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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Westend Bistro

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #67, Washingtonian 2009 #35, Washingtonian 2008 #15, Washington Post's Top 50 Restaurants 2009
Neighborhood:
West End

The Setup


Next on my Restaurant Week tour was the Ritz-Carlton's showcase restaurant, Westend Bistro. I recruited Official Friends of DCWD Baboon, G, and HR Intern to come out with me to the Eric Ripert outpost.

The Vibe


Westend Bistro fits into the slight variation of the red and black decor that restaurants love. Booths line the outside of the restaurant where people can peer in and diners can people-watch through the full-pane windows. Red and pale yellow candle-like lights hang over some of the tables, giving a slight crimson glow to the whole restaurant. Furniture is dark brown with vermilion upholstery, mirrored in the overall color scheme of the restaurant.

The set-up is varied, a fairly sizable bar area flanked by a section of two-tops, then the aforementioned booths that ring an area of four-tops, where we were seated on this trip. All in all, it's a fairly standard modern American bistro.

The Food


With four of us and only two or so actual options at most that we really wanted to eat, we were actually fairly narrow in our selections. For our first course, all three men went with the beef tartare, served with a raw quail egg and greens. The tartare was good, though aggressive with its horseradish taste (something I liked, but HR Intern did not) and nothing severely out of the ordinary from other tartare presentations.

G, the lone lady in our group, went with the chilled tomato consomme, poured tableside (I personally love that presentation of soup) with heirloom tomatoes, feta, and basil. Surprisingly refreshing, in the expectations versus actual taste battle, it ended up being a light but flavorful bite.

For the main course, the table went 50-50. Baboon and I ordered the flatiron steak with truffled French fries and a red wine bearnaise. This was an absolutely beautiful dish for a number of reasons. For one, the flatiron was surprisingly tender despite the cut, slicing apart in nice bits. The truffled French fries, a personal DCWD favorite, were excellent as well. But it was the red wine bearnaise that stole the show. I love bearnaise more than pretty much any sauce ever, but this was the first red wine, which added a savory dimension to an already creamy source of amazement.

On the other hand, HR Intern and G got the shrimp and grits, which came in a stew of chorizo, garlic, scallions, and aleppo pepper. The shrimp were fairly tender, and the grits tasted as if they were soaked in butter beforehand (which to us anyway is a good thing). The stew had some nice heat to it as well, which lent itself well to the dish. Overall, a pretty good bite to have as well, though Baboon and I still won I feel.

The desserts were a step down from the entrees though, in that they were a little uninspired. One was a vanilla creme brulee, fine but obviously a standard. The other were a set of profiteroles, filled with vanilla cream and served with a chocolate sauce. Again, fine, but sort of dry and nothing to call home about. If anything they made me wish I had ordered the creme brulee.

The Verdict

I wanted to love Westend more than I did on this trip; I've had some fairly memorable other meals there. But other than the phenomenal steak, all the other dishes danced between fine and good. So on the average, it sits there in that space between good and great.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Beat the crap out of one another at LA Boxing, with one of many city locations in the 2400 block of L St. You'll have to wash off the sweat you'll build up before dinner, but it's a fun workout.

Westend Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Munchies: Georgetown Scoops

This week's Monday Munchies follows our dinner at Mie N Yu: Georgetown Scoops. The new ice cream shop opened up on July 4th weekend, and since then has been a fairly happening spot, at least to my untrained casual eye as I walk up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. On this occasion, looking for a light dessert, Official Friend of DCWD Juju and I stopped by for a scoop: me of the Napoleon (amaretto ice cream and black cherries), and her of Dulce de Leche.

In a word, delicious. Mine was creamy with a nice almost smoky taste, and one that let the natural flavor of almonds and the cherries come forward. Hers avoided what the problem that most dulce de leche ice creams/froyos suffer from: being overly sweet. Other than the fairly uncomfortable bench out front, a great place with very good ice cream.

