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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Againn, Part Deux

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.

This week's Part Deux sees us return to Irish gastropub Againn, with Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and the Official Family of DCWD.

The Food


It being a group of six, we got a number of dishes, a bunch of which Madison and I had ordered on my first trip. To start, Texas and I split the steamed mussels, in a yellow curry and creme fraiche broth. Served with large chunks of grilled bread, it was a great bowl of mussels with mostly a creamy sensation with just a little bit of heat. Just as it was the first time with Madison, maybe not the best mussels in DC, but definitely a good bowl.

Official Parents of DCWD DV and MV split two appetizers: the first, the beetroot salad with orange, pickled fennel, ricotta salata, spiced walnuts and a honey dressing. The second, on my suggestion, was the braised honeycomb tripe with chorizo, soffritto, fried bread crumbs, and mint leaves. Again, just as it was on my first trip, this was amazing. Savory and rich, with beautiful crunch.

MV and DV's second appetizer was the third repeat of the night: the beetroot salad with orange, pickled fennel, ricotta salata, spiced walnuts, and honey dressing. I hadn't tried this the first time, and it didn't do anything special for me this time either; a pretty standard salad that could be duplicated elsewhere.

The fourth repeat was my entree which I had craved so consistently since then, a sizable piece of pork belly with pork cracklings on white grits, and braised cabbage in a pork broth. The pig worship of this dish aside, the main selling points were still here: the sizable piece of well-cooked pork, the textural shift between smooth, creamy grits, and crisp, savory cracklings, and the overall warmth of the dish. Perhaps a little overcooked on the cracklings side, and missing some of the bitter greens from the last time, but still satisfying.

Unluckily, the repeat trip to Againn wasn't all repeats. The rest of the table went pescetarian, ordering some combination of three fish dishes.  Dish one was a pan seared trout on a summer vegetable ratatouille. This was probably the best of the three, but DV and MV disagreed on what exactly was wrong with it; they both came down on its level of salt, which drained away any freshness that the ingredients promised.

Dish two was a black grouper on beluga lentils and Swiss chard in romesco sauce, and one that Texas ordered. For all of its potential and flavor, this dish suffered in execution, namely the amount of grit in the lentils that went uncleaned. This meant an unpleasant bite for Texas, and a pain that lingered for days afterwards. It certainly changed her opinion from a previously highly-thought-of restaurant to one she might hesitate to visit again.

The last dish was a roasted cod on cannellini beans with shaved celery and preserved lemon. For me, this dish was bland, incredibly reductive in its flavor profile as it paired a mild preparation of fish with mild sides to the point that you had lemon and you had salt, and that was it. My 11-year-old brother liked it, but I'm not sure I did.

Fortunately, dessert was a bit of a rebound, though in retrospect, was slightly unmemorable.


Caribou ordered a panna cotta with something resembling ginger snap cookies, while my brother went with the cornbread cake with house ice cream.

 
Both were flavorful, and from what I recall, built off simple hearty flavors in interesting ways. Still, the best dessert was the one Texas and I split, the basic combination of cookie crunch and vanilla cream and chocolate in a mason jar. Perhaps it was something straight outta Carvel, but it was satisfying.

The Verdict

Good when it sticks to its roots, maybe not so much when it's seafood. Slight downgrade from before.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Blue Duck Tavern, Part Deux

This Part Deux revisits Blue Duck Tavern, this time for brunch with Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas.

The Food


I'd heard amazing things about the brunch at Blue Duck, and so it'd always been on the list for us, but the additional benefit was Blue Duck's commitment to naming the farm that its meats come from. This is a particular imperative for my attempt to broaden pescetarian Texas's acceptable list; as some pescetarians, her objection to meat is industrial factory farming, and provided that its locally-sourced and from a sustainable local farm, it's a possibility for her.

So on this trip, she picked the dish I had been eying: the short rib hash with olive oil and horseradish. Sometimes hash is overly salty, or the meat is just very plain. This suffered from neither of those problems, with a light hash stemming from amazingly tender short rib meat. With some bite coming from some daubs of horseradish, this was just a beautiful meal.

For my part, I ordered eggs benedict, except this version replaced Canadian bacon with a pheasant creppinette. Eggs benedict is one of those dishes that is exceptionally easy in construction, but also easy to screw up. Luckily, this was pitch perfect on every level from the wonderfully savoriness from the sausage to the divine sauce. It almost made me wish everyone would replace ham with sausage for the dish.

Feeling on a good streak, we ordered dessert to share, and boy are we glad we did. Out came a straight-from-the-oven tin of nectarines and blackberries with almond crumble and topped with creme fraiche. I never knew it before that moment, but that was what I had always wanted. Sweet, crunchy, but light, it was a welcome end to a great meal.

