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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

2941

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #6, Washingtonian 2009 #14, Washingtonian 2008 #18, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's 2009 Top 50 Restaurants, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants, 2009 RAMMY Nominee - Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood: Falls Church

The Setup

Kim's take:
We've known Official Mentors of DCWD Double-L and Double-S for almost 6 years, and for the last three or so years, 2941 has been the carrot that they've dangled in front of us. Perhaps no place was burdened with so many expectations as 2941, where Double-L and Double-S are beyond regulars (Double-L estimated that they'd been there some 300 times). CC and I joined them for a Saturday night dinner; I don't even think words could capture how excited we were.

CC's take:
I can use words for that, Kim! Literally, Kim and I checked in with each other all day, hourly.
"Have you caved yet CC?"
"I'm so ashamed, I ate 2 Hershey kisses. My appetite will be totally shot for tonight."
We scoured the online menus (foie-heavy!), reviews, and photos, we salivated and dreamed. Needless to say we were setting ourselves up to be disappointed. Thankfully, disappointed we were not.

The Vibe

Kim's take:
It's hard to say what parts of our experience at 2941 were because of the slight VIP treatment we received; clearly getting to walk into the kitchen and meet Bertrand Chemel (!) and pastry chef Anthony Chavez was not part of the normal dining experience (though I guess you could always ask). What's clear is that the decisively pleasant service we got had no effect on how much I loved the restaurant's vibe. 2941 sits in the ground level of a giant office building, and as you pull into the driveway, you realize just how beautiful it is in spite of this fact. Walking up the path towards the front door, you walk over a koi pond, and a waterfall. You notice that two of the restaurant's walls are in fact giant full-length windows, and that the whole dining area has a warm orange glow. The bar area is to the right of the entrance, a pretty sizable black wood oval off to the side.

Aside from the chef's table (which is an eight-top in a small nook in the kitchen), and a private room, the dining area is one large room, with booth seating in the center, and a bunch of four-tops otherwise. The tablecloths are a warm light orange, and the seats are cushioned and colored cornflower blue and beige. The lighting is provided by some rectangular glass lanterns hanging low from the high ceiling. The other notable part of the dining space is the art; apparently the building is owned by some eccentric billionaire who loves art and Americana. There's a giant light fixture hanging behind the host stand which looks like a pyramid of orange glowing jellyfish, and our table was right next to a Rodin statue (CC: the closest I've been to a Rodin since I got in trouble in 5th grade for trying to touch a museum piece).

All of these aspects combine to make for a wonderfully beautiful dining space, and combined with the brilliant service we had all night (again, I'll caveat that we essentially got VIP treatment), it was an amazing vibe.

CC's note:
While Kim and I wondered if Double-L and Double-S would have reserved the chef's table for the evening, I am beyond glad, in retrospect that they didn't. It's a beautiful table in a huge open kitchen, but I have been in kitchens with professional chefs before. I love watching the process, I love being involved, but I'm over it. If I do ever spring for an in-kitchen chef's table not belonging to any of my friends (I hang with the pros on the weekends), it will be at The Inn at Little Washington, opera-music blaring in an impossibly clean workspace. Just to hope I get to watch it get dirty. If you've never been in a professional kitchen, I highly suggest you spring for it at least once, but otherwise, as Kim noted, there's so much to look at in the main room, and you'll get a better feel for the whole restaurant concept, beyond the food. If you want to look beyond the food.

The Food

(editor's note: Because of the low light in the room, and my desire to be polite with our company, we didn't take any food porn pictures. Sorry.
Also, because both of us were at this meal, we're gonna try something new here, and write this like it's a conversation. Which hopefully might convey how excited we are about this meal. We'll see how this goes.)


K: The homemade popcorn with shaved black truffle and truffle oil as bar food was the first sign that this was going to be a good meal. At the very least, it was the first time of many that CC and I looked at each other, and just smiled.

CC: For real, I dream about truffled popcorn on a regular basis. We started with cocktails at the bar--floral martinis, without heavy sweetness, but even that couldn't distract from the bowls of popcorn within arm's reach.

K: The four of us decided that the tasting menu was the best way to go, and Double-S thought that we should have the wine pairing as well (except our teetotaling DD Double-L). Before the tasting began, there were two food items of note. First was the bread course; slices of four house-made loaves: plain, olive, cherry and chocolate, and cranberry and walnut. These were decidedly pleasant and only Double-L's warning that we should make sure not to stuff ourselves with bread stopped me from eating the whole basket. The cherry and chocolate was absolutely lovely.

CC: I'd only add, that as per usual, I liked the olive one. And that house-made bread is increasingly rare, and I for one love it. So it was a nice treat for us.

K: The second premeal portion was a two-part amuse-bouche: a Chinese soup spoon of haricot verts topped with ricotta cheese...

CC:
Which was surprisingly sweet--blanched in a sweetened water perhaps?

K:
...and a custard topped with a popcorn foam, bacon, and sage. As an amuse-bouche should, it set the tone for the meal and presented the chef's vision: bold flavors brought forth in wonderful combination presented beautifully.

CC: I still preferred the popcorn of the truffled variety to the amuse-bouche. Here's a game: Count how many times she tries to mention it in this and future postings.

K: The first course was chunks of Maine lobster with cranberry beans and sea urchin in a coriander nage (light stock made with white wine, carrots, onions, shallots, and herbs). Double-L, who doesn't like shellfish, had his replaced with salmon tartare, served on thinly sliced cucumber. Being a recent addition to the world of shellfish (overcame a childhood allergy), my experience with lobster isn't extensive, but this was some of the better shellfish that I've had, cooked well and tender. I thought it was nice and light with the cilantro flavors of the broth coming through well, though perhaps an interesting choice to start the meal. In retrospect, even though tartares are a dime a dozen, I would order the tartare if i had do it again.

CC: Awesome tartare. Not being a HUGE fan of lobster, I thought this was a delightful way to start the meal, soft and welcoming, but I'm not going to lie--I wish I had gotten the tartare instead. With just the right amount of citrus and crisp cucumber, this was a winner for me. My general thought on this course was that it was a soft and pleasant way to start the meal, but nothing extraordinary. Apparently my expectations of food are too high for my own good--I don't just want it to be good, I want it to be great.

K: The second course was shrimp ravioli topped with seared foie gras, served in a beef consomme with fiddlehead ferns and cinnamon cap mushrooms. CC and I are similar in that we love ourselves some foie gras, and I specifically love it anywhere (see: Hellburger, Ray's for evidence). This foie however kind of got lost in the dish for me, which was a little bit of a bummer. The consomme tasted almost exactly like pho broth (which again, there's wide evidence of my love for good broth). This would have been fine by itself, but I thought it overpowered everything else too much. On the other hand, it introduced fiddlehead ferns into my life, which were really a pleasure to crunch and munch on. I liked the dish at the time, but after the whole thing, it seemed just okay.

CC: As far as the meal goes, the ravioli was my least favorite as well. Why would anyone think to put shrimp in a ravioli? That sounds like the least appetizing thing ever. The ravioli was okay; the rest of the dish though was amazing--I wanted to drink the consomme with the foie gras. Paired with the slightly sweet and pleasantly grassy Pinot Gris (Domaine Barth Rene, Alsace, France, 2007), this was a really fresh tasting dish that I thought was perfectly appropriate for the change in seasons. The dish itself seemed transitional, but not in a confused way, the spring ferns were kissing the winter foie goodbye. And the shrimp ravioli was there, being warm and creamy, even if I wholeheartedly disagree with it. I begrudgingly admit that it added something.

