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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pizzeria Paradiso

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Three locations, Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Alexandria

The Setup


Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan and I were wandering back from Dupont Circle, my eyes dying a slow and painful allergy-related death. He wanted dinner; I wanted some respite from the outside. We settled on sitting inside at Pizzeria Paradiso's new Dupont Circle location.

The Vibe

The Dupont Circle edition moved from a small townhouse setup on P Street to a much larger location down the block, and it's easy to see what the benefits were. For one is the huge patio that the sun seemingly always smiles upon, especially in the late afternoon when we say by Paradiso's huge windows. The inside runs deeper than wide, with a long bar on the righthand side and a bunch of twos and fours on the left. In the back is a huge brick oven with a bar itself. The rest of the room is the typical exposed brick and wooden floor set up, except for a few painted touches (like a blue sky with clouds on the ceiling, one bright yellow wall, and several painted pizzas along the barrier running down the center of the room).

The Food


Not feeling especially hungry, Rajistan and I ordered a large Siciliana (tomato, zucchini, eggplant, sweet red peppers, red onion, capers, garlic, oregano, mozzarella, pecorino). We probably picked the Siciliana because it had twice as many toppings as every other pizza (at least that was my reason), despite the fact that none of those were meat. The actual pizza was good, but in many ways that was the limit of what I could say about it. It was perfectly adequate for what I wanted, and paired with craft beer on hand, it was a pleasant dinner. But after giving the meal some time to marinate, I can't say anything about it, extremely good or bad. It just was.

The Verdict


I've said it before: you know when someone asks you how you're doing or how something is, and your answer is, "It was good..." while you trail off at the end? It's like that.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Since the three locations are in such disparate locations, try something you can do in most locations: Capital Bikeshare. Rent two and bike around this beautiful city.

Pizzeria Paradiso (Dupont Circle) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Birch and Barley

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100 Restaurants, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's Top 50 Restaurants 2010, Washington Post 2010 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: 14th Street, Logan Circle

The Setup


Looking for a brunch late in the day after viewing the cherry blossoms, Official Friends of DCWD Rajistan and Chill invited me out to hang with them. Though they were looking to go to Churchkey, I convinced them to go to its sister downstairs restaurant Birch and Barley.

The Vibe

Birch and Barley is clearly built into a converted warehouse space, which accounts for some of its nicer touches: a garage door window in the front, and painted exposed brick on one wall. The other walls are covered in a bark-like wallpaper, which is typical of the restaurant's interior design; Birch and Barley lives up to its name, providing a rustic natural atmosphere as its decor. Prominent among this color scheme are natural browns and greens, including the use of copper and wood around the room. From the columns of tree trunks to one side, to the wood laminate floors, warm browns and a country-home feeling sets the scene; on one wall is small shelving with country decorations of lilies, candles, and mason jars of fruits.

Lighting is provided by hanging electric ball lights, and glass ball candles attached to the brick. Seating is diverse, ranging from wide leather booths to twos and fours along one wall, and group seating in the form of a large eight-top in the front to high bar-table-style seating in the back. Tables are a beautiful limestone with acrylic chairs and the aforementioned booths, where we sat during this meal.

The Food


As we waited for our table to be available, I actually bumped into good friend Bon Appetit Foodie, whose entry on Birch and Barley's brunch was the one that convinced me that I had to go. Asked how her meal was, she answered, "Amazing as always. They just know how to do brunch."

This statement was borne out over the course of the meal over and over again. First off were three drinks for each of us: a cava mimosa with a mix of orange, grapefruit, and tangerine juices for Chill, a strawberry-rhubarb sangria for Rajistan, and Brunch Punch for me (mint-infused gin, passion fruit, cava, and cherry bitters). Chill's drink suffered from our collective decision to put all three juices in the drink (I think any one of them would have been just fine), and mine was pretty nice in itself, but it was Rajistan's that was the best, a flavor profile that made you just put it down and say, "I can't put my finger on why, but this is great."

As a sort of starter and to partner with my entree, I ordered a brioche sticky bun, a cinnamon bun of sorts with brown sugar caramel, pecans, and cream cheese. This was nice, a lighter version of a Cinnabon though with the same amount of flavor. If anything, I would have preferred some more cream cheese filling, but its fluffiness was definitely enjoyable.

My entree was a house-brined corned beef hash with potato topped with two fried duck eggs, this despite BonAppetitFoodie's earnest attempt to push me toward the chicken and waffles (in my defense, I thought about ordering it just to put into a box and bring home... it looked that good). The corned beef was solid with strong flavor from the brine, and was pleasant all around, the mild starch of the potatoes balancing out the rich sourness of the beef.