Taste Test: 4 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Strolling through Georgetown on a summer day

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Night Flights: Cocktails at 701

This week's Friday Night Flight is the first of two write-ups of my dinner with Official Friend of DCWD Madison at 701 (actual review forthcoming). First, her cocktail: the Lucky Venus. Made of LIV vodka, tart cherry juice, honey syrup, and a pickled cherry. Surprisingly, it wasn't overly saccharine or syrupy or mediciney, but rather had a mild fullness that was enjoyable.

I chose the Picket Fence, made of Hirsch Canadian Rye, sweet vermouth, peach tea syrup and chocolate bitters. By contrast, despite the old man nature of my drink and the presence of chocolate, the cocktail was actually sweet, the peach notes coming out across the strongest but with a little more depth. Madison commented that it actually was very much like a sweet tea drink. Both were all in all, very nice.

Bar Rating:
4 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Pre-dinner drinks

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bistro Bis

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #14, Washingtonian 2009 #22, Washingtonian 2008 #27
Neighborhood:
Union Station

The Setup

Oh Restaurant Week. It was during last year's RW that the whole idea of this blog came to a head. Like I've said before, I'm a pro-RW kind of guy. Yea, I understand the anti-RW people (my blog partner CC chief among them), but as I've said before, it's not a chef cooks any less well two weeks out of the year because the crowds are maybe a skooch less savvy. And in this world of social media, can a restaurant really risk the publicity hit? So, yes I'll give restaurants the benefit of the doubt if there are issues during Restaurant Week, but if it's good then just imagine what it would be like normally (see: Rasika, Art and Soul).

On this occasion, Official Friend of DCWD Jax drew first in the lineup and off we went to last year's RW favorite, Bistro Bis.

The Vibe

Bistro Bis, for me, epitomizes the look of the modernized American bistro. Shades of brown and tan abound, framed by interruptions of white. The atmosphere has an orange glow to it, influenced by the dim lights and the constant presence of a buzz, which grows to a dull roar at the peak of the dinner hour. These kinds of places always have a motif of wine bottles and booze glasses, a theme punctuated in this restaurant by the very visible wine cellar as you walk in. The decor, outside of the glassware is two-fold: mirrors and the ubiquitous Cappiello-style posters, a line of which hang above the open kitchen.

Bistro Bis separates itself into several tiered dining areas. First there's the bar and the lounge, followed by some black tables and booths. Down a few set of steps is another set of booths and a row of two-tops, and a few steps further, what could be called the main dining area: a similar row of two-tops and a wide variety of four-tops and round tables. In this sense, Bistro Bis is a restaurant perfect for groups; a party of six has a myriad of options, but the two-tops are almost stacked on top of each other in a line on either side of a small counter. Given its location a stone's throw from the lobbyist heaven of Capitol Hill, this is not the least bit surprising; it's just that privacy of conversation might be hard to have on a busy night if you're only taking one other person there.

The Food

Most of the time, RW menus are limited to two or three choices, a convention that Bistro Bis bucks, offering some 10-12 options for each of the first two courses, with minimal upcharges.

For the appetizers, Jax and I both went standard French with dishes that incidentally my mother always used to make varieties of growing up. I went with a dish I thoroughly enjoyed the year before: the vichyssoise, a traditional French soup of potato, leeks, and cream topped with chives, and in this case, bacon and brioche, and served cold. It's not often that I'll double up on a dish (we'll get to that in just a second), but this was one I will absolutely go back to time and time again. Creamy yet refreshing, the soup was just heaven on the palate especially with the frequent bites of salt and savory from the bacon, and the sweet of the brioche.

Jax got the beet salad au citron, composed of roasted heirloom beets and arugala with goat cheese, walnuts, and orange and topped with a citrus-infused olive oil. Beets, like avocados before them, were something I was slow to take to at first, but as the necessary vehicle to my goat cheese addiction in my childhood, I learned to love them. Like the vichyssoise, this salad was a touchstone to my mom's version of the classic French dish, but with some very welcome additions. The beets were amazingly roasted, and the addition of citrus gave the dish a fantastic tang. And of course, the goat cheese: I'd paired goat cheese with beets, and goat cheese with oranges, but never all three. Such a treat.

