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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Agora

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


I guess the downside of entrenching yourself in a city as we have is that you're constantly setting yourself up to watch friends leave. Case in point: Official Friends of DCWD Ang and Mark (or @I_Flip_For_Food and @WalkerMark10 as we first met them) of I Flip for Food and their departure to lands west. So after celebratory goodbye drinks at Madhatter, a group of us that included Mark, Ang, Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, and new Twitter friend @WashingTina thought it appropriate to grab one last, late-night meal at Dupont newcomer Agora.

The Vibe

Like all of the restaurants on that strip of 17th St, Agora is defined by a large patio and the lively atmosphere that emanates from it and spills onto the street. Should you actually sit inside, as we did on this balmy late night, you are met with a dining area that it seems is half-bar (this is Dupont after all), with the other half split into an island of two-tops in the center, and a row of half-booth seating on the left side of the restaurant. Other than that, there are a few high tables in the window nooks, but seating is mostly combinations of two-tops.

The decor is black with highlights of red, which helps set the mood at night, though it might be foreboding in the daytime. The brick arches around the dining area gives you the impression that you're sitting in a really large brick pizza oven, while a flatscreen TV by the bar blasting a constant rotation of Madonna and Lady Gaga music videos reminds you once again that you are on 17th St. On the other hand, the service was very good with a very friendly accommodating waiter who helped us out even though we came in maybe 20 minutes before the kitchen closed.

The Food


Apparently, we had walked into the tail end of Turkish Restaurant Week in DC, so a special prix fixe menu was available (and at $25 for four small plates courses, it wasn't a bad deal). So here's a mish-mash of what we ate.

First Courses

Ang ordered first and got the labneh, strained yogurt with diced apples and walnuts and endives to scoop it up. I liked the idea (mostly because it reminded of some sort of Coquille St Jacques presentation), and the flavors were okay, though I would have wanted more of the apples and walnuts and the straining made the yogurt a little more mild than I'd maybe wanted.

CC ordered the same, but in only saying "I'll have the yogurt," her order got lost in translation and the waiter brought her cacik yogurt (or as you better know it, tzatziki), the traditional mix of cucumber, dill, vinegar, garlic, and olive oil flavors. As opposed to the other yogurt, this was a strong flavor that was clean and presented nicely. Still, sort of plain, and definitely nothing to call home about.

Both Mark and I went with the arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, and lemon and olive oil (I mean, goat cheese, please was there any choice?). I liked the salad's simplicity and the goat cheese was great, but it was the heirloom tomatoes that stole the show for me, yellow and green and deliciously ripe. Again, good fun with the heirloom tomatoes, but otherwise a pretty typical presentation.

WashingTina's husband ordered the kasik salad (diced tomatoes, onions, parsley, cucumber, feta, black olives, olive oil, lemon, crushed red peppers). But for me, the winner was WashingTina's htipiti, a salsa of sorts of diced roasted peppers, feta, thyme, and olive oil. A nice and mild creaminess with some wonderful oiliness that made me delightfully happy, and definitely made we want to make it in the future for a party... or myself.

Second Courses

With only four options, the group of seven ordered everything we could. CC followed Ang's lead again and they both ordered the crab falafel, which was exactly what it sounds like. Like the lovechild of crab cakes and falafel, this was one of the few total misses of the night; I like crab, I like falafel, but this flavor was just not something I enjoyed in the least bit. Bad, just bad.

The table also featured a dish of steamed asparagus with orange aioli, and another one of sauteed spinach, onions, garlic, pine nuts, and crushed red peppers. I was so engrossed in my other dishes that I sadly didn't get a good bite of either of them.

So for me, the winner was mine: a phyllo spring roll filled with goat cheese, herbs, red peppers and served with a tomato marmalade. The roll was great, like a cigar of goat cheese with that beautiful tart creaminess just melting in your mouth. But it was the accompanying tomato marmalade that was excellent, combining the savory flavors of tomato with a sort of sweet jamminess that made it sing.

