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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Southern Hospitality

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup


Needing a place to catch up with Official Friends of DCWD Burgh and Flo over dinner, we chose the restaurant across the street: Southern Hospitality.

The Vibe

The other day I was watching How Do You Know, the Paul Rudd - Reese Witherspoon romantic comedy set in our fair city, when I noticed for the first time that Paul Rudd's character lives in Adams Morgan. And if the backdrop highlights are correct, it would sit on the same block as Southern Hospitality. So that's one thought. The other, more importantly, is that the restaurant occupies the former Adams Mill space, a dank bar with a spotty reputation. So that's the other thing I have in my mind when I walk in.

What's good is that Southern Hospitality has cleaned up a great deal. It's decorative touches are like a million other restaurants: exposed brick, wood paneling, dim lighting, . Seating is expansive: two full floors of twos and fours and booths, with a lacquered wood bar downstairs. It's definitely a step up from Adams Mill, but it still feels tremendously bro-ey on the inside, the sort of bar that exists quite frequently in Georgetown.

The Food


The group of us order a number of dishes, of which three encapsulate the dinner and cover the kitchen's theme: the jambalaya, the rockfish-risotto fritters, and the shrimp and grits.

The fritters arrive first. Small bites of fish and risotto fried into a crust and served with remoulade, they are fairly plain, lacking the trademark creaminess or punch of flavor that might normally be expected; the remoulade helped a little bit, but not terribly much. The filling cried out for a dash of salt or some heat, and the more I revisit it, the more I challenge whether or not this combination was doomed from the start.

The jambalaya, a traditional blend of rice, shrimp, chicken chorizo, and andouille sausage, is similarly bland. The fillings are nice, but the stew binding them together is gummy and thin. The best jambalayas I've had were hearty, piquant, and felt luxurious as you eat it. This was none of those things, the choice of chicken chorizo feeling sort of empty, and the whole thing just disappointed.

Texas's shrimp and grits with asparagus and corn made us all think, "oh hey, now I know where the cream from the risotto went." This might be a matter of preference on how one likes grits, but I definitely don't think the cream sauce is the way to go. The whole affair turned into one pasty bite after another, the shrimp overcooked especially in comparison to everything else. The corn was also an interesting addition; I didn't think it added anything.

The Verdict


If Urbanspoon is to be trusted, I'm clearly in the minority here. But I just didn't like it at all.

Food Rating: * 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Frat House
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: If you're already up for it, I guess you can wander the 18th Street stretch and cap off the night at any number of Adams-Morgan watering holes (The Reef? Madam's Organ? Dan's?)

Southern Hospitality on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First Look: Matchbox, Part Deux

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Four, the newest one at 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


This Part Deux, like its new 14th Street neighbor Black and Orange, visits a new location of a restaurant we've already been to: Matchbox, with Official Friend of DCWD Swizzle.

The Vibe

If you lived in the neighborhood before, you know the location: the old Arena Stage location on 14th and T, which was a beautiful brick building with a decaying empty pit of an inside. I always wondered why someone didn't buy up the space and develop it. So it was a little bit of happiness that the Matchbox Food Group came along and did it.

If you've ever been to any of their locations, you'll recognize the architecture and the flourishes: the exposed metal staircases, the proliferation of hardwood and wood paneling, and several levels and layers of seating. There's the bar to the left, several TV screens above it, there's the patio outside with the rollaway awning, there's the raised patio.

The Food


For this meal, Swizzle and I had wandered in for brunch, so we decided to go half and half on the two dishes that sounded the best: the poached pear waffle, and the bloody mary burger. The waffle was fine: a nice balance between crunchy and fluffy, not too heavy on the sweet, enough things to keep you interested. On the other hand, it wasn't anything to write home about, and depending on your affinity for things IHOP, it was only really on that level, as opposed to something greater.

The burger was a little bit better for both of us. The eponymous flavor was built into the mayo, with some additional flavors being provided by the fried egg and cheddar mix that sat atop the patty. Meaty and punchy, the burger was a nice and hangover-friendly set of juicy bites to start a solid morning.

The Verdict


As good as the other locations, but bigger and with more seating options (if not actual seats). Plus, as a resident, a nice addition to an otherwise vacant corner.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

Friday, January 25, 2013

First Look: Taan Noodles

Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup


After our stop in at Edgar, we still felt a little peckish. Official Friends of DCWD Burgh and Flo alerted us to a brand new ramen joint that had just opened down the street from their house. How about some takeout and HIMYM? How about yes?

The Vibe

It's interesting to me that, if Toki signals the oncoming ramen revolution about to take over DC, that two of its first spots would open up within a city block of one another; after all, Taan sits just down the street from recently opened Sakuramen. Where that restaurant opted for traditional Japanese, Taan went with the current restaurant trend: rustic and refurbished farmhouse. To wit, all of the restaurant's decorations from the antique cash register and red doors on the wall behind the bar to the mason jars and crates on wooden shelves hammered into the exposed brick come from an estate in West Virginia.