For the entrees, I decided to bypass the delights from last year (the duck confit and the pork belly) in favor of trying something new and more adventurous: in this case the fricassee de veau marengo, a braised veal stew with artichokes, tomato confit, garlic, zucchini, olives, all in a dijon-caper sauce. I will say this: the sauce was aggressive, with a tartness that was probably brought out by the artichokes. The stew though was solid, the meat braised so well that the meat fell apart in that wonderful stringy way. Aside from the minor displeasure, it was a good dish.

Jax went with the rockfish barigoule, a sauteed filet with braised artichokes, fennel, carrots, and an olive oil-basil nage. Here's some fun facts about this dish from just the description: barigoule is a traditional artichoke preparation from Provencale, while cooking some a la nage means preparing it in a stock of white wine, vegetables and herbs, and presenting it on top of said vegetables. With that explanation, the dish makes perfect sense in hindsight, a fairly savory dish despite the lightness of its component ingredients. If anything, Jax thought it might have been a tad bit oversalted, but I thought the flavors were pretty good, and we both agreed that the inclusion of the rockfish's crispy skin was a definite plus.

Dessert for Jax was a gateau de mascarpone, a coffee genoise layered with Bavarian cream and a mocha sauce. The spongecake was a hair drier than I would have preferred, but the cream was nice and the flavors were right. Then again, as a man who loves his tiramisu, this was right up my alley.

My choice was an olive oil torte Provencale, an olive oil polenta genoise with a lemon blueberry chiboust and a blueberry coulis. There were some problems here; first the chiboust tasted and felt more like a chocolate ganache. The genoise was also a tad firm and dry, though it did have a faint honey aftertaste that was pleasant. Not the worst, not the best.

The Verdict


The eternal debate: do you give a place you know is capable of better from a previous experience a break? In this case, considering my fond memories of the food, and the way the vichyssoise measured up to my memory, sure. But there were enough issues with some of the dishes, that I can't in good faith give it that half-star bump that I feel it could've reached. Same for the hearts: beautiful dining room but it's worth reiterating that the two-tops are on top of each other.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe: Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Union Station is one of the more underrated spaces in DC, between its regular shopping, its various special events, and its appeal to transportation nerds. Perhaps not a date on a regular day (unless your date loves Taco Bell), but during events like National Train Day or during the Christmas season, it's lovely.

Bistro Bis on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bistrot du Coin

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood:
Dupont Circle

The Setup

For Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, long-term boyfriend and all, it was never an issue, but for single me, it was constantly on my mind: what do you do for the blog when you go on an actual date? Does it cross a line to write about something so personal in a space so public? Do you have to get some sort of permission before you write about it? Is this something totally awkward to bring up in conversation? The answer to all these questions in my mind was yes.

So this entry, in a number of ways, is a first.

The Vibe

One of my favorite movies of all time is Casablanca, and because of that, part of me always wonders what La Belle Aurore would have looked like, particularly during the post-liberation period; Bistrot du Coin answers all those questions. The restaurant is notable from the street, because the front window opens up on nice summer nights, and there is always a noisy crowd making a ruckus. The dining area is mostly a large room, with a small second floor patio overlooking the space. From that balcony, hangs a giant "Vive La France" banner, one of about a thousand Gallic nods. Seriously, it's like 1945 Paris seized the decor and never let go; art deco and art nouveau posters, streamers and paper fans, even the napkins are red and blue.

The thing to note about Bistrot du Coin is that it's always crowded, reservations are non-existent, and the noise level is cranked up to 11. That and because of the crowd, the service is a little slow (though the hosts do a good job of checking in on you to make up for it). So while it's a great date place, these things make for some little downsides.

The Food


The one thing everybody says about Bistrot du Coin is that you have to try the mussels. Now my love of mussels is well known (see: mussels), so I had to go along with it. While some of the options seemed more appetizing, I was eating with a pescatarian, so we went with the moules traditionelle mouclade des charentes, mussels in a light cream sauce with curry. The mussels were good, on par with my faves Granville Moore's and Brasserie Beck, but suffered once more from the crime of not having enough bread to dip in the cream. Which was sad because it was actually a good one.