Third Courses

With the third course came the protein. CC and Ang ordered the kofte, miniature lamb and beef meatballs in a cherry sauce. Like a couple of the dishes before it, the main focus of the dish was solid, presenting good Mediterranean flavors, but it was the cherry sauce that augmented the dish and made it better, adding notes of sour and sweet that were definitely enjoyable. The meatballs themselves were sort of eh.

I went with the kibbeh, bulgur dumplings filled with lamb, beef, almonds, and pine nuts in a yogurt sauce. The bulgur gave the dumplings a taste of falafel, which was nice. But I mean, this dish was going to win no matter what. Lamb AND beef? Almonds? Pine nuts? Clutch. The only downside was that there were only two of them.

WashingTina's husband ordered the adana kebap, skewered ground lamb and beef with grilled tomatoes and onions. Again, the combination of lamb and beef helped, melding well into a thing of brilliance. The surprise for me was WashingTina's order, a grilled filet of branzino with olive oil and grilled lemon. Perfectly cooked, and not flaky as branzino may get sometimes, but melting and oily with a strong flavor of lemon that came across wonderfully.

Desserts

There were only two options for dessert, and they could only provide us with one portion of one of the options, so we all basically had the baklava. I'm not normally a fan of baklava, since the nuts sometime overtake the whole thing. But this one had an orange glaze on it, which took the baklava in a whole different direction, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Mark and I hoarded the only plate of the other dessert, disks of shredded kadayif layered with vanilla milk pudding and topped with orange blossom honey and pistachios. This was great. The shredded kadayif disks were fun, crunchy in texture and grainy in flavor and working well with the pudding (I don't even like pudding, so this was a huge surprise). Again, notes of orange came across the best here, and they were appreciated.

The Verdict


Despite all of the wonderfully adventurous meals we've had for the blog, a meal always boils down to execution of flavors. Within the bounds of Mediterranean food, was Agora terribly creative? Not really. I realized halfway through the meal that all of our choices were basically just combinations of the same list of ten, maybe fifteen ingredients. No seriously, go back and read them; the same things keep popping up (peppers, feta/goat cheese, phyllo, beef and lamb, tomatoes, lemon, olive oil, orange). But was this a good meal? Yes. Did I really think any of the dishes were too redundant? Not particularly. This is a case where CC and I, based on the things we ate and ordered, would rate this meal differently. But I'm the one writing this entry, so...

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Party in the USA
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: One of the more underrated things to do is to build something together, and one of the best hardware stores in the city, True Value Hardware, is just up 17th St. For a really reasonable price, you can get some scrap wood custom cut for you and make that kitchen step stool you always needed.

Agora Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday Munchies: Baked and Wired

I know it's not Monday, but lately these small meals are what I've been having, and at least this is more diverse than a normal Monday Munchie.

Anyway, it's not often that you become such a fan of a place even before you go there, but that was almost the case for Baked and Wired. Such is my amazement over the firestorm that has become Georgetown Cupcake just because it has a TV show on TLC. Why anyone would line up in hundred degree heat for an hour for what most people-in-the-know consider not even the best cupcake in Georgetown is beyond me. Seriously. Okay, soapbox over.

In contrast to the pink powderpuff Georgetown Cupcake stands Baked and Wired, a coffeeshop/bakery that's almost... indie. Or hipster. It's like it picked up and walked over from Logan Circle. The decor is white with dark brown wood and an exposed ceilings, cross beams, and vents. The bakery counter has the cupcakes lined up behind glass, flanked by cake stands and domes filled with other baked goodies, and is lit by giant globe lights.

The space is very much segmented the way an art gallery would be, with almost enclosed spaces filled with quirky interesting furniture and decor: chocolate brown leather couches, an old colonial-style drawing-desk-esque counter space, funky art, and little nooks here and there. Even the coffee counter is separated from the bakery space. This gives the whole shop a sense that you can have your own moments, whether that's a date or just a study session in a corner somewhere.

