stretch of the imagination. Specifically, the coffee creme brulee was a nice flavor, but they brulee'd it right before serving, which meant that the sugar top was super thick and warm, and the actual creme was cold. So that was a little off-putting.

The Verdict

I think it says a lot that The Suit took a menu saying, "If they deliver to campus, I will gain 100 pounds." On the other hand, even he admitted that it just wasn't as good as actual New Haven pizza. I would go ahead and say something similar; it met my expectations, which were pretty level to begin with. Solid across the board, but considering it's essentially a takeout kind of food, I can only give it 2.5 Hearts. Otherwise, a cheap but good restaurant which is just date-y enough for a sit down. And at the very least is currently in the pole position for my title of "Best Pizza in DC."

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe: Calm to chatty
Cost:
$ (out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Everyone I know who lives in Columbia Heights loves Wonderland Ballroom ("best neighborhood bar on the weekdays"). A couple blocks away at 11th and Kenyon, it's a real chill place with a nice beer selection (or so I'm told anyway). Perfect for a nightcap on the weekdays, or some dancing on the weekends.

Pete's New Haven Style Apizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Peter Brum Gold Sparkler

This week's Friday Night Flight is a wine we first tasted at the DC Wine and Food Festival (we tweeted about it at the end, though not while we were drinking it) and had again later at the Ris benefit brunch (a review of which is coming up next week): Peter Brum Gold Sparkler.

Walking through the Festival early (CC scored us VIP tix), we were passing a table of foie gras and CC decided it was only right that we find a dessert wine to have with it. We turned around to find the Zenzen table; Zenzen is a US wine importer. While we did have our , we'll admit to our own shallowness and say we were initially attracted to the Gold Sparkler because of the 24K flakes (think Goldschlager).

As for the wine itself, it's a mix of several grapes (Trebbiano, Riesling, Rivaner, Airen), of which the Riesling comes through the clearest. It's fruity, sweet, and mildly dry, with a clean finish. I do love me some Riesling, it's a very nice wine, especially if you pair it well (CC suggests things you would drink champagne with: "it would be good with brie, honey, or poached pears"). Most of all, it's a perfect gift wine, since it's good and obviously looks really cool, but is still relatively cheap (one of the Zenzen people said it retails for around $20).

Bar Review: 3 Cheers
Perfect for:
Gifts, people who love Riesling and Champagne
Where to find it: Imported by Zenzen Wines. Check your local liquor store.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

BGR: The Burger Joint

Plaudits: Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50
Neighborhood: Three locations (Dupont Circle, Alexandria, Bethesda)

(Note: For the first of hopefully many times, both CC and I went to BGR on separate occasions, so the review is broken down into our two visits, and the ratings are an average of our opinions)

The Setup

Kim's take:
I was all ready to go to Proof for the night, when one of my more haggard (and apparently flaky) friends had to reschedule on me because of a last-minute parent conference (such is the life of a teacher). Already warmed up to have a DCWD night, I decided to follow Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC's lead and hit up BGR, which she had just eaten at a few days beforehand. I recruited Official Friend of DCWD Hannah to join me, and off we went to the newest of the three locations, the BGR in Dupont Circle.

CC's take:

Unlike Kim, my trip to BGR was in no way intentional
(and was a full week before his, I might add). It was one of the many places that has been on my culinary radar recently, and I am on a personal quest to find the District’s best burger—for which I am reserving judgment until I venture out to Ray’s Hell Burger—but mostly the manpanion and I were hungry, we were in the area, and we had a hankering for some beef.

One thing I should note—I suggested BGR since Five Guys, while a reliable staple, was not whetting my burgertite, but I couldn’t remember exactly where I had seen it on Connecticut Avenue. So we first wandered north past Chipotle before my Cam Jansen memory shot told me the I was not only on the wrong side of the road, but I was walking the wrong direction. It was Sweetgreen that saved the day, I knew where that was and thus I knew BGR was close (tangent, have we discussed yet how to pronounce “BGR”? I’m of the voweless camp favoring “buhgrrrrrrrrr”).


The Vibe

Kim's take:
BGR was not what I was expecting at all from the brief glimpses I've gotten walking across the street. Funky would be the best way to describe the aesthetic. The lighting is provided by a few large theater spotlights, with soft mood lighting added by fixtures that look like molecules or Koosh balls, and a disco ball that hangs in the front window and reflects light all over the restaurant. The restaurant is decorated eclectically, but focuses in on music; the left wall is lined with 80s album covers, while the right side has a guitar, and two flat panel TVs. Aside from a row of booths and a circular one in the front window space, the seating is all two-tops in various arrangements. Each of the tables is mosaic-topped, featuring everything from a peace sign and a happy face, to the logos for Superman and Kiss. Like I said, eclectic and funky. The vibe itself is pretty buzzy; on the Wednesday night we went it was decently full, and by 7pm, people coming in had a hard time finding a seat. The noise level never went above chatty, but the overhead music was very clear and certainly random (to say the least). All people are different, but it's one thing to have David Bowie and Queen sing Under Pressure while you're on a date; it's another thing altogether to listen to P.O.D.'s Alive or Ozzy Osbourne's Crazy Train. Just a thought.

CC's take:
The manpanion and I were impressed by the shiny lights and colorful mosaic table tops (Marge Simpson or Nesquik, honey?).

The Food

Kim's take:
I was pretty starving when I came in, and so was Hannah, and thus we ordered a lot of food. Hannah ordered the Southwestern (chipotle, poblano, onion, chili, black bean relish, pepper jack) with a side of onion rings, and on CC's suggestion, I went with the Wellington (mushrooms, caramelized onions, garlic, black truffles, blue cheese), a side of sweet potato fries, and the shake of the month, a Thin Mint Milkshake.

Hannah's burger first: it was messy. The brioche bun that all the high-end burgers are served on (BRIOCHE! LOVE IT!) is obviously very soft, and with the relish and the chili, the burger just came apart with every bite she took. Don't get me wrong, this was part of its charm. However, by the end of the meal, Hannah had gone through seven napkins. If your idea of a good date doesn't involve you licking your fingers in front of your companion, this is something to consider. As for the food, Hannah thought it could have been spicier, but it worked well for me. The letdown was the onion rings. Of course, the one I picked was the only bad one, but it obviously had not sat in the fryer for long enough because when I bit into it, powdered batter started falling out of the inside. Gross.