After sharing the mussels, we each got our own dish. She got the raviolis Bretonne, mini raviolis with various seafood, mushrooms, and a lobster sauce served au gratin. At best, it was strange, a motley selection of indiscernible seafood with a strange bitter taste to it. I wasn't the hugest fan.

For my part, I ordered the bouchee a la reine, a puff pastry filled with chicken, veal sweetbreads, mushrooms and a cream sauce. This was way better for me than the ravioli, and definitely more in line with my expectations. If anything, it was a good representation of the menu, and not just because it was listed in the "Bistrot du Coin specialties" section; rather, it actually had some classic French flavors. The cream, the combination of the chicken and mushrooms, the puff pastry... combined with the sweetbreads, it was a nice bite.

The Verdict

A few missteps to be sure, but an otherwise solid place for people who love French cuisine from Normandy to Provence. As long as you can put up with the noise.

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating:
3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: Down the street is Mitchell Park, one of the few public basketball courts (though only a half-court at that) that isn't completely occupied. It's also home to a foursquare space, and a wonderful looking park that's definitely worth a visit.

Bistrot Du Coin on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Nage

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood:
Dupont

The Setup

With a gift certificate to use and already one dinner reservation canceled there by an event (replaced with bad effect by Mio), Official Friend of DCWD Kelly joined me for dinner at Scott Circle's Nage.

The Vibe

Located in the Courtyard Marriott, Nage embodies the typical hotel restaurant. Set off to one side of the hotel lobby, its set-up and decor is designed to appease every sort of traveler. There's the decor which is at once too trendy by half for the fly-by-night crowd, and leaves you with the impression that the entire restaurant covers the full spectrum of red. This is reinforced in every way, from the tiny alternating scarlet tiles on the bar to the carnelian hanging candle-like lamps above each table, to the terra cotta-colored walls. Added to the overhead music of 70s music (epitomized by the one song I paid mind to, Shirley Bassey's version of Diamonds are Forever), it makes it feel very lounge-y.

And yet the seating arrangement is almost designed for families. There are booths everywhere, full ones around the edge of the restaurant, and half-booths around its center divider. Between the red and the seating style, it gave it a feel of a trendy Chili's. Not a huge fan.

The Food

Despite the extension of the Restaurant Week menu to our week, we decided to forgo it (though only one of the dishes we had was off the RW menu, so maybe we made a poor choice). For her appetizer, Kelly got a crispy soft shell crab served on top of watercress and a bell pepper confit with tamari almonds and a papaya vinaigrette. I will say this, Nage is certainly not shy about the portions they give you, which is always a plus. That being said, the crab was aggressive with its amount of breading. I love the fry as much as the next guy, but you barely got any of the crab, and when you did, you got mostly the taste of the stuffing. If anything, the vinaigrette was the winner here.

I ordered the braised mussels with chorizo, corn, celery, soybeans, in a summer wheat beer stew. I might have eschewed the mussels altogether if not for the corn, which I thought was an interesting addition. And perhaps I would have been better off that way. There was no difference for me tastewise between the braising and normal steaming. And the chorizo, which might have otherwise was the hard firm kind, and sort of a letdown. I said to Official Friend of DCWD G (one of my frequent companions on mussels adventures), that I always get tempted into ordering mussels at non-Belgian/French restaurants... and am almost always disappointed.

For the main course, Kelly ordered the hanger steak, which came in triangular chunks on top of a mix of rapini, sundried tomato, pine nuts, and fingerling potatoes, with a smear of boursin and all in porcini jus. The steak was well-cooked, and the components were well placed. About the only problem I had was with the smear; if you're gonna tease me with the word boursin on a menu, give me a full piece, not just a little smudge I'll have to embarrassingly lick if I want to get a taste. Still, a fairly good dish.