Rajistan had a fried egg BLT that was so much more: served on a pretzel roll, the bacon was actually two chunks of pork belly, with tomato and arugala. Rajistan also subbed out the handcut fries for the house hashbrowns made with thyme, chive, and parsley. To say this was delicious would be a ridiculous understatement. The pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth tender and brilliant in its flavor. The pretzel roll added a salty rich dimension to the whole bite, and Rajistan's choice of the hashbrown substitution was inspired: these were amazing little bites of heaven that made me consider never going back to McD's hashbrowns again (okay, so that's an overstatement, but they were that good).

Chill ordered the one truly lunch dish of the three of us: a ricotta cavatelli with roasted pork, broccoli rabe, pine nuts, and aged provolone. This was wonderful in a number of ways. First, I love broccoli rabe and pine nuts, so this was right up my alley. Second, I had never considered provolone as anything other than a deli sandwich cheese, so to see it add so much flavor to a pasta was mind opening. Third and probably most importantly, it was cooked impeccably well. The pork was roasted so that it fell apart in tender strings, and the pasta was a perfect combination of soft and luxurious.

The Verdict


Put it this way: I'm writing this entry at 11pm and the meal was so fulfilling and satisfying that I haven't felt hungry since our 2pm meal. If a restaurant can ace brunch this well, I can only imagine what its regular menu tastes like.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A (see Churchkey)
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Find a hidden treasure at Ruff and Ready Furnishings, one of the best secondhand stores for cheap furniture in DC.

Birch & Barley on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Munchies: Carnivore BBQ

This week's Monday Munchies (which is quickly becoming The Food Truck Report) brings us to Carnivore BBQ, one of the newest barbecue trucks that has hit the DC scene.

Well, truck is being generous. Unlike most of DC's food trucks, which are built into what look to be old UPS vans, Carnivore looks like it's been built into the bed of a converted pickup with a hatchback over it.

Two charming gentlemen greet you and offer you either the beef brisket or pulled pork, the two options from the truck. Both are topped with a NC-style sweet slaw (what seems to be a light coleslaw with a little hot pepper, and oil replacing the mayonnaise) on a sesame seed bun.

I picked the brisket, based on the description that it had spent in 22 hours in a smoker, and topped with the sweet sauce (my other options being hot or vinegar). The beef was decent, though probably a less tender than I wanted it, and I guess I wanted something to be done with the bun (heated up, toasted, something to make it more than something out of a bag). The slaw though was good for me (I'm not generally a fan of the mayonnaise-y part of coleslaw), and it matched well with the meat. In general, it was a good bite, though probably not the best food truck around, but at the least, better than the other BBQ trucks I've had.

Taste Test:
3 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: BBQ in the middle of the day

Thursday, April 21, 2011

DCWD Travels: Florence Gelato Showdown

Neighborhood: Downtown Florence

The Setup


This long-overdue post comes from the beautiful city of Florence. After some odd weeks of what seemed to be non-stop work, a vacation was just what I needed. Besides pizza and pasta, Italy is known of course for its gelato, the smoother, creamier cousin of ice cream. Now I'm not actually that big a fan of ice cream (I find it too rich and heavy), but I figured being in Florence, I had to try. After researching the subject a bit on the internet, two names kept popping up as purveyors of the finest gelato in the city. So I decided to try them both, and decide for myself.

Grom

The Vibe

I'm a planner, I'll admit it. Sometimes to the point of near insanity. In order to make sure that Grom would be open (it was a Sunday and we were planning to come back at night), I made me and the girlfriend walk by to check the hours. I guess it was peak gelato-seeking hour, because there was a line halfway down the block. This both worried and excited me. For one, big line means good gelato right? On the other hand, many of those in line could be tourists, given its central location. [Author's note: I'm generally very skeptical of any restaurant close to tourist attractions, so Grom automatically started off with a handicap. This fact that it's a chain didn't help.] That being said, the decor inside the tiny shop was very simple, nothing flashy. No huge mounds of gelato, a sure sign of a bad shop (interestingly enough, we were told another sign of a bad shop is yellow banana flavor, which should be ideally be grey.)

The Gelato


I ordered a large cone with Himalayan Salted Caramel and Straciatella (chocolate chip). I mentioned earlier that I'm not a huge fan of ice cream-esque desserts, but this was incredible. The caramel, in particular, was amazing. The Straciatella was good, very creamy, but otherwise nothing special. What was really nice about this gelato was the the scoopers beat the gelato in the container before scraping it onto the cone, which took out any air bubbles and made it ever smoother.

Vivoli

The Vibe

Vivoli is located at the intersection of two small side streets, which automatically made me happy. The inside is, like Grom, very basic, with little tinsel. The way everything looks reminds you of an old fashioned ice cream shoppe, which I liked. Again, no moundy gelato, so a good sign.