The Verdict


The brunch is worth all of the hype. Hands down amazing, and maybe the best brunch in DC.

Food Rating: *****
(out of 5)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Munchies: Codmother

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup


Having danced around it since we moved in months ago, Official Roommates of DCWD Talia and Rajistan and I headed to Codmother.

The Vibe


If you didn't know it was there, you would think that Codmother was actually the downstairs portion of Touchdown, the sports bar above it; its door is tucked behind Touchdown's stairs, and its pub decor is fairly similar. It tries very much to be a British pub, and it succeeds. Its basement status gives it that subterranean feel, with both exposed brick and wood paneling on the walls. Framed pictures of WWII posters and newspapers align open spaces, as do a pair of lifesize, stand-in-front-of-them-for-a-photo angel wings. As you walk in, a steady stream of punk music plays overhead, there's a small six-seat bar to the back left, and some bar seating in the front window, but otherwise seating is two-tops in groups of twos.

The Food

To say that the food selection is limited at Codmother would be an understatement (and intentionally so): three entrees, two desserts, three sides, three beers on draft and four on tap. We chose two between the three of us: fish and chips, and a platter with fried shrimp, mussels, and cod; each dish also came with a side of mushy peas (exactly what they sound like: a mush of peas), and I had ordered myself a Wexford Irish Cream.

Things take time to get to you, but they come out piping hot. As for the quality of the food, I guess it depends on your tolerance for grease. To be sure, there is a certain amount of oiliness that comes hand-in-hand with fish and chips, but sometimes it's really a lot. As the only one of us three to have been to the UK, Rajistan didn't think it measured up to the street food he'd had there. Still, for $8, all of us got so much food that we all had leftovers.

The Verdict


Definitely good for a late night, or quick-pick-up, but not.

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vidalia

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2011 #13, Washingtonian 2010 #12, Washingtonian 2009 #7, Washingtonian 2008 #8, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry Top 50 2009
Neighborhood: K Street, Farragut/Dupont Circle

The Setup


For our date night this Restaurant Week, Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I headed to one of my favorite DC restaurants, Vidalia, former home of Rogue 24's R.J. Cooper, and owned by Jeff Buben of Bistro Bis.

The Vibe


Vidalia sits completely underground, down a set of stairs that exits into the lounge side of the restaurant. Entirely black with brown accents, its a sleek six seat bar followed by a row of tables, and then a set of lounge couches leading to a walk-in wine cooler.

On the flipside of a glass divider is the main dining area, a room bathed in cream and cocoa brown, full of clean and modern lines. Seating in this area is a row of half-booths along the divider, a row of twos, and then a set of half-circle booths. Off to one side is a side room, which seems to be completely orange and to the back is a raised level, where we sat for this meal.

The Food

To start, Texas and I each had a cocktail, her the Charleston tea (Firefly, hum herbal liqueur, ginger ale) and me a classic mint julep. Perhaps mine was true to form, but hers was absolutely to die for, just the right amount of sweet and sharp.

These came with our bread course, which was notable in that it was cornbread and an onion focaccia and was served with marmalade. This was followed quickly by a small amuse-bouche: a small and forgettable tartlet that struggles to stand out in my memory.

For my first course, I ordered the pork posole, a stew made with hominy maize, peppers, cabbage, cilantro, and lime, topped with pork cracklings. It was rich and unctuous while retaining some gritty texture from the maize base, with some nice heat and amazing textural contrast from the cracklings. Honestly, I wish I had more of them. Overall, it was interesting while being somewhat traditional.

Texas had the lemon ricotta ravioli, stuffed with summer squash and toasted almonds, and topped with basil and tomato butter. There was a lot to love about this dish. For one, it was a lovely summer bite: strong flavors from the lemon and the squash, creaminess from the cheese, but still overall very light. In contrast to mine, it was more refreshing than filling.

Unfortunately, the meal took a slight turn for our entrees. I had the braised barbecue short rib with cornbread puree, heirloom carrots, and turnips. The best thing I could say about the dish was that it was alright; but as everyone knows, fine is the worst adjective; it is neither horrible nor memorable. The beef was cooked well, but was exceedingly one note.

Texas ordered the chicken-fried quail with butterbean-corn succotash, tomatoes, okra, and scallions, with a sweet pepper relish. This was slightly better than the rib, by virtue of being more interesting, but was perhaps no more memorable. In this instance, the quail was a little stringy and the chicken fry didn't add much to the dish.

Dessert was slightly better. I had a grasshopper torte, a piece of white chocolate-mint mousse with a feuilletine crunch and bittersweet chocolate. It was pleasant, like biting into a chunk of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Though that was pretty much it. Enjoyable, but only in its small portion form.