K: The third course was a piece of seared Hawaiian albacore on top of a sherry glazed eggplant, with mustard greens and piment d'Espelette. I don't think I have enough space to describe how monumentally amazing or revelational this dish was. Texturally and taste-wise, these were a perfect match for one another, both in their own way melting in your mouth; both the tuna and the eggplant were just cooked to perfection. The sherry glaze gave the whole dish a very nice sweet tone, which I thought balanced the whole dish out. Again, this was absolutely phenomenal and I would order it again in a heartbeat.

CC: First thing: the eggplant. This was so right, inexplicably, with the albacore. The spin on sweet and sour was really unexpected, and something I am still thinking about. This was definitely the highlight of the meal for me. Perfectly done tuna that stood up to the sweetness of this dish, and again, that eggplant. Mmmm.

K: The fourth course was a guinea hen duo of roasted hen breast and morel boudin blanc hen sausage, with fava beans. This course was pleasant and homey, with nice warm flavors and an earthy taste to it. The fava beans were an okay addition, I guess. I'll let CC elaborate on it more.

CC: I have found that sometimes housemade sausages other than pork tend to be a lot more earthy and gamey than I want--I grew up on Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, and I'm not going to deny my love for the salty stuff. That said, the hen sausage was much more complex (sorry Jimmy), but still exactly what I wanted with the tender little breast. Looking back, if I have one thing to say about this meal is that on the whole, it was comfortable. Comfortable in the sense that the flavors and textures warmed me up on the inside and had me sighing blissfully. That doesn't mean that Chef wasn't taking chances or experimenting or being expressive, but he was providing what I think ultimately brings people together over food: love. This dish was like a hug. A hug or warm and comforting goodness--with familiar flavors hinting at a bit of the unknown. Not that into fava beans though, but that's just me. This dish continued to remind me that spring is thankfully just around the corner.

K: At several points during the meal, we started talking both about how the duck was amazing at 2941, and how much I loved duck; turns out Double-S grew up sort of Asian like I did and totally understood my passion for roasted ducks hanging in supermarket windows. So she decided to order off the a la carte menu, veering off the tasting menu for a dish. The duck breast was served on top of a quinoa-farro risotto, speck ham, swiss chard, with a blood orange marmalade. Duck is one of those proteins that I will order almost any time I see it on a menu, and this did not disappoint. The skin was nice and crispy, while the meat was perfectly cooked, with a little bit of pink and thus a whole lot of tenderness left in it. The other items in the dish were also perfectly paired, especially the swiss chard (another personal favorite).

CC: Though duck's not a personal favorite of mine (unlike Kim, I will almost never order it), this was a great duck. The blood orange gave a surprising and welcome bitterness to the dish, and the meat was really juicy. I even ate some of the skin! The citrus flavors throughout were really perfect, and I am glad that we got to try this dish. All in all it was a good dish, but I pushed my unfinished plate to Kim to finish. It also took this detour to really see what I think the chef was thinking about the tasting menu. While the courses weren't all what I would have chosen to order off the menu, the progression and the scope were unified in the freshness of spring and the depth of winter foods. I was really impressed.

K: After this brief hiatus from the tasting menu, we went back to the last two courses, both desserts. The first was a palate cleanser: a Seville Orange granite, with a Ceylon cinnamon foam and a citrus macaron (not to be confused with a macaroon, by the way). The second was a rhubarb pithivier, essentially stewed rhubarb served with a pithivier, (a large round caramelized puff pastry) with pistachio ice cream and star anise. I'll leave the first one aside, given that its role in the menu, though it was refreshing. The second dessert was solid, though I saw some others on the regular menu that I craved just a little bit more. It flowed nicely with the meal; I'm just not huge on rhubarb.

CC: While I am impressed by funky dishes with foams and froths and zippy tastes combinations, in the end I really want my dessert to hold my hand and promise to be my best friend. If there's one thing I am passionate about, it's dessert. Too often do I order desserts only to know that I've made a better version. With sophisticated tools and training, I expect a lot out of pastry chefs. I really enjoyed the rhubarb pithivier (especially knowing it's not something I'm going to make at home), and it's tartness went particularly well with the muscato (always a great dessert wine choice with fruits!). However, though Double-L attested to my fondness for this dish to the pastry chef, it didn't satisfy me. I really understand why it was paired with the tasting menu, but I want to leave on a solid and loving note, whereas this tart was more of just a tease for me. It was great, but I wanted to be overwhelmed.

K: CC's made note of a couple of the wines so far, but I want to add in closing that they were all brilliantly paired. I won't go into details about them, as I'm not nearly the wine expert as CC is (which is to say, that of the two of us, she understands wine much better than I do), but all i would say it enhanced the meal.

As we finished up with three petit fours (toffee, caramel popcorn, and a layered marshmallow) and coffee, all CC and I could do was smile at each other and assort this in our Top 5 lists.

The Verdict

K:
Again I can't say for sure what parts of the meal were because of our company's relationship with the restaurant, and which weren't. What I can say is that the dining space is beautiful, and the food is absolutely amazing. From beginning to end, the service and the experience were exceptional; another hidden treat: if your dinner is later in the night, everyone is offered a loaf of the homemade bread as you leave. After I left, I said it was definitely in my Top 5 DC Meals, and I stand by that assessment.

CC:
I absolutely agree with Kim, this meal would definitely be at home in my top 5 (Blue Duck, you've been bumped). I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant, and I really appreciated the vision in the tasting menu. Everything was great, even if there are elements I would have changed (cough, shrimp ravioli). The wine pairings were fantastic, and I left feeling happy, satiated, and a little bit dreamy. Maybe it was the wine, maybe the incredible artwork, the scene or the company, but it was definitely the food. I'm dreaming of a return visit...

Food Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 1/2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Vibe: Chatty
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) (more than $100 for two)
Pairing: It's a little bit of a drive, but considering that most DC residents will have to drive out to 2941 anyway, it shouldn't be that huge an issue. For such a high class night, you'll have to have an activity to match, so take in a concert at Wolf Trap out in Reston. Especially starting in the summertime, there's a pretty impressive and varied lineup that look awesome (Joshua Bell and the NSO, Mamma Mia, Backstreet Boys).

2941 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Churchkey

Plaudits: 2010 RAMMY Nominee Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene, Washington City Paper's 2010 Best of DC (link)
Neighborhood: Logan Circle

The Setup

I had a desire to go see the DCist Exposed Photography exhibit and somehow I convinced Official Friend of DCWD Kelly to tag along. Figuring I don't get out to Logan Circle that often, I decided to make an afternoon of it, and took her Birch & Barley/Churchkey. Arriving at around 5, and wanting to try some craft beer, we headed upstairs to Churchkey.

The Vibe

Birch & Barley and Churchkey are two parts of the same establishment; Birch & Barley is the downstairs sit down restaurant, Churchkey is the upstairs bar where we ended up. While they share the same kitchen, it'd be unfair to rate B&B from the food upstairs, so that's the last we'll mention it. Churchkey is a place that revolves its menu around the beer it serves... and oh what a selection of beer they have. But we'll get to that later.