As for the Wellington... fantastic. The blue cheese was the highlight for me, its saltiness and texture working perfectly in combination with the mushrooms and truffles and the burger. It just melted in your mouth. Not the absolute best burger I've ever had, but certainly in the running. I absolutely would recommend it to anyone. As for my sides, the shake was good, but the Thin Mint part was oversold; yes, there was a Thin Mint on top of it, no, it was basically just a Mint Chocolate Chip shake (and yes, there is a very clear difference between Thin Mint and Mint Chocolate Chip). The fries were also kind of a letdown, but only because of a style difference. I love my sweet potato fries with cinnamon sugar, so the fact that they were served plain was nice for cold weather I guess, but they could've been better. Still, way better than the sweet potato fries from the day before, in that they were pleasantly crispy.

CC's take:
The manpanion and I proudly pronounced ourselves BGR virgins and ordered the Wellington and the Original to share, along with an order of the double fried fries. The guy at the register overheard me tell the manpanion that this was my treat, and coupled with our excitement for our first BGR burger threw us a welcome bone: free chocolate chunk cookie! We loaded up on mayo—go Belgian or go home!—snagged a seat and eavesdropped on the other customers while amusing our bouches with the cookie in true CC fashion. I’m a big fan of chocolate chunks rather than chips, so I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the cookie. Not the best I’ve ever had, but that’s a whole other quest. While we waited, one guy from I assume the bank next door came in and ordered “the bank special”—seemingly a regular order for the overachievers working late hours in finance—and returned to pick it up about ten minutes later. As someone who has worked in the restaurant biz, we love our regulars, and I was pleased to see that the neighborhood burger joint already had an established repertoire with the locals.

I could gush about the smooth creamy sauce enveloping the juicy burger over mounds (and I mean mounds) of mushrooms on the Wellington burger, or the satisfying seasoning and crunch of the fries, but instead I’ll remark briefly on the original burger. We bacon and cheesed ours, but the meat was the star—tender and delicious; BGR uses quality beef that doesn’t need dressing up. I’m still going to order the Wellington again next time I’m in, but for the purists among us, the BGR burger is damn good all on its own.


The Verdict

Kim's take: In terms of best burgers in DC, I would still have to slot this one behind Good Stuff (which we'll return to soon to profile), but ahead of Five Guys (and just to stop you right there, we're gonna get to Ray's Hellburger and Z Burger in the next few months too). Both burgers themselves were pretty spot-on (I want you in my belly again, Wellington), but there was enough inconsistency with the sides to warrant caution. As for the date vibe, I'll stay safe with a 3 Hearts rating; it works if you can deal with funkyness and occasional off-putting music choice. Then again, it's a burger date, so who knows what your expectations are? All-in-all, just some good ratings across the board.

CC's take:
The manpanion and I enjoyed our dinner at BGR. As for a date place, the joint’s atmosphere and general obsession with Pink Floyd is not to be overlooked—it’s a funky little place and I’ll be back, next time with 15 of my closest friends to tackle the 9 lb burger.

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe: Chatty

Cost:
$ (out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Snow, or no snow; grab a burger and head out onto the circle. On a nice day, you can have a picnic in the grass and people-watch all around you. On a snowy day, you can slide down the fountain. Win-win.

BGR: The Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Elephant and Castle

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: One in Farragut/Foggy Bottom, the other in Federal Triangle

The Setup

I guess on some level I should expect it, this town being what it is. But yet another college friend, Official Friend of DCWD Julie, was leaving town (and yet again, not just leaving the city, but the country). So with only a week left before Julie picked up and left for the Peace Corps in Zambia, we decided to meet up. The bounds for this choice were 1) must be near both our workplaces, and 2) must have drinks and food (in that order). So we went with Elephant and Castle.

The Vibe

Elephant and Castle is part of a North American chain, with two outposts in DC. The Farragut franchise is the newer of the two, having just opened up this past summer. Since then, E&C has amassed a pretty steady clientele, composed of pretty much exactly who you would think considering its location: mostly yuppies or middle-aged workers from the neighboring office buildings, with the occasional college kids, or older gentlemen looking for a decent beer. I've been four or five times now, mostly for an after work happy hour.

E&C is essentially an attempt to bring the British pub atmosphere to North America. The restaurant is mostly bar area (though you have to be seated by the hostess even in the bar seating, which is a little annoying), with a small dining area on a raised platform to one side of the room. The whole room is a maple color, owing to the dominance of the bar, and really feels like what a British pub would look like. There are a few flat screens on the wall, almost always tuned to ESPN or Fox Soccer Net, and because of that, the vibe is almost always energetic, and verges on noisy from time to time.

The Food

E&C being a bar first, and a restaurant second, I don't feel that bad about only having the bar food there. Coincidentally enough, on this occasion, I had the only three sharing plates that I've had more than once: potato skins, sweet potato fries, and chicken picks. I'm not gonna pretend that the food was anything special; the potato skins were only a little better than the frozen ones that TGI Friday's sells in supermarkets, and the sweet potato fries were probably among the poorest I've ever had (which is to say, they were soggy but still edible, and probably only because I like sweet potato fries). I will add here that there are certain friends of DCWD that disagree with me on this point, but I like my sweet potato fries crispy and covered in cinnamon sugar; that these were neither was disappointing. As we'll see soon with BGR, I can abide by sweet potato fries that are at least crispy or sugary, but I'm not a fan of fries that are neither.

Of the three, I would say the chicken picks are the best, because the breading is crispy and light, and they come served with equally crispy kettle potato chips. It kept me sated at the very least. So while I've ordered all these things more than once, it's probably more because I need something to nosh on while drinking, and those seemed like the best choices of them all. What's more, it's not like there were any happy hour specials on this food, so it was still the same price as always.