Texas had the peach-blackberry crisp topped with a pecan-oatmeal streusel and peach-buttermilk mousse. This was a little bit better, fresh with some needed crunch. In a night where a few things missed the mark, it was at least "distinctly Southern."

The Verdict


Definitely down a notch after Cooper's departure. Still good and worth a visit, but not the treasure it used to be.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Business
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: It's Shear Madness time at the Kennedy Center Theater Lab. Head over to the iconic theater, and finish the night on the rooftop with a beautiful Potomac view.

Vidalia on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2941, Part Deux

This Part Deux revisits one of my favorite restaurants, 2941. On this trip, I took Official Roommate of DCWD Talia, and Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas.

(editor's note: still no photos. Sorry.)

The Food

The reason for this trip was the rare appearance of 2941 on the RW dinner list. For her first course, Texas ordered the chilled coconut melon soup with shrimp, and spiced with Thai chili and lemongrass. Despite the fact that she is not normally a chilled soup kind of girl, she very much enjoyed it. Just enough heat to produce an interesting profile of piquant - of which the lemongrass shown through the most - but not enough to be overpowering. Lovely dish.

On our end, Talia and I ordered the heirloom tomato salad, a simple preparation with sheep's ricotta, black olive oil, and sherry vinegar; I also opted for the $4 upcharge for a fried zucchini blossom stuffed with crab. And whoa, was it worth it. Chef Chamel does an amazing job of letting great ingredients speak for themselves, and this dish was a perfect example of that. The preparation was simple but the flavors were pitch perfect, clear and simple and deliciously light. And the fried blossom was nothing short of divine, the perfect savory summertime counterpoint to the sweetness of the tomatoes

For her main course, Texas had the yellow corn risotto with smoked mushrooms, arugala, and goat cheese. To our minds, it was one of the better risottos we've all ever had, with different parts intriguing different people. For Texas, it was the mushrooms and the way they crafted a perfect August meal; for me the risotto and cheese blended in a luscious and creamy goodness that was perfectly done.

For my part, I had the duck duo, one part smoked dumpling and one part roasted breast, served with black mission figs and scallions in a bacon-soy vinaigrette. As evidenced by my last entry, we also had a duck duo on our first trip to 2941, though the difference in seasons accounted for the difference in preparation. The dumplings were okay, simple with some decent flavor from the meatball within the pasta, but it was the duck breast that stood out. Perfectly cooked, its fattiness combined really well with the sweet from the figs; the dish represented the classic combination fairly well. And for those of you wondering: the bacon-soy vinaigrette was a non-factor

Talia ordered the steamed sea bass, served on top of a tomato risotto with gold cherry tomatoes and a lovage coulis. The success of this dish was a matter of opinion, namely between myself and Talia. I liked its simplicity, the way that the kitchen didn't try to overcomplicate an otherwise excellent piece of fish and instead let it play off the tomatoes. Talia wanted more complexity, or at least more flavor. Still, we both agreed that it was a lovely summer dish, unctuous but light for an entree.

For dessert, the girls both had the molten chocolate cake, with a peppermint creme anglaise and chocolate ice cream. To Texas, she appreciated the purity of the chocolate, which resulted in a bitterness that worked well with the mint flavors of the creme. It was rich for sure, but definitely a good representation of the kind of quality that Anthony Chavez can produce.

Myself, I ordered the bourbon brioche pudding with caramelized yellow peaches and butter pecan ice cream. Now, admittedly I am a bread pudding fiend, the product of growing up in a household where my mother didn't make anything close to it (I didn't even know bread pudding was a thing until a few years ago). But this dish's flavor profile featured all things I love: brioche, pecans, alcohol. Once again, it was a wonderful dance of bitter and sweet, of intoxicating and oh-so-pleasant.

The Verdict


As always, an amazing meal from 2941. Lived up to my memory of it, and still one of my Top 5 restaurants in DC.

Food Rating: *****
(out of 5)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Munchies: Greek Deli

This week's Monday Munchies takes us to one of the "best little takeout places that no one but also everyone knows about" in Greek Deli. Sandwiched in a skinny storefront next to Nooshi, the Greek Deli is most notable for its daily weekday line out the door.

Inside is a simple takeout counter in the back, with some coolers and shelving on one side, and a frame wall of reviews and the obligatory presidential portraits on the others (they, like every customer, are referred to by the collective term "my friends"). On this trip, I ordered the gyro platter: a gyro, orzo, and the vegetable of the day (on this day, some lovely stewed green beans and peas. To say this was delicious would be an understatement. Scrumptious meat on the gyro, with a generally refreshing feeling to it, and the orzo was definitely can't-get-enough.

