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Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Munchies: PorcMobile

This week's Monday Munchie is yet another food truck, the PORC Mobile, PORC being short for Purveyors of Rolling Cuisine. Or in this case, actual pork. With a truckfull of meat to offer, I convinced Official Friend of DCWD CarrieC to tag along for a midday food truck meal.


Here's where the PORC label is both right on, and homophonically disingenuous. Are there many meat options? Yes. Are there also vegetarian and vegan options? Also yes. Interesting. Both carnivores, Carrie and I weren't interested in anything but the BBQ, so she ordered the pulled pork sandwich, and I went with the bratwurst (which inspired the question if I was from the Midwest... no I just like a good brat).

I think we both felt the same about our meals: perfectly fine, but definitely could have been better. The brat was good, but there was something so perfunctory about the bun (maybe I've been spoiled by the Red Hook one). Both were perfectly satisfactory.

Taste Test:
2.5 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Sneaky vegetarian food when looking for carnivore options

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lyon Hall

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Clarendon

The Setup


I had promised myself a quiet recovery weekend after the one before it and a long week at work. Which of course meant we went even crazier and later. Struggling on a Saturday morning, Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan suggested we find pub food in an effort to go with a "hair of the dog"cure. Which I obviously read as quality gastropub. After whittling down some suggestions, we ended up on Lyon Hall.

The Vibe

Lyon Hall is the new gastropub offering from the owners of Liberty Tavern, and much like some of the other upscale Clarendon restaurants we've visited, has an absolutely beautiful dining room. There's just something pleasing about classic but modern decor.

The space is divided into three spaces: a lounge to your right of high bar tables, an actual bar to the back, and to the left the actual dining area, separated from the bar by a row of blue leather half-booths. Globe lights hang over the tables, and the sun pours in from the huge windows framed by blue velvet curtains. The space is all straight lines, from the small white brick-style tiles to the black wood paneling to the lines on the metal grated ceiling. Again, modern but clean.

The chairs are gastropub-style cafe chairs, and the tables are all two tops in combination, all for the most part on top of each other. Which is probably the only downside I can think of.

The Food


Lyon Hall serves a pretty standard French brasserie fare. And I will eat mussels anytime, anywhere. So despite other solid options (I mean, it was brunch time, after all), I ordered the mussels frites Lyon, which came in a broth of sabodet sausage, gruyere, and dijon. I loved a lot about this dish: the fact that the fries came on top of the dish; the crumbliness of the sausage; that mild bite from the gruyere and dijon; the small bites of onion you got once in a while. Still, the mussels just weren't the greatest. A little oversteamed to me, so a little chewy. Good, just have had better.

Rajistan had the shortrib frankfurter, which came on a poppyseed bun with house mustard. This was a solid tender bite, and the house mustard really packed a kick. It was one of those dishes that made you say, this is a really good hot dog... but I guess it's still a hot dog. Which I mean in both a good way and a bad way; good in that while the shortrib gave it a different dimension, it still retained its hot dog sensibilities, but bad because again, it's a hot dog.

I guess I should admit that we also both ordered a beer flight, in this case the "Belgian": Stella Artois, Goudan Carolus, Kapitel Prior, Troubador Obscura. Served in small 5oz glasses on a faux charcuterie board, it was a really nice touch to go back to during the meal.

The Verdict


Solid food, lovely dining area. Definitely worth a second look.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Head over to Clarendon Ballroom for a drink and some dancing on its rooftop pavilion, especially as the weather gets better.

Lyon Hall on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kaz Sushi Bistro

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2009 #89, Washingtonian 2008 #93
Neighborhood: Foggy Bottom

The Setup


With the expiration date on a Capitol Dish coupon coming up fast, I decided to invite Official Friend of DCWD Chi out to dinner with me to "best sushi in DC" contender Kaz Sushi Bistro.

The Vibe

Kaz Sushi Bistro sits on the walk-up floor of an office building, noticeable only from the outside for its simple Verdana-style silver sign out front. When you walk inside, the decor is a theme of sticks and straw, evident in faux straw in glass panels and sticks in light windowboxes of bright red and yellow set into the ecru walls. The furniture is mostly two-tops in combination, including rows of half-booths along the walls, and Asian in styling with flared chairbacks and polished wood tabletops. Otherwise, it's a mix of shades of white and olive green, with a sushi bar in the back and soft light fixtures abound.