For my part, I got the smoked pork spare ribs with a honey-ancho gastrique served with a sweet corn succotash and crispy onion tempura. I had several minor problems. One, as I suspected, "crispy onion tempura" was just code for "big-ass onion rings" (eyeroll). Two, I don't know about this gastrique, because frankly all I could taste was barbecue sauce. Still for all the groaners on the names, there were some really good parts to the dish: the way the ribs fell apart because of how well they were the cook, and just how sublime the succotash was. Seriously, I don't know what they put in it, but I loved it.

For dessert, we got talked into the goat cheese cheesecake flanked by some lemon zest and blueberry compote. Standard is the only word that comes to mind when I recall the dessert. Not bad, not noteworthy, pretty much the middle of the road in terms of cheesecake. Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC always likes to say that she almost never orders dessert at restaurants because she's always underwhelmed by them/feels she can make them better. This was one of those desserts that underwhelmed me.

The Verdict

Good entrees, but pretty standard and unimpressive appetizers. Still, a few good dishes does not a good restaurant make, and given the price of the meal, I probably wouldn't head back.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe: Calm
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$7 for two)
Pairing
: Grab an after-dinner drink at another hotel hot spot, Bar Rouge at Rouge Hotel. It's the one with the slightly tacky Roman statues out front, which made it a personal favorite of our circle of friends a couple years ago.

Nage on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Monday Munchies: Tomato-Inspired Desserts

For those who haven't heard, it's time for the First Annual Mid-Atlantic Red Fruit Festival! What that means, is that I, CC, have decided to enter a recipe (or two!) in the Dessert & Quick Breads Category. Per the festival rules, three finalists will be chosen for each category of recipes (that makes 15 recipes for the math whizzes out there). Those recipes will then be given the professional-chef treatment and put to the taste test on the day of the festival. The website goes into more detail, so definitely check it out and consider entering your own recipe! And if you attend the festival, there will be a vote for the fan favorite--vote for me!

Last night I invited my own panel of judges over (including Official Co-Writer of DCWD Kim and our friends from I Flip For Food!) to narrow down a few of the recipes I had been thinking through. As
mentioned previously, I'm more of a pinch-of-this-handful-of-that kind of cook, so tracking approximate amounts of ingredients for each of these took a lot of effort on my part, but I ended up with some great constructive criticism and two very different, and surprisingly yummy recipes that I'll be entering. I'm not going to give away the secret recipes yet, but I will give you the first look at ingredients and pictures (courtesy again of Official Friends of DCWD Mark and Ang) of my tomato creations.

First, the spread:
The tomato cornbread (pictured above) was voted off the recipe island--not enough tomato, too big of pieces, not spicy enough, and no one could agree on the balance of sweet to savory. Not bad--but not good enough.

The "Tanana Tart" however (in the background of the above picture and detail on left)--a play off of bananas foster baked into a walnut crust--did make the cut. Cinnamon-seared bananas and a trio of sliced
heirloom tomatoes floated in a gooey brown sugar, vanilla, and Amaretto soup, sweet and spicy and just a little bit tart from the tomatoes and a little bit crunchy from the crust. It was better than even I was expecting! I served it with a healthy scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Yum!



And then there was the real winner of the night
(and hopefully the festival), the Chocolate Caprese Cheesecake. Just your basic cheesecake--enhanced by a strained tomato puree, a little bit of dark chocolate and a ginger-graham crust--topped with a basil whipped-cream and a balsamic-chocolate glaze. This introduced a familiar flavor combination in a very different way. Skeptics agreed, and reaffirmed as I made all my coworkers try it today, that this was a successful tomato dessert. What do you think festival fans??

Monday Munchies: Red Hook Lobster Pound

Foodie Washingtonians have been abuzz the last week or so with the arrival of yet another food truck, a New York import with New England creds: The Red Hook Lobster Pound Food Truck. Providing as much of a mouthful to say as it did in lobster and shrimp, the truck produced not one, but two false starts on Twitter, leading the worker denizens of Farragut Square (yours truly included) to groan with both disappointment and anticipation.