Taste Test:
4 Forks (out of 5)
Perfect for: Workday lunch... if you have time to wait.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bibiana, Part Deux

Last January, it was a dinner at Bibiana that inspired me to start this blog (the Hook post came first, but it was Bibiana that started that week). And so, this is our first update to a previous review. We'll use the opportunity to look at if the food is still good, and if the vibe has changed at all. Joining me on this trip were Official Friends of DCWD Baboon, G, and HR Intern.

The Food


Bibiana always does a good job for Restaurant Week, offering dishes that almost all come form their regular menu. For our first course, Baboon and I each had the Polpette, pork meatballs with pine nuts, raisins, and a chickpea puree. This was a dish I had last year, when it was veal meatballs in white polenta (perhaps proving Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC's main RW-hatred point, that restaurants will use lesser ingredients). The dish was once again a single massive meatball, and yet again it was good... but there was just that extra something missing. It was just close enough to the former that it made me absorb this dish's shortcomings that much more.

G and HR Intern each ordered the seared calamari, stuffed with smoked potato, salami, and citrus in a squid ink vinaigrette. This dish was a classic "interesting" dish. Everyone admitted that the food was cooked well, especially the perfect calamari. Everyone also agreed that the potato stuffing was an innovative and well-done creamy textural addition. But we all just couldn't put our finger on just what was missing from it. Clean flavors, but needed just one more thing to push it over.

For the main course, we all went our separate ways. With visions of last year again dancing in my head, I went with the skate wing with summer vegetables in broth. The overwhelming feeling on this dish was "blah." As in, this just tastes like whitefish in vegetable broth. No bold flavors, nothing of note. Just overwhelmingly bland.

In fact, this was the issue with all of the entrees: too one-note. G had the scialatelli with mussels and tomato, essentially longer, thicker, starchier spaghetti. The pasta was fresh, the mussels were interesting, and the tomato was a nice flavor, but the dish was just okay, and nothing too memorable.

Baboon had probably the best entree, which said something; he had the sirloin with grilled radicchio and salsa verde. Then again, all you could say about it was that it was a well-cooked steak. The salsa verde added a certain dimension, but it was a dish you could find at any number of restaurants within a couple blocks.

The most unique dish was HR Intern's, a smoked potato gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and basil. And man, was that smoky flavor apparent. In fact, it was almost the only flavor. The pasta was again fresh, but the whole dish was almost all smoke flavor, without any sort of complexity.

Dessert took a turn for the better, with at least the discussion moving from "well one of these entrees has to be the best" to a legitimate conversation about the quality of the desserts. I held that my vanilla panna cotta topped with a pistachio streusel and macerated berries was the best. In point of fact, the panna cotta was the one dish that improved from my last trip, creamier with more interesting flavor combinations.

Baboon had the "tiramisu," a mascarpone mousse on an espresso biscuit with caramelized white chocolate. The flavors were relatively right on, and the overall bite was a solid one. It was decent, though not my favorite tiramisu rendition.

G and HR Intern both had the peach semifreddo tart, topped with whipped cream and a peach compote. It was an interesting bite certainly, with the custard mixing well with the cookie crust on the bottom, and some good fruit notes from the peaches. A decent dessert, though again, not something to call home about.

The Verdict


A downgrade from before. Just not as good as I remember it.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cooking Adventures: The Queen's Scones

Today's cooking adventure comes courtesy of the National Archives, specifically the "What's Cooking, Uncle Sam" exhibit (the same one that goes hand-in-hand with America Eats Tavern). Among the artifacts in the exhibition was a recipe that Queen Elizabeth II gave to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I obviously had to try it (which is to say, she did the work and I watched very fondly).

Queen Elizabeth's Drop Scones

4 teacups flour
4 tbsp fine sugar
2 teacups milk
2 tbsp butter
2 eggs
2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp cream of tartar

Beat eggs, sugar, and half of the milk. Add flour, and mix well adding remainder of milk as necessary. Add baking soda and cream of tartar, and then fold in the melted butter. Pour onto a griddle and voila.

Apparently these were drop scones, because the consistency of the mix and the end result were closer to pancakes than what you might consider scones. Still, the flavor was unmistakably scone-y (but you know, in pancake form). To dress them up, we topped the scones with some grilled white peaches and fresh goat cheese from the farmers' market. Delicious. Although, warning, this recipe makes a huge batch.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Munchies: Buzz Bakery

Plaudits: 2011 RAMMY Winner - Tiffany MacIsaac, Pastry Chef of the Year
Neighborhood: Alexandria

The Setup


Fresh off a joint 30 mile bike ride, Official Friend of DCWD Juli dragged me to her favorite bakery, Buzz Bakery in Alexandria.

