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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bourbon Steak

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #28, Washingtonian 2010 #35, Washingtonian 2009 #16, Washington Post's 2010 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Georgetown

The Setup


Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan called me up one late Saturday morning with the simple but contradictory statement, "I want a steak dinner tonight, but I've been hemorrhaging money lately, so it has to be cheap." I'll spare you the details but somehow I convinced him to come with me to the lounge at Bourbon Steak.

The Vibe

The dining room and the lounge at Bourbon Steak are both very similar, but also aesthetically different. The former is a golden brown, a relaxed atmosphere that you can peer at from the bar where the bar mirror would normally be. The lounge on the other hand is a little trendier, more black and dark brown than its counterpart. Rustic wood panel walls line the room complementing the wood floors. The lounge is a straight line, starting with lounge seating with leather chairs, then the tiled bar and some high bar tables alongside of it, with larger bar tables in the rear. It's a classy atmosphere; when we walked in, there was a party of six in tuxedos and floor-length gowns.

The Food


I had promised Rajistan that we could have Bourbon Steak's signature off-menu deal: the Smoke and Stout, a craft half-smoke and a pint of stout for $7. Unfortunately, that promotion had ended in February which I found out via tweet from the restaurant. What they did do via tweet though was tempt me into ordering a starter of lobster corn dogs. They are exactly what you'd expect: bitesize battered pieces of lobster on a stick with a mustard sauce. Obviously it's deep-fried lobster, so it's not the most buttery lobster I've had. But they were pretty delectable bites, which combined light, starchy, and zesty with the three different components.

My concession to Rajistan's steak request were the burgers at the Bourbon Steak lounge; he obviously then picked the steak burger, topped with cabot cheddar and a house secret sauce. By Rajistan's admission, this was one of the best burgers he's had, not the least because it was made out of steak; the composition of the meat gave it a richness and a butteriness that just could not be compared to others. The cheddar and sauce helped too making it a delightful juicy mess.

My pick was a lamb burger with grilled red onions, confit tomatoes, and chernoula yogurt. This was also fairly delicious, though with a distinct pleasant gaminess compared to the steak (obvious, but true). I won't lie though; I think the confit tomatoes made it though, giving the whole burger a certain je ne sais quoi. The only complaint I would make is that the yogurt seemed a little nonexistent to me, meaning that it didn't have that complete Mediterranean flavor profile I was searching for.

Along with the burgers, we both added the much discussed trio of duck fat fries: herb with pickled ketchup, old bay with a malt vinegar aioli, and cheddar with house barbecue sauce. Of these, both of us loved the old bay with the aioli, which isn't surprising given our love of spicy fries. Still, all three combinations were tasty, crispy and flavorful.

The Verdict


High-class everything, from the bar environment to the dining room, and perhaps most importantly, the lounge food: elevating even the simple classics to delicious status.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$ to $$$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two in the lounge, more than $100 for two in the dining room)
Pairing
: The Kennedy Center has some wonderful concerts coming up: Mahler's 4th, NSO Pops: Pink Martini, Tchaikovsky. Make it a classy evening with a classical concert.

Lounge at Bourbon Steak on Urbanspoon

Bourbon Steak Dc on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kinkead's

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100 Restaurants, Washingtonian 2010 #24, Washingtonian 2009 #12, Washingtonian 2008 #9
Neighborhood: Foggy Bottom

The Setup


Needing a good dinner to take her mind off of things, Official Friend of DCWD Talia grabbed me and Official Friend of DCWD Jay after work. With a near-expiring Groupon in hand, we headed to Foggy Bottom mainstay Kinkead's.

The Vibe

Like a number of restaurants near it, Kinkead's is a businessman's restaurant, something that is immediately apparent from the clientele as you walk in; it's like Barney Stinson's dream in there. The decor reflects this power lunch vibe: as you walk in, you are greeted with a split three levels, including the upstairs main dining area, and the downstairs bar. The bar area features a giant square counter central to the room, a rich caramel brown wood with an orange glow from the overhead lights. To one side is a giant glass wine cooler, to the other a small side dining area where we were seated.

Inside the room, there are straight lines and squares everywhere: the ceiling, the frosted glass dividers, the walls. Ecru walls are interrupted every so often with a painting on tiles, reminiscent of a Cezanne, but if he painted people and schizophrenically. The whole room projects a seriousness.