But how are the baked goods and the coffee? Well for one, I appreciated the diversity of cupcake flavor options, the creativity of those options, and the little cartoon signs for them. But not wanting to buy every single one, on this trip, I ordered the recommended Razmanian Devil, a lemon cake with lemon buttercream and a raspberry center, and a Americano coffee, black. The cupcake was light and fluffy, though maybe not as "creamy" as other non-chocolate cupcakes I've had and enjoyed in the past. The coffee was a definite plus, strong and flavorful.

So unlike most Monday Munchies, we'll give this one a date rating as well, because I thought it was that cute and special (then again, I'm a sucker for coffee shops). Not the greatest cupcake, but right up there, and I appreciated the interesting things they were trying to do in terms of sweet combinations. Definitely earns its spot as top bakery in GTown.

Taste Test: 3 Forks (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Perfect for: A light treat after walking the canal, an alternative to the insanity of GTown Cupcake

Baked & Wired on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Munchies: Sweet Tomatoes Pizza

This week's Monday Munchies comes once again from New England, this time from the Boston suburb of Needham. Sweet Tomatoes pizza is a new shop with three locations that has amassed quite a following. It offers traditional Neapolitan pizza, with a variety of interesting toppings. This being my first time eating there, I decided to stick with a classic tomato and mozzarella pizza with onions (possibly my favorite pizza topping).

The pizza was extremely thin, and although I tend to enjoy a thicker crust, I was surprised by how much I liked it. It made the pizza itself seem lighter, which was perfect for a hot summer afternoon. The standout flavor in the pizza was the sauce, which, as the name suggests, was quite sweet. The onions turned out to be a good choice, as their caramelized flavor paired well with the sweetness of the sauce and creaminess of the mozzarella.

My only issue was that, since the crust was so thin, it got soggy faster than other pizzas would (and thus I don't believe it would be good as leftovers). However, assuming you ate the pizza as soon as you bought it, this wouldn't be an issue. Overall, like others, I find pizza to be a very personal thing (the dispute between Chicago and New York styles being a good example); and while I don't profess to be an expert, this was better than most pizzas I have had.

Taste Test: 4 Forks
(out of 5)
Perfect for: A movie night paired with some gourmet beer

Sweet Tomatoes on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Night Flights: 2006 Merkin Chupacabra

Once again, this week's Friday Night Flight comes from my trip with Official Friend of DCWD Madison to the Tasting Room Wine Bar a month ago. I've said before that I'm the wine industry's ideal customer; I'm easily persuaded by well-designed labels, bright colors, or funny names. Because of this, I was drawn to this week's wine: a 2006 Merkin Vineyards Chupacabra.

I mean how can you pass up on something named after a mythical creature that eats goats in Mexico and Texas? Especially with the Vitruvian man on the label? This wine was a blend, a majority cabernet sauvignon, but with mixtures of petit verdot, syrah, and petit syrah as well. From Paso Robles, CA, it featured a particular tobacco taste (which even if you don't like cigarettes, is a nice mild bitter taste... and if you're an ex-smoker or current smoker, even better) which was nice. More importantly, the smokiness persisted ending in a strong finish, which

Bar Rating:
3 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Something hearty, like beef or lamb stew

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Marrakesh

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Mt. Vernon Square

The Setup


Once again, Official Friend of DCWD MPDD was in town, two weeks away from a yearlong stint in Ecuador. She rounded up a group of friends (including Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, and Official Friends of DCWD HR Intern, Yupster, and Aaron), and we headed off to the restaurant of her choice, Marrakesh (unaffiliated from what I can tell with Marrakesh Palace, despite its similarities).

The Vibe
The trip to Marrakesh was like a litany of surprises. Marrakesh, located on a random strip of New York Ave, is reservation only. The front door of the restaurant is actually like the front door of Oz: two large knockers on two giant double doors, which can only be opened from the inside... and at that only opens a small mini-door where you step in; I half-expected a window to open and have someone ask me for a password or to answer a riddle before going in. If this were the only over-the-top quirk, that'd be one thing. But it's just one part in an committed nod to Morocco (having never been, I can't say how authentic it is, but I'm assuming it's okay). Even the outside is marked by a tiled overhang.