What's probably more important is the beer selection, which features a pretty decent selection including some personal favorites on tap (Boddington's), as well as bottled (Delirium Tremens, Chimay). If you like English beer (though I don't know too many that I love), they have plenty of those on tap. On this trip, we each had two glasses of the Sam Adams Seasonal, the Noble Pils, which I featured a week or so ago as a Friday Night Flight.

The Verdict

This meal being what it was (a catch-up session), I didn't really particularly care about the date aspects of the places. But for the sake of the blog's objectivity, the food was only satisfactory (in that it was fried, tasted decent, and filled my stomach), and unlike say Brickskeller/RFD, the beer selection couldn't make up for it as much. Plus, you'll probably have to yell to your dinner date to have a conversation, with the lively atmosphere and all. So I guess unless your date is a huge fan of the English Premier League (or any world soccer for that matter), I would probably keep this one out of the date book, unless you're looking for greasy food and a rowdy time.

Food Rating: ** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Suits Scene
Vibe: Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$ (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: As I suggested above, the one thing Elephant and Castle is good for is as a bar to watch soccer. So if you don't mind it (or heck, even enjoy it like I do), there are definitely worse things than sitting at the bar watching the EPL.

Elephant & Castle on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Munchies: Duck Rillettes and Faux Gras Terrine at Central Michel Richard

Despite all the wonderful things we had over this weekend, we'll stick with an oldie but goodie for Monday Munchies. CC will probably be mad at me for putting this before we officially review Central, but I have to include this.

Michel Richard's Central has plenty of amazing bar food, but tops among this is the Faux Gras, a terrine formed of mostly chicken liver and parsley. It thus tastes strongly of chicken, but the consistency is smooth and creamy. For those of you who are against foie gras as a practice, this is a more than adequate substitute. And for those of you who love foie gras like I do, this is a brilliant riff on it. On top of that, the duck rillettes are the perfect foil to the terrine. Everyone I know who's had it, has loved it. The almost perfect bar food.

Taste Test: 4.5 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Meat eaters with a heavy heart and foie gras fans alike.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Live From the DC International Wine and Food Festival

Here are DCWD's live tweets from the DC International Wine and Food Festival in chronological order:
  • Greetings from the DC Int'l Wine and Food Festival! CC scored us VIP tix for the Grand Tasting, so we're heading in a bit early.
  • http://twitpic.com/1310q9 alaskan salmon pasta salad from alaskan seafood institute
  • http://twitpic.com/1311v4 Hudson valley Foie gras
  • brix milk chocolate paired with sandeman tawny port = amazing.
  • gina chersevani of ps7 is mixing us a citrus smash right now with bluecoat gin. lots of citrus, hints of cinnamon. delicious.
  • vieux carre absinthe: first east coast distillery in 95 years. smoothest absinthe i've ever had.
  • today at food pavilion: australian lamb, pan bagnat, mini falafel sandwich, poached alaskan cod, serrano ham & manchego on crostini, gelato
  • Pacharan liqueur: spanish, okay, strong taste of strawberries.
  • lots of interesting spice rubs going on here: todd's dirt, catalyst gourmet. fennel, old bay.
  • Patricius tokaji aszu dessert wine: wonderful, oak barrelled, hungarian. strong note of honey but with a thin smooth finish.
  • spice rack chocolate: cc - " i don't know if i'd buy it but the mango pepper is nice."
  • if it seems the tweets are coming farther apart, it's because the wine is starting to hit us both.
  • http://twitpic.com/131nne a cellar full of noise: not bad but obviously the draw was the label
  • Interesting mix of class, age, and race here. Foodies come in all shapes. Or at least drunkards.
  • now sitting to watch jose andres do a demo!
  • http://twitpic.com/131ws8 jose andres! "oh man this is a sparkling water." i love this man. eaten at all his restaurants.
  • CC says the demo is like the bible according to jose. "in the beginning there was just bread. and then we got garlic."
  • just bought mother's day/mom's b-day gift. this place is good for gifts for culinary moms.
  • here's a food date idea: bring a date here next year. though the price tag is a bit prohibitive. but we've seen a lot of couples here.
  • food and wine fest winding down. finishing it off with some Navarra wines.
  • Winners from today: Zenzen gold flaked sparkling, jose andres. No real losers this time unlike mango wine from two years ago.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Magic Hat #9

I know I've been getting kind of lazy with Friday Night Flights lately, but I'm sure after the grand tasting at DC's Wine and Food Festival (another shameless plug for our live tweeting of the event tomorrow), I'll have plenty of new quaffs to recommend. For now, we'll stick with my rediscovering of an oldie but a goodie: Magic Hat #9.

It moved out of my refrigerator rotation in lieu of some Belgian whites and seasonal Sierra Nevadas, but it's made a strong comeback lately. For those who have never indulged, it's a classic American brew with strong notes of citrus and apricot (which I'll admit always strikes me as also reminiscent of raisins or plums on some level), and makes for a nice drink year-round (though probably best in the spring or fall). Still, it does the job well, and pairs best with spicy foods. More than likely, the next time I run out of beer, it'll be back in the fridge.

See you tomorrow for our live tweets/blogs from the DC Wine and Food Festival!

Bar Review: 3 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for: To keep as your beer on hand for dinner
Where to find it: Most liquor stores

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Domino's Pizza

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: All over DC

Let's get a little playful with DCWD on this snowed-in Thursday.

The Setup

Okay, so admittedly this particular date entry is a little tongue-in-cheek. But Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, among others, commented that the date ideas so far have been exclusively white-cloth establishments. Not only that, but the meals have almost all been at least good, if not extraordinary, leading to a slight skewing of the scale. So, when Official Friend of DCWD Outraj came over for our weekly Monday Man Hangout and suggested we try the new Domino's Pizza, I thought it would be a fun mental, and more importantly, taste break to review.

The Vibe

I mean the inside of a Domino's Pizza place has the lighting of a psych ward, or a bathroom. You're not going to eat there.