The Vibe


Buzz comes from RAMMY-award winning Tiffany MacIsaac, she of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Tallula, Birch and Barley/Churchkey, Vermilion), and sits in a suburban portion far removed from Old Town. It fits in well with contemporary Baked and Wired: a bakery that also trends towards the coffee house, a neighborhood gathering place that emphasizes a sense of relaxation with a dusting of sweet.

The color scheme is bright: orange and lime green and pink. The main seating area has a row of half-booth sofas, in front of a square white shelves with various baking items (Kitchenaid stand mixers, coffee makers, bowls) and a cake facade. A line of community tables follows the two-tops, atop a striped carpet on wood floors. To the front is the counter, with two large glass cases of all the baked goods.

The Food


Having ditched Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas that morning for my bike ride, I decided to buy her the whole bakery: in this case four cupcakes (Cookie Dough, Berry Crumble, Cookies and Cream, and Red Velvet), two scones, a chocolate croissant, and a lemon-poppy seed muffin. Overall, there were some good things, and there were some just okay things. The cupcakes themselves were nice and moist with some wonderful additions (cookie dough, blueberries, an Oreo top), but the icing was a little too chalky. On the other hand, the two scones (onion and manchego cheese, and raspberry almond) were delightful, as was the lemon-poppy seed muffin. Maybe not the best cupcakes in DC, but definitely a solid bakery.


The Verdict

 In short, Buzz is the kind of place that the District sadly misses too much: a bakery that isn't just cupcakes, a bakery that is also a lounge/coffeehouse, and a fun place to be.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)


Buzz Bakery, Coffee, and Dessert Lounge on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rogue 24

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Shaw/Logan Circle

The Setup


Perhaps no new restaurant has captured the imagination and attention of the food blogging world of DC like Rogue 24. First, take the incredible buzz that follows a James Beard accoladed chef leaving a Top 10 restaurant to start his own. Then pile onto that a minibar-esque tasting menu, complete with innovative ridiculous cooking techniques, and an incredible online outrage stemming the release of the restaurant's not-out-of-the-ordinary reservation contract, and you have all the makings of outrageous levels of buzz. So I headed to a Friday night dinner there with Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD MM and MPDD.

The Vibe

Part, if not the majority, of Rogue 24's cache of cool comes from its setting: a converted garage in a back alley. Rogue finds itself as a midpoint between the rapidly rising 14th St corridor and the Convention Center/Chinatown outliers of Corduroy and The Passenger. If anything, by sitting in the middle of this food desert, the restaurant becomes that much more appealing; you feel like you've stumbled onto this hip, underground restaurant.

This feeling is furthered by the decor. Like many of its contemporaries, Rogue 24 aims to be classy while down-to-earth, "hipster" in a non-pejorative way. All of the characteristics of the post-industrial theme are there: exposed brick and a vaulted open ceiling, a workstation by the host stand. But grafted onto it is a trendy interior, from the casual lounge in front where you can sip on Derek Brown creations, to the woven white orb lights that hang above each table. Seating includes a few chef's-table-type bar seats, with a ring of twos and fours and a few sixes around the edge of the restaurant.

All of this ignores the central premise of Rogue 24: the open kitchen, set like a theater-in-the-round in the center of the dining area. From your table, you can witness as the chefs scurry about, creating the very food you're about to eat. And it's the chefs themselves who present your meals tableside, as bussers and sommeliers move in an effortless ballet around you, clearing and setting your utensils while not making too much of a disturbance. Moreover, it's R.J. Cooper who did most of the expediting on this trip, and who glad-hands most of the tables, including ours. He makes a small joke with pescetarian Texas about rabbits being vegetarians, and shakes our hands at the end of the meal. It's a small thing but friendly. In general, this was the theme of the service of the night: very personable, efficient, and friendly. Definitely on the better end of service I've had in this city.

The Food


We opted for the 24-course Journey menu with pairing, though we'll also be able to clue you pescetarians in on what's in store for you.

To start, we were all given a small shot-glass of watermelon cocktail: watermelon extract with basil and sparkling water. Perhaps it wasn't the best amuse for the meal, as it wasn't terribly innovative or even particularly delicious. But it was at least seasonally on point, and refreshing.

The first three dishes came as a set of bite-sized starters. First was the "bone marrow," with a bone made of a hollowed out heart of palm, marrow made from olives, topped with some orange and a piece of iberico lomo. It was okay, with an interesting briny flavor profile, but the ham was lost in the dish, and it was better in concept than in practice.