Churchkey's bar is long, silver with gold leaf designs and lined with high red swivel chairs. In the far end of the bar area, is mostly booth seating, which is composed of oddly high-off-the-ground orange and yellow cushion benches, and is pretty dark, even in the early evening when we went. On the other side, where we sat, are full-length windows which let the sunset in, and is made up of two-tops with rustic grey metal chairs and mustard yellow couches that line the walls, and high tables in the middle of the room (lot of high furniture in this place). One wall is just simple white brick, while the other is a bold crimson red paisley wall paper with teardrop crystal chandeliers on the wall. This contrasts with the hanging chain medieval candle chandeliers that otherwise light the room. There's a lot to love about the place, and I did. What's more, the bar was packed even at 5 in the afternoon.

The Food

We were starving by the time we got there so we ordered a lot. I got the arrancini (butternut squash and fontina risotto balls), shrimp corn dogs, and the charcuterie plate, while Kelly ordered the fig and prosciutto flatbread, replacing the gorgonzola with fontina (apparently she doesn't like strong cheeses... I can't say all my friends are foodies, haha). We'll start with hers first; despite her omission of the intended cheese, it actually was a really pleasant dish, mostly because the figs were perfect. Really well done.

The shrimp corn dogs were good as well, with the house made tartar sauce (really just tartar sauce with a little Old Bay) working with it very nicely. They were piping hot when I got them, but I wolfed them down just the same. Slightly better than that were the arrancini; they were just the right combination of crunchy and soft, melting perfectly in my mouth. The bonus part was finding pockets of fontina within the stuffing.

As for the charcuterie plate, it had five things: cured beef, pork head cheese, duck rillette, slices of genoa salami, and thin sliced mortadella (I didn't write it down, so I could be wrong, but I worked in a deli, so I'm pretty sure that's what it was), with generous helpings of tiny pickles, lightly oiled and toasted bread, and mustard (and it was the potent seeded kind, my favorite!). This was pleasant enough, for a charcuterie plate, with the winner being of course the duck rillette (though not as good as the Blue Duck sturgeon one, but also pleasant.

I should mention the beer list at this point. The draft list at Churchkey is prepostrous in its awesomeness; there must some 50 beers on tap. These are constantly rotated so you can go to Churchkey every day for a year and never seemingly have the same one twice. The beer menu, which is just as big as the bar menu, is divided and then further divided again by beer tastes: roast, malt, smoky, soft and silky, spicy and meaty. There's even a secret menu for Churchkey, where you can order some bottles that have been aged by the beer director (beer, like wine, depending how it's made, can improve with age). On this trip, we had three beers, a Uerige Sticke (a real nutty beer, and Kelly's choice), a St. Idesbald Blonde, and an Allagash Victor Ale (both mine). Obviously the beer is the reason you would go to Churchkey in the first place, and it did not disappoint.

The Verdict

There are some places where the quality of the drinks will add something to the quality of the food. Churchkey is one of those places. Don't get me wrong, the food was good. But it was the the beer, its rarity, its hyper-specificity on the menu which let you pair it well, and the wait staff's general knowledge of it, that makes Churchkey worth all the hype it's gotten. About the only downside is I could see how on a busy Saturday night, it'd be next to impossible to get a seat. But if you can, it'll be a great time.

Food Rating: *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout
Vibe: Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two) (note: depends on the number of drinks you have honestly)
Pairing: It's too bad the DCist Exposed show is over; it really was fantastic. But the Longview Gallery by 9th and N where it was held was a beautiful venue with some nice upcoming independent artists' shows.

Churchkey on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Allagash Victor Ale

This week's Friday Night Flight is from Churchkey: Allagash Victor Ale. My love of all things Allagash is well documented, and this is no exception. Victor Ale is a limited release Allagash variety, and has a very interesting history; it's part of Allagash's Tribute series (new to me, but sounds cool).

As for the beer itself, it's a Belgian Dark Ale with the addition of red chancellor grapes and fermented with wine yeast. From that, you'd think the beer would pour dark, but it actually came out a sort of dark honey color. The taste also wasn't heavy as you would think, just a firm maltiness with a hint of sweet from the grapes. It was the perfect drink for the brilliant spring weather; strong enough to warm you up, but light enough to not weigh me down when I stepped out into the sunshine.

Bar Review: 4 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for: Spring time, the last beer of the meal (out of 5)
Where to find it: Limited release, but I had it at Churchkey, where it's on tap. Otherwise ask your local beer specialty store to see if they can order it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Himalayan Heritage

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup

One of the best parts of our Twitter is that once in a while a good deal comes along. So when a $25 Restaurant.com certificate for $2 came up for Himalayan Heritage, Official Friend of DCWD Yupster convinced me to give Himalayan food a shot.

The Vibe

Himalayan Heritage is in the first level of the first townhouse in what I think of as Adams-Morgan proper: the stretch of 18th St north of Kalorama. From the outside, there's a giant red sign for the restaurant, and at the least, we were thrown off my the painted billiard balls for the pool hall below. The inside decor is like a set out of The Golden Child or Kundun. On one side of the room is an alcove with a jutted overhang made to resemble a Tibetan shack, and cushioned wall edge booths underneath it. On the back wall, is a giant Buddhist painting, and the orange and red walls are otherwise dotted with Buddhist iconography. Each table is lit by a metal lantern light that hung from a pole over each individual table. The small six-seat bar continues this theme, with a similar black overhang, except lined with fringe. So, since it seems like what a Tibetan shack would be like, at least the decor's authentic.

The Food

Both Yupster and I joked that we fully expected the menu to be just different versions of yak, but we couldn't find any on there (we admittedly didn't look that hard). What we did end up ordering was the Jhinge machha, giant prawns deep fried in Nepalese batter, and served with three sauces: mint, tamarind, and mixed fruit. Along with that appetizer, as a sort of bread course, they brought out soy beans and some rice crispie-like crunchies, which was okay to nosh on. The prawns were okay, decently cooked, though there was very much a hierarchy when it came to the sauces (mint was by far the best, tamarind was okay, the mixed fruit was heinous).

For our entrees, we ordered a Nepalese Duck Dream masala (duck breast, green herbs, Himalayan spices, spring onion) and the Khosi Ko Masa (a goat curry of goat meat on the bone, sauteed in ginger, garlic, and Himalayan spices, in a tomato and onion sauce), two of the Chef's suggestions on the menu. Both came with rice, and we got some garlic naan with it. When the food did come out, we were presented with two eerily similar looking metal bowls of food; that wasn't a positive sign, though it did reaffirm my stereotypes about Himalayan food: meats in interesting colored sauces.

The food however was pretty decent. The duck was a little overcooked but they had crisped the skin well enough that it came through okay. The goat was fine as well, with a lot of tendon and fat on the bones; the sauces for both were also tasty. I thought the best part was the naan, which some of the better naan I've had in my life.

The Verdict

Like I said, we didn't get any yak, though Yupster and I did observe someone getting served something on a sizzling hot black plate (which I didn't happen anywhere outside of Chili's). So maybe our experience was still missing something. That being said, the food was decent but nothing to call home about. If you're in the mood for something off the beaten path, it's an okay choice, but if I wanted to have a more memorable experiential date, I'd go Ethiopian. Otherwise, a passable place that I probably will only go back to if I had another certificate (which I do, as it were).

Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe: Calm
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: Two of the better independent music stores in the area are right down the block: Smash Records, and Crooked Beat Records. Take your date to look for some vinyl or to get some new music. Just up the block on 18th St NW.

Himalayan Heritage on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kora

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Crystal City

The Setup

Official Friend of DCWD Juli's birthday was coming up and we hadn't seen much of one another, so I promised her the next time something came up in Arlington, she would be first on my list. So when I got a coupon for Kora, the new restaurant that rose up in the old Oyamel/Bebo Trattoria space from the old chef/owners of Farrah Olivia, that's where we went.

The Vibe

The whole restaurant's decor is purple and brown and white, which gives it a nice pleasant feeling. The restaurant doorway opens up into a small lounge area and than the bar, which is rather sizable. A giant rectangular bar with a low hanging glass rack over top of it, the bar area is pretty expansive with twenty white high chairs. The main dining area is dominated by a large purple wall with silver diamond-shaped curlicue designs, and a second perpendicular wall with a giant Warhol-style portrait of the restaurant's namesake. The seating is mostly simple brown four-tops and six-top circular tables, and raised white booth cushion seating along the purple wall. The space itself is segmented partially with two thin and tall white screen door boxes with strings of lanterns inside.

With an open pizza kitchen as you walk in, clean lines, light purple and silver color scheme, and a reference to pop art, I really liked the vibe.

The Food

Appetizers

With the coupon, Juli and I had to order a prix fixe Sunday dinner (which I was totally fine with). It being still winter time, I went with the seafood corn chowder, and Juli got the Caesar salad. The salad was fine, nothing to write home about, though the addition of anchovies was nice (well I thought so at least, I was the one who ate them). The chowder was also pretty good; the shrimp in it was cooked nicely and who doesn't love bacon? That being said, again, not anything I'd call home about.

I'll throw it in here that the focaccia they gave us for the bread course was fantastic, perfectly light and well herbed. Plus it was presented in wax paper printed to mimic an Italian newspaper, which was both a weird gimmick, but also a decent way to pass the time.

Entrees

For the entrees, Juli got the angel hair pasta with pomodoro sauce and grilled shrimp, and I went with the honey roasted quail with polenta. The quail was very well cooked, and the stuffing of corn and spinach was great (though I will admit having to take it apart with my hands instead of utensils because of the way it was tucked). The polenta was also nice, though I thought the mushrooms in it were a little bit oversalted. A pretty quality entree.

The pasta was okay, with a decent sauce, and the shrimp pretty well cooked. Except for the shrimp, it's hard to imagine how you could mess this up too terribly. I didn't think anything too much about it either, though Juli at least thought it was good.

Desserts

For dessert, Juli ordered the gelato, which that night was blueberry, and I went with the creme brulee. The brulee was okay, but suffered again from the general theme of this dinner; it was okay, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary. The gelato was at the very least creative, and also had some good flavors to it. I preferred it, which is saying something given my love of creme brulee.

The Verdict

I had high hopes for the restaurant, given how much I liked the decor and the space. But the meal was otherwise forgettable (albeit decent), and with the price and the location, not someplace I'd go back to (though I can't write it off if I were looking specifically for a date restaurant in Crystal City). The quail/polenta dish was good, but everything else was just pretty typical.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks to Classy Crowd
Vibe: Calm
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: That part of Crystal Drive has a very nice walkable stretch of road, especially on a nice day, which contains a number of other restaurants, office buildings, and a wide variety of shopping in the Crystal City Shops, which span several blocks near Kora. Definitely a neighborhood and street on the upswing.

Kora Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 22, 2010

Julia's Empanadas

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Four in the DC area, one each in Dupont, Adams-Morgan, Columbia Heights, and Takoma

In place of a Monday Munchie, we'll throw a quick review of one of our favorite munchie-sized grab-and-go places, Julia's Empanadas.

The Setup

It was the middle of March Madness and I was standing outside Public Bar waiting for my drinking/basketball watching partner-in-crime when she called to tell me she was running late. Having not eaten dinner yet, and with now 20-30 minutes to kill, I went with my best cheap option: walking across the street to Julia's Empanadas.

The Vibe

At the Dupont location at least, Julia's is just a small walk-in shop, with the bare minimum, and just a small heating case with the empanadas in question. It's not an eat-in place, which accounts for the obligatorily low date rating.

The Food

Some people may love their Jumbo Slice as drunk food, but for my money, Julia's Empanadas is perfect. At $3.75 a pop, they are just the perfect snack size for the pre- or post-drink nosh. In this instance, I got the Chilean style beef empanada (ground and chopped beef, raisins, hard boiled egg, onion, olive) before I went into Public, and after four drinks and six first round games, returned for a saltena (chicken, potato, green peas, hard-boiled egg, green olive, raisins, and onion).

The Verdict

Like I said, not exactly someplace you would eat inside, but perfect for the walk-and-carry date (especially given their locations) or a drunk munchie late at night. If you don't believe me, go ahead and get one to try. There are plenty of varieties, and they're the perfect size.

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 1 Heart (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe: Calm
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (Less than $25 for two)
Pairing: It being the Dupont location, you could just pop a squat in the park on the corner of 18th and Connecticut and people watch. But if you're looking to do something, try Lucky Bar next door, which has probably the most diverse entertainment possible. They show EPL soccer on the weekends, have salsa lessons on Sunday nights, and are generally packed all the other nights.

Julia's Empanadas on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sushi-Ko

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #42, Washingtonian 2009 #29, Washingtonian 2008 #29
Neighborhood: Two locations, one in Chevy Chase, one in Glover Park

The Setup

Every couple of weeks or so I find myself in Chevy Chase, and more often than not, I'm hungry. This time Official Friend of DCWD JV was also in the mood for dinner, and with two hours to kill, I managed to convince her to try out Sushi-Ko with me.

The Vibe

Sushi-Ko Chevy Chase sits in an upscale shopping center next to a Giant supermarket, which is why I pass it every time I'm up there. And every time I'm just as intrigued by the seemingly disparate dining spaces in each window as I walk by. Finally venturing inside, my opinion is no different, but what a beautiful space. The restaurant's dining rooms (of which there are essentially three), are all united by common theme and color scheme. The restaurant is modern in its decor, with stark straight lines everywhere and an overall architectural motif of lines and curves; above the dining area where we sat was a circular sunburst array of white slats.

The three dining areas (bar area, main dining area, side dining room) are all colored white, brown, red, and black, though different colors dominate in each room. The bar is dominantly red and dimly lit, small with eight or so seats at the bar, a few cocktail tables, and lounge seating. The main seating area, features a large ten seat sushi bar (where JV and I were seated), a row of monstrous booth seating around the edge of the U-shaped room (notched brown wood and white leather), and otherwise simple brown wood two- and four-tops. The third area, from what I saw in the window, is similarly colored, but in the typical bench seating style along the walls.

The sushi bar where we sat was tall; when you sit down at it, the counter is right at your elbows, but the top of the bar is above your head, so that you feel a little dominated by the chefs behind it. It does provide you a modicum of privacy (well, as much privacy as you can have at a sushi bar next to other couples), but it's still a little imposing. Lighting is provided by some overhead bulbs, as well as what look like hanging silver flashlights around the edge of the sushi bar. In terms of service, it was a little confusing what we should do; the chefs behind the bar were clearly taking orders but we had a waiter as well. Overall though, they were helpful in getting us in and out quickly, as we were in a slight rush.