The Food

So the new ad campaign for Domino's stresses the brand-new recipe for the pizza. It's kind of surprising that a pretty successful brand would consider such a wholesale change; despite the talking points of the commercials, one has to believe that there were actual financial reasons for the change, not the selfless customer feedback ones they'd have you believe. If anything, on some level, watching these commercials makes you cringe about all the Domino's you've had in the past (and as a recent college grad, there was more than my foodie self would like to admit). If they're telling you that now they're using more herbs on the crust because it tasted like cardboard, or more robust sauce, or now using real cheeses... then what exactly were they using before? Sawdust? All that aside, Outraj and I tried to keep an open mind. I did the ordering, so I got him a pepperoni, sausage, and mushroom, and myself a bacon cheeseburger pizza (I just received my cholesterol results and I'm using that clean bill of health as an excuse).

So was the new pizza any better than the old? Well the crust was a strong improvement, essentially like replacing the old one with garlic breadsticks. It was thus also fluffier, and less like hard tack. As for the cheese, the box talked about the new use of provolone cheese, but I couldn't taste the difference (also my pizza had extra cheese on it, and cheddar at that, so it's hard to say). It wasn't terrible. And the sauce? It's still low-grade tomato sauce, no matter how much of an improvement it is. So if the old pizza was a one star poor, this was a half-star upgrade to almost satisfactory.

The Verdict

Maybe if you're both feeling particularly lazy, and there's a Sandra Bullock date movie vehicle that you're jonesing to rent, and you need to order in something quick and easy. Otherwise, only if you're drunk. And if you want pizza that bad under the influence, put some shoes on and walk to Jumbo Slice. But hey, at least it's better than before.

Food Rating: * 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: N/A
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe: N/A
Cost:
$ (out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Order in and rent a movie, preferably a cheesy romantic comedy if you're eating Domino's.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tuesday Tweet-Up: January 2010

Yes, I know today's a Wednesday, but I wanted to get the Palena review up yesterday, and I love alliteration. Every once in a while, we'll recap the best things that have come through our Twitter feed over the last month (which is a good reminder to follow us on Twitter: @dcwrappeddates).

In fact, this weekend, we'll be live-tweeting/blogging the DC International Wine and Food Festival's Grand Tasting on Saturday, as well as writing up the Kickoff Event at PS7's, the brunch at Ris to benefit DC Central Kitchen, and the festival as a whole. So follow us on Twitter, or check back with us often on Saturday and Sunday to hear the latest on food and wine in DC.

But now onto the ten best tweets/retweets/headlines from the last month (in chronological order):

1) Culinary Mecca El Bulli to close until 2014: (RT @kkrader Ferran Adria To Close El Bulli For Two Years http://eater.cc/50CQT8 from @Eater)

2) On other end of spectrum, Burger King to start selling cheap American beer: (RT @beerspotter Burger King to sell shitty beer...and 5 million Americans start drinking at lunch http://bit.ly/av82qT (via @Lagerheads))

3) People make fun of me for it all the time, but this is why I wash my greens even if they're bagged:
(RT @nytimesfood ConReports found packaged greens have high levels of bacteria/poor sanitation. http://bit.ly/8YTBY5)

4) In case you wanted to start a second career in food (I know I always want to): (RT @beardfoundation Culinary careers don't keep you behind the stove anymore: http://is.gd/7xjeC)

5) Angry vegan hipsters respond to DC Meat Week
with DC Meat Free Week: (RT @welovedc So first there was Meat Week, and then there was Meat Free Week. http://bit.ly/96AjfE)

6) Rick Bayless tweets us back! (@Rick_Bayless not really, but wish I could RT @dcwrappeddates: As a foodie and a fellow anth major, I'm curious: Do you still keep up with anthropology?)

7) In case Good Stuff couldn't sate your "Top Cheftestant running an upscale burger place in DC" penchant: (
For all you lovers of molecular gastronomy, and Top Chef fans: RT @RichardBlais It's official. 1. FLiP will be in the DC market by EOY.)

8) A slideshow of the Bocuse D'Or (essentially the Olympics for culinary skills)
(Inside the Bocuse D'Or U.S. finals. Fascinating. http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2010/02/inside_the_bocuse_dor_usa_fina.html)

9) Todd Kliman of Washingtonian breaks the news that super-hyped new restaurant Inox is already closing; Tim Carman of Washington City Paper begs to differ: (
Wow, we hardly knew ye. RT @toddkliman News Flash: Inox is closing, according to a trusted source of mine. Tough times in Tysons?) (RT @timcarman Hold the phone. Chef says Inox not headed to the restaurant graveyard after all: http://bit.ly/bs1hCW)

10) And of course, my favorite news of the weekend: (
This just in: Join DCWD this weekend as we live-tweet/blog the DC International Wine and Food Festival! http://www.wineandfooddc.com/)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Palena

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #18, Washingtonian 2009 #5, Washingtonian 2008 #7, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Cleveland Park

The Setup

Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC just started herself a new job, and hand-in-hand with that was the need to have a painted mug (on the one hand, I don't really get that, but on the other I also have a painted mug for work). So, there being only two ceramic pottery painting places that I know of in DC, we headed up to Cleveland Park, where I decided we should make a day of it, and hit up Palena/Palena Cafe, which was only a block away.

The Vibe

Unlike most upscale casual restaurants, which have a different menu for their small bar area, Palena actually is split into two different dining areas: the upscale white cloth Palena, and the low-key Palena cafe. Having come from painting pottery, we opted for the cheaper Palena Cafe. That being said, there was full service at the bar, and the full menu was available, which is always much appreciated.

The cafe is composed of the six seats at the bar, about nine two-tops by the window, and three large, semi-circle booths. Even late on a Saturday night, the room was full and energetic; there was already a couple hovering over us for the last twenty minutes of our meal, sucking down Manhattans and waiting to steal our seats at the bar. The decor between the two areas is similar; both painted beige with iron lattice work chandeliers and forest green. The walls are lined with Roman head statues, and a smattering of sketchings and paintings. The seating in the more upscale area, from the glimpse I got of it, featured large family-style circular tables, as well as a few red leather two-top booths.