Second was a chip made of kimchi but textured like a pork crackling, and topped with caviar-like soy bells. Once again, the flavors were interesting but the overwhelming taste was that of salt, with the sesame and soy getting in the way of other things.

The third was a piece of cauliflower topped with ossetra caviar and champagne air. This was perhaps the best of the three, though the cauliflower preparation made it surprisingly un-cauliflower like; it was more like... well, the heart of palm actually. But stickier. Still the sweet tart of the champagne air was a solid flavor.

Alongside this dish was our first wine pairing - an aperitif of Foggy Ridge apple cider from Virginia. It was sharper than most ciders, and was nice for a bubbles course... but something was a little missing without the champagne.

The next group of three started with a ceviche of razor clams, topped with apple, fennel, and a potato foam. This was a favorite of mine, with the potato foam providing a creamy counterpoint to the clams. While it wasn't very "ceviche-y", it was definitely enjoyable, with a great blend of flavors.

Fifth was Rogue's interpretation of leftover Chinese takeout, known affectionately as their "fried rice special #2" - corn crispies, with dried corn, carrots, and cabbage topped with scallions and for us, duck. This was served in a small bowl placed in our left hands, and was actually a dish that grew on me. The first bite seemed pedestrian, but each successive bite made me enjoy it all the much more. Not a dinner dish, but definitely a fun snack.

Then came the "sea floor," a piece of sea urchin on top of squid ink "rocks" and seaweed with dots of clamato ketchup. This dish's success hinged on whether or not you could deal with the admittedly-acquired taste that is squid ink. If you do, then the urchin was an amazing creamy flavor with some interesting sharp contrasts; if not, then its strength overpowered everything else in the deep bowl.

These three dishes were paired with a cocktail, a classic known as the Holland House, made of Dutch gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and lemon peel. Despite its stronger components, it tasted like either a fruity martini, or a drier lemonade, and was a really great taste.

Seventh was one of the night's first homages to Chef Cooper's former kitchen at Vidalia. This was the restaurant's play on shrimp and grits, called the "Hail Buben." This version though, came with a grits-crusted croquette filled with corn milk, paired with a shrimp terrine and shrimp foam and arugala pesto. The grits croquette was absolutely lovely, and the foam was on point, providing with a good play on the flavors of the classic Southern dish. This, to me, demonstrated the trend of the night: when the kitchen played to its strengths, and just made homages to Southern food, that's where it succeeded.

Our Southern interlude was temporarily interrupted by the next dish, a quail egg yolk served on an edible hay next with shaved cracklings for us, and black truffle for Texas. Served in a capped dish, the presentation was one of smokiness, from the amount that billowed out from the bowl when it was uncovered, to the flavoring of the hay. By capturing that burnt straw barbecue taste with the hay and smoke, it added a depth to the whole dish that I think was spot on.

The meal returned back to Southern flavors in the next dish: a piece of brioche toast topped with bacon powder, Vidalia onion ice cream, and a piece of hog jowl bacon. Nothing says classic Southern flavors quite like pork and onions, and in fact these were the touchpoints of this amazing bite.  The onion ice cream was a surprisingly sweet and sumptuous bite, and the bacon was a perfect salty companion. Combined with the lightness of the brioche, it was a great dish.

These three dishes were paired with a Seebrich riesling from Germany. Despite the varietal's often saccharine qualities, this particular riesling was less so, providing a nice sharpness to pair.

Dish ten was the restaurant's take on vichyssoise, the classic served cold potato-and-leek soup, but this time augmented by black truffle and almond milk replacing the cream, and poured tableside. This was both successful and not; while the flavors were there and it was a pleasant bite, it generally lacked the full creaminess that makes a vichyssoise so enjoyable (I blame the almond milk substitution). Still a nice dish.

The next dish began the divergence between our meal and Texas's. Up until this point, she had been eating the same dish but without the meat toppings. But instead of the spherified liquid chicken paired with porcini mushrooms, Texas had a stack of watermelon, tomato, and coffee. Both basically can be describe with the same few phrases: overwhelmingly one note (chicken on the one hand, watermelon on the other); interesting preparations but perhaps not much actual difference in terms of contrast; decent flavors otherwise.

The twelfth dish was perhaps the favorite of the night, referred to as the "What's Up, Doc?" A piece of rabbit paired with a bed of carrots, pecans, and "soil," made of some heretofore mystery ingredient. There were a lot of things that were going well for this dish. The rabbit was immaculately prepared, as were the carrots, which were the perfect balance between crisp and melt-in-your-mouth. And there was just this je ne sais quoi about the soil that brought the whole thing together. How good was the rabbit? The pescetarian Texas craved it the most.

