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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

First Look: Rappahannock Oyster Bar at Union Market

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: NoMa

The Setup


A few weeks ago we brought you a First Look at the revitalized Union Market. Now we'll look closer at one of its anchors: the Rappahannock Oyster Bar. With me on this trip, Official Sister of DCWD Elle, Official Brother-in-Law of DCWD Phee, and Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas.

The Vibe

We talked about Union Market before, and the Rappahannock Oyster Bar itself fits in well with the market's theme. A sleek black-brown wood bar surrounds a small kitchen where anywhere from 5-6 people will be shucking, cooking, or pouring at any given time. Beyond the 16 or so seats around the bar, another bar table sits behind. Sitting front-and-center in the market, it's not unfair to call it the anchor and centerpiece of the renovation.

The Food


On this trip, both Phee and I ordered the lambs and clams: a sizable bowl of Border Springs ground lamb chunks mixed with littleneck clams, sofrito, white beans, and two pieces of sourdough toast topped with garlic aioli. To call this one of my favorite bites of the year would be to do this dish disservice. Everything about it was magical: the tenderness and flavor of the lamb, the light salt on the clams, the richness of the tomato-based broth. Even the aioli and its sharp bite mixed perfectly. I could literally eat this dish every day and die happy.

For her part, Texas ordered a bowl of the oyster chowder, and six oysters (two Rappahannocks, two Witch Ducks, and two Olde Salts). The former was wonderful, more of a soup than the cream-based New England clam chowders I was used to. What this resulted in was a spoonful that was equal parts oily and briny and smooth. The latter were wonderful and clear oysters, with the Rappahannocks far and away my favorite.

The Verdict


A beautiful place to sit down for seafood and charm the pants off your date.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: I mean there's a vibrant Market all around you. Walk around, sample some more fresh goods, and bring some home for your next date.

Rappahannock Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 29, 2012

Quick Bites: Marvin, Part Deux

This week's Quick Bites have us heading back to the Hilton Brothers' Belgian-food, soul-legend-named spot Marvin. With Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC in tow, we shared the foie gras torchon, which was deliciously rich and sumptuous, though the pickled Asian pears it was paired with were a bit too tart and acidic. Her moules mariniere were solid, with the wonderful fries stealing the show. Similarly, on my chicken and waffles, for all the perks of the crispy skin and the tender meat, it was the collard greens and the measured, flavorful gravy that delighted me most.

All in all, still a solid spot for Belgian food.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday Night Flights: Hank's on the Hill

This week's Friday Night Flights focuses on Hank's Oyster Bar's new outpost on Capitol Hill. While the menu remains basically similar, there's one main difference between this version vis-a-vis its Alexandria and Dupont Circle sisters: Gina Chersevani and her arsenal of drinks. The former PS7's mixtress brought with her an ever-changing rotation of cocktails. So drink experts and Official Friends of DCWD Sam and Shawn and Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I headed over to try some out.

Each of us had one drink. I had the Jackson’s Peaches and Huzza!, a mix of redemption rye, peaches, and scorched milk. This was lovely on a number of levels, from how creamy and warm it was going down the gullet to the sweet of the peaches balancing out the bite of the rye. What it tasted like was a perfect peach cobbler. This could easily become one of my favorite drinks.

The other three were playful in their own right. Texas's squeezed melons, a blend of honeydew and cantaloupe water, gin, cinnamon and mint, was a refreshing sip that stayed under 100 calories. The "I Cannot Tell a Lie" - pickled sour cherry, Makers, tropical vermouth, and bitters - was a sharper Manhattan, while the Hanky Panky “Hill Style” - citrus sage soda and gin - was both seasonal and light.
 

Bar Review: 4 Cheers (out of 5)

Hank's Oyster Bar  on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 25, 2012

First Look: The Brixton

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup


This entry covers two separate trips to U Street's newest Hilton Brothers bar (aren't they all?), The Brixton, the first a dinner with Official Friends of DCWD MPDD, MM, Alison, Nezar, and Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and the second a quick bar stop with Official Friend of DCWD Madison.