As for the service, the bartender was wonderful, just the right amount of professional but friendly. He let CC sample the wine she chose, and then ultimately recommended a new one for her which was much more suited to our tastes. He also gave us fresh plates, when we probably didn't need them. What's more, it was almost a Cheers-like atmosphere, with two sets of patrons chatting him up as if they met before (one from inside the restaurant business, the other seemed to be from around the neighborhood). It also meant that the cafe was buzzing, and at one point, when couples were now standing behind us waiting for seats, the noise level was particularly energetic. It made for a interesting albeit pleasant eating environment.

The Food

(Editor's note: CC wants it known that, despite how this may read, she doesn't hate food. She loves it in fact. She just has unreasonably high standards, and just was reserved in her praise because she recognized she was also starving.)

It should be noted that the menu for Palena (the restaurant) is either a three, five, or seven course menu, and is decidedly more expensive than the cafe (though the tasting menu is still offered at the bar). It also looks fantastic, so there's that. Since we don't make that much money, we went with the cafe menu.

Entrees

CC and I decided to split two dishes from the cafe menu, though we kept ogling everybody else's fry plates as they came out (shoestring fries, potatoes dauphin, and onion rings). The cafe menu being short, we quickly narrowed it down to the estouffade de lapin, boneless rabbit braised in red wine with olives and served with potatoes and rabbit sausage, and the roast chicken.

The rabbit came out first, and was overall a good dish. The braise was well done, and between the olives and the sauce, I thought the flavor profiles reminded me positively of a Moroccan chicken dish my mom makes all the time; for me, there were strong notes of cumin and paprika that came across. For CC, the key factor was that the rabbit was a bit overcooked, and so came across just a tad bit chewy. She was also a little unsure of the combination of the braise and the olives; again, since it reminded me so much of another dish, I didn't share this opinion. The standout for both of us was the rabbit sausage, which was just the right combination of spicy and savory.

As for the roasted half-chicken, one of the key reasons I wanted to go so badly to Palena in the first place was I had heard so much about it. Normally, I don't order the chicken at restaurants; my ceiling for chicken just isn't that high. But after hearing so many rave reviews of it, I had knew I just had to try it for myself. And when the bartender told us it would take at least 45 minutes, I almost wanted to say, "when you've made the sale, you don't need to keep selling it to me."

Now CC was more reserved on the chicken, but for my part, this was one of the best, if not the best chicken I've had in a long time. Like the rabbit, it hearkened back to the chicken that hangs in the windows of Asian supermarkets that we used to get all the time. The skin was perfectly crispy, which texturally worked amazingly with the perfectly-cooked chicken. CC commented that she usually didn't eat skin (internal monologue: that's the best part!), but this chicken made her rethink that. That it came on a bed of sauteed greens and broccoli rabe was the added kicker (CC doesn't like rapini, but I love it, and I think it works really well with chicken). A brilliant dish.

Dessert

Feeling a little frisky, we decided to ask for a dessert menu, and went with the most unique dish: a sheep's milk ricotta cheesecake, crusted with coconut and served with stewed figs and prunes. Having finished my Allagash White and CC's Three Valleys Zinfandel, we also decided to get ourselves a glass of port. The bartender stepped up here again and recommended a Dow's 10-year, which was a really good match to the dessert. Again, on a run of good cheesecakes myself, I had high expectations for it, and luckily it met them. The cake was creamy but surprisingly light, and it worked really well with the figs (now the second time I've had figs with cheesecake, a combination I would have never thought of myself). Another plus dish here.

The Verdict

It probably should be said that we were very hungry going into Palena (CC almost had us stop at Lebanese Taverna for some hummus). But that doesn't take away from the brilliant chicken, and the great dessert, which for me earns the restaurant 4 stars. More importantly, between the cafe and the restaurant, the vibe shifts easily enough to accommodate any level of date, whether it's catching drinks at the bar (which offered a pretty interesting lineup of cocktails), or an intimate dinner for two. That it has both an option for casual and white-cloth is also very much appreciated. All-in-all, a wonderful restaurant for a date.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost: $$$-$$$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 in the cafe, $75-$100 in the restaurant)
Pairing: Like I said, the reason we were up in Cleveland Park at all was to paint pottery, and actually, I've always thought painting your own pottery was a really cool date. All Fired Up is a block from Palena, as well as a half-block from the Metro, and unlike other places, doesn't charge fees for paint, studio time, or firing. They also have a huge selection of things to paint, a helpful and friendly staff, and a policy that allows beer and wine in the store.

Palena on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Munchies: Feta-Stuffed Tomatoes and Eggplant Gouda Sandwiches

We'll mix it up a little with this week's Monday Munchies, and instead post some successful recipes instead of bar food.

My feelings on vegetarians are pretty well noted; other than being super dogmatically religious it's the one characteristic that I try to avoid in the women I date (though I've put those feelings aside in some cases when I really liked them anyway). The ubiquitous Anthony Bourdain quote from Kitchen Confidential pretty much sums up my feelings (Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, for what it's worth, agrees wholeheartedly):
"Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food."
That being said, I find myself constantly surrounded by vegetarians, including a number of my best friends and my sister, and eventually I begrudgingly have to cook for them. So when asked to make a quick and easy vegetarian meal, here's what I put together:


Cherry Tomatoes Stuffed With Marinated Feta

Halve and core a few large cherry tomatoes. Mix cubed feta, chopped shallots, oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil and stuff the tomatoes with this mix. Top with a kalamata olive.

Eggplant and Smoked-Gouda Open-Faced Grilled Sandwiches

Mix chopped tomatoes, parsley, white-wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil for tomato relish. Brush eggplant with olive oil and salt, grill evenly on both sides until tender. Brush country bread (I used Tuscan Pane from TJ's) with olive oil, and grill lightly. Top bread with eggplant, and thin slices of smoked-gouda (though many smoked cheeses would work), and tomato relish.

Both recipes were stolen from Epicurious, and were quick and easy (probably under thirty minute of prep and cooking for both, if I wasn't so slow with prep). Enjoy.