These dishes came with perhaps the most eye-opening pairing: a Vigneti Massa timorasso from Italy. The waiter compared it to a chardonnay, but outside of the light-bodied slight rustic taste, the comparisons ended there. This timorasso had an amazing honey finish that was so delightful, I even considered asking to steam the label off just to know its name.

Next up came the "caprese salad" which utilized all the flavors and even ingredients of the classic Italian dish, but with a reimagined presentation. Heirloom tomato pieces were coasted in olive oil and ricotta salata, mixed with micro basil, candied apples, tomato powder, and caviar-like balsamic balls. It was fun, and the flavors were there, but it recalled a similar but simpler heirloom tomato salad at 2941 (the review of that meal is coming soon) from a few weeks before which stuck with me more, and was just straight out better.

Fourteen was foie gras shavings over lavender and huckleberry and a lightly-flavored mystery substance with the consistency of florists' foam; Texas's version replaced the foie with large chunks of this foam. Right in line with other cold foie preparations, this emphasized its creamier, more savory notes (rather than the fatty, unctuous ones) which paired perfectly with the huckleberry.

Finishing off this trio was a sort of beet slushie, topped with smoked char roe, fennel pollen, and yogurt. For me, like the sea floor, the dish hinged on your fondness for beets. Texas, not a beet fan, stopped halfway, overpowered by the singular strong taste; for me, a later-in-life beet convert, enjoyed its interesting composition and its matching of different flavors. This set was paired with a white-to-red transition, a Domaine de Triennes rose. This was the most unmemorable pairing, which probably speaks to the quality of the pairings more than anything.

The next set brought forth more savory flavors, ushering in a transition from summer to fall. First came the restaurant's shabu shabu: a piece of Wagyu short rib (for Texas, a matsutake mushroom clump) with mushroom, onion, and elephant garlic with broth poured tableside over it. For me, this was perfect, in that it didn't try to do too much and rather just let the dish speak for itself. Umami notes were the most apparent, and it seemed like the perfect dish for those under-the-weather nights.

The seventeenth dish brought a large difference between what we had and what Texas was served. Our dish was a forest nage, a soup of various savory and sweet flavors, including matsutake mushrooms, coffee, and bitter chocolate. For Texas, she was presented with a "garden in a bottle," a carbonated vegetable soup. For us, these were the forgettable dishes of the night; other than the amazingly cute presentation, Texas's soup was ordinary, and this was the one dish that was completely unremarkable even 15 minutes after the meal.

Eighteen was a relatively sizable dish, a piece of squab, paired with turnip, walnuts, in a concord grape sauce - Texas had her squab replaced with mushroom dumplings. The squab was fine, but for everyone, the turnip was just overpowering, sharp and bitter. It was one of the most unpleasant dish of the night. Which is sad, because the pairing was again, very nice: a Garnacha blend from Spain.

Next up was a piece of lamb neck, served with black garlic, eggplant, and lemon. This dish was wonderfully savory, and definitely brought forth lovely flavor combinations that were perhaps seasonably out-of-place, but definitely enjoyable. All the same, Texas's dish was just as good: an interpretation of tortilla espanola. With the consistency of mashed potatoes, it wonderfully combined the potato flavor with a light egg touch, and was absolutely fantastic.

Unfortunately, the next dish was the least favorite - a garden mosaic of shoots, gels, and powders. This dish fully fell into the model of "we're doing this just because we know how." The green goddess ice cream was decent, but it was the gelees of tomato and carrot that just fell flat, and were actually sort of unappetizing. Hands down, the dish that fell the most flat.

The last savory dish of the night was entitled pipe dreams with red pepper, olives, citrus, and a healthy serving of goat cheese. This dish was cool, with fun flavor combinations, but might as well have been called olives in textures, including a spherified olive oil ball (a carry-over probably from sous chef Ryan, who came over from Jose Andres and minibar, where he incidentally also cooked my meal). Anytime you stick goat cheese with citrus and olives, I'm yours, so this was right in my wheelhouse. Paired with a Speedy Creek sangiovese from California, it was a nice end to the savory portion of the meal.

The desserts ran the gamut. Once again, the Southern dish was the most successful: a play on peaches and cream with bourbon-soaked peaches and a peach gelee, coated with marshmallow noodles, and a crumbled creme anglaise. This was a wonderful and classic combination of flavors, with interesting texture from the noodle, and a nice warm finish from the bourbon. By far, this was the best dessert.

The other large dessert, the Tennessee - named after the source of its ingredients - was less so: a chocolate cremeux topped with more bitter chocolate, and dirt composed of powdered chocolate, ground coffee, and hazelnut. For all its rich flavors, it was sort of an unmemorable dish, which is not something you expect from the penultimate serving.