Also, I have a little nostalgia about Kaz, as it was the site of my first real dinner date in college. I was so nervous and "adult" dating was such an unknown quantity to me that I wore a suit to dinner. Oh man, memories.

The Food


I went with a few small plates to diversify what I ate, starting with a sea scallop nigiri with prosciutto, creme fraiche, and chive. The flavors were good but definitely not in enough quantity, as you only got a little bit of the nice prosciutto and creme fraiche combination. I did appreciate the rice quality, but just not enough to sate me.

I guess the centerpiece for my meal was the "birds nest," thinly sliced calamari stacked in a small cylinder, topped with uni, quail egg, and a truffle soy sauce. With so many components to choose from, I thought it would be bustling with flavor and texture. I was right on one of those factors, as the dish had some nice gooeyness from the egg and sauce, and the slickness of the calamari. Still, it was basically without any strong flavor whatsoever.

Still hungry, I decided to just go for it and get my normal order of toro, this time the bigeye variety. I've had some great experiences with toro, and have since been chasing that ever since. This one did not measure up as much, and was actually so tendony that it made it impossible to eat in more than one bite. Same good rice, same just okay fish.

Chi had the seared scallop nigiri with lemon and sea salt, and an order of the shrimp and vegetable tempura. Having not tasted them I can't say how it was, but I imagine it was more of the same.

The Verdict


Good sushi, just not nearly as good as other places in the city. Sort of expensive, and probably worth it to try some other places instead. And I left hungry.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(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) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: I guess let's replicate what that first date was, and get tickets to GW's Lisner Auditorium, which in the next few months hosts Lady Smith Black Mambazo and its annual Flamenco Festival.

Kaz Sushi Bistro on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Munchies: The Search for Banh Mi: Pret A Manger

Part of our ongoing series looking at banh mi variations throughout the city, next up is Pret A Manger, a relatively new addition to the D.C. lunch crowd scene, but in existence since London 1986. Makers of fresh-made to-go sandwiches, I recently stumbled upon their take on banh mi while searching for lunch during a work day.

Unfortunately, this sandwich suffered from my pet peeve about "banh mi" riffs; basically they put sweet chili dressing, daikon, and cilantro on a sandwich and call it that. Yes, those flavors are important; no they are not the only things that define what makes a banh mi. This particular attempt included chicken and roasted red pepper, which was okay at best. It was mostly an uninspired sandwich.

Taste Test: **
(out of 5)
Perfect for
: Grab-and-go

Thursday, February 17, 2011

BlackSalt

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100, Washingtonian 2010 #73, Washingtonian 2009 #75, Washingtonian 2008 #56
Neighborhood: Palisades

The Setup


Rounding out Restaurant Week was a relatively last minute lunch reservation with Official Friend of DCWD Rae. Looking for a place that would be suitable for my mostly-vegetarian-but-on-occasion-pescetarian lunch companion, we decided on BlackSalt.

The Vibe

BlackSalt fits in well with the rest of the neighborhood: it's cute and charming and most importantly has all the kinds of things that a person with a good disposable income would like. Let's start at the front where the fish market is. A small shop with a blackboard of specials and an open fish on ice counter, selling things that are both appetizing and wicked expensive (Nantucket Bay scallops, black truffle oil). Things that while you wait make you crave what you're about to eat all the much more.

Move deeper and there's an interesting split: one wall is the typical seafood restaurant faded Atlantis paint job, but to the left is the bar, sleek and metallic and drawing an L to the kitchen off to the side. This small corridor is where most people queue up (and on this particular day a very sizable queue), which has the awkward effect of having people stand over you as you eat at the bar.

The main dining area is broken up into several parts: a few four-tops along the aforementioned painted wall; a main dining room that's fairly noisy, with tables on top of one another, awash in beige and dark brown accents, booths and six-tops; and then a back room with white bricks and glass shelves of glasses, half-booths along a padded wall where we sat. Overall the feel is funky and fun.