The Food

We couldn't very well go to a place called Sushi-Ko, and not have sushi. JV went with the Washington roll (mushroom, eel, cucumber, surimi crab), as well as the Spicy Scallop (scallop, fish roe, scallion, spicy sauce), except that she asked for it without spicy sauce. Our waiter took this to mean that she just wanted the scallop in her sushi... so that's not as good, but she enjoyed her sushi nonetheless. I didn't have any of hers, but JV thought it was yummy.

I went with the tuna five ways, five pieces of tuna sushi prepared five different ways: tuna, bluefin toro, zuke tuna, toro aburi, toro tartare (I know, I know, bluefin is the new Chilean sea bass, but I won't make a habit of it). The first four were prepared nigiri style, while the last was wrapped in nori and topped with roe. I went left to right on the plate. The first bite was pretty standard sushi-grade tuna, and I thought this sushi stop would be just like all the other sushi ones.

But the bluefin toro. Oh my god. What an amazing taste, light and buttery and just absolutely melted in my mouth. The third piece of zuke (tuna soaked in mirin, sake, and soy sauce) was also pretty light and good, but the transcendent experience repeated itself with the toro aburi (lightly grilled toro). All of the lightness and butteriness of the first piece of toro was doubled with the grilling, and the flavor of all the fat was beautiful. Lastly, the tartare preparation was probably one of the better tartare preparations I've ever had. All in all, the best sushi I've had in the city (though like every statement I've ever made to that effect, I will admit there are certainly plenty of high-end sushi places I haven't been to yet).

The Verdict

Like I said, I haven't been to too many upscale sushi places in DC. But the sushi was brilliant, and the decor was beautiful; I loved the architectural motifs. About the only downside we saw was the takeout chopsticks (Really? We can't spring for plastic ones?). An otherwise very enjoyable dinner with just the right mood, and the right food.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Vibe: Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: Friendship Heights is chock full of shopping on that part of Wisconsin Ave, from a stand alone Loehmann's (as a previous commenter had posited) and SAKS Fifth Avenue, to Anthropologie and TJ Maxx, as well as the Mazza Galleria and the Chevy Chase Shopping Center. Plus it's a pretty pleasant walk when the weather's nice.

Sushi-Ko on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine Ale

(Editor's note: This week's Friday Night Flight is guest-written by Official Friend of DCWD Yupster. For St. Patrick's Day, we went out to Irish gastropub Againn where Official Friend of DCWD Jax bartends. Yupster was excited to try this beer when he saw it on the menu, so we let him have the floor this week. We'll also just say that our writing styles are clearly different. I guess this is how years of working on the Hill have conditioned him; writing a review of a beer like a policy briefing.)

Victory Old Horizontal Barleywine Ale has an incredibly silky texture with sweet, almost fruity flavor developing into notes of caramel, with none of the coffee flavors that so regularly permeate complex beers.

This was served to me cold in a wine glass, but as it warmed the flavors grew more complex and bold. I would maybe chill this slightly below room temperature, but no further.

11% ABV, so don’t try to keep up with your Miller Lite-drinking friends. Actually, try not to have any Miller Lite-drinking friends.

Bar Review: 3 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for: Relaxing
Where to find it: On tap at Againn, though I'm sure you could find it other places

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Granville Moore's

Plaudits: Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: H Street NE

The Setup

For Official Friend of DCWD's Red's birthday, she had her choice of restaurants. But nothing could be the allure of mussels and Belgian beer, so along with Official Friends of DCWD Baboon and G and a number of Red's family and family friends, we trekked out to Granville Moore's.

The Vibe

Granville Moore's is the very definition of a hole-in-the-wall neighborhood pub. Sitting in a converted townhouse in the middle of the reinvented Atlas District on H Street NE, it's always dark inside. Dank wouldn't be the right word to describe it, but it wouldn't be far off. Still, there's a charm to the restaurant and its straightforwardness: the wood-paneled everything, the scrawled chalkboard special list, the exposed ceiling beams, the peeling paint and the chipped away brick, and the decidedly unfinicky furniture. The vibe is friendly and jovial; I've never had anything but great service there (then again, the only times I've been, I've been with people who could be considered regulars). It's a neighborhood place.

The townhouse is split into two levels, both with bars that take up half the room. The rest of the seating is a motley assortment of two tops and row booths with pew seating. They don't take reservations, and so it's really the Wild West in terms of getting a table. Moreover I've never seen it anything less than crowded and loud after 7pm (and on this particular visit, I spent six hours there).

The Food

Like I mentioned before, there are two strong reasons to go to Granville Moore's: the beer and the mussels. Beer first. Granville Moore's has one of the most extensive lists of Belgian beers, and I have a particular soft spot for them. The night got out of control really quickly, so my discerning nature in choosing and evaluating beer probably can't be trusted after a certain point, but here's what I do remember from the night. My first beer was a La Chouffe, a light smooth beer with a nice hint of banana (though once again, when G walked in and saw me drinking me it, she made fun of my knack for drinking girly beers).

The other two that I had were the Witkap Pater Single, and the Brother Thelonius Abbey Ale. The former was another light blonde beer, with a taste of golden raisin, and was pleasant enough. But the winner of the night was the Thelonius; I loved it so much I had two. Coming in at a 9.3% ABV, it has a rich dark taste reminiscent of chocolate.

As for the mussels, they are simply sublime. Between the four of us, we ordered three bowls of mussels: the Moules Fromage Bleu (bacon, Hook's blue cheese, shallots, spinach, white wine, lemon juice), the Moules Navigateur (coconut milk, serranos, onion, garlic), and the Moules Moroccan (beer poached fennel, lamb sausage, curry cream sauce). We all differed on the winner of the night, with me weighing in favor of Moroccan, and Red and G going for the Navigateur (then again, it's like picking which one of your children you love the most). Both the Moroccan and the Navigateur were brilliantly creamy, and just the right amount of spicy, though one was Middle Eastern and the other Thai in flavor. Even the third set of mussels was transcendent (especially when, as Baboon pointed out, you got a chunk of bacon or spinach with your mussel). And as I've said before, soaking bread in the mussel sauce is one of the best simple pleasures, and a way to enjoy more food even after the mussels are gone. Amazing.

Eating mussels has to go hand-in-hand with frites. By this metric, the fries were good, crispy though not the best I've had. The highlight though is the variety of sauces that Granville Moore's provides: truffle aioli, horseradish creme, homemade hot sauce, curry mayo, chipotle mayo, morney sauce, garlic ranch, and chipotle BBQ. They were fantastic.

The Verdict

It's hard to weigh the restaurant's vibe fairly; if your date's a low-key unfinicky indie type, this is perfect. But this blog's scale (and frankly the authors' personalities) is much more slanted to the conventionally romantic, so we'll have to give it the cursory two hearts with the strong strong caveat that if, like me, you harbor a soft spot for Hipster Wife Hunting, it'd be more like 3/3.5 hearts. As for the food, which is the more important part anyway, it's best to compare it to its analogous Brasserie Beck: the mussels are slightly better, the fries are on par. So it earns the same star rating, but gets a slight nod from me as the better food stop. Seriously, the mussels. Wow.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout
Vibe: Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: Palace of Wonders, the vaudeville burlesque show and artifacts museum, is right on the same block. I've never been, but everything I've heard about makes it seem perfect for this low-key date night ("It's something alright."). Tickets are usually $10.