The inside is a foyer with a running tap fountain and a curtained-off doorway, which leads to the main dining area: an expansive room with mostly big square sofa cushioned booths designed to seat large parties, so even couples have to sit at a corner and try and occupy the large space. The walls are almost entirely covered in carpet tapestries and hexagonal patterns and fringe. It's also dark, like I-can't-see-the-colors-of-my-food-clearly dark (causing the poor lighting quality of my already poorly taken photos).

The last part to note is that at some point in the night, the lights all shut off, the wait staff ran through the main aisle with sparklers, and built a mini platform where all of a sudden, a bellydancer appeared and performed for an awkwardly long amount of time. No seriously, awkwardly long. Like her one piece would end, the lights would go down, I would move to clap, and then the lights would go up and she'd be back at it. This happened for, I swear, twenty straight minutes. Sort of interrupted the flow of the dinner.

The Food


Dinner at Marrakesh consists of a seven-course prix fixe meal served family-style with no utensils (as a traditional Moroccan family would, as the website indicates). Before the first course, your hands are washed via watering can, since everyone is going to be digging into the same collective plate. This is followed by the first course: a salad platter of stewed eggplant in tomato sauce, a cucumber/bell pepper/tomato salad, and stewed carrots. The dish was pretty eh, fine but nothing I couldn't make by myself with some vegetables and a huge supply of Mediterranean spices. Also, each of us was given just one piece of bread to try and scoop up the salads. No flatbread, not unlimited bread, just one sole piece of what tasted suspiciously like regular grocery store bread.

The next dish would end up being the best dish of the night in my opinion, a giant b'stella: a puff pastry monstrosity filled with minced chicken, almonds, eggs, and onions, topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon. There was nothing not good about this dish, and it made me think immediately, "Why am I not putting confectioners sugar on more things?" This was a beautiful combination of savory and sweet, and we basically licked the plate clean. I'm sure we looked like a bunch of coke addicts afterwards, but such was the fervor with which we attacked this dish.

Where the second dish was great, the third dish was blegh: roasted chicken with lemon and olives. The chicken was good, with some beautiful skin and it broke apart really nicely in stringy, oily, delicious pieces, but isn't that what everyone should expect out of roast chicken? So in that way, there was no real value added, and the olives actually took something off the table. Let me be clear: I love olives. I'm not an olive hater like some of my friends and exes. But these olives were "perfumey" with an aggressively bitter and off-putting aftertaste. It definitely didn't add up to the Moroccan Chicken my mom used to make (and like I said, when it comes to dishes my mom makes, I have high standards and expectations).

Next came a choice between two entrees, and we went with a tajine of lamb-on-the-bone with almonds and honey, over beef kabobs. The lamb was nice, especially the slivers of tendon that came with the tender meat, adding some nice unctuous notes to the dish. The honey also gave it a nice sweetness. If anything, I didn't like how unsubstantial the dish was (I mean, the almonds were few and far between, and otherwise it was just some meat in its own juice), and how it wasn't really lamb-y in texture; it might as well have been beef tail.

Course five was a large pile of couscous topped with stewed carrots, squash, and raisins. Here's the thing: I like couscous as much as the next guy. But the sheer amount that we had, with no sort of sauce or alternate flavor, was pretty boring. In fact when the raisins were gone, the group gave up on the dish. Maybe if I had the couscous at home, it'd be okay. But not at a restaurant. Half the dish went uneaten because we all waved the white flag on it.

The next course elicited a response of, "this is a course?" A basket of fresh fruits: grapes, oranges, and miniature apples. Boring. Seriously, not even the freshest quality fruit. Luckily (or maybe this was planned), this was when the belly dancer arrived.

The last course at least was a good finisher: Moroccan mint tea with baklava-like pastries. The tea was poured table side by the waiter, from about two feet away from the cups, which was pretty cool. Plus, the actual tea was brilliantly sweet and refreshing in its mintiness, prompting me and Yupster to say to each other, "I want this every day of my life from now on." The pastries were nice, with a dense mushy fruit filling (if that makes any sense), but made good by the honey coating.

