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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mintwood Place

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup


Needing to catch up, Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I decided to hit up one of DC's newer restaurants, Mintwood Place.

The Vibe

If taken from the outside, you'd be hardpressed to think Mintwood Place was anything but a modern-decorated restaurant. A fairly large patio of fire engine red tables and chairs sit out front, their straight lines mimicking the large modern windows and austere black and white logo of the restaurant; the outside facade looks like the inside of Art and Soul.

This however belies the interior decor, which would easily be confused with an upscale country western bar; indeed a steady stream of Punch Brothers style folk music plays overhead. The dominant color is that of maple syrup, garnered from the steady finished and unfinished plank wood that abounds, accented by chocolate brown leather booths. The feel of things is old and rustic, with intentionally cracked beige paint on the walls, worn down wood paneling, and flaking mirror edges, interrupted by the occasional cog wheel or old piece of machinery.

A row of central booths splits the main dining area from the bar section, the former a row of fours, then a section of twos in the back, with a line of half booths lining the far right wall. The latter is a saloon style bar, with a few high top tables in the bar area leading to the kitchen counter in the back; with its slight opening, you can't help but get hit with perhaps one of the more striking, welcoming aromas of delicious food that we've ever experienced in the city.

The Food

Intent on trying just about everything, we started each with a drink. Mine, a Colonel Bartlett Rickey (gin, pear wine, cucumber, lime), fell a little flat and mild, whereas CC's Farmer Pimm (Pimm's no 1, Art in the Age snap liqueur, spicy ginger ale, cucumber, lemon) was a beautiful sharp mix of a drink. Soft enough for the summertime but with enough punch to make you take notice, the Farmer Pimm had a pleasant taste like molasses or gingersnap with a kick from the carbonation.

On this trip, I felt particularly hungry and the aroma was indeed intoxicating, so we probably overordered. The first three dishes to come out all fell within a similar spectrum. First, the maple pork cracklins were good, but lacked the advertised maple flavoring. Their remoulade was a good dash of piquant, and as a snack, they were decent. As a whole appetizer, they seemed too one-note. Had they more strongly delivered on their promise of maple, it might have well been different.

The much ballyhooed escargot hush puppies featured a similar issue, namely that they were solid, but nothing noteworthy. Delivered with a house remoulade sauce, I regret to say that they weren't phenomenal, but rather tasted like very good, more bitter regular hush puppies; had the snail been more present in the dish (either through smaller hush puppies or more than one snail per piece), the truly fun combination of flavors would have been more ever-present. Instead, the delightfully chewy and substantially flavored snail was more like a surprise wonder than the centerpiece of the dish.

Yet, the arrival of the frogs legs with romesco seemed to signal the forthcoming change in the meal. The dish itself was good-though-not-great, with the frog favorably comparable to a stringier and more interesting chicken. Served atop small sauce discs of black bean and polenta, the frog legs were a good mild vehicle for the three sauces, mixing to form an interesting flavor profile.

The next three courses though absolutely blew us out of the water. First was the goat cheese and beet mountain pie, which was basically a tartlet-sized, elegantly constructed sandwich. Discs of goat cheese sat astride of layered beets and butter lettuce pinched between two wonderfully crusted pieces of bread. It seems strange to rave about it, given that the combinations were pretty straightforward and widely available. Instead, it was the textural contrasts and the delicateness with which the whole dish was put together that made it shine. This wasn't just a beet and goat cheese salad in the sandwich form; it was a rustic, composed, and interesting bite.

The lamb tongue moussaka was also a revelation. Beef tongue, when done right, can be brilliant: tender, luscious, delicate. The lamb followed a similar pattern, with a flavor similar to a silkier, juicier liver, but with a texture that was softer, chewier, and less mealy. But what kicked it into second gear was the moussaka, a deeply flavorful and hearty mix of eggplant mash and ground beef that provided each bite with substance, umami, and salt. Each bite was a beautiful play of unctuousness pierced by spice; I would absolutely eat this over and over again.

The last course was an entree we split; stuck between two choices, our server selected for us the duck breast, sliced and tiled over a bed of sauerkraut and a ruler-sized hashbrown, and topped with an au poivre sauce and grapes. It's hard to even describe how delicious this was. First, the hashbrown (a hashbrown!), a wonderful crunch and salt, like oh-so-many-good tater tots. Next, the sauerkraut, a house brined cabbage that provided just the right amount of sourness. Add the au poivre sauce which provides a creamy peppery element, and the grapes that snap a sweet finish. Finally, take the duck breast, perfectly cooked and tender and an elegant centerpiece protein. Together, they created a beautiful symphony for every taste bud, an absolutely stellar composition that works in ways I still am surprised that someone came up with. Take any piece away from the dish, and it just doesn't work; for instance, each bite without a grape lacked the critical end note that was apparent with each bite that did. Beautiful.

To end the night, another tableside presentation: a baked Alaska flambeed tableside, which I think might be so campy at this point that it becomes underrated once again (I mean, I absolutely loved it). This version was strawberry ice cream inside of a thin cake and meringue, and was actually pretty solid, avoiding saccharine by remaining light. Perfect ending to the meal.

The Verdict


A brilliant addition to the neighborhood, and with luck, the flagbearer of a potential Adams-Morgan revitalization. A few mis-steps, but ones that are far outweighed by the successes.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: While the Olympics are still on, head over to Open City to start or end your date with some pavilion viewing on the patio.

Mintwood Place on Urbanspoon

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