The Food


It being a seafood restaurant, obviously we were going to order seafood (a fact that some other denizens of the restaurant forgot, more on this later). So I went with Addie's mussels (a dish I assume is on the menu of the eponymous sister restaurant to BlackSalt) a simple broth of tomato, garlic, and lemon. Wonderfully rich broth, that was almost like a warm crab bisque by itself (admission? I ate some of it even after the mussels were gone and there was no more bread to soak it up). The mussels themselves were smaller than normal but with a good flavor to them, and all in all a good dish.

Rae had herself a ruby and golden beet arugala salad with herbed feta, croutons, and a dijon vinaigrette food. Pretty classic combination (though my mom for instance uses goat cheese), especially given the freshness of the beets. My favorite part though might have been the croutons, which were herbed to make them surprisingly salty which would add welcome bursts of flavor contrast to each bite.

For my main course, I ordered the shrimp and grits with fennel sausage and arugala. About the only complaint I had was that they left the tails on which meant I had to pick up the shrimp to eat them. Other than that, it was a beautiful dish: creamy white grits that melted into your mouth, and crumbly sausage that provided a rich saltiness. So good that the woman next to me actually leaned over at the end of her meal and asked me how it was.

I guess now's as good a time as any to mention something tacky that happened, which I will admit is a clear example of why I can't blame servers for hating Restaurant Week. This dinerby us had ordered the seafood stew, an olio of seasonal seafood which actually looked real good when I saw it come out for others. But this girl had the gall to say, "It's not exactly what I had in mind." It's a seafood stew at a seafood restaurant... what exactly did you have in mind? I guess it was one thing that she demanded to send it back (which is something that no matter how bad something is, I've never done), and it was another to see her self-righteous haughty attitude about it, which was just uncomfortable for everybody around her, given that it didn't seem likely from her dress or her demeanor that she would ever be here on a normal basis. What's even crazier is that the staff at BlackSalt not only obliged her and gave her a replacement entree, but took it off the check! I have to give serious props to them for it, and I tipped my waitress extra because of it.

Alright back to the regular show. Rae ordered the Louisiana poached eggs served with blue shell crab, crawfish, tasso (Cajun ham), and a cayenne hollandaise. Great flavors abound from the spice of the ham and the hollandaise, to some wonderful textures of a wonderfully poached egg, perfectly cooked crawfish and crab. This is one of those dishes that I feel can get better and better with each bite.

For dessert, I had the chocolate chambord truffle cake with a raspberry compote. This reminded me that I love raspberry flavor and hate raspberry seeds. Necessary evil though, because this was pretty good. Rich in a good way, fluffy, surprising given that it was a dessert at a seafood restaurant at lunch.

Rae stuck with the housemade mango sorbet, which we both thought tasted like a nice fresh mango (though probably not as good as one right off the tree). With the fruit it came with, a nice light finish to the end of the meal.

The Verdict


Some delicious bites, in a fun place. Definitely worth going back to.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: If you can afford the price of the fish out front, then take the opportunity to buy some wonderfully delicious supplies and cook the next meal together.

BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tallula

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100, Washingtonian 2010 #48
Neighborhood: Clarendon

The Setup


Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan wanted to have a Restaurant Week dinner with me, but posited that, as is our wont, that it be an adventure. Using that as my cue, I set up a reservation at a restaurant I'd been chasing for a while without a dinner partner, Arlington's Tallula.

The Vibe

Unfortunately, I picked a night where the Metro was single-tracking (well, Metro, like it always does, was just being ridiculously inconvenient about its maintenance schedule, so in this case it was a Saturday night). So between that, the cold, and the surprisingly long walk from the Clarendon station, we ended up being no-showed by the restaurant (the first such ignominy for me). This was totally our fault, but it would have helped if the hostess was a little more sympathetic; in fact, her snippiness almost caused us to leave, out of principle (I get it, I suck, but try and be a little helpful). Luckily, I think Rajistan charmed someone, because we got seated in 20 minutes.

Tallula actually has a more casual side (EatBar) where we grabbed a drink in the meantime. We overheard the bartender say to someone, "A lot of people actually come here on first dates." This is something I can easily believe: the vibe is pretty fun but funky. On the EatBar side, it's a dimly lit small bar, with medieval-esque chandeliers and silver vents above. Lit candles are set into tiled wall boxes and there's sort of a columned veranda in the middle of the room.