Taste Test: Three Forks
Perfect for:
Vegetarians

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Oyamel

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2009 #, Washingtonian 2008 #38, 2009 RAMMY Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year Finalist, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Penn Quarter

The Setup

This particular dinner happened around the last Snowpocalypse so it seemed only fitting to post it now. Even though the blog wasn't alive when we had the meal, it was good enough for the two of us to recall it vividly. Official Friend of DCWD Deal and I had planned to go to the top of the Washington Monument as part of her bucket list for DC (I'm embarrassed to say that five years later, I still haven't been up there). Unfortunately, 45-50mph winds that afternoon squashed our plans, and so we had to settle for going out to dinner. Being on a budget as she is, I talked her into trying out Oyamel with me for the first time.

The Vibe

Oyamel moved into its current space from Crystal City two years ago, sitting within a two block radius of the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro with all of its brother Jose Andres' restaurants (well except the two Jaleo outposts). Like all of his DC eateries, the atmosphere is energetic and can best be described as buzzy. Probably more so than the others, the dining area is small, with a decent sized bar as you enter and one of the main seating area around it a couple steps below ground level. One person might call it intimate, another cramped. All the two-tops in the dining area where we were seated were little more than a foot from one another. To the back of the restaurant is the second dining area, which is almost all four-tops and much more roomy (and on some level, cozy). On the opposite end of the restaurant is a ceviche bar for single diners, which I thought was a nifty idea.

The decor of Oyamel is a little more offbeat than the other Andres hotspots. The walls and furniture are marigold yellow and orange and brown, which goes from bright in the daytime to warm at night. All the light fixtures are super modern, and there are butterflies everywhere (the oyamel is apparently the preferred tree of the monarch butterfly); we sat right underneath a metal mobile of them. The other parts of the wall decoration are traditional Mexican motifs: Aztec totems and dancing skeletons. The one curiosity is that on the wall behind the ceviche bar, they project a campy Spanish language movie, which might be distracting, especially if like us only one person could actually see the movie. Though I think that it does add to the whole hip and funky and fun atmosphere at Oyamel, which is cool if your date's into that.

The Food

Again, like all of Jose Andres' places, the name of the game is small plates, which I have a soft spot for, since it emphasizes the sharing of food. It being an antojitos place (the Mexican version of tapas/dim sum/mezze), Deal and I picked out 5 plates for ourselves. Unfortunately, Deal had forgotten her ID, so we couldn't indulge in their margaritas, which both of us had heard plenty about. Though in retrospect, they're $11 and approximately the size of orange juice glasses at breakfast, so while apparently delicious, proceed with caution. Also of note was the bread course, which I usually never talk about, but since it's a Mexican restaurant, bread was housemade chips and salsa, which were actually very, very good (though they charge you for a second basket).

Small Plates

The first dish to come out was a sea scallop ceviche, cured in aji panca chiles, orange, lemongrass and mint, and served in the shell with candied orange peel. This was a brilliant one bite, which Deal and I took straight off the shell, liquid and all. It was light and the flavor notes were bright, the orange leaving a little bit of sweetness at the end. In fact, when the couple to our right ordered the same thing and didn't eat it with the liquid, we both had to restrain ourselves from telling them to drink it anyway.

The next two dishes came out simultaneously, one my choice, the other Deal's. Mine was arroz con huitlacoche, which I chose because after having it at minibar a month before, I wanted more huitlacoche in my life. This particular was rice sautéed with huitlacoche (known as Mexican truffles, a fungus that grows on corn), ‘double cream’ cheese and herb oil. It wasn't as great as I wanted it to be; in fact the huitlacoche in its pure form was a little more aggressive than before, when it had been pureed. So the overwhelming flavor was salty and strong, making it a dish where the first bite was great, but with a declining taste value with each consequent bite.

Deal's choice was a Tamale Oaxaqueño de frijol (on a side note, I stumbled over the word oaxaqueño because I started saying Oaxaca, and so put the emphasis on the wrong syllable). The tamale was a corn masa filled with refried pinto beans and hoja santa with Mexican cream. This dish came exactly to expectations for both of us; it was pleasant but nothing out of the ordinary. Which for me anyway is the ceiling for a tamale, though for Deal, having been in Guatemala before, very similar to what she had there.

The last two dishes also arrived at the same time, the first a half young chicken with rice and a mole poblano sauce of almonds, chile, and of course, chocolate. Again, this dish met my expectations exactly, and was good, but not mind-blowing. Part of me admits that I only ordered it because I felt I needed to have some mole while at Oyamel. For Deal, it was probably the closest she's ever come to liking mole, and again for someone who's been south of the border, I guess that's saying something.

The other dish that came was the second highlight of the meal, a poblano pepper stuffed with ground pork, pine nuts, apple, pear, and tomato, served in a goat cheese and walnut sauce, and topped with fresh pomegranate seeds. As Deal herself put it succintly, I could eat this every day. The pepper was just the right combination of spicy and umami, the sauce was to die for (goat cheese is another of my not-so-secret loves), and the introduction of pomegranate seeds into our lives was nothing short of monumental; we actually asked for the menu back to find out exactly what the delicious seeds were.

Dessert

We weren't planning on getting dessert after being pleasantly sated, but when our waitress brought us the dessert menu, it looked too good to pass up. On one of our old professor's suggestions, we went with the pastel de tres leches. This version of the traditional cake came soaked in rum (Deal: "the rum, which is absent in most tres leches I've had, was a nice touch"), with a rum and milk foam, two forms of pineapple, and caramel ice cream. It was absolutely phenomental; the rum indeed was a nice touch and it was a nice balance of delicate and sweet.

The Verdict

Like I said, I have a soft spot in my heart for small plates restaurants as it is. There were no down plates here, and three very good ones, but nothing mind-blowing, thus the 4 stars. The vibe, depending on your date, is perfect for the fun-loving and adventurous first/second date. Deal and I joked that night that this was a good dry run for bringing someone back here on a date (this was way before I conceptualized this blog), and I for one would certainly go back to Oyamel for a date.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Bar Rating: Suits Scene
Vibe: Energetic

Cost:
$$ 1/2
(out of 5) ($40-$60 for two) (I'm gonna break my scale here for price just because it's unfair to lump it into either the $25-$50 or the $50-$75 category).
Pairing: Oyamel is only a block or so from the National Mall, more specifically the National Gallery of Art, which is where Deal and I went right before the meal. There are some fantastic exhibitions coming up and some excellent ones already there (including one on photography, and the Meyerhoff collection, which features a lot of one of my personal favorites, Roy Lichtenstein).