The Verdict


At the very least, it's an interesting place for a date, and there's enough good food to pull it through. Maybe the sight of a nearly naked girl dancing quasi-provocatively for the longest ten minutes of your life isn't the best idea for a date. But it's a fun experience.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: I mean, there's a belly dancer. If this doesn't capture the spirit of meal pairing, I don't know what to say.

Marrakesh on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Nooshi

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Farragut/Dupont Circle

The Setup


Official Friend of DCWD MPDD was back in town for a hot second on her way between China and Ecuador (of all places), and so we grabbed a quick dinner to catch up before she jetted off again. Looking for something quick and easy around my office building, we ended up at Nooshi.

The Vibe

For whatever reason, for a girl who just spent the last year in Asia, MPDD once again picked an Asian restaurant (see: Kushi). Nooshi (like its contemporaries Raku or Ping Pong Dim Sum) is very much the picture of the modernized Asian restaurant. The kitsch comes out in funny but uber-trendy ways: a color scheme of red, black, and gold, lanterns, that ubiquitous square pattern that shows up everywhere. Lighting comes from mostly the aforementioned lanterns and tea lights.

The restaurant is blessed with a gigantic patio area which was full when we arrived, so we consigned ourselves to one of the two-tops on the raised platform in the back. Your other options are mostly scattered pairings of two-tops or of course the sushi bar.

The Food


We tried to keep it simple. I ordered the Drunken Noodles: wide rice noodles, minced chicken, onions, peppers basil. It was decent, and the portion was fair, though the chicken was hard to find at times. I guess my main concern was that it didn't present a strong flavor in any direction. I'm not a huge fan of heat, but a little bit would have been nice.

The two of us also split a dragon roll, essentially a monstrosity of traditional spicy crunchy tuna sushi, wrapped in avocado and topped with some sort of red-orange sauce. I'll say this: sometimes a monstrosity of a sushi bite is good, the flavors and textures meshing well despite necessitating a giant mouth and a million components. This didn't even benefit from the variety of components, but was just enough of a bear to eat without bringing anything extra to the table.

We finished our dinner selections in our own traditional ways, me with a peace of tuna toro nigiri, her with bbq eel and salmon roe. The toro just wasn't as fresh or fatty as any I've ever had before, and was sort of disappointing.

The Verdict


Decent Asian on a budget, or for speed. But nothing crazy.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Frat House
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Go across the street to the CitySports and buy a frisbee to toss around to each other on Dupont Circle.

Nooshi on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Munchies: Moby Dick House of Kabob

Looking for a quick bite for dinner on the walk home from Dupont one day, I stopped by a place I had seen about a million times in its multiple locations: Moby Dick House of Kabob. This time, I ordered the Combo #3, essentially kabobs of ground sirloin and lamb with roasted tomatoes inside a piece of nan bread.

I guess the meat was decently cooked, the yogurt sauce was a fair addition, and the nan was nice. I guess my problem was in the price vis-a-vis the portions, which was expensive for not a lot of kabob, and not that many tomatoes. Also, for a dinner that took 8-10 minutes to get to me, I expected it to be tastier. I've had better and I've had worse, so there's that.

Taste Test: 2.5 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for
: A quick Middle Eastern lunch

Moby Dick House of Kabob on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Night Flights: 2007 Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel

This week's Friday Night Flight stands in marked contrast to last week's: a 2007 Biale Black Chicken Zinfandel from the Napa Valley. Whereas the former was weak in some respects and harsh in others, this zin was rich and full-bodied, but not in an overly aggressive way. Instead, it had a nice dark and dry taste and finish, with a nice subtle raspberry to it. In point of fact, it ended up being one of the better wines I tasted on that day.