On the Tallula side, it's much more typical, a color palette of crimson red and orange accented with gold curtains; even the hanging lights are orange-red. Every table seems like a booth of some sort, made up of cushioned velvet seating. In the center of the dining area is an island of half-booths surrounding a fountain made of black stones, while the far wall is lined with more half booths, cornered off by larger circular booths. There are some full booths on the near wall and by the wine-rack divider, in both two and four-top varieties, so there's plenty of cute places, but for the most part, you're sort of on top of the couple next to you. Other than, there's a chef's counter in the back. It's all pretty charming actually.

The Food


Look, I'm going to just run a spoiler alert for you right now. This review might be so full of superlatives, it might seem disingenuous. But seriously, some of these things were that good.

For our first course, Rajistan ordered the crispy dragon creek oysters served on an apple "risotto," a cauliflower-bacon puree, and caper brown butter. Holy hell. The oysters were good, a beautiful silky smooth on the inside with a nice crunch to the outside. By themselves, they would have been fine. But the other components of the dish just absolutely made this dish to die for. The apple risotto was a revelation, a wonderful combination of creaminess and tart. Savory notes were kicked up by the puree, with a faint bacon taste that was both mesmerizing and not overpowering. And then the brown butter to tie it all together. Just great.

For my part, I had a similarly good experience with my dish: hand rolled pici noodle with pork belly, clams, chilis, and preserved lemon. I'd previously had the pork belly/clams combination, and wondered if this was a common thing. This was a much better version of the dish, with fresher and cleaner flavors. The house made pasta helped, but it was the brilliantly simple pork belly and the lightness of the lemon with just a hint of heat from the chilis that made it all so vibrant. A little bit of grit from the clams made it a little bit unpleasant, but the taste was so nice, I sort of ignored it.

For an entree, Rajistan had the apple cider-braised pork shoulder roulade served with sweet potato, red cabbage, and chard. The pork shoulder was pretty juicy, and the apple cider braise was nice. In fact, there was a nice crisp on the roulade that was very pleasant texturally. I will say that the sides were fairly regular, but I thought in general the dish was a solid entry.

Luckily, I won the entree battle with my pan-roasted Pekin duck breast with Brussels sprouts, bacon, salsify, and pears, in a juniper duck jus. I think only the duck I had at 2941 compares to this one in terms of how well it was cooked: beautifully pink in the center, with that delicious interplay of fat and crisp on the skin. Tender to the point of almost melting. Add that onto wonderfully soft Brussels sprouts and a bed of flavorful salsify and it was just a great dish.

For dessert, Rajistan ordered the bittersweet chocolate souffle cake with pistachio ice cream and plumped sour cherries. Compared to the chocolate cake the night before, this was a much more measured and restrained approach, which was very much appreciated. The pistachio ice cream was a nice touch for both of us as well (apparently just like me, South Asians love pistachio).

For my part, I orderd the eggnog bread pudding (clearly again, jealous of the bread pudding from Oya the night before), served with gingerbread ice cream and glazed cranberries. The bread pudding was nice and soft, but it was the gingerbread ice cream that stole the show, tasting basically just like straight cardamom (and frankly, that's what made it so amazing). Still the bread pudding was definitely solid.

The Verdict


Just some outstanding dishes, and amazing quality of flavor. A little grit, and only one good dish away from five stars.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Head over to Clarendon Fitness, buy some running gear, and take a jog together around pretty downtown Clarendon. Just avoid the weird intersections.

Tallula on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Munchies: Pho and Chao

This week's Monday Munchies features Official Friend of DCWD Kate from 45 Sq Ft Kitchen, and our mutual attempt at something I embarrassingly have never done: cook Vietnamese food (you can read her account of the meal here). Kate asked me for some suggestions of dishes we could make, we combed in the interwebs for the kinds of "simple enough" recipes that two working people could handle and went at it. What we decided upon were the two traditional soups that every Vietnamese mother makes for their kids, the overwhelming panaceas for hangovers and colds alike: pho and chao.

