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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eola, Part Deux

This Part Deux is going to break a bit of convention. For one, I've long stated that Eola is my favorite restaurant in DC. My recent meal with Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas (spoiler alert!) reconfirmed and emphasized that, to a degree I didn't even think possible. So unlike normal reviews, we'll dispense with any suspense and just start with the lead: that this is an absolutely first-class restaurant with phenomenal food that is worth all the superlatives I'm about to heap on it. Since my last visit, Eola has switched to all five-course tasting menus: a standard one with three choices each for most courses, a vegetarian offering, and an offal tasting. Priced at an exceptional steal at $65 a person, the two of us indulged in the first.

To start, the first course is a series of amuse bouches, Chef Daniel Singhofen sending out a series of short riffs. In honesty, at times these are only tepid successes, but they're always fun. In order, our five bites were: a house bacon topped with asparagus and hollandaise; a king salmon rillette on crostini; deviled quail egg topped with radish leaf; a candied strip of lamb with chili oil and mustard green; and a small glass of ginger limeade. Of the tastes, the lamb strip left the biggest mark, with its jerky like flavor and piquant chili leaving a lingering spice on our tongues.

For our first course, Texas ordered the wild mushrooms, a mix of porcini, morel, and mousseron mushrooms with hyssop, horehound, and sorrel greens in consomme with pine nuts. I'm not a huge mushroom fan, but even I had to admire the steady hand with which this was prepared, especially considering how much of a meat fiend I am. The textures of the mushrooms were beautiful, and the whole dish was soulful and earthy in a wonderful backwoodsy sort of way.

For my part, I ordered the terrine of quail and pistachio, with pickled vegetables, mustard, and crostini. A veteran of many pates and rillettes and terrines to start a meal, I also quite enjoyed this, with the terrine tasting positively like a rich quail meatball. The pickled rhubarb and radishes were also nice, and overall it was a solid take on a classic.

However, the meal would only improve exponentially from there. Texas had the wild nettle risotto with asparagus and parmesan. To compare this dish to other risottos would be a mistake; it neither wanted to be nor was especially creamy-gooey, reserving its emphasis on the sharp bright taste of the nettle. The consistency of the risotto was perfect, and the flavor was unique but familiar at the same time, like an all new snap-pea you just discovered.

For my part, I ordered the broccoli and pork belly ravioli, with black bean shoots, carrots, and scallop essence. This was brilliantly composed, from its presentation on the plate to the pairing of ingredients, which made for a wonderfully balanced and clean taste, light enough for the late spring/early summer outside. Each bite was fleeting but special, with a brief punch of fat flavor from the belly followed by a pleasantly mild aftertaste. Again, brilliant.

But perhaps the real kicker was the entree course, where the two of us had absolutely phenomenal one-of-a-kind meals. Texas had the poached halibut sitting in a bed of petite greens, maitake, radishes, and a ramp soubise. If this wasn't the most perfectly poached piece of fish I've seen in 7 years in DC, I don't know where it would have been. People often talk about melt-in-your-mouth, but this was so soft that it made your tongue like a hot knife through butter. The soubise was a perfect complement and the radishes were themselves an almost sweet counterpoint.

I ordered the rabbit ballotine, with fiddlehead ferns, petite carrots, kale, and sorrel. Words almost can't even describe how on point this was; the meat had almost no hint of gameyness, replaced instead by a deep rich umami flavor like that of the most tender chicken in your life. Fiddleheads are among my favorite underused ingredients, and their snap texture and savory elements were put to good use here. Both were so good that even when we switched plates halfway through, both Texas and I had our second thoughts.

For dessert, Texas ordered the salted dark chocolate mousse, with berry preserves and hints of orange peel and praline. For her, this was perhaps the one criticism she had of the meal, namely that the salt was too aggressive. All the same, a good chocolate bite.

On my end, I had the chilled elderflower sabayon with strawberries and a shortbread cookie. This was a perfect end to a summer meal, the creamy custard playing like a light fruit and cream picnic dish. Tres magnifique.

As we nibbled through our petit-fours and finished off the excellent bottle of 2007 Graff Family Chalone mourvedre, we both shared a smile.

The Verdict


Hands down, one of the best meals I've ever had, and reaffirmed that Eola is the best restaurant in the city without any hesitation.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

DCWD Travels: La Petite Grocery, New Orleans

Plaudits:  James Beard 2012 Best Chef: South Nominee, 2008 Chef to Watch by Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine in August 2008,  Chef to Watch by The Times-Picayune in 2008. In 2009, one of New Orleans CityBusiness’ Culinary Connoisseurs for Best Executive Chef and Best Neighborhood Restaurant
Neighborhood: Uptown/Garden District, New Orleans

The Setup

My company was holding a week long training in New Orleans, so prior to leaving DC, I made reservations at a few restaurants I was dying to try. With three of my coworkers (Carrie, Luke Chi Walker, and Cleveland) in tow, we decided to make the trek from Canal Street to Uptown to taste the culinary stylings of chef Justin Devillier at La Petite Grocery.

The Vibe

White tablecloths add an upscale charm to this 100-year old grocery store turned restaurant. Much like the local grocery and flower shop that occupied the space before it, La Petite Grocery manages to feel like a truly local gem. While its warm lighting and inviting wooden bar allow it to teeter on neighborhood eatery, it definitely has some hallmarks of a fine dining establishment. One lovely touch was a lone acoustic guitarist plucking out happy tunes in the bay window near the bar; sadly, we didn't get to enjoy too much of the music as we chose to take advantage of the beautiful evening and sit outside on the sidewalk. The service was friendly and attentive and quick with great recommendations for those of us that can be a bit... indecisive. 