Bar Rating:
3.5 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Darker, heavier meats, especially the barbecued ones

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dino

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2009 #50, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50 Restaurants 2009
Neighborhood: Cleveland Park

The Setup


Needing catch-up time with Official Friend of DCWD Juli, and with a LivingSocial deal in hand, we headed up to her neck of the woods for dinner at Cleveland Park's Dino.

The Vibe

The inside of Dino is at once surprising but to be expected. Surprising because its exterior belies its interior, expected because it fully represents the feel of "under the Tuscan sun" that one might expect if you knew anything about the restaurant. Immediately, upon entering, you are faced with a wine racks and a small circular bar. Directly behind that is the only thing approaching a booth, a small nook under a random mission tile roof. The rest of the downstairs consists of a small dining area of almost all two-tops and a small patio.

The second floor continues many of the themes; a color scheme of a more orange peach and ocher red, floral upholstery, hanging orange box lights. Again, the decor is something akin to rustic Tuscan: peeks of exposed brick behind plaster, oil paintings, a faint orange-ish glow to everything. Once more two-tops are the name of the game, with only a few large family-style group tables and the lone half-booth four-tops besides that.

The Food


Here's the thing. The only substantial thing I had ever heard about Dino was Official Friends of DCWD Ang and Mark's review for I Flip for Food, who had a disastrous service experience which obscured an otherwise enjoyable meal. Combined with its sudden disappearance from the Washingtonian Top 100 list, I had to come to dinner with serious doubts.

On the plus side, Dino was nothing but generous with their food, providing their full menu under their extended RW deal, which was nothing if not a breath of fresh air. This theme was repeated by their amuse-bouche, in actuality a three-part amuse: a creamy tomato-kale-red pepper soup, Tuscan beans on crostini, and deviled eggs with pesto. The soup was a very welcome surprise in its creaminess, but was unfortunately the first one we tasted, as the other two were blah (which begs the question of why the kitchen felt the need to push the other two). The deviled eggs were basically just a vehicle for the pesto instead of having any merit on their own, and to call the bean crostini bland would be an understatement. If I had doubts before, this wasn't an auspicious start.

My dubiousness wasn't helped by the fact that the restaurant was out of the restaurant's "signature" Tuscan scrapple, a "beggar's purse" of duck, pork, and veal sausage and something that I was amped to try. Instead, I ordered the "Italian kisses," pancetta-wrapped scallops with duck liver and dates in a tangerine marmalade. These tasted very much like bacon-wrapped dates (the namesake of this blog), but with a slight tang to it. Sadly though, the promise of duck liver and scallops went unfulfilled as I could barely taste either of them. Sad.

On the other hand, Juli ordered a dish I myself had been eying (for obvious reasons, if you know me at all): a three cheese polenta of white polenta mixed with asiago, fontal, gorgonzola, topped with a house sausage and tomato sauce. This was beautiful, wonderfully creamy and savory from the cheese, and with a whole host of flavors that are perfectly representative of Italian cuisine. Paired with our bottle of 2007 Rosso di Montalcino sangiovese, it was a start to the meal I wish I had ordered.

For entrees, I had a hard time deciding on a dish, but went with the waiter's suggestion of the pappardelle al cinghiale, a stew of wild boar and pork belly, tomatoes, onions, golden raisins, currants, celery, carrots, a red wine ragu, and grana cheese. Much like my appetizer, this was an okay dish that just wasn't as good as advertised because of the missing flavor of, or maybe even the lack of some of the key ingredients; I just wanted to have that sweet raisin taste, or the fat of the pork belly, and neither happened. The pasta was a little too past al dente for my liking, and the boar braise was not as stringy as other stews.

Juli ordered the wild king salmon with tomato, lime pepper, cuke salsa, and crispy potato. I'm not going to belabor this one too much, since this dish didn't really scream classic Italian cuisine to me, but it was bland and sort of unexciting. The salmon was a little overcooked in an attempt to get the skin to be crispy, but they were sort of outdone by the potatoes (which is a sad statement).