The Food


For a first course, I ordered the grilled squid with tomato fondue, pesto, and creamy polenta. I have an interesting relationship with non-battered squid: either it comes out delicious and the right kind of chewy, or it comes out gross and the wrong kind of chewy. It's a rather fine line that like most seafood is mere minutes' of difference in cooking time. Luckily, this was the former rather than the latter, a wondeful bite that meshed well with the very warm Italian flavors it was paired with. The pesto was a welcome surprise, and my love of polenta is well documented, so this was a great start for me.

Jay ordered a dish I'd had on a previous trip to Kinkead's: a classic tuna carpaccio with arugala and fennel, currants, pine nuts, tomato, and basil. Despite the long list of ingredients, I think each played its part in bringing out something from the carpaccio, which is why I enjoy the dish so much, basic as it may be. The sweetness of the currents, the mild salt of the pine nuts, the crisp of the arugala and fennel: each pairs well with each fleshy bite of tuna.

For our main course, Talia ordered a pan roasted rockfish with asparagus, citrus, and a celeriac puree in a lemon sabayon. As Talia put it, this dish was very good in many ways, and was just short of great. The rockfish was solidly cooked, though its real flavor came from the lemon sabayon, which was creamy and lightly tart. Celeriac puree is always something I quite enjoy; it's creamy but in a very reserved way. In all, in a way, I liked how restrained this dish was, enjoyable in a clean, very straightforward way.

Jay had a pepita-crusted salmon with cilantro, crab, shrimp, and a corn ragout. I quite liked this dish, mainly because it had a very refreshing quality to it. The cilantro and corn and the crust gave it a very Latin cuisine feel, which to me anyway, recalled something you'd eat on an oceanside resort in lower California. Still, a very delicate dish with a brightness to it.

For my part, I had a brioche-crusted flounder with a saffron, tomato, and fennel sauce, served with pickled fennel, baby artichokes, and a basil and rouille ravolini. The flounder was good, cooked fairly well, a little flaky but also a little meaty as well, if that makes any sense. The sauce gave it a nice flavor, though I thought the saffron was overwhelmed by the fennel and artichoke. The ravolini also could have been a little better, a little too al dente for me. Still, the flavors were there, and this was another example of a good, just missing that great aspect, dish.

For dessert, the three of us split a sampler trio: a lemon pudding cake, a vanilla chiboust with lemon and mandarin granitas, and a lemon meringue tart. The tartness was a welcome shift from the fish of the meal, and all three of us liked a different dessert for different reasons. For me, the chiboust was the best, because of the little bites of citrus that you had with each spoonful of cream.

The Verdict


Talia said it best: this meal was consistently good but never quite great. Never a bad bite, but always recalled a bite somewhere else that was just a little bit better.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Business
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Things that are obvious but I don't say enough: monuments. At midnight. Go.

Kinkead's on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Munchies: Pi on Wheels

After a brief hiatus, we're back to bring you more food truck reviews here for Monday Munchies. This week's mobile meal comes from the new pizza truck Pi on Wheels, which is about to set up its own brick and mortar place in Chinatown soon (District of Pi). While that might seem antithetical to the food truck mission, I can't complain when good food heads my way during the otherwise ordinary workday lunch.

Pi on Wheels serves about three or four Chicago-style deep dish personal pan pizzas. For $12, you get a pizza with a nine-inch diameter and a three-inch height, and surprisingly, only a ten-minute wait (which is pretty impressive, considering it's pizza from the back of a truck). I ordered myself a Southside: mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and sausage.

You'll notice from the picture at left that it's all tomatoes on top, which was my first surprise. My second surprise was just how effing good this pizza was. I'm not a deep-dish guy, much to the chagrin of my Midwest friends (hey, I grew up in Jersey after all), but this was just great: oodles of flavor stemming from the diced tomatoes and sauce and the subtle cheese, and an amazing crispy crunch from the crust that was still the same amount of awesome the next day.

In the game of expectations vs. reality, this just blew all the other food trucks out of the water for me. Thanks for playing.