But last Thursday, success! Parking at around 11:00am, the Lobster Truck finally arrived, so I scrambled Official Friend of DCWD Biggie to roll out immediately in search of the goodness. By the time we got there, a sizable line had already formed, which took about 30 minutes to navigate. And by the time we left, lobster rolls, Maine Root sodas, and Cape Cod chips in hand, a line of I-kid-you-not 100+ people wrapped around the block. God bless the people who arrived at actual lunch time.

For all the hullabaloo, was the lobster roll worth it? It's pricey for sure, weighing in at $15 for the roll and $18 for the full meal. And the portion is small, filling a conventional sized hot-dog bun, though they were generous with the claw and knuckle meat. But just one bite of the lobster, with its sprinkle of a little cayenne, scallions, and butter, was to die for. Absolutely and beautifully done, juicy and flavorful, just short of awesome. Totally worth it. Perhaps not an every day lunch event, but definitely a treat to spoil yourself.

Taste Test:
4.5 Forks
(out of 5)
Perfect for
: Spoiling yourself at lunch with a sumptuous treat

Red Hook Lobster Pound on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Raku

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood:
One in Dupont, one in Bethesda

The Setup


Needing to kill time in Dupont and wanting a quick lunch, I headed towards always-seemingly-busy Raku.

The Vibe

I've actually been to both Raku locations, though obviously have frequented the Dupont one more often. What's more, my last dinner at Raku wasn't a particularly good memory, though it had nothing to do with the meal and everything to do with the immense amount of tequila I drank afterwards. Still, the residual memories of the Dupont location's decor are pretty clear: a fairly buzzy patio that always seems to be full on summer nights, with the inside that resembles a forcibly modernized Japanese house. Paper umbrellas hang upside down from the ceiling, and the motif of bamboo and paper windows abound. To one side is a light wood bar, where I sat on this occasion, that has the feel of a covered patio; what two-tops there are inside are lined around the bar on the edge of the dining area and continue around the restaurant

The Food


On this occasion, I valued expediency over food desire, so I went off the bar menu with dishes I could order, nosh, and pay for in under an hour. This led me to the sushi and the appetizers.

First came a tuna tartare, served with some greens, a lemon basil sauce, and thin slices of baguette. The tartare itself was interesting, perhaps not the freshest, but the inclusion of peanuts was definitely intriguing. There was some additional tang from the sauce, but nothing to call home about, and the baguettes were in that halfway point between stale and "we-tried-to-toast-it-to-hide-it." Overall, it was a dish lacking in a flavor punch from any direction.

Next came my dish of sushi, two pieces of chu toro (fatty tuna), my newest sushi addiction, and a roll from the specials menu, soft shell crab with ginger, cucumber, shiso, and a yuzu curry aioli. The toro followed the trend from the other tuna: definitely could have been fresher, and not as flavorful as other toro that I've had. The crab was also fairly interesting, but like the tartare before it, lacked a strong flavor despite multiple possibilities. The aioli was tasty but mostly flat (come on, if it's a curry and the color of wasabi, I want it to hit me in the face), and there was not enough ginger to give the otherwise fair crab a kick.

The Verdict


The food was fine and pleasant, but if you're looking for potent Asian flavors, there are plenty of better places.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost: $$ (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Have a dog? Bring your pup to the recently created dog park at 17th and S and let him play with others.

Raku on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Night Flights: 2008 Heron Pinot Noir

This week's Friday Night Flight begins a line of Pinot Noir reviews; I'm on a kick, and my friends are enabling my quickly growing affection. We start with one that I had at Nage (review forthcoming) with Official Friend of DCWD Kelly, a 2008 Heron from Languedoc, France, described as having tastes of dark cherry with a bright finish.

If anything, I thought the wine was thin, and definitely not as bright as advertised. It was okay for the meal, but it definitely wasn't one I'd have again by choice. I want a Pinot to warm my soul; this one just kind of moved it around a little.
Bar Review: 2 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Something light, where you don't need the wine to match the flavor (though when we're talking about reds, I don't know what you'd be eating that pairs with red that is light).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Citronelle

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #5, Washingtonian 2009 #2, Washingtonian 2008 #1, 2010 RAMMY Nominee - Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year, Wine Program of the Year, 2009 RAMMY Nominee - Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood:
Georgetown

The Setup


K: Newly employed -- and thus able to afford one of the more infamously expensive meals in DC -- Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I decided to celebrate the only way we know how: a great meal. We immediately thought the same thing: my last roommate had given me a "Thank You" gift certificate to Citronelle to use on a date with my then-girlfriend (who, in a completely unrelated note, would break up with me a month later, so it had gone almost a full year unused). This celebration would be the perfect opportunity to both use it before it expired, and more importantly, to have a great time. Also, as CC noted, we were ready to be very critical.