The Gelato

I ordered a cup this time, with Crema (like an egg custard) and Caramel-Pear (Sensing a trend? Caramel is quite possibly one of my favorite things ever.) The Crema was delicious, almost like the underside of a creme brulée. The Caramel Pear was good, although mealier as a result of the fresh pear. It had ribbons of hardened caramel, which was a plus. Overall very pleasant, with the Crema rivaling the Himalayan Salted Caramel for my favorite flavor.

The Verdict


I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed the Florentine gelato. The Himalayan Salted Caramel was my favorite flavor, closely followed by the Crema. It's hard for me to choose Grom, especially because it's a chain. However, it comes out as the winner for me.

So if you're ever in Florence, grab a gelato then go people watch on the steps of the nearby Duomo.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Komi

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #1, Washingtonian 2010 #1, Washingtonian 2009 #1, Washingtonian 2008 #1, 2011 James Beard Nominee - Best Chef Mid-Atlantic - Johnny Monis (too many accolades to name)
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Months ago, Official Friend of DCWD Beatrice was lamenting to me about a cancelled reservation at Komi, the ballyhooed restaurant in Dupont Circle. I've said before it's a struggle to find anybody who will spend the sort of money that you'd have to spend at Komi for any dinner, so I seized on the opportunity, convincing Official Friends of DCWD Stormtrooper and Swizzle to join the two of us.

The Vibe

For a restaurant so perennially at the top of the Washingtonian rankings, Komi is wonderfully low-key in its vibe, a fact not lost on Stormtrooper, who much appreciated the relaxed atmosphere. In fact, the only way you'd know that the restaurant is white-cloth is... well the white table cloths. Otherwise, Komi, built into the ground floor of a townhouse, resembles someone's old country home. First, the furniture: birch red chairs with beige cushions on a old wooden floor, a simple dining room table near the host stand with a large bouquet centerpiece and water vases, and two cabinets filled with china and wine bottles respectively. But perhaps, most of all, it's the paint that sets the the tone, a pale marigold yellow, dry-brushed and sponged to give it that rustic look. With only the front window providing any real glimpse of sunlight, lighting is provided by candles on the walls and a halo of small lights hiding around the ceiling.

It's a small space with only a handful of tables (mostly fours), but the sound seems to amplify a little more than you would expect. If anything, the noise level puts you more at ease; this is in fact a top-flight restaurant devoid of the normal white-cloth accompaniment of stuffiness. The other thing that relaxes you for the epicurean journey ahead is the service, which is incredible and has to be up there with some of the best I've ever had. But beyond the traditional attention to detail that is the hallmark of great service, it was the staff's attentiveness, warmth, and generosity that really struck me. Take our main waiter for instance (main, because I swear, four or five people must have brought us a course during the night). With no set menu, I was taking short notes on my cell about what we were eating. By course two, he told me that they could give me a written menu by the end of the night instead; amazing of him to notice what I was doing so quickly (or maybe I just outed myself as a blogger too obviously). Either way, props. He was also friendly and explanatory when he needed to be, and all-in-all, was complementary to the great atmosphere.

The real star of the service though was the sommelier (who incidentally has a total rockstar name: Kat Bangs) who was just about the friendliest, most engaging, downright amazing sommelier I've ever had the pleasure of being around. Wait, you're not a stuffy wine snob, but a funny charming person that I actually feel like I could be friends with? When she spoke to us, it actually felt like she felt personally invested in us enjoying the night, and her easy laugh made us feel welcome. Moreover, Swizzle and Stormtrooper decided to chart their own course instead of going with the pairing, and I swear they must have ended up drinking more wine for less money than Beatrice and I did because Kat kept suggesting new and awesome wines with fairly liberal pours (including introducing me and Swizzle to a varietal, Arneis, that we had never heard of before which was absolutely delicious). And incidentally, the pairing was pretty effing amazing in its own right. I think I probably left that night with a bigger crush on her than on the food... just kidding. Maybe.

The Food


But let's not get too hyperbolic about the sommelier when there's so much hyperbole to go around about the food (spoiler alert: most of it validated). Komi has no a la carte menu, and like its contemporary minibar, has only one unpublished tasting menu (a fact that Stormtrooper did not know until an hour before the meal), so get prepared for fifteen courses. Oh and no pictures for this one; no-photo-rule and low lighting anyway.

The first dish was amuse-bouche sized: an interpretation of taramosalata. In this instance, a tiny steamed brioche bun (again similar to a minibar dish), topped with a light yogurt and smoked trout roe. Perfectly light but with some nice flavor and did the job of an amuse-bouche: announced how the meal was going to go (interesting flavor combinations painted with a Mediterranean palette) and packed a punch doing it.