The Vibe

The Brixton is striking, both in its coolness and its resemblance to British pubs. There's the big things, like the colonial windows, the red-orange glow that reflects off the dark brown wood paneling everywhere. Then there's the little things, the bell-shaped light fixture that hang overhead, the rail bars that fence in the actual pub bar to the left side of the restaurant. Seating is simple wooden furniture, and there's a warm vibe to the place. Upstairs sits one of the nicer rooftops in the city, rivaling its sister Marvin.

The Food


Our two trips, despite being only a few days apart, sandwiched around a change in the Brixton menu. Among the smattering of food that was ordered, a few constants remained. First, an appetizer of a Scotch egg, a softboiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and further deepfried in breadcrumbs. Served with three sauces (which tasted like green goddess, a raspberry balsamic, and thousand island, respectively), was a solid presentation of a classic dish, gooey and meaty and decidedly British. The fry was crisp, and each bite was delicious.

Even more delicious, however, was my entree of pan-seared and sliced venison filet served atop a bed of roasted brussels sprouts, cherry tomatoes, and brandied cherries in a red wine sauce. Venison selected or handled poorly is often too gamey to be enjoyable. This was in contrast like a lovely earthier beef filet, perfectly cooked and paired well with the sweetness of the cherries and the seasonal sprouts. Packed with immense flavor, each slice was wonderfully tender.

Two other dishes stand out in our minds, though now they've since departed from the menu. First Texas's sweet summer corn and crab bisque was a nice end-of-season dish that brought out the sweetness of the base while providing generous chunks of pungent crab to offset it. Similarly, a bowl of PEI mussels in a white wine sauce of apples, fennel, bacon, and stilton cheese plays up notes of salt and sweet and sour.

The Verdict


Awesome hangout space for pre-concert drinks, fried British goodness, or sit-down dinner.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two) 

The Brixton on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Washington DC Green Festival

Originally posted on Borderstan.

As a committed “eat-whatever-I-want-ivore,” walking into last weekend’s DC Green Festival was like being in a particularly low-stakes episode of Covert Affairs, spying on a faction I definitely didn’t belong to. On the one hand, I’m decidedly pro-environment. But on the other, I’m also famously non-vegetarian.
On this fact-finding mission, would my wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing identity peek through the thin veneer of my cover (or in this case, my media pass)? Would this just be a solid hour of me making faces after taking wheatgrass shots? Or would I find some diamonds in the rough?
Spoiler alert: I found a lot of surprisingly cool stuff. Here follows some of the cooler green products and services I found:

Capital Kombucha: Borderstan previously profiled the District-based makers of fermented tea, but this was the first time I had encountered it or even dared to drink it (mostly because of my trepidation at the word fermented, which evoked images of fuzzy things in mason jars). But with two of the founders presenting at the Festival’s Good Food Stage, it was our time to taste the antioxidant- and probiotic -loaded beverage.

Like Ashley before me, I found it tart, like a thin balsamic vinaigrette with some light carbonation. Perhaps the most striking fact though was the display of sugar contents, comparing the light Kombucha against sugar-loaded Coke, Arizona Iced Tea, Snapple and Gatorade… it was grossly jarring.

Runa: In the non-fermented division, Runa tea was probably the best thing I sipped all day. Sold in both looseleaf, and more recently bottled form, this brand of guayusa teas was wonderful, light but brightly flavored. A mint tea was clean and compared favorably to Moroccan style pours, while a lemon-lemongrass combo was upfront and bold. The company, a fair-trade shop out of Brooklyn started as a co-op at Brown University, sells its wares at most Yes! markets.

The Chocolate Rumble: The largest battle of the day was between two chocolate purveyors: Equal Exchange and Divine Chocolate. The former provided a delightful mid-level dark chocolate with cool blasts of mint and crackle texture, while the latter wooed me with combinations like hazelnut, dried cranberry and orange zest. Both sold in Borderstan markets, the winner by a hair was Equal Exchange, but only by that much.


Love and Carrots: In the coolest “oh hey, this is a totally great idea” moment, we stumbled upon two charming ladies at the Love and Carrots booth. Their business is an organic home garden service, which is to say that they’ll come to your home, design and install a tailored vegetable garden at your residence, and come back to maintain it.