The happy endings, a set of petit fours was pieces of pecan brittle and small bars of raspberry chocolate ganache. Sweet and to the point is the best way to describe them. Not anything inspiring or brilliant, but good. Especially paired with the Val-Dieu, a quadruple (!) ale from Belgium, this was one of the better pairings of the night, with the beer providing a sweet but creamy note.

The Verdict

Definitely a Top 25 meal, and a Top 10 experience, with excellent pairings and a really cool setting. But for the price and given its contemporaries, it's definitely a one-time visit.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Between the show of watching the chefs cook for you, and the three-to-four hour length of the meal, it's its own pairing.

Rogue 24 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cooking Adventures: Salmon and Green Apple

This week we're taking a short break from our regularly scheduled reviews to bring you some of our cooking adventures. Today is taken from the first page of Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin cookbook "On the Line" and was made for Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas (a pescetarian) to welcome her back from a business trip.

Wild Alaskan Salmon and Smoked Salmon with Apple, Celery, and Baby Watercress and Jalapeno Emulsion

5 ounces wild Alaskan salmon
5 ounces smoked salmon
1 large granny smith apple

Emulsion:
1//2 cup minced jalapeno (seeds removed)
1 tsp minced shallot
6 tbsp EVOO
1/4 cup lemon juice
sea salt and ground white pepper

Garnish:
1/2 granny smith apple, julienned
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut
1 tsp celery leaf julienne
1 tsp Italian parsley julienne
1/2 tsp EVOO
4 slices jalapeno
1/4 cup micro watercress
sea salt and black pepper

Like most things at Le Bernardin, this dish is designed to be plated like a piece of art, and in point of fact, that was probably the most appealing part of the dish. The pieces of salmon and green apple are cut into squares and layered in a cascading fashion along a plate, overlapping slightly and alternating between the various salmons and apple. In this version, I ignored the smoked salmon and concentrated on using only the wild salmon I had bought from Whole Foods. Before actually layering, I froze and then thawed the salmon to make sure it was safe to eat, and blanched the apple in boiling water then an ice bath as per the instructions.

For the emulsion, combine all the ingredients in a blender until smooth, and then season to taste with the salt and pepper; it can be made the day before. The garnish, also combine in a bowl and then season; to simplify, I used only the apple, celery stalk, salt and pepper, EVOO, and regular chopped parsley.

The result is above. Tasted amazing!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Night Flights: Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc

This week's Friday Night Flight looks at another New Zealand wine, the Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc. This one we opened by itself with some peaches and goat cheese, and then later paired it with a dinner of spicy catfish and mango and avocado salsa.

The wine was nice, not overpowering in any way. In many ways it was like Stoneleigh's Pinot that we'd had the week before: eminently drinkable. It had a strong taste of acid (read: tartness, not like battery) on the tongue, and upon eating it with some goat cheese, it came on really smooth. Definitely an interesting wine, and brought forth the best qualities of a sauvignon blanc. Not a home run, but not terrible either.

Bar Review: 2.5 Cheers (out of 5)
Perfect for
: Goat cheese

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bistro La Bonne

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup


Looking for some quick brunch, Official Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I decided to visit U Street relative newcomer Bistro La Bonne.

The Vibe

It might be obvious to say from its name and its location, but the restaurant's decor is a bistro meets U Street. Take a traditional French bistro (much like say, Bistro du Coin) complete with exposed brick with wine bottles in the crevices, a motley collection of art deco and nouveau posters on the walls, and a French flag over the long wooden bar. Seating is a collection of twos and fours, including a small balcony that looks over the whole restaurant and a two-table patio out front.

The other features are tiny but charming: blue place mats on brown furniture, a wine barrel and wooden geese over the doorway, and a consistent pumping of mid-century swing overhead, which gave Texas and I ample opportunity to dance quietly in the back.

The Food

On this trip, Texas opted for the slightly more traditional route: Daniel's benedicte, eggs benedict with crab meat and spinach replacing the ham, also with a side of frites. The benedict was rich, with the crab meat becoming a nice savory point. It wasn't the best eggs benedict I've ever had, but definitely a good version.

Despite the fact that it broke my brunch rules (has to include eggs), I thought it best to sample the restaurant's signature mussels; in this case, the moules marinieres (white wine, shallots, garlic, parsley). Served with an ample side of fries, the mussels again weren't the greatest I've ever had, but they were fairly flavorful, with a huge taste of parsley. The broth was perhaps not as creamy as I wanted at the moment, but was a pretty decent set of mussels.

The Verdict


Charming little place, good for a date, with some decent grub. We'll definitely be back.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Head next door to Twins Jazz (which admittedly, has a supper club), and take in some sounds.

Bistro La Bonne on Urbanspoon