The Vibe

K: Citronelle sits in the ground and basement levels of the Latham Hotel in Georgetown. You enter into the bar area, fairly sizable with several two- and four-tops. On some level, we might have stayed up here, where the menu is a la carte and the prices consequently lower. But living the go-big-or-go-home method, we headed downstairs to the main dining area.

The basement level dining area strikes you immediately as dated, as if it's stuck in the early 90s, between the color scheme (red, beige, and green), the furniture choices, and the decor. Citronelle is a study in quirks: nice touches like the glassed-in open kitchen and wine cellar, but also strange ones like a cobblestone wall abutting a wall consisting solely of a light panel that changes colors all night (reminding CC, unfortunately, of Pod in Philadelphia, which is waaaay too trendy for its own good). The seating is varied, with most of the larger tables on the lowest step level, but all tables are obviously white-cloth topped. Lights are dim, and classical music is played overhead to set the mood.

Service was a little spotty--except for when we needed more bread. Our server seemed to forget about us for swaths of time, especially as we neared the end of the meal. Not the first time I've heard that about Citronelle. Something to think about.

The Food

Appetizers

K: I will admit that CC and I both considered the nine-course tasting menu. But with a cost of $280 a person with wine pairing, we decided to pass and instead go with the three-course. The first thing to come out was a three-part amuse bouche - potato and prosciutto in a slice of green apple, a smoked salmon mousse, and a ratatouille taco. All three were light and delicious, though for both of us, the ratatouille taco was the winner. The amuse did its job; if I wasn't excited for the meal before, I was then.

CC: I guinea-pigged the amuses in the wrong order, thus advising Kim to do the opposite. I started with the taco which reminded me of the "Bagels and Lox" that Jose Andres likes to put on many of his menus. I loved this version of ratatouille -- adorable and delicious. Even more adorable, but slightly less delicious (or differently yummy anyways) was the salmon mousse which looked like a tiny tiny cupcake -- and who doesn't love that? Clearly I was impressed by presentation there. I also have a fondness apparently for things in miniature. And then the potato thing. I have pretty much nothing to say about that. Wasn't bad, wasn't memorable. Wrong order.

K: The appetizer course came paired with a Riesling, a pleasant surprise for me, as I love Rieslings. CC went with the goat cheese ravioli, which came in a mushroom broth and were topped with a variety of chopped vegetables. If I were to nitpick, I wanted the goat cheese to be more present, but I thought the dish was fantastic.

CC: Honestly, when this was delivered to me I was confused, because I couldn't remember what I ordered but I knew I probably hadn't chosen a cake of vegetables. But oh how glad I was when rather than questioning, I dove right in, and not only found the baby ravioli (babiez=cute) but found that I really really loved that pile of veggies and the sauce. The pieces of ravioli were sooo tender and delicate, and while not overwhelmingly goat-cheesy (slightly to our dismay), generally delightful. You can bet I used that oft-delivered warm bread to soak up the leftovers. It seemed impolite to lick the platter.

K: I ordered a roulade of foie gras and duck rillette. I'm a much bigger fan of hot preparations of foie than cold, but this was still a very pleasant dish, with the wonderful textures of the smooth liver and the stringy rillette playing off of each other and providing a nice savory base. And the touch of serving a piece of brioche on a hot stone with it was both cute and utile.

CC: I don't even remember trying this. I love me some foie, but even more than that, I LOVE the faux gras at Central. I didn't really want that ruined for me, and the rillettes looked identical. The plate was pretty, I'll give it that.