Taste Test: 4.5 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for
: That Chicago pizza craving, without having to find an Uno

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Firefly

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Foggy Bottom/Dupont Circle

The Setup


Oh man, we were struggling. Myself in particular. The day before had seen me investigate Pound the Hill, go through brunch at Montmartre, and dine out at Mandu, with plenty of date-y activities in between (Eastern Market and a Capitol tour anyone?). After a raucous birthday/going away party for Official Friend of DCWD Madison to cap the night, she and I were joined by Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan in the same morning routine: wake up groggy at 11:00 craving nothing more than brunch, and a furious wave of texts later, roll into something decent and head towards the nearest mimosa. In this case, it was Firefly.

The Vibe

Like a number of other restaurants (I'm looking at you, Marcel's), Firefly is a place I walked past about a million times and had never ventured into. In fact, the only thing I really knew about it was that our school paper at GW sent people there on blind dates. Otherwise, my entire knowledge was informed by whatever I could see from the windows: orange, and a tree.

Let's suss that out: Firefly's big decorative touch is a tree in the center of the dining area (I assume it's fake, but who knows). Small lanterns hang from its branches which reach the ceiling. The rest of the motif continues this trend, small tree trunks along one wall and wood everywhere, giving the restaurant a color scheme ranging from white birch to maple brown, with tan and cream and orange in between. The nature-y theme is continued by cobble stone walls and the presentation of your check in a jar that simulates a firefly.

Small single-bulb lamps hang above the equally small four-to-six-seat bar; track lighting provides the rest of the light. Seating is cramped in brown semi-thatched furniture, mostly four-tops, the two-tops seemingly all half-booths next to the aforementioned tree wall. This causes the whole place to have a real buzz about it.

The Food


Between $2 mimosas and French press coffee, we were actually able to order some food (hard as that was). Unlike most brunches I've had, it was actually easy enough for all of us to whittle down what we wanted, as long as we all shared somewhat.

Madison had herself a sun's special: a mushroom and cheddar omelet with home fries. While everything was cooked pretty well, it was actually sort of nothing amazing for me, the ironic not-very-special. It just didn't seem that terribly different from anything that any of us could have made.

On the other hand, Rajistan had the snake eyes, two soft-cooked eggs in a bread basket (or as I know them, eggs-in-a-hole), with country sausage and red eye gravy and potatoes. This was a dish that I wanted, and its flavor proved exactly why. Perfectly cooked eggs, a flavorful sausage, and just an excellent thing all around. Just the right dish to settle your morning.

After Rajistan's thievery of my first choice, I settled on my strong second choice: pop pop's French toast, or orange and vanilla dipped challah with apple-raisin compote. Let's just throw it out there: I'm not a huge French toast fan. My mom made it when I was a kid, sure, but like people's odd affections for meatloaf or tomato soup, it's just nothing that innately appeals to me as much as other things. I guess I didn't get why people love it so much... that is until I had this plate put in front of me. Wonderful sweet notes without being too saccharine, a complexity from the orange and vanilla, and a depth from the challah. And raisins... don't get me started on how I love soft raisins and what they add to a dish. This was a surprise beyond my imagination.

The Verdict


Sure, it's just brunch. But I've had bad brunch before from supposedly better restaurants, and it definitely snuck up on me on how good it was.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$ to $$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for brunch, $50-$75 for dinner)
Pairing
: Make a day out of chasing down Ben and Jerry's (especially on Free Cone Day coming up in May!). It's a personal tradition to try and hit all the DC B&Js for a free cone each (in college anyway, when I didn't have a job during the day), so the Dupont one will give you a headstart.

Firefly on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mandu

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


As one of her last meals before heading off to parts East, Official Friend of DCWD Madison gathered a group of us for a goodbye dinner at Mandu. Along for the ride were Official Friends of DCWD Talia, Jay, and Mindo.

The Vibe

Mandu's logo is in brown and orange, and the decor is slightly reflective of that theme, with cherry wood paneling and an orange candlelit glow from the track lighting. The brick walls are painted a faint yellow, and covered occasionally with Asian watercolor paintings and shelves with small bowls on them. For a space with two floors, the dining room feels a little small. Most of the cherry-wood tables to me seemed more group-friendly than two-tops, but there were a few scattered here and there.