Oyamel on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Sam Adams Noble Pils

This week's Friday Night Flight is the current Sam Adams Seasonal, Noble Pils. Again, like last week, not exactly groundbreaking, but it's the first that I've had it myself. Noble Pils is obviously a pilsner, and a German-style one at that. I had it for the first time at Elephant and Castle during a happy hour on Tuesday with Official Friend of DCWD Julie. At $5 a pint, we were both willing to be adventurous with it.

The best comparison I have taste wise is the Czech Pilsner Urquell, but with stronger notes of something like honey or apple. Yet it still maintained the traditional bitterness of a pilsner due to the large amount of hops that the beer has (a fact emphasized by the commercial). In fact, that's probably why I liked it so much; while it was clear and crisp and sweet, it also still came across with a full aftertaste. Granted, I also love all of the other Sam Adams' seasonals, so that probably added to it. But a fully enjoyable beer, something that was clear when we both ordered a second one.

Bar Review: 3 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect For: People looking for a light, refreshing beer that still has a strong hop finish
Where to find it:
Anywhere with Sam Adams on tap

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Brasserie Beck

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #80, Washingtonian 2009 #61, Washingtonian 2008 #36, 2009 RAMMY Chef of the Year - Robert Wiedmaier
Neighborhood: K Street, Mt. Vernon Square

The Setup
I hadn't seen Official Friends of DCWD G and Red for a while, and they'd been guilting me about it. I also needed to hang out with Official Friend of DCWD Deal one last time before she left for Chicago and then Argentina. This coincided with Brasserie Beck's announcement that it was extending its happy hours indefinitely (5-7pm daily, and an additional 10pm-1am on Thursdays-Saturdays). Half-price Belgian beer and the promise of great food? I'm there.

The Vibe

Brasserie Beck is the kid brother to Robert Wiedmaier's Marcel's, part of a trend from years ago of top white-cloth chefs opening up smaller bistros (Central Michel Richard, and Cathal Armstrong's Eamonn's come immediately to mind). Because of that, and the restaurant's Belgian influence, the dining area is exactly what you would expect out of any gastropub or brasserie: wooden wicker furniture, small tiles of blue and white, a raw bar immediately upon entering, and the kitchen in full display behind long windows as the central focus of the space. The restaurant is decidedly European in its decor, which obviously makes a lot of sense. There's a healthy buzz too, though that abates as you go further into the dining area.

In this instance, we didn't get a table, since you can order the full menu in the bar area, but the happy hour specials go away if you're seated. Because of the retention of the happy hour, it's a little bit of a struggle to get space in the bar area. Even on a Monday night, we didn't really have elbow room until around 8:00, and we didn't all get seats until 8:30pm. That being said, there's enough going on that you don't really mind. The service is pretty decent overall the few times I've been, though on this occasion one of the bartenders made some weird remarks to us (he did try to make it up to us though by giving us some free beer). Overall, the staff is pretty knowledgeable about their beer, which is a necessity in a brasserie.

The Food

If there is one thing you absolutely need to get at Brasserie Beck, it's the mussels. Other than Granville Moore's (which edges it out slightly), it is the best plate of mussels in the city. They come tableside steaming right in the pan. On this occasion, we had the classic garlic, white wine, and parsley mussels; each pan of mussels also comes with a serving of fries and three house-made mayos. Deal had never had mussels before (!) but she absolutely loved them, and the rest of us have been mussels converts for a while. Brasserie Beck also keeps giving you bread, which is perfect because as anyone who has had mussels knows, after they're gone, the best part is soaking up the sauce (which is just amazing). For their part, the fries are also wonderful, just thin and crispy enough with the perfect amount of seasoning. And for someone who was introduced to eating fries Belgian-style at a young age, the variety of mayos is fantastic. Together, the mussels and fries are the perfect bar food.

This time, in addition to the mussels, Deal and I decided to order some extra food to make a dinner out of the happy hour. We went off the bar menu, going for the plate of andouille sausage and Chimay cheese, and the duck liver parfait in port reduction. Both were pretty good, though the Chimay cheese was a little less Chimay-ey than expected; really the sausage and cheese plate was just good bar finger food for us. In addition, though Red noted the duck liver looked like spam, both G and Deal deferred to my knowledge and tried it, both saying that it was better than expected. As for myself, having also been introduced to pate at a young age, I thought the duck liver was very good, with an unexpected sweet note at first followed by the requisite savoriness afterwards.

I guess it's important to also highlight the beers that we had, seeing as it's a brasserie. I don't particularly remember what everyone else had, other than that Red had her traditional Kwok. For my part, I had three of the beers on tap, a Winter Bock to start (didn't quite catch the brand), then a Troubadour Blonde, and a Bavik Pilsner to close. All three were suggestions from the bartenders, and all three were impressive, with the Troubadour Blonde's fruit and pepper notes narrowly edging out the creaminess of the Winter Bock (and if you're wondering, yes all three of my companions made fun of me for drinking girly beer).

The Verdict

Considering this trip was less about the food than the happy hour and that we wanted to keep within budget, it's important to note that we ordered all bar food rather than the actual menu. I will say though that the real food that kept getting ordered around looked absolutely amazing (Deal at one point had to keep me from eating our bar neighbor's leftovers). What the mussels and fries do show though is the quality of the kitchen. Combined with the excellent energetic vibe of the bar area, I can positively say that a happy hour date at Brasserie Beck would be a great time.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Bar Rating: Suits Scene
Vibe: Chatty to Energetic

Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: Official Friend of DCWD Biz gets credit for this one. The Henley Park Hotel just a block away on 10th between K and Massachusetts has live jazz on Wednesday-Friday nights from 6pm to 10pm in their Blue Bar Lounge.