Dr. Granville Moore's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ray's Hell Burger

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Rosslyn

The Setup

For many, the quest for the best burger in DC begins and ends with Ray's Hell Burger, the upscale burger joint from Michael Landrum, he of Ray's the Steaks and Ray's the Classic (and soon Ray's the Catch, and a second Ray's the Steaks at East River). Always game for an adventure, Official Friends of DCWD Baboon, G, and Red joined me on what I was promised would be my last stop on the burger trail. The question at hand: could Ray's seize the burger crown from Good Stuff?

The Vibe

I was already starving after a day mostly without any food, when I left Dupont Circle for Ray's, located in a strip mall on Wilson Boulevard, equidistant from the Court House and Rosslyn Metro stations. This hunger was not helped by the fact that I temporarily forgot the reason that I always travel to Court House instead of Rosslyn when going there (the mall also houses Pho 75): it's a downhill walk from Court House, and uphill from Rosslyn. Wah wah.

The space that Ray's currently sits in is a hole-in-the-wall, which might be generous. This is through no fault of their own, but merely a byproduct of their own popularity; after getting the post-Obama visit bump, they've shuffled back and forth between their old space, and the one reserved for Ray's the Catch. The walls are bare white, with a cornflower blue trim, and the layout and setup of the restaurant is very much like a takeout lunch place. Orders are placed at the counter in the back of the store, and then you get a number. Adding the sheer amount of people that come into Ray's (it was pretty full when we went at 5 on a Sunday), and the messiness of eating a burger, and the result is that maybe the date vibe isn't exactly white table cloth romantic.

The Food

The burgers, though? Oh man. The size of the patty alone probably might have won me over. The burger was probably double the size of all my previous high-end burger stops, as if you were eating a 16 oz. steak on a bun. In fact, upon getting their orders, my conversation with my three dinner companions went like this:

"You guys don't have to wait for me to get my order to start eating."
"Oh, we're not waiting for you. We're just taking a moment to admire it."

I went with the Fat Joe, a burger topped with seared foie gras in a balsamic glaze, shallots, white truffle oil, and tomato (call me snobby, but really, how many times can you get foie on a burger?). The burger was perfectly cooked, though I was a little disappointed that the foie disappeared from time to time. When it did come though, it was an absolutely amazing combination, the smooth creaminess of the foie complementing the juicy burger perfectly. If we weren't in polite company, I might have licked the plate.

As for the others, Baboon and Red got the Big Poppa, a burger "au poivre," covered in black peppercorns, and served with a Danish bleu cheese, cognac and sherry sauteed mushrooms, and red onions. The bite I had of Red's was mesmerizing. G got the Big Punisher, a chipotle burger with a Spicy Green Diablo Piranha sauce, with grilled red onions, jalapenos, and pepper jack. It's unclear what was in the Spicy Green, though it was certainly cilantro, garlic, and olive oil. What is certain was that it was absolutely fantastic (and I'm not even a spicy food person).

The Verdict

Like I said, the size of the burgers alone might have won me over. But the quality cannot be understated. These burgers, especially mine, were heaven on a bun. Consider the title of best burger in the DC area effectively seized (though again, I'll give Good Stuff one more chance to win me back). As for the date vibe, well it's not exactly the prettiest place right now; of all the high-end burger places I've been, it's probably the worst (though they had just moved in there).

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe: Chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing: Take in the nearby Iwo Jima Marine Corps memorial at night, and enjoy the walk through downtown Rosslyn, especially as spring comes in.

Ray's Hell-Burger on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tuesday Tweet-Up: February 2010

As before, 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 this case, once again, we're way behind, and these tweets come from the period between Feb. 10th and today.

Again, now we go move onto the best tweets/retweets/headlines/links from the last month, from us, our friends and followers, and people/chefs/restaurants we follow (in chronological order):

1) From the looks of it, this talk is the platform behind his new show on ABC - "Great TED talk from Jamie Oliver about healthy food and the next generation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go_QOzc79Uc"

2) My favorite tweet from the DC Int'l Wine and Food Festival, because it understated how much we loved this drink - "gina chersevani of ps7 is mixing us a citrus smash right now with bluecoat gin. lots of citrus, hints of cinnamon. delicious."

3) I laughed out loud at this one - "RT @SlateWine Time for an elitist backlash—let’s call it the Wine & Cheese Party movement. Tree of liberty must be refreshed with Meursault-Perrieres."

4) I'm a wine neophyte, and this still bothered me - "Sneaky, French winemakers. Sneaky. http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheat-sheet/item/francersquos-wine-fraud/scams"

5) The already DC cupcake scene gets more crowded, and testy - "It is ON. RT @welovedc Crumbs Cupcake blasts the DC bake scene, pisses everyone off. http://wldc.us/9EVYST"

6) My stance on vegetarians aside, an interesting topic - "DCWD's officially anti-vegetarian... unless we're dating them. :P RT @washingtonian Can Vegetarians Be Foodies? http://bit.ly/dhcrzX"

7) I guess this means we have to get down to PX - "RT @Restaurant_Eve Thrasher wins! headed to NZ to rep US in World’s Most Extreme International Cocktail Competition: http://usa.cocktailworldcup.com/About"

8) Hands down, our favorite set of tweets back and forth between us and @BGRBurgerJoint - "CC's B-Day Dinner with 23 of our closest friends @BGRBurgerJoint. They were massive. We finished 1.5 of them. http://twitpic.com/17fs6x"
"RT @BGRBurgerJoint @dcwrappeddates YOU GUYS ROCK! Hope you all had a fun time! the folks walking by on the street had a blast watching!"

9) Making one of my favorite DC restaurants even better - "My head just exploded in excitement RT @chefrjcooper Vidalia 24 starting friday 24 courses by me gonna be fun! $150 with beverage pairing"

10) No, but seriously. I've seen them all eat together, I want them to cook together, and I want to have that meal - "Why couldn't this happen in DC? RT @beardfoundation 17 D.C. chefs get together in the Beard House kitchen http://is.gd/a2ENw #fb"

11) Can you wait for giant punch-bowl-sized ice cream or frozen hot chocolate? We can't. - "Serendipity 3 to open in old Nathan's GTown space: YUM (via @welovedc) http://www.welovedc.com/2010/03/09/serendipity-coming-to-georgetown"

12) I usually fade out when people talk about organic food or sustainability; Dan Barber is the exception to that rule - "I could listen to Dan Barber talk about sustainability all day: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_barber_how_i_fell_in_love_with_a_fish.html"

13) And one of them isn't really even a sommelier - "Two DC sommeliers on Top List: (via @welovedc) http://www.welovedc.com/2010/03/10/two-locals-on-food-wines-top-sommeliers-list"

14) Via one of our favorite people to follow/followers - "RT @hungryDC Interesting read! >> A peek into underground restaurants - a trend that's gaining steam in DC (@jane_black) http://ow.ly/1gw11"

15) Gastropub or just a place that has bar food? - "I'm certainly guilty of "gastropub" overuse, though this article's a tad harsh: http://www.dcfoodies.com/2010/03/defining-gastropubs.html"