So armed with an America's Test Kitchen and Epicurious recipe respectively, we set at it. Recipes re-printed below:

***

Pho:

Broth
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 onions, minced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (4 tsp)
1 stalk lemon grass, bottom 5 inches only, trimmed and sliced thin
1/3 cup fish sauce
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
4 star anise pods
4 whole cloves

Noodles, Meat, Garnish
8 oz (1/4 inch wide) dried flat rice noodles
2 cups bean sprouts
1 cup loosely packed fresh thai basil leaves
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 scallions, sliced thin on the bias
1 fresh thai, serrano or jalapeno chile, seeds and ribs removed, chile sliced thin
1 lime, cut into wedges (for serving)
12 oz beef tenderloin, sliced in half lengthwise then sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces

1. For the broth: Heat the oil in large saucepan over med heat until just shimmering. Add the onions, garlic, lemon grass, and 1 tbsp fish sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until just softened but not browned, 2-5 minutes.
2. Stir in the remaining fish sauce, chicken broth, water, soy sauce, sugar, star anise, and cloves and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the flavors have blended, about ten minutes. Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the solids in the strainer.
3. For the noodles, meat and garnish: Bring 4 qts of water to a boil in a large pot. Remove the boiling water from the heat, add the rice noodles, and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are tender but still chewy, about ten minutes.
4. Drain the noodles, divide them evenly between 4 serving bowls, and top each with 1/2 cup bean sprouts. Set aside. Arrange the basil, cilantro, scallions, chile, and lime wedges attractively on a large serving platter; set aside.
5. Return the strained soup to a clean saucepan, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Add the beef and cook until no longer pink, about 1 minute (do not overcook). Remove the soup from the heat. Ladle the soup over noodles and serve, passing the platter of garnishes separately.

***

Chao:

3 1/2 to 4-lb chicken, cut into serving pieces, including back and giblets (exclude liver)
10 cups water
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or medium-dry sherry
3 (1/4-inch-thick) slices fresh ginger
3 scallions, halved crosswise and smashed with flat side of a heavy knife
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup long-grain rice
fine julienne of fresh ginger, thinly sliced scallions, and Asian sesame oil

Bring chicken and water to a boil in a 5-quart heavy pot, skimming froth. Add wine, ginger, scallions, and salt and cook at a bare simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes, or until breast meat is just cooked through. Transfer 1 breast half with tongs to a bowl and continue to cook stock at a bare simmer, skimming froth as necessary, 2 hours and 40 minutes. Meanwhile, cool chicken breast long enough to remove skin and bones, returning skin and bones to stock.

Cool breast meat completely and tear into shreds. Chill shreds, covered, and bring to room temperature before serving.

Pour stock through a large sieve into a large bowl and discard solids. (you should have about 8 cups: if less, add water; if more, cook longer after adding rice.) Return stock to cleaned pot and add rice. Bring to a boil and stir. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered until consistency of oatmeal, about 1 3/4 hours, stirring frequently during last 1/2 hour of cooking. (Congee will continue to thicken as it stands. thin with water if necessary.)

Season congee with salt. Serve topped with chicken and accompaniments.

***

At this point I'll have to cop to not doing too much; by the time I got out of work and got to Kate's probably-smaller-than-45-sq-ft kitchen, it was late, and she had done most of the work. So what was left for me were some of the finishing touches: advising, making conversation, drinking my beer (you know, middle management stuff). I also you know, helped to cook a little, slicing the filet mignon, and chopping up the garnishes.

The end result you can see from the previous two pictures.

I'll be clear here about the results. I've often noted that good pho has beef bones soaking for over a day. You'll notice the recipe we used didn't have that. So, the broth was more onion-y and sweeter than normal, but the anise flavors were pretty good, so I would vouch for this recipe. Actually, overall, I don't think we did ourselves a disservice, and sort of nailed these soups given our limitations. All credit goes to Kate for actually doing the heavy lifting (including chopping up the chicken the night before).

All in all a lovely meal!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Oya

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Chinatown

The Setup


Number 5 with a bullet in the Restaurant Week bonanza was Asian fusion restaurant Oya. Joining me on this trip were Official Friends of DCWD Baboon, G, and HR Intern.

The Vibe

In a word: trendy. In two words: super trendy. When you walk in, you come upon a chain link curtain (which, it must be said, serves no actual purpose than to decorate the divider behind it). It's these kinds of things that dot the entirety of the restaurant, ostentatious tacks designed to remind you that you are indeed at a really cool place. From the glass doors and panels, to the black marble, to the fireplace and multitude of hanging teardrop chandeliers that light up the paisley textured walls, the main dining area is a study in contrasts. Simple black and white, but in un-measured ways: black framed mirrors at the top of the white porcelain brick-style tiled wall, the aforementioned marble and chandeliers.

