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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Big Bear Cafe

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Bloomingdale

The Setup

With a new chef in the kitchen, Official Friend of DCWD Luke Chi Walker invited a group of us, including myself, Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and Official Friend of DCWD Carrie, out to Big Bear Café.

The Vibe

When I told a coworker I had dinner plans at Big Bear, their first reaction was, “Wait. Isn’t that a coffeehouse?” The point is well-taken: Big Bear’s space has all the trappings of a neighborhood independent coffeehouse. An extended patio with a short gate wraps around the building along the street corner. Inside seating is mostly distressed repurposed wood round-tops that match the wooden floor, save for the six-seat high bar table where we sat and a booth by the bathrooms. To the back of the space is a small bar, where a few chalkboard menus hang. The rest of the décor is art for sale mounted on exposed brick or cream and blue-gray walls. It’s cute and charming, and you’re most likely surrounded by friends chatting away over coffee (which they sell by the bag), or people huddling over a book.

The Food

Still, what had drawn us to Big Bear was the promise of the new menu, which is short but intriguing. The theme could well be described as rustic and seasonal vegetables, represented well by our amuse bouche: spoon-served bites of house coleslaw, made with heirloom carrots, crisp lettuce, and sesame seeds. Pleasantly light on any mayonnaise or other any sauce for that matter, focus was instead placed on the freshness of the produce.

Texas’s dish was more of the same: hogshead snapper atop a bed of black rice, leeks, and kale (eggplant was also a portion, though one that was subbed out due to allergy). The fish was fresh and crisp, seared wonderfully with a good hint of salt. For their part, the rice and vegetables added laudable balance and a solid, well, "summerness" to everything.

Intrigued by the diversity of the dishes, I opted for three appetizers rather than a full entree, ordering the chilled eggplant soup with leeks; the pan seared halibut on baby kale with white beans; and the quail on a mustard and lentil salad. The soup was thicker than I expected but straight eggplant flavor, with little addition. The halibut was cooked beautifully, crusty on the outside edge while melting in the middle, with the white beans providing a chalky-in-a-good-way counterpart. But the winner for me was the quail, tender with crunchy skin and with the sharpness of the mustard providing appreciated spice and punches of flavor to punctuate each piece of meat.

The meal was rounded out with a gooseberry and rhubarb walnut crumble with whipped cream. Sweet, fresh, crisp, very granola.

The Verdict

Fresh and seasonal dishes in a relaxed atmosphere. Solid work.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5) 
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Calm to chatty
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
: The season is perfect for apple picking and pumpkin patches. Head out to the Maryland or Virginia suburbs before dinner to grab some produce for later.

 Big Bear Cafe on Urbanspoon

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