The second was a dish of hiramasa, more commonly known as yellowtail kingfish. Just weeks earlier, I'd had a beautifully prepared kingfish at Le Bernardin and thus had beautiful visions dancing in my head. Luckily, this was just as nice as my memory, but without the near-cheating benefit of black truffles. Instead, this was kingfish two ways: a slice of loin topped with chives and sea salt, and a slice of belly topped with juniper berry and onions. The first was a simple classic presentation like a more flavorful Japanese sashimi, while the second was the winner for me, innovative flavor profiles with a nice textural contrast.

Next came another two ways dish, this time with scallops; the first was shaved scallop topped with rhubarb and served on an oyster shell, the second preparation was diced scallop formed together with coconut milk cream. The table's collective opinion was that the coconut cream version was far superior; Swizzle thought the rhubarb version was too salty. Still, the coconut cream for me was a nice touch, and one that shook me from the shackles of the "too many seared scallops" malaise I had been in.

The fourth dish was something that just blew my mind: a hunk of burrata with sea urchin as well as what the waiter described as French shiso and what I figured to be either pomegranate seeds or some sort of flavored pine nuts. No matter: the combination was like a piece of creamy heaven with the combined flavor and texture of the burrata and urchin combining into such a magnificent mix of sweet, savory, and briny in a smooth, almost butter-like bite. Combining with the other pieces, this was one of the best dishes of a great night.

Fifth was one we had been waiting for: the spanakopita. Except in place of the traditional Greek dish was a one-bite breaded ball, with liquid spinach inside the crust. Beautifully creamy and just the right amount of hot, this was another of the table's favorite dishes of the night. The innovation was definitely there, and for me, it recalled all the wonderful Thanksgiving lunches my family has had with Boston Market's creamed spinach... except if it was a thousand times better.

Next up was a piece of egg ravioli with shaved tuna. There were a lot of surprises about this dish, from Stormtrooper's "so wait, there's an egg yolk in here?" to Beatrice's "this doesn't taste like tuna normally does." For me, the dish started off as sort of weird, as the pasta wasn't as fresh as I wanted it to be. But then once I cracked out the yolk, like one would do with overeasy or poached eggs, and mixed the yolk and flake-thin tuna with the pasta, it all came together much better. Maybe a tad salty, but rich in flavor.

The next dish was one of the more intriguing dishes: a piece of cold smoked foie gras served on top of black trumpet mushrooms and strawberries, and topped with pea shoots. I love hot preparations more than cold, as it tends to bring out more of the foie's fatty and buttery flavors, and this one didn't quite match up to the smoked foie I'd had at Eola. That being said, like the dish before it, the real treat was when everything was taken in unison, which accentuated the sweet of the strawberries and gave the whole dish a taste like... well, peanuts, of all things.

Eighth was the fabled half smoke, a recreation of DC's "signature dish" but with everything housemade, including the side of pork rinds. Beatrice had prepped me for this dish (I had eschewed reading anything about Komi leading up to the meal except for the occasional tweets about the goat) and this was one that people were hyperbolic about. After one bite, I could see why: that fatty, almost gamey texture/flavor combination that you get with high-end burgers (the kind that use steak instead of ground beef) was ever-present in the sausage, while the brioche bun was to die for.

It might have been hard to follow up on that, but the next course did: mascarpone filled dates topped with sea salt. Like most things that combine two flavors I love, this dish was already fishing with dynamite. That being said... oh MY god, why had no one before thought of filling dates with mascarpone. Sweet with a slight acid from the cream, it was just heavenly to bite into, and probably ended up as Swizzle's favorite dish of the night.

Next, the real pasta course: tagliatelle with charred octopus. These ribbons were a little fresher than their ravioli brethren, and the overall dish was definitely helped by the char of the octopus, which packed that strong "part-burn-part-ink" taste. Still, in the grand scheme of the night, this dish got a little lost for me, being sandwiched in between some of the best courses.

So now that the suspense is gone, here comes the main course: a plate of katsikaki, or suckling goat shoulder, and one of "American" Wagyu beef (which seems contradictory, but I let it go). These two helpings came with housemade pita, and a row of sides (cured radish, red pepper, tzatziki, red onion mustard, lemon salt). Wow. The table was split on which one was better, but this was what we might call a good problem. For me and Beatrice, the goat reigned supreme, perhaps the best example of a meat cooked so well that it falls in stringy melt-in-your-mouth pieces. For Swizzle and Stormtrooper, the beef's tenderness and strong sear flavor was a welcome climax to the meal. It might have been a simple question of geography (the goat was on our side of the table, and vice versa), but both were amazing. Coupled with the fluffy, doughy pita which kept on coming, this was just stunning.

The denouement to the meal began with the "cheese course." In this instance, that was a myzithra cheese on a mini Grands-like biscuit and topped with shaved fennel. After the strong flavors of the last few dishes, this mildness was appreciated, if lacking in memorability (the copious amounts of wine helped). I do recall thinking it was a solid use of fennel however.