To the left as you walk in is the lounge, filled to the maximum with people waiting for a table, and even with a reservation, there was enough of a backlog that we waited 15 minutes. Not a complaint, just a reflection of how packed it was.

The Food


Everything on the Oya Restaurant Week menu was something they had on their regular menu, and in point of fact, they have a normal $35 prix fixe menu, so I wasn't too worried about the quality of the food.

Four our first course, HR Intern and I both ordered the beef short rib Wellington, essentially beef wellington but if the meat was instead short rib, replete with the foie gras and mushrooms, and augmented by onions, hoisin, and a marjoram black pepper sauce. HR Intern and I loved this dish. Good textural contrast, great braise, and a nice warm flavor profile with some brilliant umami flavors. Definitely on point.

Baboon had the curry sea bass spring roll, with cabbage, shitake, Thai basil, and a green curry orange soy glaze. Baboon loved this dish, but the rest of us were fairly luke warm on it. I thought the sea bass lacked that kickass notch, and the sauce was just sort of ordinary. Some interesting things going on, but wasn't too memorable overall.

G ordered the spicy crunchy salmon (though her original menu said shrimp). In this instance, the dish was essentially a salmon sushi roll, but battered in tempura, served with a spicy aioli. I love crunchy sushi, so the tempura batter was a welcome addition, and the whole quality was pretty nice.

For our main course, G chose a sushi off the main menu with the chef's nigiri (in this case, shrimp). Her choice was the Typhoon - crispy shrimp tempura, crab salad, spicy mayo. I didn't have a taste, since her portion was small. But she didn't add any superlatives that made me think it was anything more special than other sushi places.

Baboon and HR Intern both opted for the scallops, served with wild mushrooms, pad thai noodles, and a black truffle jus. Oh scallops. Literally, four of the five meals of my Restaurant Week included them, and they all seemed to inspire the same reaction: "these are well cooked but I'm just not wow-ed by them. That being said, the noodles were good, and I mean, black truffle jus? Yes, please.

I went against every rule in my book and ordered for... wait for it... the chicken, enticed as I was by its sides: a celeriac puree, Brussels sprouts, and black mission figs. Surprisingly though, the chicken was nice, cooked fairly well. Still, the sides, which I wanted to carry the day, were only okay. The celeriac was nice, but sprouts were a little firm, and I wish someone had stemmed the figs so I didn't have to pick them out of my mouth.

For our dessert round, Baboon and G both went with dessert wines, the former a Zinfandel and the latter a quite delicious Soprano Asti Moscato. I went with the molten chocolate cake with a mandarin orange anglaise and vanilla ice cream. I don't know about this orange business, because it never showed up, maybe because the dessert was basically like this: CHOCOLATE. As in, whoa there dude, I did not expect this much. A little aggressive but very simple in its aggressiveness.

HR Intern for his part won the dessert battle, with the banana bread pudding, rum raisin ice cream, and caramel, but probably only because bread pudding is always superior. This was not the best bread pudding ever; I wish it would have been softer, which would have added to its flavor.

The Verdict


Some really good things, but mostly nothing special. With the wait times and its trendiness, not necessarily somewhere I'd head back to. But that's my opinion.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Party in the USA
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two) (note: if you're going for sushi, it'll be even cheaper)
Pairing
: Class it up and head over the National Portrait Gallery for a before dinner walkaround.

Oya Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Siroc

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2009 #43, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50 Restaurants 2009, Washington Post's Top 50 Restaurants 2009
Neighborhood: K Street, McPherson Square

The Setup


Thursday's Restaurant Week reservation saw me take a bunch of coworkers out on the dinner trail with me. Our destination? The fairly new Siroc. Joining up with me on this adventure were Official Friends of DCWD P.Diddy, Talia, Iceberg, Power, and Jay.

The Vibe

Iceberg, Jay, and I were looking to catch a drink pre-dinner, but alas there was weirdly no bar at Siroc (we ended up braving the crowd at Potenza instead). In fact, the whole dining area is small, essentially the size of the first floor of a small townhouse. The decor is very autumnal, with ocher red walls and orange lights and warm tones abounding. Parts of the wallpaper look like woven straw. On the upper parts of the wall are large mirrors and small lights. Tables are crammed every which way, with a line of four-tops in the middle, and various two-tops pushed in combination along the walls.

