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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Casa Oaxaca

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup


Needing some grub and striking out with full crowds on 18th St, Official Friends of DCWD Beatrice and Stormtrooper and I headed to Casa Oaxaca.

The Vibe

Casa Oaxaca is two floors, both seemingly filled by both a red-orange color and noise. In reality, the walls are painted alternately white and an ocher red and otherwise covered by various "Mexican art" in the form of roses, crosses, sombreros, and metal lit stars above the bar. There's some framed religious art as well, and it sort of does give you the impression that you're in some cantina south of the border (at least the basement does anyway). The furniture is red and brown woodwork, which in addition to the wall color, contributes to the red-orange glow noted above. And yes, the noise, something which the older couple next to us complained about lustily. It's definitely something to deal with.

The Food


We got guacamole for the table. I think after you've had guac made in front of you at Cafe Atlantico or Oyamel, it's hard to go back. It was perfectly adequate.

For our main courses, I ordered the pato al mole (duck in a fig mole), figuring it to be a perfect marriage of the cuisine at hand and my own culinary likes. Unfortunately it was sort of a meh dish. There was a nice sweet from the fig, but that was mostly overwhelmed by the strong mole taste. Most importantly, the duck was a little overcooked, to the point that it was basically like better tasting chicken.

Beatrice ordered the goat cheese enchiladas with shrimp, served in a poblano pepper cream sauce. This was probably the winner of the night in my eyes, with the goat cheese combining with the sauce to make for an epically creamy taste sensation that was beautifully savory. The shrimp was sort of like Juwan Howard on the heat; nice in small doses, and you're okay that it's there, because it is shrimp after all, but it didn't really bring anything to the table or take anything off. Still, good cream flavor with nice clarity.

Stormtrooper ordered the simplest of the three dishes, a chicken breast in a mole poblano. After the other two, this faded in the memory as just something that was. The mole was solid if unremarkable, the chicken cooked fine but not perfectly. Definitely more of the same adequate-for-the-moment food.

For dessert, we ordered churros. Honestly, I grew up on Costco churros, and my affection for them is undying. So when these were probably no better than that memory, I was a little nonplussed.

The Verdict


Decent if you want Mexican. I'm not sure I would go out of my way for it though.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Party in the USA
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: I'm not above saying I played on the playground at the Marie Reed Learning Center. I also might have been drunk, but I think that's beside the point. Playgrounds are fun.

Casa Oaxaca on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Munchies: Standard

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


It was our first dinner as official residents of the area, and so Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan and I wanted to celebrate as big as we could. So with it being 5pm on a Wednesday, we decided to head to a place we could normally not get a seat: Standard, the new beer garden on 14th Street.

The Vibe

Standard represents the picture perfect beer garden, not the least of which because it occupies the old Garden District space on 14th Street. Out front and caged in by a tall iron fence is the garden patio space, covered fairly well by umbrellas. Seating consists of picnic bench tables and one high table that sits six across in the center of the space. The inside of the restaurant is vaguely reminiscent of a Belgian bar, with clean white shelving holding the beer glasses, golden beer taps, and bar seating.

The Food


The only other time I was in a beer garden was in the venerable though commercialized Hofbrauhaus in Munich. On that occasion, two liters of beer led to a very nice veg out session in the Olympic Park. Emboldened by that past experience, I peer pressured Rajistan into getting a liter of the Hofbrau lager with me... a liter I wouldn't even be able to finish. Weaksauce, Kim.

Standard serves barbecue in addition to its beer, so we each ordered a sandwich and a side: for me a barbecued brisket with hush puppies, for Rajistan pulled pork and slaw with buttermilk onion rings. In many ways, Standard compares directly with fellow neighborhood bar American Ice Company, since they both are beer and bbq purveyors. By that metric, I have to declare Standard slightly ahead, with their buns being just that much more buttery and the barbecue a skooch more flavorful. Of particular note was my brisket, which was very nice with a good tang.