Dessert one was a frozen lemon meringue served on top of Lorna Doone-esque cookies (which is to say they were very shortbread-y). The meringue was nice and tart, and the combination with the cookie made for a pleasant balance. I love shortbread and its sweet but almost-chalky consistency so this was also good for me, like a decomposed meringue pie. The wine pairing with this was also PERFECT (I wish I had asked Kat what that beautiful rose-colored dessert wine was).

The last bites of the night, and dish fifteen was some salted caramel with coconut cream. This was a fitting end to the meal for me, as it was a perfect blend of a lot of fun flavors: strong salt, sweet caramel, milky coconut cream. I liked the use of coconut before, and I liked it on this piece as well. When taken as one solid bite, I couldn't help but get a taste like bananas. Seriously.

As parting gifts, we all got some housemade root beer lollipops. A fun treat for a fun meal.

The Verdict


Let's not dance around it. This meal was amazing, and worth the many superlatives that people adorn onto it. The service was by far the most thoughtful and friendliest I'd ever had, and the food balanced perfectly between the traditional and the innovative. Were there a couple things that could have used a dash less salt? Maybe. But was this a meal I would live over and over again? Without a doubt. Probably tied for second for the best meal of all-time.

Food Rating: *****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual to Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) (more than $100 for two)
Pairing
: No pairing this time, because you're in for a three-hour, top-class meal.

Komi on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Munchies: ChiDogOs

UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED. 

Running down U Street heading to a house party, I needed a quick bite to tide me over. Eschewing my normal pre- and post-drink meal of McNuggets and passing over perennial favorite Taco Bell, I went a few doors down to U Street's new ChiDogOs.

ChiDogOs is a world of metal, silver and red, with lots of high tables with half-benches and stools. It also features only a few choices, one of which is the Chicago Dog: a hot dog in a poppy seed bun topped with mustard, relish, onions, pickles, tomatoes, hot peppers, and celery salt (with cheddar cheese optional). And I thought the Double Down was loaded...

The end result is messy and difficult to eat. At points, it's good, but that's only if you get every piece in your mouth at once. Which is a difficult task to say the least. The hot dog is small considering the bun and sides, and there is a hell of a lot of celery salt (more than is appetizing). On the plus side, there's draft Goose Island beer. On the downside, this is a food that seems best situated for when you've already had a few.

Taste Test
: 2 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Post U Street bar drinking

ChiDogO's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alero

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street, Dupont Circle, Cleveland Park

The Setup


Fresh off another house viewing, Official Friends of DCWD Talia and Rajistan wanted to have another roommate bonding session, but this time on the cheaper side. So we headed over the U Street location of Alero.

The Vibe

Alero on U Street benefits from being on a happening corner, and having a huge patio for the area. The restaurant in general is fairly expansive, but gets pretty noisy pretty quickly, with half of the dining area being the bar/lounge. The decor is red and dark grey with yellow trim, and the walls are decorated with brightly colored paintings for sale, including portraits of contemporary celebrities like Missy Elliot and Jay-Z. Seating is varied, but mostly four-tops where twos are seated, simple brown and ecru chairs and tables.

The Food

We all sat down and somehow we all wanted the same thing: margaritas and fajitas. So that's what we ordered, with Rajistan saying: "we're going to be the loudest table in this restaurant." So out came a pitcher of frozen strawberry margaritas and three sizzling plates of chicken, and one of vegetables.

The accoutrements for each plate were rice, refried beans, cheese, guac, sour cream, and pico de gallo. The results were a little iffy: a plus for Talia was the inclusion of grilled asparagus as some of the vegetables, a minus was the overcooking of the chicken. I think what it comes down to, is that it's not necessarily anything I couldn't make myself.

The Verdict


All in all, not a bad spot especially for a margarita, but nothing super special.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Party in the USA
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Grab some quick ice cream dessert at Maggie Moo's next door.

Alero on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bar Pilar

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 Top 100 Restaurants, 2011 RAMMY Nominee - Neighborhood Gathering Place of the Year, Rising Culinary Star - Justin Bittner
Neighborhood: 14th Street, U Street

The Setup


Looking to have a future roommate bonding dinner somewhere on U Street where we had just seen a potential apartment, Official Friends of DCWD Talia and Raj and I were in search of a place to eat. Somehow we scored three seats at the always-crowded Bar Pilar.

The Vibe

I feel like if I owned a bar, it would look like this. Bar Pilar is something out of the 1920s, and definitely has a speakeasy sort of vibe. Built into a townhouse, the dining area is long and thin with the floor-to-ceiling Victorian-style bar central to it all. A motley selection of standing counters and two and four-tops dot the space, with some higher bar-tables in the room in the back, where we sat. You seat yourself at Bar Pilar, so a table is real hard to come by, but it feels like a real victory when you do.