In short, it's a cute and fairly typical dining space.

The Food


With six of us, we essentially could order everything that was offered on the four course menu (four courses, nice). So I'll just sum up everyone's general thoughts on them all.

First Course

Iceberg, P.Diddy, and Talia ordered the potato torte layered with sweet onion and thyme with a cilantro puree and sautéed wild mushrooms. Opinions on this differed, ranging from "this is pretty good" to "I wish it were just a little more complex. It's just potatoes." I felt like it could have been a little bit more of something, though it wasn't bad.

Jay and I went with the sea scallop with sautéed artichokes and braised black lentils in a tomato broth. Yes, you read that right. A single sea scallop. Still, the scallop, while unexciting, was well-cooked (I'm starting to question whether or not I've had ever have a mindblowing scallop). Still the artichokes and the broth gave the dish a warm depth that I sort of liked, which compared with the scallop texture, made it tasty.

Power bit the bullet and was the lone orderer of the endive and watercress salad with avocado and candied pecans in a vanilla vinaigrette (as a vegetarian, she benched the bacon). I didn't have a bite of this so I can't comment, only that it seemed like an interesting combination.

Second Course

Talia ordered the spinach fettuccine with tomatoes, eggplant, smoked mozzarella, and marjoram. This was a dish that was completely made by the mozzarella. Without it, the dish was sort of ordinary and less hearty than I thought it would be. With it, the texture and the complexity of the dish was taken up a notch (then again, I do love mozzarella).

Power, Iceberg, and P.Diddy got the raviolini filled with gorgonzola cheese in a pistachio sauce with parma prosciutto. The raviolini were tiny, but the gorgonzola gave it such a punchy flavor that it hardly seemed to matter. The pistachio sauce was a brilliant beautiful green, and it made the whole thing feel pretty appetizing in general.

That left Jay and I with the braised short rib and potato agnolotti in the braising liquid with montasio cheese. Also pretty tiny, but wonderfully flavorful, this time from the braising liquid, which was a perfect warmth for the freezing weather. Just a really nice interpretation of a fairly standard flavor profile.

Third Course

For the third course, Power ended up asking for the spinach fettucine from the previous course, as there were no veggie options in this round.

As for the rest of us, Iceberg ordered the roasted eggplant layered with braised lamb shank, oregano and pecorino in a roasted pepper sauce. Sort of like a roulade in that it was a round cake of layered food, it was decent, though a few of our compatriots thought that it could have been a little more flavorful. Still, the combination was good.

P.Diddy and I got the veal ossobuco braised with white wine on cannellini beans and winter vegetables. Holy balls, the portion size was huge. Surprisingly tender, and the bean braise was pretty good. A different flavor combo than I would have expected (something like red vs. white comes to mind for some reason), but very reasonably good.

Jay and Talia went with the roasted branzino served with spinach and red potatoes. Very similar to a dish I had at Tosca earlier in the week, but just missed out on that added dimension which would have made it excellent. Still, the fish was cooked well, with a nice crisp.

Dessert

Iceberg and I both had the tiramisu with berries and a berry coulis. Solid tiramisu, and was served slightly warm, which was a nice surprise. The berries were a good complement, though it was sort of sad that the berry drizzle was solid on the plate. Definitely was not the worst dessert I had that week, but wasn't the best dessert at the table.

Jay, P.Diddy, and Talia got the red wine and ginger-poached pear with mascarpone gelato. Beautiful poach on the pear, making it soft, and with a wonderful sweet-spice to it that was much appreciated. This dish definitely turned me around to the idea of poached fruit as a dessert.

Power again gamed up and went it alone with the almond cake with blueberry topping and a cinnamon zabaglione. I actually liked this the best, very reminiscent of a really warm and tasty pound cake. As always, somebody got the better dessert.

The Verdict


The beautiful thing about this meal was that the food got better as the meal went on. Definitely worth going back to, and a solidly good meal.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: With no bar at the restaurant, use the opportunity to hit the nearby liquor stores and try making your own cocktail together (helpful hint: start with something and make it based on something familiar).

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