Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #35, Washingtonian 2010 #60
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle
As seems to be the habit, Official Friend of DCWD Anna was leaving for a year in sunny Kabul. So with only a few nights left for her in the country among good food, I decided to break out the big guns and head towards a restaurant I'd been saving for just an occasion: Eola.
I'd said at the outset of the year that Eola was one of those places I was crossing off of my list, not the least because it came so highly recommended by people whose food opinion I greatly respect. What they hadn't prepared me for was just how charming it was. Located in the second and third floors of a townhouse on P Street, Eola is perhaps, for me anyway, the perfect picture of a date dining room. The first floor is a mere eight tables (with only two two-tops among them), the second another six or so, so to describe it as intimate would be an understatement.
Moreover, it even looks like someone's dining room, except one that it is exceptionally and impeccably well-coiffed. Exposed brick covered by square framed black and white pictures lines one wall, while the others are a beautiful cream yellow with chocolate trim. Beautiful aged wooden floors and hanging lights add a dim warmth to the room. I've said it before, sometimes you just feel a place is comfortable and intimate and inviting. This place is it.
One last note: it was a slow Thursday night when we went so there seemed to be only one waiter for the night. This caused a predictable slowdown in the service (which was totally fine for us, since we had plenty to talk about), so if you're popping in for a pre-theater bite, this might not be the place. That being said, the service was exceptional. Friendly, funny, knowledgeable, and made us feel at home. Definitely some of the better service I've had in the city. Superlative.
Eola, to me anyway, is famous for its devotion to all things pig; by the time this posts, they will have had a six-course bacon brunch. This then explains the cute amuse - a teaspoon of cured pork, parsnip puree, brandied cherry, and pecan. Fine, sort of plain, and I wanted more flavor out of it. This would be the last time I would say that in this meal.
Well, almost. Anna ordered the bitter green tortellini with a squash fondue and cashews. This left a little to be desired: the flavors were there with the mild squash pairing well with the quick sharpness of the greens. But the pasta was a little too firm and lacked the quality of a homemade variety.
From there, things jumped up about eighteen notches. I ordered the FBLT: foie gras "bacon", microgreens, and madeira aioli on truffled brioche. To answer your first question, foie gras "bacon" is one of Chef Daniel Singhofen's specialties; the foie is cured for two weeks until it takes on the flavors of bacon. Just imagine that for a second: two of my biggest vices in one incredible bite (not to mention a third vice in the brioche). Absolutely unbelievable, a taste experience that just has to be tried to be understood. It retained all the creaminess of foie but with the added bonus of that smoky salt that makes bacon so epically craveable. If the pig is the chef's wheelhouse, this more than anything showed that.
For our main course, I ordered a Pekin duck breast, served on wheat berries, mushroom, and chard with a poached duck egg, and ice wine syrup. I have a love affair with duck and with poached eggs so this was a welcome dish. The duck was cooked fairly well (I would put it in a tie with Tallula, behind Marcel's and 2941), and runny egg is always a flavor that I would go back to the well for. But it was the addition of the wheat berries (with a consistency and taste profile like lentils), and the other vegetables that made this dish very seasonal and wonderful for the cold night.
But Anna was the big winner with her entree: poached black cod with black olives, wild rice, golden baby chard, and shattered cayenne "glass." First, the fish: beautifully, beautifully poached, and right up there with the cod at Rasika in terms of melt-in-your-mouth good. But what took this dish to the next level was the cayenne "glass," essentially shards of spun sugar except with blasts of cayenne infused in it. Because of that, you'd get bites of buttery soft cod mixed with crunchy spicy cayenne, a mixture of textures and sensations and tastes that was just brilliant. Unbelievable.
For dessert, I was drawn immediately to the rosemary ice cream that came with the cranberry-tangelo turnover. So drawn to it, in fact, that I missed that the dish also came with cinnamon smoke. This made for a pretty cool tableside presentation, when our server removed the lid to a billowing of intoxicating cinnamon smoke. Not just impressive, but also definitely got me re-appetized. The turnover itself was pretty good, tasting very much like a nice scone, but the ice cream, which got infused with the smoke, was actually the turn-on.
My dessert could not compare at all to Anna's, which was so good that I audibly squealed in happiness with my first bite. An almond cake with house made preserves, whipped creme fraiche, and an amaretto caramel, it was just orgasmic. The almond cake was lush and soft and just pure sweet almond flavor, which mixed amazingly with the tang of the citrus preserves and that creamy smooth flavor from the creme fraiche. Paired with the French press (!) coffee, this has to rank up there with my best desserts of all time.
A meal that automatically makes you cite some of your favorite dishes in the city is something rare. But there is no other way to describe Eola than in superlatives. A beautifully charming place with impeccable service and amazing, thought-provoking, absolutely delicious food. In the non-minibar edition, an instant best meal in DC.
Food Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Bar Rating: N/A
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: My favorite used bookstore in the city, Second Story Books, is two blocks down. Charming with a great CD collection of classical music to boot.