Brasserie Beck on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Shameless Plug

My love of Mr. Yogato has already been well-documented, but it's about to reach new stratospheres, because starting tomorrow, my flavor will be up. So everyone should go order themselves a nice big White ChocoKeem!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

1789

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #31, Washingtonian 2009 #45, Washingtonian 2008 #72, 2009 RAMMY Nominee Rising Culinary Star of the Year Daniel Giusti, 2009 RAMMY Nominee Pastry Chef of the Year Travis Olson
Neighborhood: Georgetown

The Setup

I keep telling myself that each dinner reservation is going to be my last Restaurant Week dinner until August, but with RW extensions trickling on through January, how can I say no? And so, another last trip out this month, this time with Official Friend of DCWD Yupster to 1789, the perennially high-rated Georgetown restaurant.

The Vibe

Put it this way: when the hostess called to confirm our reservation, she politely reminded me that 1789 does not allow jeans or athletic wear (duh), and that it requires all gentlemen to wear jackets (oh...). Luckily, Yupster had one sitting in his office, and I could stop by my apartment on the way between work and the restaurant, but I think that's all you need to know about the atmosphere of the restaurant. No one really minded when we both removed our jackets when we actually sat down, though it should be noted, all the other gentlemen left theirs on. As for the noise level, it went back and forth, from a quiet buzz to a pretty loud chatter; it all depends on the party in the center of the room.

As for the decor, 1789 really reflects its theme; it really looks like what a country inn might look like in 1789. Upon entering, you're greeted with a dark all-black tavern entrance; after checking your coat, you're brought through a dark wooden door into the dining room. The seating area is small, with space for maybe 20 people (though apparently it's just one of five different dining rooms. This particular room had a bunch of two-tops lining its jagged edge and a few larger tables in the center of the room. The 1789 motif is most apparent in the wall decorations: dark wood paneling covered with scores of framed pictures of 1700s-style cartoons, decorative plates, and tavern kitchen wares. The room itself is a mix between a beige and salmon color, a color palette that is accentuated by the orange candlelight. Overall, the room is pretty decent date-wise, though the decor makes it a little bit kitschy, like you're dining in your grandmother's country house. Then again, I'm told the other dining rooms are a little more romantic, so maybe request a particular one when you call.

The Food

1789 has always been highly regarded so expectations were pretty high for both of us. We were presented first with an amuse-bouche, what I heard as a country pate but was more the consistency of head cheese, with pickled vegetables and house mustard. It was fine, if not a bit bland and probably not the best lead-in to the meal.

Appetizers

1789 offered four appetizers and four entrees off their regular menu, and the whole dessert menu for Restaurant Week, which was obviously very exciting. For the appetizers, Yupster ordered the veal pate, which came mixed with foie gras, black trumpet mushrooms, and served with bosc pears. I didn't get any of the foie gras, so I can't comment on that particular, but the bite I did get of the pate had more heft than normal pate, giving it more of a meaty consistency, which was nice. It also had a strong quick pepper taste, but since the ceiling for pate is only so high, it was just a good dish.

For my appetizer, I ordered the snail croquettes, which came on top of black lentils, crisped fennel and a cipollini onion. The texture contrast between the lentils and the crust of the croquette was great, as was the inside of the croquette, which oozed the garlic and parsley sauce inside. If there was a complaint about this meal, it was that there were only two snails in the whole cylindrical croquette, and they both were on the same end. Still, the flavors compared favorably to escargot I've had, and the whole meal had a nice rich taste of garlic and butter.

Entrees

For the entree, Yupster got the bouillabaisse, which contained lobster, scallops, rouget, mussels, and clams. The piece of lobster I tasted was well-cooked, but mostly I just dipped bread into the stew after Yupster was done. The broth tasted very strongly of saffron (as it should), and it was a very pleasant meal on a cold night.

As for me, as soon as I saw the skate wing on the menu, I knew I had to go for it. Regular readers of DCWD will remember that I was underwhelmed with the skate at Bibiana at the beginning of Restaurant Week, and so I was looking to replace that memory. This skate did just that. Both Yupster and I agreed that this was a superior dish. The skate was perfectly cooked and beautifully tender, falling apart in stringy succulent pieces. Moreover, the skate came served on a brown butter polenta, with winter mushrooms and an onion marmalade, which was the absolute pitch-perfect additions to the fillet; the creaminess of the polenta blended perfectly with the texture of the skate to melt in your mouth, and the play between the savory and the salty with the polenta/skate and the mushrooms was amazing. This dish was absolutely exceptional.

Dessert

With the full dessert menu at our disposal, we were ready for great desserts, and it didn't disappoint. In fact a lot of the desserts combined one traditional dessert's flavor with another's texture, which was pretty brilliant. I got the griddled coconut poundcake with tangerine ice cream, and warm grapefruit topped with brown sugar crunch, all in rum caramel. Each component was delicious, with the cake like a macaroon but in cake form, and with the tangerine ice cream as the standout in terms of taste. Yupster got the better dessert (which is becoming my M.O.), a pumpkin souffle cheesecake with butterscotch sauce, and pumpkin seeds and cranberries. Much like the cheesecake at Art and Soul, this cheesecake was surprisingly light (and, not to be obvious, but like a souffle in terms of lightness), and tasted exactly like a more substantive pumpkin pie. In combination with the seeds and cranberries, it was also exceptional for me.

The Verdict

This was so close to a five-star meal, if not for the fact that Yupster's appetizer and entree were both just great, and not exceptional. Still, the meal was outstanding, and certainly in my top 10 in DC. As for the date aspect, the small size of the dining area, the kitschy theme, the vacillating noise level, and the mandatory jacket rule (and the consequent white-cloth/slightly stuffy vibe) all mean that I can't wholeheartedly get behind this place as more than a solid date restaurant. Still, the food was great bordering on amazing, with a brilliant skate dish, and fantastic desserts.

Food Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business, Jacket Required
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: This one's hard to pair, since you'll be theoretically be dressed to the nines for the dinner, and thus won't want to do anything particularly strenuous, so we'll just go with a walk along the tidal basin/waterfront at night. It's a little party-esque during the summer months, especially around the Tony & Joe's/Agraria building, but otherwise a very nice walk.

1789 on Urbanspoon