For dinner, Juli ordered the torte di pistachio, a Tuscan style pistachio crumble cake with fruit sauce, amaretto whipped cream, and a side of pistachio gelato. The cake tasted okay with some very pleasant pistachio flavors, but was sort of dry and otherwise forgettable. At least, her glass of limoncello with the dessert was nice.

I on the other hand had a very nice dessert, the "cappuccino du nutella," a teacup of nutella and mascarpone cream with bourbon soaked cherries and topped with an amaretto whipped cream and cocoa. This was beyond rich but in a nice way, silky and delicious especially when you unearthed one of the hidden cherries at the bottom of the cup. The combination of the hazelnut and the sweet "cherries jubilee" flavors was a perfect ending for me, even though at this point, the portions were so large, I couldn't finish it. Even though it didn't pair well with the moscato I ordered, it was nice.

The Verdict


I guess in point of fact, I had the opposite experience of Mark and Angela. The intangibles of the restaurant were fine: the service was unremarkable, the generosity of the RW menu was nice, and the portions were sizable. But the food was up-and-down; when Dino hit its marks, they were right on, but when they missed, it left you wondering what might have been had all the flavors had appeared as advertised. A meal that missed out on so many opportunities to be great.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Dino sits across the street from one of the few old-school theaters in DC, the Uptown. I've been there twice (for midnight premieres of movies I would rather not reveal), and oddly enough this is the date that Mark and Ang had planned on their failed trip to Dino. All the same, it's a pretty, huge single screen theater.

Dino on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DCWD Travels: The Cafe at Taj, Boston

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Newbury Street, Boston

The Setup


Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Restaurant Week occurs during the same week in Boston as it does in DC. As such, and it being my last week in Boston for the summer, I decided to splurge on a nice meal. While walking around the Common one night, I came upon the cafe at the Taj Hotel. Their restaurant week menu looked quite appealing, so I decided to try it.

The Vibe

The Taj Hotel used to be the Ritz (an old-school classy hotel), and fortunately they didn't change much about the decor during the changeover. The café, therefore, is a classically decorated European-style dining room. What I really liked about it, however, was how intimate the setting was. There was room for at most 100 diners. The waitstaff was extremely polite, which always adds to the atmosphere.

The Food

For a starter, I went for the seared scallops over grilled vegetables. The scallops were perfectly cooked, soft but not chewy. The sear added just the right amount of crisp to the texture. The vegetables were also good. I shied away from the mushrooms, though, having had a bad experience with them in the past. (A note on the picture: the prosciutto pictured came with the appetizer of my vegetarian girlfriend, so I took one for the team) (editor's note: We wholeheartedly approve this action. Boo vegetarians).

For my entree, I decided on the seared duck with mushroom couscous and a grape reduction (I know, I know, if I'm not eating mushrooms, why would I choose two dishes with them? In my defense, I didn't know the scallop dish had them, and at least I [correctly] predicted that the couscous would not overly taste of mushrooms.) (editor's note: I guess those two even each other out).

Back to the dish itself, which was tricky for me. The duck itself seemed to be overcooked, as it was tough and a little on the dry side. However, not having much experience with duck in the past, I wouldn't stake my reputation (what little I have) on my opinion. The green beans and couscous were very good, although honestly I wouldn't have been able to identify the reduction as grape-flavored if I hadn't been told. Probably not a good thing. Overall, a bit of a disappointing dish.

Dessert for me was an easy choice: the cherry chocolate stout cake with raspberry sorbet and chocolate gelato. The cake was wonderfully dense, and was covered by a layer of milk chocolate mousse. The raspberry "sorbet", however, was more like another mousse. The gelato was very rich, and the combination of all the chocolate aspects with the cherries made for a tasty, if a little too heavy, end to the meal.

The Verdict

This meal to me was like a sandwich with really good bread and a mediocre filling. Both the appetizer and the dessert were delicious, if not unique. The entree, however, was difficult to love. Had the duck been cooked better, the meal would have been so much more enjoyable. As it stands, a decent meal served in a very nice atmosphere.

Food Rating: *** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: People watching and window shopping on Newbury St.

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