16) This is horrendously sad, because the food was the one positive I drew out of my time at Teatro Goldoni - "HUGE NEWS. Huge downgrade in our opinion: RT @timcarman Chef Enzo Fargione fired from Teatro Goldoni. The full details: http://bit.ly/aZDWFf"

17) And of course, the hammer for this Tuesday Tweet-Up: the best DC foodie rumor - "I know I'm late to the party with this news, but: RT @WaPoFood: It's true, it's true: 'Top Chef' coming to Washington. http://ow.ly/1hxjl"

See you next month!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Munchies: Butternut Squash Chowder with Pears and Ginger

Growing up, my mom would make a butternut squash soup that I feel I've spent my entire adult life chasing. With yet another vegetarian dinner to make, this was recipe number #3 in three years used to try and match those warm memories. Recipe via Epicurious:
2 Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and diced
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup peeled and diced Vidalia or Spanish onion
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon peeled minced fresh ginger
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 3 cups)
1 baking potato (about 12 ounces), peeled and diced
5 cups Vegetable Stock
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste

Place the pears in a bowl with the lemon juice, cover with water, and set
aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over high heat until lightly smoking. Add the onion, celery, and carrot, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Add the white wine and reduce the liquid until the pan is almost dry, about 3 minutes.

Drain half of the pears, reserving the other half in the lemon water for garnish. Add the drained pears to the pan with the squash, potato, and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Transfer half of the soup in batches to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve back into the saucepan with the unpureed mixture. Add the orange juice, lemon juice, cream, salt, and the reserved pears and gently warm the chowder through (do not boil).
I didn't read the instructions clearly, so I blended the whole thing, but it still came out pretty well; it certainly was creamier than my last couple outputs.

Two cups of it, with our side salad and challah

Taste Test:3 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Cold nights, vegetarians

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Blue Duck Tavern

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #25, Washingtonian 2009 #42, Washingtonian 2008 #12, 2009 RAMMY Nominee - Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood: West End

The Setup

After soliciting a bunch of friends on restaurant suggestions as well as availability for dinner dates, the most frequent request was for Blue Duck Tavern. The West End restaurant had always been on my list since it's just two blocks from my apartment, but now I had friends who were willing and excited to go. So having not seen Official Friend of DCWD Jax for almost a year, after a couple reschedulings due to the snow and work, we finally managed to squeeze each other in for a Wednesday night dinner.

The Vibe

When you walk up to Blue Duck Tavern, which sits inside the Park Hyatt Hotel, you're immediately impressed by the entrance: two giant dark blue colonial doors that take some effort to open. From there it only gets better.

I've been to a lot of nicely decorated restaurants in DC, but this one, by far, takes the cake. The restaurant is segmented into four different sections: the bar area, which is to your left as you walk in through the doors; an outer ring dining area, which contains both many of the two-tops as well as some larger tables and rides around the edge of the restaurant; an inner dining area which is raised a couple steps, is composed of mostly four-tops; and a private dining room. We were seated in the outside ring, in a two-top with one side of bench seating.

Blue Duck's decor is decidedly rustic Americana, like what you might find inside a Pottery Barn or a Pier One store. The floor is tan-colored wood paneling (or olive brown tiles in the inner area), which provides a nice contrast to the slightly redder-brown furniture. The overall feel of the restaurant's decor is a perfect blend of upscale DC (with floor-to-ceiling windows, and an enviable glass wine case) and a quaint country restaurant (with mason jars of vegetables, and the restaurant's general glow of light brown and tan). This makes for an amazingly pleasant experience.

Perhaps the coolest part, which we didn't first-hand get to experience is the open kitchen. When we walked in, there was a pastry pantry directly in front of us. As we were seated, we passed a charcterie station where someone was using a deli slicer. And best of all, if you're seated in the inner dining area, there is virtually no separation between you and two island prep counters and the kitchen itself. I personally love open kitchens, because I love the idea of cooking as a performance, as if the chefs are doing a choreographed dance for you. That's the cool thing about food I find, that the cooking can be as much the art as the food itself. When you get to see that happen at a restaurant in such a thoughtful way, it adds to the experience.

About the only thing that was negative about Blue Duck's vibe was the iffy service; the waiter didn't pass forward a message Jax had to an acquaintance that she knew there, and Jax thought the "too-speedy" bussing while we were still finishing dessert was a little off-putting. Otherwise I loved Blue Duck's decor; it's high class but reserved, homey but elegant, involving but calm. It's everything I want out of a date restaurant.

(For those of you who love design, there's a much much better article than mine at We Love DC about the restaurant's decor).

The Food

So yea, the decor was great, but how was the food, right? There were a lot of expectations coming into the night, but Blue Duck did not disappoint. Blue Duck's menu is constantly changing, and a la carte, but is pretty reasonably priced all things considered (still a pretty penny though). Because we knew what to expect from the size of the dishes, Jax ordered two dishes and I went with three. One thing to note as well is that Blue Duck emphasizes its farm-to-table approach; it goes so far as to list the farm that each of its products was procured from on the menu. For dates who care, that's something to think about.

To start, we ordered drinks: Jax, a bourbon peach (picture above, ingredients forgotten), and me a Pranqster, a Belgian-style golden ale from California. Both were delicious, and set the tone nicely for the dinner.

For Jax's part, she went with the polenta with wild mushrooms and fontinella, and the Muscovy duck breast, with a confit leg, duck andouille, and gumbo. The polenta was nice, grainier than I usually have it, with pleasant savory notes. The saltiness of the mushrooms also came through nicely, and the whole dish worked well together. Jax went so far as to say she could live on it. As for the duck dish, the duck was a little dry, but it had a winner in the andouille, which had a perfect texture, and was just the right amount of spicy.

I went with the smoked sturgeon rillette, the braised veal cheeks with smoked potato puree and celeriac fondant, and the warm pie of swiss chard, pinenuts, and raisins. I can't say enough about how much I loved the rillette. I was perfectly smooth and light, with just right note of savory. The bread it was served with was also brilliantly light and crispy. This was such an amazing dish.

As for the other two dishes, both were solidly great, just not as transcendent as the rillette. The veal cheeks were braised well and fell apart nicely, though the fondant was kind of throwaway, and there were oddly uncooked pieces of potato on the plate. The swiss chard pie for me was an example of how vegetarian food doesn't need to be dumbed down. As I've testified before, I love the combination of pine nuts and raisins, and I have a special place in my heart for swiss chard. This was a very well done dish.

Desserts

I think both of us had come into the meal entertaining the notion of dessert, but once the menu was placed in front of us, we just couldn't resist. Jax couldn't decide between two so we ordered both, a coconut lime custard with roasted pineapple and buttermilk cake, and a flourless chocolate chiboust cake served with a rice crispie treat and chocolate cream.

What's funny is that I got the chocolate cake first and she the custard, but we both preferred the other's dessert. The chocolate cake was nice enough, though the real standout was the rice crispie treat, which was wonderful. The custard though, oh man. It was just the right amount of sweet, and was perfectly matched with the pineapple and the cake, which was very much like pound cake. I'm so glad we decided to have dessert.

The Verdict

Jax and I are split in our decision over Blue Duck; she was a little more lukewarm on the experience than I was. But the up-and-down service aside, I absolutely loved the mood and the decor. And the food, besides a couple missteps here and there, was otherwise very good, with some absolutely exceptional dishes (the polenta, the rillette). I for one, would absolutely love to go back, especially on a date.