As for the sides, the onion rings were a little more on the boring side for some reason (I don't know that the buttermilk was better or worse than other onion rings) The hush puppies were sort of the same, best described as "the sort of hush puppies one might reasonably expect in the South." I'm sure my Yankee taste buds just weren't too excited about it.

The Verdict


A nice chill place to relax and get beer in quantity... if you can score a seat at all.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Party in the USA
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Standard on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sushi Taro

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #24, Washingtonian 2010 #15, Washington Post 2009 and 2010 Dining Guide
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Needing a one-one-one catch-up dinner with Official Friend of DCWD Madison, we headed up toward Dupont in mind to snag a dinner at Hank's Oyster Bar (after months in South Sudan, Madison was desperately craving mussels). But passing Sushi Taro, we decided that high quality raw fish and Japanese cuisine was just as good.

The Vibe

Sushi Taro has the unenviable spot of sitting on top of a CVS. Because of that, it's a restaurant that you would miss every time you walked down the street if you didn't already know it was there. Behind a narrow door by the alley behind the pharmacy is a set of stairs that lead you to the restaurant, which takes up the entire second floor. The restaurant is themed much like you'd expect a Japanese restaurant would be, with touches that recall stereotypical sumo-wrestler wardrobes, with dominant themes of wood, straight lines, and quasi-rice paper and straw shades. The dining area starts with a small bar section in front (where we sat for this meal), followed by two parallel rows (of booths and two-tops respectively) along a corridor leading to a larger section in back. On this night, that part was sectioned off by (what else) a Japanese room divider. Lighting is dim, and the whole feel is very sleek, though the section in the back looks a little more lively than the rest.

The Food


Feeling particularly hungry, we skipped the omakase menu in favor of small plates, which seem to dominate the menu at Sushi Taro. First out was our combined choice of toro. After my first encounter with toro, prepared five ways at Sushi-Ko, I've craved fatty tuna in every sushi restaurant since. It's almost to me the ultimate litmus test: can they source the right tuna? Can the present it in a way that brings out new flavors but doesn't hide the brilliance of the ingredient? Can they being innovative while showing restraint? By the metric, the toro was good but not great. They took nothing off the table, but put nothing on it either.

Next were Madison's choices, among them a fried tofu in dashi sauce. I have a not-so-secret love of tofu, and like in very particular ways; if it's a hot preparation I love it fried so that the outside is that wonderful crispy-fleshy combo while the inside melts in your mouth. In this instance, it was a little more fleshy than crispy, but the texture consistency of it was spot on, and the flavoring given to it by the sauce was enjoyable.

Coming at the same time was simmered baby squid in umami. This was probably the disappointment of the night for both of us. This wasn't helped by the fact that it definitely was not what we were expecting. Rather than the calamari or squid textures that we've had, these baby squid came whole and with the simmering had taken on a texture much like eating a softened cherry tomato but with a paste inside. Its room temperature serving also didn't do much for it either.

Last of Madison's initial choice was the tuna tartare with yuzu. This wasn't anything mindblowing, not the least of which because it's not exactly a brilliant change from the norm. But it neither disappointed nor amazed, which in some instances is all you really want out of tuna tartare in the first place. Especially after the squid, it was a degree of welcome normalcy.

The next round were my choices. First, a braised pork belly, served in a small pot with sweetened soy sauce, a peeled radish, and baby bok choy. Growing up Asian, you end up eating pork belly in so many different ways, and the braise/barbecue version is pretty prevalent in the household. That being said, I liked that this version wasn't overwhelming, as braises can often be left unchecked, but allowed the fat flavors to come to the forefront while also playing up strong flavors of soy. Wasn't the best pork belly ever, but definitely a good braised version.