For someone like me, who’s always wanted my own urban garden, but has a habit of not watering plants and the carpentry skills of a toddler with a toy hammer, this sounds like pretty much the best idea ever, especially in our fair neighborhood.

And now for some non-food related green topics…

DC Greens/Common Good/Mundo Verde: Surprisingly, one of the larger set-ups was Ford’s; turns out they were promoting their new greener line of cars and sponsoring a contest where festival-goers voted on one (of five) local charities to which Ford would donate $5,000.

Three of these charities have Borderstan roots: DC Greens works to restore the District’s eighty-something public school gardens, working with teachers to develop yearlong green curricula for students; Common Good is a city farm right near Howard University that takes on volunteer labor, and based on income, exchange it for up to 10 pounds of fresh produce (sort of like a work-CSA exchange program); and Mundo Verde is DC’s first green public charter school which moved in August from its 20th and S Street NW location to a new site in Mount Pleasant.

Nusta Spa – A Dupont Circle business since 2004, Nusta Spa recently underwent a renovation which earned itself Gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its sustainable interior (the first ever spa to receive that certification). I can’t speak for the decor, but any owner whose vision includes sustainability for something we wouldn’t normally think of as needing to be sustainable… that’s cool.

Mr. Ellie Pooh - I’m not joking with you: this guy sold paper made out of elephant dung. And cute cards, too! Definitely not what I was expecting.

All in all, a lot of surprises and great work being done at the DC Green Festival. See you next year!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Toki Underground

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: H Street NE

The Setup


The first time we ever attempted to get to Toki Underground, H Street’s well-hyped noodle bar, we literally couldn’t find a day we all could agree on to get out there. The first time we ever got a group together and actually trekked out, we arrived at 6pm on a Saturday night to find (unsurprisingly, I guess) a two-and-a-half hour wait. In fact, this trip was the result of some happenstance: Official Friends of DCWD Sam and Shawn had scored one of the few reservations that Toki offers, but had twice been cancelled upon by the restaurant. So, with their bad luck came our good fortune: four seats at the bar.

The Vibe


The best way to describe Toki’s interior is probably how Shawn stated it upon walking in: “cool as shit.” Sitting on the second floor of a converted townhouse, the walls are alternately covered by faded graffiti, skateboard decks, shelves of mason jars, and a set of panels on which the restaurant’s logo is painted. The space starts with the open kitchen to the back at the mouth of the staircase and then a small bar.

Rails line the outer edge of the space, past the large streetside windows until you hit the staircase which is marked by a thin tree. All of these seats are bar stool style, and that is indeed the trouble with Toki (or in fact, like its seating contemporary minibar, its draw): by our count, there are only 20 or so seats in the restaurant, and so the space fills up quickly and wait times pile on similarly. On this trip, we sat around the corner of the bar, eating atop what seemed to be pachinko machines.

The Food


With the praise that NYT critic Robert Sietsema recently lavished on Toki, we were excited to try as much as the kitchen had to offer. To start, an order of pork dumplings (which either come steamed, deep-fried, or our choice, pan-fried), and the special: a soy-braised pork belly atop a bed of pickled rice, herbs, and sweet yellow corn. The former were wonderfully crisp, six delectable two-bite pockets with generous servings of meat. The latter was an absolutely devastating dish that packed all sorts of flavor into each bite, with hits for every taste bud, salt, sour, and sweet.

For the main event, each of us ordered a different bowl of ramen. I had the toki hakata classic (tonkotsu noodle, pork loin chashu, seasonal vegetables, softboiled egg, red pickled ginger, sesame, scallions, and nori) to which I also added pork cheek. This was an absolute revelation. With the warming and umami-filled pork-based broth, every spoonful of the soup was elevated to something amazing. The loin and cheek were fleshy and tender, falling apart with each bite. The punches of spice and salt were absolutely to die for. Comparing this to other bowls of ramen, even some of the other high-level ones in the city, would be like comparing Iberian jamon to various hams: just on a different level.