Food Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 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: Not too many restaurants I can say this for otherwise, but (without sounding too obvious) on a nice warm spring night, take a walk down 23rd St towards the Lincoln Memorial. Extra points if you smuggle a bottle of Champagne with you and recreate the Wedding Crashers scene (CC and I did it once with sparkling cider).

Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Chateau Montfaucon

For a change of pace, I’m going to stray from the meaningless alliteration we’ve allotted to this Friday column (editor's note: ooh, cheap shot, haha) and actually write about a flight of wine. Flights are a series of tastings that generally follow some sort of transition to compare wines (or beers or champagnes). Today I’m going to focus on a series of wines from Chateau Montfaucon in the Rhone region of France, along with a little background.

Let me preface these tasting notes with a little context. Winebow, a big wine and spirit distributor, holds a grand tasting every year featuring wines from around the world. Restaurateurs, sommeliers, and plebeians in the know look forward to this tasting on the rooftop of the Kennedy Center, and I went on Wednesday, glass in hand, to try out some of the wines Winebow is representing this season. Thoroughly unimpressed by a few of the Washington and Oregon wines—wine tasting is all about preference, and a little bit of knowledge, and I tend to stray from the earthier reds in favor of the slightly sweeter varietals—I headed to the Rhone region where I know I can find flavors I like. My preferences lean towards Grenaches, Syrahs and Mourvedres on the red side, and Viogniers and Chards on the white. Rhone reds are always really interesting because they are almost always blends that span from heavy, jammy wines to softer, peppery and more complex glasses.

As far as wine knowledge goes, I am a relative beginner. I love these comparative tastings because they give me a chance to develop my taste, compare, and learn a lot. Follow my flight!

  1. Viognier, Vin de pays d’Oc 2008: This is NOT one of those sweet and sometime syrupy viogniers that Virginia prides itself on (and I secretly love sometimes). This was a crisp, slightly acidic and almost wannabe effervescent taste of a wine that is definitely sippable. Sometimes you can tell immediately that a wine would be better enhanced with food, but this is one that on a warm spring day you can easily drink on its own. I’ve never met a viognier I didn’t like, especially those that favor citrus notes rather than peachy scents, and this is no exception. Plus viognier just sounds great to say.
  2. Comtesse Madeleine, Cotes du Rhone White 2008: This was the stand out wine for me, and totally unexpected. The smoothness of this wine really set it apart for me (from the tens of other wines we were tasting within the hour) from other white blends, part of what I love and hate about chardonnays. I LOVE oak barrels, but with discretion. The flavor was really well rounded, from the slight melon-y acidity to the sweet and soft finish. I loved it, and I wanted it with a crab cake.
  3. Les Gardettes Rose, Vin de pays du Gard 2009: I saw a lot of young wines at the tasting and I tend to be a little wary of these whippersnappers, and of roses for that matter. I have had too many (again I blame Virginia for this) sweet sweet sweet roses, when what I really want is something strong enough to stand up to the lamb kebobs I like to grill over the summer. This was a beautiful color, and again a very drinkable wine that I would like to sip as I am grilling said kebobs as well as once they are on the table. Try a rose. They’re not as trendy as they seem and sometimes you find really intriguing smoky notes in them.

We went through the following 4 reds as well, but it was the whites that surprised me the most. This was also the second-to-last stop on my table tour and I had already had quite a lot of wine so my taste memory was getting crowded and cloudy). I really enjoyed the Chateau de Montfaucon, Cotes du Rhone Red 2007 for its deep berry flavors (thankfully less jammy than the initial scent suggested) and its peppery cherry taste. Yum.

My suggestion for a date: go to a wine bar like Veritas on Florida Avenue, order a few flights and see what you can taste! And don’t discount all Virginia wines—they have some bad ones, but they also make some good ones. Most of all, trust YOUR taste preferences.

Bar Rating: N/A
Perfect for: Lovers of Rhone grapes
Where to find it: If you can't find it on a shelf, ask your liquor store if they deal with Winebow, and they may be able to place an order for you.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Skewers

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup

With my Ray's HellBurger plans temporarily scuttled, I decided that I should go get my Mr. Yogato flavor again, and hit a restaurant for a lunch review while I was up there. So I recruited Official Friends of DCWD Chi and Wills (both in the midst of their own 30-day runs at Yogato) to Skewers (recommended to me by Twitter friend @I_Flip_For_Food as somewhere decent and cheap near Dupont, which is always hard to find).

The Vibe

Skewers is the upstairs part of Cafe Luna, serving Middle Eastern food, and the decor reflects that. The walls are painted deep purple and light orange, decorated with swirly abstract paintings by local artists. The light is provided by track lighting, and two giant large red lanterns that hang in the center of the back seating area. Booth seating lines the walls, and composes all of the two-tops in the restaurant, with a bunch of four-tops in the center of the room. What's more, a steady playlist of Arabic pop was pumped over the sound system (Chi and I concurred that it was like the Middle Eastern version of the Vietnamese video series Paris by Night). I guess I would say that I was just confused by the decor.

What's funny is that I'd actually been to Cafe Luna/Skewers for a happy hour two years beforehand with Official Friend of DCWD Jax, but the vibe was decidedly different, darker, and more red and black in my memory than the purple and orange. The overhead music was also provided by a DJ, and decidedly more modern American pop. Overall, the only thing I can say about the vibe is that I guess the old nighttime vibe I remember worked a little better, but the daytime one was kind of off-putting.

The Food

As we decided to order, both Wills and Chi expressed an interest in the shrimp kabob, but with my general rule of "no doubling up," Chi went with the falafel salad, a mix of lettuce, almonds, olives, crispy peta chips, grapes, and feta. The salad was in a word disappointing. The falafel was too crispy on the outside, and really dense on the inside; some of them were actually sort of unpleasant to eat. What's more the individual salad elements might have been okay separately, but together, they didn't make much sense. And even then, the grapes and olives just weren't fresh; they were both soft and chewy. Overall, just not too good.

As for Wills and I, we went with sandwiches, him the beef tenderloin, and me the beef shawarma, served with stewed carrots and a tahini sauce. The sandwiches actually were more like wraps, the meat in a pita with hummus, lettuce, and tomato. My shawarma was a little confusing, in that it didn't seem shaved or chipped, but more like strips. In fact, I thought they had mixed up our orders, until I realized Wills' was chunks of beef. We ended up each having half of both sandwiches. They were good, and the sauce was very nice, though I will comment that the stewed carrots were pretty forgettable.

I will admit, that since I had been there before, my memory of the food there was decidedly better, with the happy hour munchies of hummus and dolma much better than this meal (then again it might have been the $3 beers and $5 martinis that made it seem that way).

The Verdict

Since it came recommended to me and I had been there before, I probably had higher expectations than necessary for a lunch. And admittedly, we were looking on the cheap and probably didn't go for the best dishes in the place. Still, it was nothing more than a satisfactory meal for us, with some drag down for the poor falafel showing.

Food Rating: ** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe: Calm
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing: Take in a show at Theater J, the theater at the DC Jewish Community Center. Located at 16th and Q, currently there's a show entitled "Andy Warhol: Good for the Jews?" which looks absolutely fascinating (full disclosure: I once spent a summer shilling for them, so I do love them).

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