Last for me was my order of charcoal grilled beef tongue, with sesame oil and citrus ponzu sauces. After my mindblowing encounter with beef tongue at Manzo at Eataly, I'd been chasing the beef tongue experience again. This was fine, firmer and chewier than my previous experience, which was disappointing, since the melt-in-your-mouth texture was what I had enjoyed so much. But the preparation paired the tongue and sauces well, and it was a pleasant dish.

Having gone to a sushi restaurant, we decided some amount of sushi was needed, so we ordered a rainbow roll - tuna, salmon, avocado, spicy tuna, and yellowtail all in one aggressive maki roll. I think at this point you can sort of get the idea of where I'm heading with this: it was good sushi, but not great. Fresh ingredients, but nothing beyond the imagination.

The Verdict


Maybe it would have been different with the omakase menu, but for me, it was a lot of good but just nothing amazing, something strange for a so-rated Top 25 restaurant in DC.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Old idea, new exhibit. Head to the National Geographic building for their new exhibit Race to the End of the Earth, chronicling the journey to the North Pole.

Sushi Taro on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Munchies: Austin Grill Truck

UPDATE: THIS FOOD TRUCK IS NOW RETIRED. 

Craving some quick eats at lunchtime, I ventured out to Farragut Square to survey my options and found the Austin Grill Truck. Where other brick-and-mortar places sat and complained about the rise of food trucks stealing their business, Austin Grill went on the attack, serving their typical burrito and chips fare in mobile form during the day time.

On this trip, I ordered the grilled skirt steak burrito, which was basically fine. Had someone rewrapped it and told me they had brought it from Chipotle, I probably would've been convinced that that was the case. I wasn't expecting it to wow me, so by that metric, it was exactly what I looking for. I admit that I've never had the sitdown version, so this is no commentary on their burrito. But on this scale, this is a truck that I would eat from if it was there, but not one I would chase around.

Taste Test:
2 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Days you can't find a Qdoba or Chipotle within shooting distance

Thursday, June 16, 2011

First Look: Tackle Box, Cleveland Park

UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED. 

We'd previously reviewed Tackle Box in its original spot in Georgetown next to Hook. We were on hand for the opening of the Cleveland Park location. So here's a short "first look" at what's the same and what's different. On hand for this occasion were Official Friends of DCWD Swizzle and Texas.

The Vibe
You can read the long-form in the links above, but here's the short version. The vibe of the original Tackle Box is that of a seafood shack that just washed up onto M Street from the beach, replete with hanging buoys and picnic benches. This perfectly mirrors Hook's upscale white-cloth atmosphere next door. So I was more than a little confused by its introduction into the Cleveland Park neighborhood, where white cloth dominates (see: Dino, Palena, and new Medium Rare).

So how does Tackle Box the sequel bridge that gap? In a way, it doesn't. It cleans itself up a little, grafting the beach shack theme onto the typical post-warehouse riff, which makes it seem like a nautical version of Comet Ping Pong (in that casual, but not-too-casual, cleaned-up-but-still-themed restaurant decor, but, you know, with concrete). Tackle Box - CP also benefits from two significant differences: a second floor balcony with additional seating, and a long bar alongside the right side of the restaurant (with what seems like the register, a raw bar, and alcohol of course). Seating is still mostly picnic benches that run in the middle of the dining area, and counter seating along the left side. The food counter sits in the rear.

The Food


The addition of alcohol can't be understated, because it gives the restaurant a fighting chance at being a hangout place, which frankly is the only way I can see that Tackle Box can fill that much space with the kind of clientele they invited to the opening (which as far as I can tell, was mostly young professionals that lived nowhere near the area with a few locals). Between the three of us, we had the Cleveland Park lemonade (citrus vodka, sour, soda), Starboard Punch (Bacardi limon, citrus vodka, house fruit punch), and the Island Rickey (gin, pineapple juice, sour). They were all fairly refreshing and a nice compliment to the seafood.