The Food


For a group of seven in total, we weren't too imaginative with ordering food, with only me ordering something that wasn't bibimbap. The rest of the group ordered some variation of the traditional Korean dish, a bowl of rice with vegetables, beef (or for the vegetarians, tofu), and a fried egg. Okay, all cards on the table: I have to admit that of all the Asian cuisines, I like Korean the least. For me, this sort of represented why: it was perfectly adequate but lacked any sort of punch-you-in-the-face flavor to make it memorable. Nice textures, nice cooking, just nothing remarkable.

On the other hand, I ordered the duru jjigee: pork belly sauteed with kimchee, rice cakes, and steamed tofu. Pork belly comes in many forms these days, but this was close to the kind of pork belly that I grew up with, more reminiscent of sizzling beef in form and texture than a chunk of bacon. Still, it had that wonderful fat and some kick from its spice marinade and the kimchee. An interesting textural shift with the rice cakes and the tofu, and so there was a lot to like here.

The Verdict


Again, I'm not a Korean food kind of guy, but if I had to, I'd go here.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Just because this is exactly what we did afterwards, head up 18th St to Chi-Cha Lounge for one of DCWD's favorite hookah spots.

Mandu on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday Munchies: American Ice Company

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup


Thanks to a DC Food Blogger Happy Hour, Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan joined me for a visit to American Ice Company.

The Vibe

Blink and you'll miss it on the street, as it blends into the rest of the block at night. American Ice Company is set in what seems to be an abandoned warehouse, and keeps that Factory Girl vibe going on the inside. A fairly sizable patio with picnic benches starts out the space before you see the inside, which has all the hallmarks of converted spaces: exposed black brick, open ceilings, hanging gaslights, and simple chalkboard menus.

Seating is composed of the aforementioned patio, some booths along one wall, high bar tables with stools, and a dozen or so seats along the marble-topped bar. This is a bar first, a barbecue place second. And the bartenders ranged from hip and friendly, to decidedly unamused by the mass of food bloggers there. So there's that.

The Food


The food choices are therefore pretty limited for American Ice Company: three forms of barbecue with the typical sides attached to them. It's because of this limitedness that we're attaching this to our Monday Munchies series.

On this trip, Rajistan ordered a brisket sandwich, me a pork sandwich, and we shared some chips and queso (I swear, I can always be made to pay a premium for melted cheese). The sandwiches were okay, with my pork being a little bit better than Rajistan's slightly dry brisket. Our inability to locate alternative barbecue sauces was a little disconcerting. On the other hand, the coleslaw was good as well, not overwhelmingly mayonnaise-y.

The plus side was the beer list, split into jars (draft, served in mason jars), and metal (cans). Good mix of microbrews on tap and in cans. Was definitely impressed that they had Goose Island on tap.

The Verdict


Basically a cooler, hipper Old Glory East. Definitely will be my go-to bar for pre-9:30 club shows, but not necessarily worth a trip out there by itself.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout to Frat House
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (under $25 for two)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Montmartre

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100 Restaurants, Washingtonian 2010 #89, Washingtonian 2009 #48, Washingtonian 2008 #40
Neighborhood: Capitol Hill

The Setup


In the area on a Saturday afternoon, Official Friend of DCWD Talia and I decided we needed to eat something. After passing highly regarded-by-Washingtonian restaurant Montmartre, we decided to pop in for brunch.

The Vibe

Montmartre seems fairly modern from its storefront facade, beige and glass-focused with a small patio out front. Then you step inside, where you realize there's a marked contrast between exterior and interior, which recalls a country home in France. Old distressed golden wood is everywhere, from the cupboards as you enter, to the furniture. This hallway which you walk through is separated from the dining area by french door-esque window dividers. The walls are a quaint sponged marigold yellow paint and decorated with art deco, while black modern fans hang from the exposed ceiling beams above. Seating is mostly two-tops, and everything is sort of cramped.

It might all have been vaguely cute and charming, but for the very shaky service. Our server seemed unfocused, maybe because of the high turnover. She also appeared confused about the menu, asking us a few times just which crepes we had ordered, even though there were only three options. Even then she had to come back to confirm the order, which she got wrong; she asked Talia, a vegetarian, if she'd ordered the ham crepe.