Similarly, my companions' soup bowls each brought punches of their own unique, and equally enjoyable tastes. Texas's curry chicken hakata provided a sharp and spicy curry-infused tonkotsu broth with lively five spice fried chicken, both of which brought full flavor and hits of heat. Sam's miso hakata, the vegetarian option, was pleasantly mild with its soybean paste infused broth. Shawn's kimchi hakata, with pork loin and the Korean dish in its name, was equal parts hefty and piquant.

The drinks provided at Toki matched the ramen. A Super Duper Car (Armagnac, Domaine du Canton, lemon juice, shiso lemongrass simple syrup) is perfectly restrained despite its sweet components, while Texas's Blackened Gold (machu pisco, pineapple brulee, cinnamon cayenne syrup, lemon juice, chocolate bitters) is a masterful mixture of caramelized and cocoa sweet. But it's the Toki Monster which is the most memorable, combining comforting and warming Bulliet bourbon, with pepper honey liqueur, a mist of Peat Monster scotch, and the piece d'resistance: a skewer of kushiyaki pork belly.

This heavenly meal is capped off by a most unexpectedly pleasing ending: a plate of warm red miso chocolate chip cookies with a side of milk. For a ramen shop to hit a simple dessert like this out of the park is nothing short of amazing.

The Verdict


If they only served the noodles, this would still have been one of the best meals of the year. With everything else, one of the best restaurants in DC.

Food Rating: *****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)
Pairing
: Head over to Rock N Roll Hotel to participate in the Spelling Buzz: a spelling bee plus a drinking game.

Toki Underground on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

LivingSocial Craft Beer and Food Truck Festival

A few weeks back, we posted about the LivingSocial Craft Beer and Food Truck Festival, the first iteration of what portends to be a series from the D.C.-based group purchasing giant. As recently as a few years ago, you could find only a handful of places that would serve you a "craft beer" better than a PBR. Now, the explosion of beer-focused bars and beverage directors has brought with it the next wave: craft beer festivals. To wit, LivingSocial's was already the third or fourth beer festival we've heard about/gone to this year.

So how did LivingSocial's beerfest stack up? Well, for one, they situated their craft beer festival at the Half Street Fairgrounds, a nice change of pace from the regular Convention Center milieu. For another, they had set up a tent with flat screens playing football as well, allowing those in attendance to keep track of the NFL even as they drank away. All in all, a pretty solid showing. Some pictures below:



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First Look: Drafting Table

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/Logan Circle

The Setup


The first in the new wave of restaurants opening along 14th Street, Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas and I stopped by to take a first look at Drafting Table.

The Vibe

If you knew that Drafting Table took over the old ACKC space on the corner of 14th and Q, you can recognize some of the pieces: the ramp leading down from the front door, the bar to the restaurant's right side, the generally open layout. But even then, you'd be surprised at the renovations that Aaron Gordon's team (he of TangySweet, Red Velvet Cupcakery, and Rabbit Grill) have put in. Gone is the red and gold color scheme with fanciful embellishments, replaced with a much more modern charcoal gray and slate and honey brown that is displayed everywhere, from the aforementioned 15-seat bar, to the bright wood paneling that charmingly lines part of the walls. I can't remember now if ACKC had the brick tile flooring, but at the very least, Drafting Table's new decor makes it a focal point.

Seating follows the open layout: to one side are three communal bar tables, a 14-seat one with numbered-cube light fixtures above it, the others six/seven-seat tables lying perpendicular. The rest of the space takes its cue from the restaurant's namesake, with the eponymous drafting tables making up the rest of the tables. It's certainly charming, though it means that pairs will sit at four-tops. On the plus side, you're gonna have a lot more space than most places; on the down side, you'll also have to battle larger groups for a table. The accompanying chairs also leave a little to be desired: from a decorative perspective, they're cute and quaint, but from an actual sitting perspective, some may find them wobbly and low-to-the-ground.

All the same, the space is nothing if not cool. The aforementioned cubed light fixtures are balanced out with gaslight incandescent bulbs that provide an orange flow to the dim space. Framed blueprints (reminiscent of Meridian Pint's downstairs) hang on the walls, as do black and white portraits, while two flat screens play playoff baseball at the bar. There's a sizable buzz, and you can't escape the feeling that this place fits in very well with what it aims to be: a neighborhood hangout place. My Borderstan editrix Alejandra described it as nice for a first date, nice place to sit and wait for friends. Stole the words out of mouth.