The dinner provided was oysters and half-lobsters (you can't fault them for being cheap, that's for sure). Sadly, by the time we got there, the oysters were gone, so we resorted to stealing a couple from a neighbor. Honestly, I thought they were a little dry, if that makes any sense, lacking that wonderful brine that freshly shucked oysters always bring.

As for the lobster, it was nice with that solid grilled flavor and the coleslaw was a very good creamy version. The question has to be asked though if you could mess up lobster. Still, the entrees lined up well with the Georgetown version, which was good considering the kitchen was presumably still working out their kinks. In fact the only major problem was the grilled asparagus spears, which left something to be desired.

The Verdict


A different sort of restaurant for the neighborhood, and a definitely weird clientele they were trying to pitch to, but definitely worth a drop by if you want that middle-class middle ground between fast food and sit-down.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

Tackle Box on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cafe Saint-Ex

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


In celebration of Official Friend of DCWD Madison's return from parts Sudanese, a group of us decided to meet up for a welcome-back brunch at Saint-Ex.

The Vibe

Saint-Ex, like its sister and neighbor Bar Pilar, is something out of the 1920s. Its inside is a recall to a speakeasy or at least a European bistro, with art deco posters, a crimson tiled ceiling, chalkboard menus, and ornate woodwork above the bar. The walls are colored in a golden-copper earth tone, and decorated with an airplane theme; a few propellers are set above the wide mirrored bar, and to one side is a set of wall clocks set to different world times. The lighting seems to vary from dim to dark at any time after 2pm, and seating is basically bar seats or booths. Except for the large patio outside, where we sat for this meal.

The Food


Of note in our brunch were three dishes. First was mine, the Dot's Strata: a casserole of eggs, chicken confit, spinach, and manchego cheese with greens. It was tasty and fluffy, with a lightness that was nice and a nice salt from the chicken. In many ways, it was a solid brunch dish, bridging the gap between the traditional wake-up and the savory lunch.

Second was Madison's roasted beet salad, with watercress, grapefruit two ways, feta, and a fennel dressing. This was a wonderful update on a classic, with the grapefruit providing a tart flavor on the one hand, but also a crunch texture difference, from the crispy dried grapefruit in the salad. The beets were fresh and the whole was light and creamy.

Last, was the creamy grits, advertised by some of our fellow diners. I was a slow convert to grits, but have turned 180 on them from my original "what is this?" thoughts. These grits weren't as creamy as some others at our table expressed, missing the butteriness I crave so much in other grits. But they were definitely a tasty version of the dish.

The Verdict


Solid food, definitely worth a repeat, especially as a neighborhood place.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Check out the 2011 Source Festival at the Source Theater down the street. Fun 10-minutes plays, and other assorted cabaret acts aplenty.

Cafe Saint-Ex on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Munchies: Shake Shack

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

There are two truths to think about when considering Shake Shack. One, I find that people are disproportionately biased about the things they can call their own almost exclusively because they can call them their own: their city, their sports team, their restaurant scene. This is something entirely obvious but often forgotten. It's also something that feeds directly into Manhattanites' obsession with Shake Shack. The other truth is that Americans as a whole are constantly infatuated by things that are new, things that other people talk about, and waiting in long lines. By this metric, the opening of Shake Shack in the old Fuddrucker's space on Connecticut Avenue was something beyond monumental.

On our way to a bar further up the street but needing dinner, Official Friend of DCWD Noah and I popped in to check out the hype.

This might be my own DC inferiority complex speaking, but it seems at first blush that Shake Shack's entire interior is designed to remind you how much better the chain and its home city is than the space that it occupies. The decor is a convergence of brick, wood, and metal, with farmhouse x-es bordering black slat-like bars. Lighting is provided in too-hip neon and track lighting, and two flat screen TVs (which were flickering constantly when we went). The order counter sits in front, advertising Shake Shack's house wine and craft beer (I mean, really, Shake Shack label wine?), with seating in the back. In this rear section, there are two levels; the lower filled with colorful wood furniture and bench seating, the upper a sort of balcony overtop near the open vent ceiling.