On top of that, I asked her for a side of creme fraiche, as the crepe I ordered didn't come with it, but one of the others did, and I just wanted a little on the side. She said no, insisting that the chef did not do substitutions (I didn't argue the point that it wasn't a substitution, just an addition in a small cup). So I asked another server if he could get a cup for me, to which he said yes, but never came back with it. Finally, I got a third server to get me a cup, at which point I'd pretty much finished my crepe anyway. Was it a little needy? Maybe. But for a relatively small request, their inability or unwillingness to help me out, in addition to the other issues, points to larger problems with the service.

The Food


Regardless, Talia and I both ordered the famous buckwheat crepes, me going for the smoked salmon, spinach, tomatoes, eggs, onions, and Swiss cheese filling, and Talia going for the vegetarian spinach, roasted tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus. The meal was a study in contrasts of two dishes. My crepe was solid, a delicious buckwheat taste with good fillings, a wonderful savory taste that was augmented by the creme fraiche (you know, when I finally got it). The overeasy egg was a wonderful surprise and definitely a highlight.

On the other hand, Talia's vegetarian crepe was unsatisfactory in every way. The crepe was not crisp and rich like mine, but instead had a taste that she compared to mothballs. What's worse, the vegetables were barely cooked, and lacked any flavor whatsoever: the tomatoes weren't roasted, and the asparagus lacked any degree of softness. Even salt and pepper would have been a step up. And the brunch excuse I don't think applies here; if you're only going to offer a few dishes for a meal, then as a restaurant, I feel like you have to make sure everything is on point. The fact that there was such a gulf between our crepes is sort of baffling.

Or as the older couple next to us put it about their quiche, "it's not very good, is it?"

The Verdict


Bad service, and inconsistent food. Definitely did not meet the hype about it.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Too obvious maybe, but the Flea Market at Eastern Market is a craft heaven, and a wonderful date.

Montmartre on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eola

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #35, Washingtonian 2010 #60
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


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.

The Vibe

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.

The Food


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.

The Verdict


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
Vibe:
Calm
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.

Eola on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday Munchies: MeatHead

UPDATE: THIS FOOD TRUCK IS NOW RETIRED.

This week's Monday Munchie is another meat food truck, from the creators of the ever popular Sauca: MeatHead. Unlike last week's PorcMobile, there was no mystery here with what we were getting ourselves into: four sandwiches centered around meat slathered in sauce. These are the moments I admit I am an unabashed carnivore.
Grabbing some coworkers, we headed out and I ordered the truck's eponymous sandwich, a sub with the following description: "a trio of juicy steak, pork, and chicken piled high and covered with creamy cole slaw, caramelized onions, triple cheese sauce and a touch of all three of our sauces." Talk about a heart attack, right?

With so much promise, I expected something great. Instead, what I got was a messy sandwich with meat that was just, well, chewy. And not as succulent as had been promised. The sauce was almost a distraction rather than a blessing. And most of all, it just felt like something I could get at any number of college delivery places. So, at best, satisfactory.

What it did leave me with was a very sluggish feeling for the rest of the day.

Taste Test:
2 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Meat overload

Friday, March 11, 2011

DCWD Travels: Delirium Café

Plaudits: Holds the Guinness world record for most beers available (2004 beers)
Neighborhood: Grand Place, Brussels

The Setup

Studying abroad lends many opportunities; not the least of which is the chance to travel during long weekends. This past weekend started my Spring Break (hardly spring, I know), so I decided to head to Brussels. Upon realizing that the Delirium Café is located there, I realized that much of the weekend would be best spent exploring the extensive beer list.

The Vibe

Located down a little side street that you would miss if you weren’t looking for it, the Delirium Café is divided into three levels – the Beer Cave (where you can order all 2004 beers they carry and which has around 10 on tap), the Taphouse (which only serves beer on tap, but has 27 options), and the Hoppy Loft (which I didn’t visit, but which has several American microbrews on tap).

The Taphouse is a strange mixture of “American West” and “Belgian Brewery” in its décor, with all unpainted wood furniture contrasted with huge metal stills used as gazebos. No complaints here though as I quite liked the atmosphere. In addition, we were able to find a quiet table and having a conversation was never a difficult task (perhaps we weren’t there at peak hour).