The Food


It's hard to tell whether or not the menu from our dinner is a stripped-down one for opening week, or if it's a true representation of what's to come, but if the former, then the food offerings fit in very nicely with the gastropub description. Or at the very least, fancied-up diner. On this trip, we go for the server's recommendation and the most-interesting-thing-on-the-menu, the kaya toast. It's apparently a Singaporean/Malaysian thing, which makes it an odd blend at first glance given the rest of the dishes. The snack, toast sandwiches of coconut jam meant to be dipped in fried eggs and soy sauce, was something that promised strange flavors. What we had was something very reminiscent of a breakfast of French toast and eggs (especially given my childhood habit of dousing my scrambled eggs in Maggi). Sweet and salty and fun, though nothing crazy memorable.

Texas's entree was the fried chicken and pickles. As her nickname suggests, Texas is serious about her fried... well basically anything, much like I would have strong opinions about pizza or pork roll. So we were in basic disagreement about the fry on her dish. A traditionalist, Texas was a little concerned that Drafting Table batters its chicken much like you would fish and chips, encasing it in a solid crisp rather than say melding it directly onto the skin, like at Popeye's or KFC's. Me, I didn't mind it much, since it still tasted great. Both of us though were in agreement that the portion was surprisingly generous: a leg, a thigh, and a breast. Sadly, both of us were also in agreement that the pickles left something to be desired, tasting a little stale and overcooked.

My draftsman burger (a blended patty of beef and beer braised brisket, crispy blue cheese, apricot chutney, bacon-onion jam) and fries was a solid offering. Definitely juicy, and punched with decent flavor, with no one ingredient overwhelming any of the others. With the brisket intermixed, the whole patty had a much more grounded, gamey, earthy flavor to it, augmented by the tang of chutney and the onions.

For dessert, we split the homemade snickers pie: a wedge slice of a chocolate cookie crust, peanut butter mousse, and snickers pieces. The filling was a little saccharine for us, though the crust was tres enjoyable, and it made for a nice connected end point to the meal.

The Verdict


Like I said, a nice place for a first date in an upbeat hangout spot.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5) 
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: With the weather quickly shifting into fall, get out to nearby pumpkin patch or apple orchard (if you can even find the latter), and get to picking some decorations/apple pie goods.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bar Pilar, Part Deux

This Part Deux takes us to one of our faves, Bar Pilar, after their second floor expansion. On this trip, Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD Rajistan and Chill.

The Vibe

Normally, we wouldn't really revise this, but enough has changed with the recent renovation that it bears discussing. The downstairs retains almost all of its set-up, with the same nooks and crannies, other than the stacked staircase near the front door. The upstairs repeats many of the same decor trends, with exposed brick and painted murals, though the space is almost all table seating, with a series of tightly-spaced two-tops and more freely spaced fours. The only exception is a tight square bar with a handful of seats in the back.

The Food


Despite our hunger, we decided we were much more interested in Bar Pilar's small plates than its entrees, and as a group selected a mixture of veggies, fish, and meat. In the first category were the sauteed mushrooms with butter braised leeks, and the heirloom cherry tomato panzanella. The former, for being so simple, were pretty refreshing, a nice mix of mushrooms with a decent dose of salt. The latter was interesting at the very least, though the bread salad portion of it was a little more aggressive in both flavor and crunchy texture than we probably would have liked.

On the fish end, we split on our thinking about our two choices: the alaskan king salmon with sweet corn, and cherry tomatoes; and the mussels with white wine, butter, shallots, garlic, and grilled bread. I much liked the former, with the filet presenting a nice crisp and the corn and tomatoes providing a bright fresh flavor profile. The group thought better of the mussels, a fairly standard but solid version of the classic dish.