I was in sort of a pickle. Heading for a beer afterwards, it seemed like a bad idea to have a milkshake. It also seemed blasphemous to not have the eponymous shake. I settled on just a single burger.

As for the burger, well, it was basically like a really good someone's-backyard-barbecue burger, with a nice burn char on the outside, and a nice fresh taste to it, but lacking in that critical juiciness that other high-end burgers have. It's comparable, if less peanuty, to a Five Guys burger. Which to me means that it was good, just probably not worth the hype. And as I tweeted that day, I don't get it. BGR is just up the street. Why do we need all these NYC imports (Crumbs, Serendipity, Carmine's, et. al) when we have plenty of the exact same but better locals?

Still, with Rogue States gone, I guess it's by default the burger domain of south-of-the-circle Dupont.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 10, 2011

Circa

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Three locations: Dupont Circle, Clarendon, and soon Foggy Bottom

The Setup

Brunch time for me and Official Friend of DCWD Rajistan. On the hunt for something new, we wandered up towards Dupont before settling on Circa.

The Vibe

Circa has always been to me the restaurant with the patio. If you've ever been on Q St at the north end of the circle you know what I mean, a restaurant spot with an oh-so-enviable location and a patio right in the thick of it. In fact, from the outside, it seems that half the dining area is the patio, its vermilion canopy, and its black basket furniture.

On the inside is a marble bar, backlit orange, and which runs the backside of the dining area, and a complementary long bar table in the middle of the space. The rest of the inside is ocher and mustard yellow leather furniture, cream walls, and what could be considered a mix between trendy and high class. At the bar are TVs set to ESPN and chalkboard menus next to a wine cooler wall atop the circle booths to one side.

The Food


It being brunch, there are pretty much only a few options worth exploring (read: basically eggs, or French toast, or pancakes). In this instance, they had three of three, so we settled on each ordering one of the first two. Rajistan had the omelet Lorraine, a mix of the traditional French flavors of ham, leek, and gruyere. Perfectly adequate might be the only way to describe it. Put another way, it was neither overwhelmingly good or underwhelmingly simple; it was just well, whelming.

On the other hand was my corn-flake crusted banana-stuffed French toast, served with bourbon maple syrup and a self-ordered side of chicken sausage. I've talked before about my McGriddles theory on certain foods, and this was definitely one instance. In short, the first bite elicited a reaction of: well I guess this is a really interesting flavor. Bite five sends forth a feeling of: okay, this crunch is getting sort of annoying really. The penultimate bites are then something like, wow, okay, this is just not fun anymore.

The Verdict


I've had decent meals there before; this one was just sort of eh. Maybe brunch just isn't their thing.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Grab some yummy groceries for the post-brunch dinner at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market on Sundays.

Circa on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

El Centro D.F.

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


The last time Official Friend of DCWD Jersey Mike was in town, I accidentally directed him onto the Dulles Toll Road in an effort to turn around on 66. In fact, our entire relationship has been defined by misadventures. So when he realized his girlfriend SF had never been to DC, and that we hadn't seen each other in almost four years, he immediately came on down for another misadventure. In search of a place for dinner, we walked up 14th Street until we hit brand new restaurant El Centro D.F.

The Vibe

I got the announcement of El Centro D.F. opening while I was in Zambia and upon reading it thought, "Wait, this sounds familiar. A Richard Sandoval restaurant just opened on 14th Street that will serve Latin food and a wide variety of tequilas on its rooftop patio?" Seriously, strip away the Kaz Okochi from Masa 14... and what's left?

Decor-wise though, El Centro is on the opposite end of the spectrum from its sister restaurant a few buildings away. El Centro takes the "converted factory space" that is so ubiquitous in new restaurants nowadays (perhaps nowhere more so than U Street) and takes it to its extreme. The ground floor, which is the taqueria portion is mostly repurposed wood and unfinished walls. The exposed ceiling vents hang side by side with gaslight bulbs set in what seem like DIY wood light fixtures.