The decor echoes the era it's going for: painted art deco posters, old maps of Europe, movie posters from the decade on the faded orange and brown walls. Light is provided by chandeliers both classic and modern (the one above us was made of wine bottles), but the whole place is predictably dim and as a bar, noisy.

The Food


Food at Bar Pilar is small plates so we ordered quite a lot. First and foremost, Raj and I focused in on the special: pho (though our waitress called it "pork soup" ::shudder::). Instead of the traditional Vietnamese beef, it went with duck breast instead (a switch I was totally okay with). I have very strong feelings on pho, obviously, but this one was actually not that bad; the anise flavoring was on point and it was a decently strong broth. In fact, it was a bowl that got better and better with each bite.

The first dish to actually come was a plate of green beans and shallots for our resident vegetarian/pescetarian Talia. For a simple dish, it did the job, with good salt to it. Nothing we couldn't have made ourselves, but definitely nice.

Next out was the all day roasted pork shoulder with a garlic trencher (which from what I can tell is a piece of sourdough bread underneath it). This was unbelievably good. The all day roasting gave the meat a melt-in-your-mouth quality, falling apart in brilliantly stringy and juicy pieces. What's more, the sourdough soaked up all of the juice and was itself a great mix of chewy and crunchy. I seriously cannot even describe how great this dish was.

On the other hand came the least favorite dish of the night: grilled Spanish mackerel with polenta and olive oil. The polenta was great, but the mackerel was just so fishy. Everyone at the table has had mackerel before, and none of us had ever had it taste so... well, fishy. Nothing inedible, just sort of unappetizing.

Luckily for us, the meal rebounded quickly from that. First up came the veal sweetbreads with polenta in a caper sauce. I was tempted by the sweetbreads when I saw them on the menu but decided that maybe I'd had too many sweetbreads. Fortunately, the couple next to us recommended the sweetbreads, so we decided to give it a go. These were perhaps the best sweetbreads I've ever had, between the flavor and textural balances between the savory and creamy sweetbread to the differently savory and differently creamy polenta. Amazing.

The next dish up was a crispy pork terrine with tartar sauce. The shredded pork was smooth and definitely tasty, especially with the tartar, and the bread crumb coating was a nice textural contrast with the meaty interior. Still, there was nothing terribly memorable about the dish, represented by the conversation I had with the couple next to us:

"How was it?" "Um, it was good... ...yea, it was good."

When I run out of words, it's generally not the greatest sign.

The final dish to come was a Spanish tortilla with goat cheese (read: tortilla espanola). Bigger than most tortillas that I've had, and with the goat cheese addition, an amazing creamy and luscious end to a great meal.

The Verdict


Only one major hiccup in a meal that was otherwise fantastic. When we move up there, I can see me being there all the time.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: As the three of us are now new renters in the area, what we'll definitely need is to shop together for home goods. And no place is cuter for people on a date to pick out salt shakers than Home Rule, down the street.

Bar Pilar on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Munchies: DC Empanadas

Next on the food truck list was DC Empanadas, who I spotted at Farragut Square. Having already recommended them as a work lunch place for Official Friend of DCWD Power without actually trying them, I thought it best to actually inform my opinion.

On this trip, I tried all three of the regular empanadas on the menu for that day: The El Greco (spinach, feta, ricotta, onion, garlic), the Badass (chicken in buffalo sauce, bleu cheese), and the Ropanada (ropa vieja inspired shredded beef, rice in tomato sauce). In the spectrum of size and cost for empanadas, these were slightly bigger and slightly more expensive than Panas, and slightly smaller and slightly less expensive than Julia's. Still, these packed a lot of flavors; the Badass especially brought the heat in a way I wasn't expecting. The El Greco was my actually my favorite, giving a good amount of savory flavor despite the lack of a protein.

At $3 a pop, a fun mix-and-match in terms of a meal, and definitely a worthwhile truck to chase down.

Taste Test:
3 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: A midday empanada when you can't get to a brick-and-mortar place.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

DCWD Travels: Le Bernardin

The Setup

Heading up to New York for a mini-vacation, I decided that I'm not up in NYC often enough to not eat someplace great. So I waylaid Official Friend of DCWD MM into accompanying me into an extravagant meal at seafood icon Le Bernardin.

The Vibe

Look, I have a man crush on Eric Ripert; just the accent alone is fantastic. The fact that he has what is considered to be the best seafood restaurant in the country just adds to his mystique. Three Michelin stars and what people keep saying is the most amazing service ever? Sign me up.