Entrees

K: For the main course, CC and I somehow passed on the 72-hour braised shortribs, in lieu of two very intriguing entrees. For her part, CC ordered the lamb, a piece of lamb rack and lamb shank served with the seemingly oxymoronic raw-cooked vegetables as well as a jalapeno-cumin sauce. Paired with a Burgundy, the lamb was fantastic, though it was the sauce which was a revelation in its bold flavor.

CC: I love duos. And trios, And any other combo of cuts and preparations that give me a varied taste of an animal. (mmmm MEAT). This played with texture--moist, pull-apart lamb, crisp veggies, stringy onion fries--and flavor. Man. That jalapeno sauce. Oh man. AWESOME surprise. Not really spicy (thank goodness), and inexplicably good. Our server poured a splash on my plate and left me a gravy boat which you can bet I used to dunk everything in sight.

K: As for my entree, I ordered the veal, which came in four different cuts - sweetbread, cheek, breast, and shank - and was topped with veal jus, shitake mushrooms, and asparagus. Matched perfectly with a Bordeaux, this was so sublime. The veal shank and sweetbread really shone for me, and the way the dish brought out the contrast in flavors and textures that veal can have was fantastic.

Dessert

K: Before dessert even came out, we were tempted by the cheese cart, which is to say CC really wanted some cheese. That being said, at least my temptation for any cheese was held at bay by our pre-dessert course: a caramel foam with pineapple and rice crispies. Not the typical palate cleanser, but good nonetheless.

CC: Ummm, confession: I LOVE CHEESE. I love girlie cheeses (as a chef friend of mine put it, the family of soft cheeses like your goats and bries) as much as manly cheeses (classified by same chef as the pungent--read: stinky--ones like your blues and you know, anything you catch a whiff of before you can even open the plastic). I always want cheese. I always want excessive cheese. I want cheese AND dessert. But yes, this was yummy. I thought the acidity and sweet-tartness of the pineapple was a great decision pre-dessert. Also it was cute.

K: If I was happy with the meal, dessert was the perfect ending. With port in hand, CC ordered a pear chocolate tart, while I went with the chocolate degustation.

CC: This little (not-so-little) tart played with pear in many forms--more than seem humanly possible. Between the ice cream and the poached pear and the cookie and the rich, thick chocolate, this was a textural experience. Refreshing and fulfilling, very well done. This I think is the perfect example of a fine dining dessert. Creative, but with familiar flavors and combination--classic but innovative, and altogether satisfying. Take notes, white-cloth pastry chefs!

K: My chocolate degustation was made up of four parts: a white chocolate mousse with a dulce de leche sauce, a hazelnut kit kat, a chocolate mousse tart, and a chocolate lollipop. All four were rich and fantastic, though the standouts were the white chocolate mousse and the hazelnut kit kat, which perfectly mimicked the candy bar, but added in a creamy and smooth hazelnut. Amazing.

A perfect set of four petit-fours came out, and for me, it just cinched a superlative meal.

CC: Guess what? I also dove into the petit fours in the wrong order. I'm going to believe it's just because I have excellent taste and am drawn to the best first.

The Verdict

K: I think that, especially in dinners for the blog, I subconsciously try to be overly critical of places that are supposed to be the best, while being hyperbolic on the hidden gems I find. I mean, where's the novelty in chiming in with everybody else, confirming an already venerable establishment's credibility? It's not that I wanted the meal to be bad; we were just trying to be critical. And yet, Citronelle came through, exceeding already high expectations. Nice.

CC: I also wanted to find something wrong with the meal. I tried very hard, but alas, I could not. There were surprising textures and flavors all over the place (see jalepeno sauce!!), and some really pretty presentations. Other than the decor, I can see why Citronelle continues to make Top 5 lists. Keep it up!

Food Rating: *****
(out of 5)
Date Rating:
3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Business
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) (more than $100 for two)
Pairing
: K: I'm horribly opposed to Virginia, especially if dinner's going to be in DC proper, but for free movies, I'm willing to cave. The Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival has two more dates left, and has featured fairly classic 90s movies over the summer.

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