On this trip, we didn't venture upstairs to the patio or downstairs to the tequileria, and mainly stayed in the front bar-seat section. Overall, the seating in the taqueria moves transitions in seriousness from the desperately short bar seating in the front window (maybe two feet off the ground, and people kept knocking them over), to more high bar tables and a wall bar (more conventionally sized), to eventually a line of two-tops in the back opposite the open kitchen. From what I could tell, the whole front section was basically first-come-first-serve, and there might be some charm in eating tacos on seats more comfortable for kindergartners. Maybe.

The Food

To be clear, there's a lot of interesting things on the menu, all of which tempted me in varying ways: grilled chayote? Nopal? Beef tongue? Experimental is the word here.

That being said, I wanted to go by what the waiter suggested, so I started with the grilled skirt steak huaraches, or as the server described, basically the Mexican version of pizza. I don't know about that, but at least he was close: a corn masa flatbread topped with steak, caramelized onions, cilantro, black bean, Mexican cheeses, a house sour cream, and salsa roja. I don't much care for corn tortillas (which is neither a commentary on the quality of this flatbread, nor is it something that changes how corn tortillas are par for the course at El Centro, but it is what it is), but this helped make me a little more amenable to it. Definitely an interesting flavor bite, and the steak was cooked well, tender and mixing well with the sour cream.

Jersey Mike ordered a starter of queso fundido for the group, which came as literal melted Oaxaca, Chihuahua, and Monterey cheeses (not the liquid fondue consistency of say, nacho cheese) with tortillas for dipping and a variety of salsas. Par for the course I would say.

For my main course, I again went with the server's suggestion of the chicken zarape, a piece of chicken breast topped with bacon, panela and cotija cheeses, pico de gallo, chipotle sauce, and crema fresca with sides of refried black beans, and creamy white rice. I would say the chicken was fair, definitely again cooked well and avoided the dreaded let's-cook-this-chicken-till-its-sucked-dry disease. Though like the queso fundido, I would say that it was nothing too unexpected, solid if unremarkable flavors. The real standout for me was the creamy rice which was out-of-this-world. If I could have that in a bowl every night, I'd be a happy man.

For their parts, Jersey Mike and SF both ordered enchiladas, the former having beef barbacoa with brisket, crema fresca, and entomatada sauce with Mexican rice and black beans, while the latter had jalisco shrimp and crab with oaxaca cheese, corn, rajas, and crema fresca, with sides of plaintains, and cilantro rice. Jersey Mike was effusive in his praise for the brisket and SF was similarly pleased with her cilantro rice as I was with mine. All in all though, they were more of the same trend: solid food but nothing spectacular.

The Verdict

For one, it is a new restaurant and with that comes certain ups and downs (one coworker who I talked to after the meal was vociferously particular in her opinion that the food she had there was terrible). That being said, this meal was perfectly adequate and it's definitely worth a second look (especially as we're moving into the neighborhood).

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: El Centro seems like the kind of place that can be one big date: the tequileria for a pre-dinner drink, the taqueria for the meal, and the rooftop deck for a nightcap.

El Centro D.F. on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Munchies: Upper Crust Pizzeria

Official Friend of DCWD Jay and I wandered over down the street looking for a workday lunch, knowing that a new pizza place had opened up down the block. What we found was the Upper Crust Pizzeria, a Boston export located on Pennsylvania Avenue a block from the White House.

The space is small, but with a number of window bar seats, a five-seat actual bar, and some two-tops in the back by the kitchen. Pizza pans hang from the ceiling alongside track lighting above the wood floor. Pop music plays aloud as people queue up waiting for their orders to bake (and wait you will, if you get anything more than a slice, which I did on this trip.