Le Bernardin sits in the ground floor of a hotel and is a classic in its design: honey colored wood paneling, beautiful floral displays including a giant one in the center of the place. It's the kind of place that feels monied. What about the heralded service though? Absolutely ridiculously amazing. Four people were basically assigned to us: a main waiter, a secondary waiter, a guy for the bread and water, and one of the sommeliers. Every dish was sauced at the table, and immaculately so. Perhaps the most telling part of the service was something that happened when I wasn't even at the table; when I left in the middle of a course for the bathroom, three people descended on the table: one to cover my plate, one to fold my napkin, and one to switch out my utensils. Like I said, so good as to be ridiculous.

The Food


I'll start by saying that the hype and expectations for this meal were so unbelievably high, as to make it impossible for any earthly dinner to match up to it. Then again, that is the blessing and the burden of having three Michelin stars, I guess. MM and I decided to go big and went with the seven course Le Bernardin tasting menu with the wine pairing.

To start, a simple amuse-bouche came out, a crab salad with thinly sliced cauliflower. Pretty standard, nothing to call home about.

Course one was a pounded-thin yellowfin tuna served on top of foie gras and toasted baguette and topped with chives and olive oil. This was delightful with so many wonderful flavors coming together. The light fleshy tuna, at almost carpaccio thinness, by itself would have been a solid meal with the simple addition of chives and olive oil. But with the baguette adding a wonderful textural change, and the foie gras giving the flavor profile a creamy complexity, it was a really good start to the meal. Moreover, the dish was perfectly paired with the wine, a dry moscat from Sierras de Malaga, Spain called Botani, which brought out all the notes from the foie.

Next up came charred octopus with fermented black beans and a pear sauce vierge complemented by squid ink. The funny part about this meal was the description that the waiter gave to us; the black beans had been naturally fermented, which meant they had been fermented in the ground for three months. I don't know what that actually means, but the result was a fairly decent piece of octopus, texturally fun and with some nice flavor (specifically the char and the ink, which gave it a strong punch). The wine pairing was Cantina Tramin, a sauvignon blanc from Italy.

Dish three was a warm lobster carpaccio with hearts of palm and an orange vinaigrette. This was fantastic, with crisp clean flavors and a lightness and butteriness from the lobster that was made even better by the citrus. Paired with a Patz and Hall chardonnay from Sonoma, it was just such a nice bite, with that oh-so-wonderful lobster flavor that just can't be mimicked.

The next dish was my favorite of the night: seared pieces of yellowtail kingfish served with a truffle risotto and baby vegetables in a black truffle emulsion. Yes, truffles everywhere which definitely added brilliant flavors to the dish. But the kingfish was just amazingly, amazingly cooked and the emulsion brought out this wonderful savoriness from it. Texturally, the risotto's firmness balanced out the melt-in-your-mouth of the fish. With the pairing of an anjou blanc (Chateau de Suronde) from the Loire valley, it was the winner.

After that, came the crispy black bass with a lup cheong and beansprout “risotto,” and mini steamed buns, in a hoisin-plum jus. This dish had been recommended to me, and I could see why: it was classically Asian in its flavor profile, and was sort of reserved in its flavors, strong but not in an overly aggressive way. The hoisin to me was the dominant flavor, augmented well by the Vina Bosconia rioja from Lopez de Heredia, Spain, and there was a nice crisp to the fish. I think the telling thing to me on this dish however, was that in recapping the meal to a friend by memory, this was the dish I forgot. It was fine, and well-cooked, but nothing I haven't had before, and not blow-your-mind memorable.

This is in stark contrast to the next dish, a small pre-dessert: parsnip "creme brulee" with roasted hazelnut, browned milk solids, and vanilla salt. To answer your questions, yes, this dish was as cool as it sounds. The "brulee" was actually a tiny piece of parsnip that had been bruleed until it caramelized, giving it a nice sweetness. This was eye-opening, and really the only innovative dish of the night; everything else was sort of a new classic. The other portions of the dish added a different kind of sweet, more chocolate and cream. With the dessert wine, a Brachetto d’Acqui (Ca’ dei Mandorli) from Piedmont bringing out these sweet flavors, it was a perfect pre-dessert.

The final course was a maralumi milk chocolate parfait with liquid pear and gingersnap. This had strong flavors of gingersnap, but honestly, a few weeks removed from the meal, I can't remember too much detail about it. So, honestly, just not a memorable dish (pairing: Château La Rame - Reserve from Saint Croix du Mont).

Last were four mignardises, among them a chocolate bon bon, a white chocolate cup with hazelnut filling, and a beignet. These were a nice ending to a great meal.

The Verdict


Like many people told me to expect, this was a great great meal with amazing service, but definitely wasn't the best meal I ever had (probably not even the best meal this year). Still though, some really great dishes (the tuna and foie, the carpaccio, the kingfish, and the parsnip), and a great experience.