The Food

To start our evening, we discussed ordering a bottle of wine but were all so intrigued by different cocktails on the menu we decided to go that route. For myself, I ordered the Elderflower Mojito. The waiter warned me that this was so good I'd be ordering a second before the night was out; he wasn't wrong. It was light and crisp and not too sugary as so many mojitos can be. My co-workers ordered The Bee's Knees (Hayman’s Old Tom gin, lavender blossom clover honey and lemon), A Good Old Fashioned Cocktail (Bulleit bourbon, muddled local citrus and brandied cherry, citrus sugar and Angostura bitters), and whiskey neat (from a small but quality whiskey selection). All were happy with their orders, though my Bees's Knees coworker ended up being persuaded to switch to the tantalizing Elderflower Mojito for her second drink. 

The food menu changes seasonally and Chef Devillier is committed to sourcing locally when possible. This showed in the quality ingredients we were served at every step of the way.

For appetizers, we decided to try the the blue crab beignets with old bay aioli and fried gulf oysters with frisée, serrano ham, piave vecchio, and roasted garlic dressing. Both of these were fine, though not entirely memorable when compared to the main courses.  I actually had originally ordered the off menu special squash blossom salad to start, though the waiter had to come back to inform me that, regrettably, they were sold out of this dish. 

Cleveland and I opted for the paneed rabbit with wilted spinach, spaetzle and lemon caper brown butter. I love rabbit and, with Chef's commitment to local sourcing, was excited to partake. This dish was very good, though admittedly the rabbit really could have been replaced by any number of proteins as it was fried and served schnitzel style. Still, this was a particularly good schnitzel, and the caper brown butter sauce was rich and indulging, while the spinach and spaetzle added very nice textural elements to the dish.

Carrie opted for the local shrimp and grits with shiitake mushrooms, smoked bacon and thyme. The shrimp was very large, plump, and well cooked, and the grits were fluffy and buttery; the dish was generally well received. 

Luke Chi Walker opted for the LPG cheeseburger with house-made pickles, onion marmalade, arugula, whole grain mustard, aioli and gruyere served with fries. To quote her on this one, "the house-made pickles were definitely a highlight, as well as the onion marmalade. It was juicy and tender, and the gruyere cheese sent me over the edge! It was probably one of the most satisfying burgers I've had in a while."   

The Verdict

A very pleasant local eatery with some serious kitchen chops to back it up. There were a few unmemorable moments, but overall very good, and the extremely helpful house staff put it over the top. 

Food Rating: *** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual 
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd 
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: Head over to Frenchmen Street for the real New Orleans, not the Bourbon Street that usually gets all the hype.


La Petite Grocery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Look: Boqueria

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Meeting up with Official Friend of DCWD Juli, we decided to try out new New York import and new tapas restaurant Boqueria.

The Vibe

Like its presumptive competitors, the newly renovated Jaleo or Estadio, Boqueria's decor is impressive and upscale, and sets the tone for its atmosphere. Unlike the Moorish design of Estadio or the mod, avant-garde Jaleo redesign, Boqueria is very... well, New York. It's clean and sharp, with a white and birch and tan color scheme that abounds. Housed in the old Penang space above Chipotle, you walk in to view the central square bar where some of the tapas are also prepared in the window. Above the bar are chalkboards listing out all of the beer and wine options.

The walls are either painted white brick, or white and brown porcelain tiles, or wood paneling, giving the space a particularly bright feel when light shines in through the windows that surround the dining area. Seating is mixed, from the swivel stools around the bar to large eight seat tables, to high bar seating. The two-tops are of particular interest: they are all high half-booths with the same uncomfortably tight bar stools, and are so on top of one another that the tables have to be pulled out for you to get in. So on the one hand, it's impressive and slightly swank; on the other hand, it's tight and gets real loud real quick.

The Food


For our first dish, we had my choice: fried quail eggs and chorizo on toast. This was my choice, and I admit to being a little disappointed with it in retrospect. Which is to say that it wasn't particularly different than eggs and sausage on toast, or as Juli put it, "this tastes like breakfast." For the exotic ingredients, I would've wanted it to be more imaginative than that.

Second was the dish that we had to order because of Juli's love of the dish and the blog's namesake: bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with valdeon and almonds. These were a pretty solid example of a classic tapas plate, all sorts of sweet and salty and rich. We popped them into our mouths quickly and deliciously.

Next up were lamb meatballs in tomato sauce and sheep's milk cheese. This dish was good but not great. The meat was fairly succulent, albeit plain, with some decent pick up from the basil and cucumber and cheese. I wish I could say, like Marshall in HIMYM, "this could be our little albondigas." Again, they were decent but not stop-the-presses.

Last was a special on the daily menu, peppers stuffed with braised oxtail in a potato puree. Interestingly, despite it not being on the regular menu, this was probably the best of the night, with stringy oxtail and rich flavor mixing with some interesting texture shifts between the smooth mash and the crunchy onions.

The Verdict


Some good things, and a swank decor in a prime location.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: It being almost Cinco de Mayo, you'll have to supplement your Spanish with some Mexican. Head to Lauriol (or any number of margarita purveyors) for a nightcap.

Boqueria on Urbanspoon