I ordered myself a large Georgetown, since it seemed like the most interesting thing on the menu. A pie covered in veal parmesan, mozzarella, marinara, and weirdly tiny basil strips, the pie was a decent bite, but definitely a workday lunch sort of pizza, not a dinner pizza on the level of Comet Ping Pong or 2 Amy's.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Urbana, Part Deux

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Urbana the first time around for the blog was, to put it mildly, sort of a shit show. And yet, the place had come so highly recommended and I'd had such good times there before, that it felt weird to pan it so much. Then again, in all honesty, that had been my experience for that particular meal. But, informed that the chef and management had just transitioned a few weeks prior, and that Urbana had just released their new brunch menu a few weeks after my visit, I thought it worth a second look.

I've often thought about what happens if I go back somewhere. Do I write about it again, and if so, is it only if it's phenomenally different from the first go-round? It'll probably be more case-by-case from here on out (I mean how many times can I impress upon people that I really liked Estadio?), but on this one, spoiler alert: it was a much different experience.

This trip subbed in Official Friends of DCWD Rajistan and Chill.

The Vibe

On this trip, we sat on the actual restaurant side, a mix of interesting decorative elements even on the walls themselves, ranging from emerald green brick tile to marble walls, to something looking vaguely like rust-colored wallpaper. Wood floors lead to curved chocolate brown furniture, and there are similar bronzed landscapes of European cities.

The service, which was almost entirely the problem with our last go-round was much improved, with a friendly attentive server. Importantly, it didn't seem, as last time, that anyone was dissatisfied with their service, so that was definitely a plus.

The Food


The purpose of this second trip was to explore this new brunch menu, and even a cursory glance shows that this version is way more extensive and more adventurous, albeit only in a few cases.

Case in point, my ordering of the most exciting dish from the brand new small plates section: Rappahannock oysters topped with passion fruit, lime, and yellow peppers. Do people even eat oysters at brunch normally? That being said, it was the single most interesting combination on the menu, so by default I had to try it. This was the kind of dish that I was hoping for and expecting in Round 1: interesting, unique combinations, bright clean flavors, and a refreshing start to my day. The oyster itself was fresh, and its clarity was augmented by the crisp citrus tart. A superlative dish in my opinion.

For the actual meal, we all had actual brunch items. I had the three egg omelet, which comes with a selection of any of the following items: mushrooms, spinach, onion, tomato, chorizo, bacon, roasted peppers, cheddar, and goat cheese. I picked them all (a first according to the waiter). This meant my omelette was approximately the size of a house(totally my fault, but totally a great decision), and it was actually pretty good otherwise. A sort of Forrest Gump-omelette: with each bite, you never knew what you were going to get. The crispy potatoes that came with it were fantastic too.

Chill had the eggs Benedict. It's a classic, and it doesn't seem too hard to accomplish for a professional kitchen, but the previous time, my poached eggs came cooked through. This time, they were cooked well, and in general the eggs Benny were par for the course: nothing spectacular, but a very solid dish.

For his part, Rajistan tackled the dish I had problems with last time: steak and eggs. This time the goat cheese and basil and roasted red peppers were gone, and in its place was a hollandaise sauce and french fries. This switch, despite my fondness for the previous ingredients, was good with the hollandaise adding a nice savory and creamy aspect that wasn't there before. This time the steak was also cooked to the medium that Rajistan ordered, and was tender. And like the crispy potatoes with our dishes, Rajistan's fries were a flavorful and welcome addition.

Somehow, despite being stuffed, we were talked into a dessert, splitting a pots du creme: chocolate cream with a hazelnut anglaise and a side of almond biscotti. This was a wonderful dessert, a rich chocolate flavor that wasn't overwhelming with a hazelnut flavor that was oh-so-pleasant. If anything, I wish I could just have the anglaise over and over again.

The Verdict


A vast improvement on the last venture, and a brunch that was always solid and sometimes superlative.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

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