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

DCWD Travels: Bar Boulud

The Setup

Heading into NYC for a mini-vacation, I took the rare opportunity to take Official Sister of DCWD Rissa out to lunch. Since I'm not in New York that often, I decided that I wouldn't half-ass things, so I gave her a few "trendy" options for lunch (read: small places from name chefs), from which she picked Bar Boulud.

The Vibe

Bar Boulud is the namesake chef's third restaurant in New York, and is the only non-Michelin-starred of the three (Daniel has three, Cafe Boulud has one). Bar Boulud sits across from Lincoln Center, at that border between the Lower and Upper West Side, and mirrors its neighborhood in being upscale and trendy but not in an overwraught way. The restaurant very much fulfills its theme, a glass bar that's literally covered in wine bottles spans half the length of the deep dining area, and the opposite wall is decorated with framed pictures of wine stains (no really, wine stains, labeled with their vintage). The room glows from light wheat-colored wood, with booths along the aforementioned wine stain wall, and two-tops otherwise, except for one community tasting table in the back.

Service was fine, though they were very anxious to clear plates. I'm a much faster eater than Rissa, who wasn't done with her first course when they came with our second. It ended up fine (I just popped what was left in my mouth), but still, a little OZ (overzealous).

The Food


Rissa and I got sucked in by the waitress into ordering the rosemary lemonade, just because it sounded so damn intriguing. What we got was really heavy on the rosemary, like punch-you-in-the-face heavy, so the first couple of sips were a little harsh, though it got more pleasant as the meal went on.

Being as though I was sort of on a budget, considering the night's meal, we decided to go with the lunch prix fixe menu. Rissa ordered the pate grand-mere, made with liver, pork, and cognac. I still find it funny that the way our parents raised us, we don't really think twice about ordering pate and eating it as an appetizer in a very "you know, as you do" attitude. That being said, the pate was very solid; nothing crazy, but very classic.

With Rissa ordering the pate, I went with the soup du jour, a carrot ginger soup with creme fraiche. I am a known creme fraiche fiend, probably stemming from the fact that my mom will add it to anything from soups to omelets in the morning. So the generous dollop here was much appreciated, since it gave the soup a sharpness and a creaminess that was pleasant. The best parts of the soup were when I got any small bit of the creme fraiche or the ginger in my spoonful, so in that way, the soup was also solid but nothing crazy.

For her main course, Rissa had the housemade cavatelli with a lamb ragu, olives, peppers, tomato, and pecorino cheese. By now, I think the theme of the restaurant is very clear; this dish was solid in its classicness and was very good but nothing great. The pasta was in that space in between exceedingly good housemade, and perfunctory so-so. The additions were also good, with crisp clear flavors.

On my end, I ordered the grilled mahi mahi with radish, cauliflower, and muscat grapes, all in a brown butter sauce. This was delightful, wonderfully cooked fish with some brilliant sides, which really brought out earthy, country flavors. The radish was delightful, cooked so that it mimicked something almost melonlike, juicy and soft while still retaining some firmness. And obviously, I love me some brown butter sauce.

For dessert, Rissa had a coffee-chocolate parfait with chantilly-crystallized walnuts (whatever those are), an almond meringue, and chocolate-vanilla ice cream. My choice was a layered cake with pineapple gelee, ginger-citrus mousse, and pineapple sorbet. Both were similar in that they were simple, beautifully plated, and nicely sweet. Nothing too complex.

The Verdict

Solid, solid food. Lots of good dishes, with moments of greatness.

Bar Boulud on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Munchies: Sabora Street

UPDATE: THIS FOOD TRUCK IS NOW RETIRED.

Next in my constant (and probably ultimately Sisyphean) attempt to try every single food truck in DC is Sabor'a Street, a slightly newer truck serving Latin fare. Dragging Official Friends of DCWD Power and Juju along with me, we all ordered the truck's signature dish: arepas. Arepas are cornmeal cakes, in this case about a half-inch thick. In between, Sabora puts one of four different proteins: beef brisket, pulled chicken, BBQ pork, or chili-glazed tofu, all topped with pico de gallo and manchego cheese, and served with a side of fried yucca with a mix of salsa verde and lime aioli.

Like the carnivore I am, I went with the driver's suggestion of the pork. There were a lot of red flags that should have been troublemakers for me: the thickness of the cakes, the yucca, the overall greasiness. But they also turned out to be things that were secondary to the main point: this food was on point. Bright flavors, and a dish that appealed to both me and the vegetarian Power (who got the tofu). The most surprising part was the yucca Washed down with mango jarritos (a Mexican soda), it was absolutely delicious.

Taste Test:
4.5 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Breaking up that lunch routine