For me, the critical dishes were the meat: the crispy duck confit; the all day roasted pork shoulder with garlic trencher; and the lard fried buttermilk chicken with house made pickles. In our last entry on Bar Pilar, I raved about the pork shoulder and this meal was no different; it dripped apart in tender slices atop a sourdough loaf that was the surprising selling point. The other new orders were similarly tasty: the duck was tender with crackling skin, while the chicken danced perfectly between juicy and crispy.

The Verdict


Just as good as before.

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

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:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: 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

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Munchies: The Mediterannean Spot

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup


For a quick lunchtime break, I popped over to the newly arrived Mediterannean Spot.

The Vibe

Supposedly, the shop moved from a spot further down U Street, but as a neighborhood restaurant for the last couple years, I couldn't tell you where that may have been. All I know is the history of its current space: the old Love Cafe space which closed down last year. From there, the corner space on 15th and U stayed relatively vacant with things slowly coming into being: first, a banner announcing the new tenants, then an exterior paint job that turned the facade a garish sea-green blue, and then another one that made it a more appealing bright blue. The insides remain basically the same as before, a stripped down cafe space composed of salvaged furniture.

The Food


On this trip, I ordered a falafel platter and a beef shawarma platter, each coming with additional sides of chopped stewed spinach or rice, and a light garden salad. The two dishes were wildly different in their results. The beef shawarma was brilliant, juicy but not overwhelmingly oily, and perfectly complemented by the rice. On the other hand, the falafel was bland, barely tasting like anything resembling what you'd get from an Amsterdam Falafel. Instead, it was a little mealy and left something to be desired.

The Verdict


So far, great for certain things, disappointing on others.

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



<a href="http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/7/1698911/restaurant/DC/U-Street-Shaw/The-Mediterranean-Spot-Washington"><img alt="The Mediterranean Spot on Urbanspoon" src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1698911/minilogo.gif" style="border:none;padding:0px;width:104px;height:15px" /></a>

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Floriana

Shorter version appeared originally on Borderstan

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Conservatively, I must have walked by it hundreds of times with the same thought; oh, we should eat there soon. And yet, after eight years in the city, it was only a few weeks ago that Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas finally walked into the converted house that is Floriana.

The Vibe


The scene is new but strangely known: the wide open-air patio; the worn wooden floors; the overarching feeling of crimson throughout the restaurant’s color scheme like the awning above the front door. Where the outside is relaxed (and during Pride Parade weekend, colorful), the inside is more upscale, with cream crown moldings framing vermilion walls, and trim drapes adding to the dim light level.

Tables are stacked close and the inside is quite full, leading to quite an ample noise level. On some level, it feels much like what eating inside someone’s historic townhome dining room and living room would be like. Heck, our table was even next to the fireplace. What’s more, service is warm and helpful: our waiter, recommending a delicious Four Graces pinot noir from Willamette for that Sunday’s half-off all wine special. 

The Food

The decor sets the mood and reflects the restaurant’s cuisine, similarly rustic and familiar yet refined. On this trip, while Texas ordered straight up, I indulged in a Restaurant Week extension, which helped us taste more of the kitchen’s offerings. To start, I had a bowl of little neck clams and pancetta with capers and heirloom cherry tomatoes in a white wine sauce. The overall taste was a hair salty, with each component adding additional salinity to the pancetta. But it was still a solid contrast of flavors with excellent balance, and a decent representation of a classic dish.

For her main meal, Texas ordered gnocchi in a braised wild boar ragu. The potato pasta pieces were pillowy, soft and just the right texture of fluffy with decent flavor. They were submerged in the sauce, which was sharp with overall pleasing gamey notes. I had the scallop and shrimp risotto, which blended creamy mascarpone and a hint of white truffle oil. The divers were crusty and sweet with a wonderful caramelized edge. Plus, the chefs did us a solid by shelling and de-tailing the shrimp.

For dessert, we ordered the tiramisu, which came with the descriptor, “one of the best in the city." Maybe it wasn't life changing; but it was definitely a solid bite of sweetness and rich coffee flavor.

The Verdict


A solid neighborhood spot definitely worth a visit.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm to chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: If you're still peckish afterwards, head to Taste of DC on October 6-8th at the Ronald Reagan Building.

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