The atmosphere in the Beer Cave, however, was quite different. It is worth noting at this point that smoking has not yet been banned in Belgian bars, and that the Beer Cave got rather smoky, despite us sitting in the “non-smoking section.” This could have been caused by the lack of open space present there (the Taphouse was larger and more open). Other than this, the Beer Cave was generally more crowded and although it had the better beer list, suffered as a result of the stuffy atmosphere.

The Food (or Beer as the Café doesn't serve food)

During our 3 visits to the café, I had the chance to explore a small part of its offerings. The first time we went, I started off with (what else) a glass of Delirium Tremens on tap. It was fantastic. So good, in fact, that I had one each of the three times I was there. In addition to this, I ordered a Gulden Draak (a Belgian Strong Dark Ale I’ve wanted to try for a while) and a Chimay Tripel (on tap). A (very) small dent in the 2004 beer list, but hey, just more incentive to go back, right?

The Verdict 

The Delirium Café is a must visit for any hophead visiting Brussels, or Belgium for that matter. I had my doubts, but it surpassed my expectations. 

The smoke was at times quite annoying, and the atmosphere in the Beer Cave was more touristy than I would have liked, but those are minor details. The fact is this place is a hangout for tourist and native alike, which tells you something about it. Its more than extensive beer list, its at times sublime atmosphere, and the incredibly reasonable prices (especially compared to Paris) make this place well worth the trip. 

Food (Beer) Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout to Frat House
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$
(out of 5) ($4-$5 for a glass or bottle of almost anything)
Pairing
: After a drink or two, head back towards the Grand Place, get a waffle from one of the numerous stands, and admire the beautiful square at night.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mussel Bar

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Bethesda

The Setup


Official Friend of DCWD Madison had just come back from abroad and was headed back out to a place where good food is hard to find (as in like, impossible). So with that in mind, we set up a list of places where we needed to go before she disappeared across the oceans. The first on the docket: a place with great mussels and beer. So off we went to Robert Wiedmaier's new place: Mussel Bar.

The Vibe

I guess I have to lead off with a quote from Madison: "a classy unpretentious environment... it's like this restaurant was made for me." Which is true. Mussel Bar is both trendy but laidback, with features that make it both a brasserie and a bar. Wine bottles are everywhere: on racks above the bar, on shelves, even on a weird inverted rack that hangs above the seats by the light fixtures. And just so that the wine doesn't feel lonely, there's a giant beer fridge along the back wall, which makes you lust for the suds almost immediately.

Anyway, back to the classic, modern decor. As you enter, you see the oval-shaped bar, central to the room when you walk in, and which is both big but limited in its seating. Like almost all hip restaurants these days, there are chalkboard special menus and a decided orange glow to the place, accentuated by the beige walls and wood paneling on the walls by the booths. Candle lanterns sit on the edge of the booths, which make up one wall of the dining area; the rest of the seating is simple straight-line wooden furniture, two- and four-tops. A sizable buzz is in the air and several flat-screen TVs play U2 overhead.

So to recap, a cleaned up traditional bar with brasserie stylings. The midpoint between Granville Moore's and brother restaurant Brasserie Beck.

The Food


Madison and I are known mussels fiends. But for a split second, we put that aside to sample a salad, splitting an arugala and goat cheese dish with egg, shaved baby beets, and a sherry vinaigrette. A lot about this dish was a surprise: the beets weren't of the roasted variety (I actually thought they were radishes), and the egg added very little of anything. It was fairly forgettable.

Then again, it is called Mussel Bar after all. So Madison and I ordered two pots: the Wild Shroom (pancetta, parmesan, truffle cream) and the Red Indonesian Curry (with peanut essence). First things first, right? The mussels were steamed perfectly, and that put them up there with all of the other mussels places. The flavors? I thought that the Wild Shroom was actually a little restrained given all of the strong components that were in it, which stood in stark contrast to the Red Indonesian Curry, which was so warm and patently spicy but not overwhelmingly so and definitely Southeast Asian... very nice.

The Verdict


As Madison said, if this restaurant were in the city, we'd be there all the time.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene to Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: On this rainy day, head over to the Bethesda Row Cinema and escape the showers.

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