Seating consists of an eight-seat bar to the left of the restaurant with a series of two-top and four-top high tables in the front and right side of the restaurant. In the rear of the restaurant is a set of stairs to a second floor landing, though the bartender reveals this is just overflow space; the idea is that those waiting for a seat can wait with their drinks up there. Not a bad idea (one almost wishes Toki had a similar system, given the quality of their drinks and the wait times).

The Food


Being the people that we are, Texas opts for a vegetarian ramen, while I go with the Maze-Men, which can best be described as "throw everything in the bowl" soup. The former is a beet-based soup, with tomato, charred corn, purple potato, baby carrots, shichimi, basil oil, beet pickles, and a yuzu creme fraiche. Texas very much is leery of all things beet, so it was surprising how much she enjoyed her bowl, considering how forward the beet flavor was. "Yup, this basically just tastes like really good beets," was everyone's opinion. Still, I don't want to sell it short: the vegetables were solid, the tomato and corn particularly surprising and refreshing.

Mine, like I said, was a everything-but-the-sink dish: pork belly, duck confit, chicken confit, pickled cucumber, tomato, charred corn, scallions, woodear mushrooms, mustard greens, chilis, nori, and egg yolk. Curiously, the one thing it does not come with is broth; instead, it's intentionally given a small amount which wets the whole thing, but makes it a little less than a soup. Still, there are many brilliant things to love about this dish: the deliciously seared pork belly, the brilliant nuggets of charred corn, the mustard greens that make me want to eat just them forever. It's one weakness is the poultry: the confits are a little dry and seem out of place. Burgh and Flo point out that their previous visit was for the Triple Stock, a dish that includes all the things I liked about the Maze-Men and none of the things I don't. Noted.

The Verdict


Delicious. A less crowded, poor man's version of Toki.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two) 

Taan Noodles on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

First Look: Edgar Bar and Kitchen

Neighborhood: Farragut

The Setup


On this First Look, we visit the revamped bar at the Mayflower Hotel, Edgar Bar and Kitchen. On this trip: Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD Burgh and Flo.

The Vibe

If there's a prototypical picture of 1950s Washington and its dealings, it goes something like this: a group of huddling men in a corner booth; an austere room where the cigar smoke rises up the wood paneling to dim lights; handshake deals and all manners of spycraft happening over tumblers of whiskey and fingers of bourbon. These days, as our city starts elbowing its way into the upper echelon of epicurean cities, bars and restaurants like these are increasingly falling by the wayside; old standbys like Kinkead's shutter while 14th Street flourishes with the next round of craft cocktails or small plates or exposed brick/refurbished barn wood decor. Don't get me wrong. I love these things. But that's why the Mayflower Hotel's refurbished bar intrigues me so much: it's like a high-speed collision between the old and the new.

Take the decor. The old Town and Country, the bar that Edgar replaces within the Mayflower Hotel, was a monument to the days of its replacement's namesake and frequent patron, former FBI director/Leonardo diCaprio title role J. Edgar Hoover. The re-design and re-branding has jettisoned with the old while keeping some of the prettiest design elements intact. To wit, the feel remains generally the same: here, on one side of the bar, are black leather riveted booths below dark wood paneling. In front of you, a backlit bar ensconced in art-deco-style mirrored columns framed in polished silver. To your side, a wall of emerald brick tile that frames the doorway; in some ways, it feels like a cleaned up 1920s cigar lounge. Still, it's the cleaned up parts that bring some modern nuance, from the exposed brick on the restaurant side, to the light gray granite tile that decks the bar, to the globe lighting that hangs overhead.

The Food


The menu is generally what one expects, except for perhaps the steak offerings. A slate of sandwiches and burgers and salads is flanked by an interesting list of small plates and flatbreads and charcuterie, another nod to the new and trendy. On this trip, my four companions and I order two plates to share and a round of cocktails.  The cocktails are on the sweeter side, and are enjoyable, though could use some better punch. My pom-blackberry balsamic bourbon tastes exactly like what it sounds like: bourbon with a splash of tart and sweet, though at times, it leans toward watery. A play on a Tom Collins injects the traditional lemon-gin combo with some cucumber, basil, and Chambord, producing a grenadine-like flavor finish, though Texas notes that it leaves a slight bubble gum taste on the mouth.

Our dishes are similarly straightforward bar bites: a set of crispy artichokes with a hint of lemon, paired with a parsley aioli dipping sauce; and cheddar potato croquettes filled with Benton's smoked bacon and placed atop a chive aioli. Neither, however, is anything to call home about; the aiolis are bland and the flavor contrasts meek. Like many of the other small plates, it's optimally designed for a post-work grub grab: drink here, dip here, eat this. But it lacks the critical imagination needed to be anything other than the hotel bar.

The Verdict


I'd skip it, unless you really want to pretend you're in Covert Affairs.

Food Rating: * 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
 

Edgar Bar & Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Quick Bites: Kushi, Part Deux

This Part Deux brings us back to Japanese izakaya and sushi spot Kushi. On this trip with me, Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas.

The Food


The one thing you can never say is that Kushi lacks for interesting menu choices. To wit, the mozzarella cheese kushi katsu, a izakaya version of a mozzarella cheese stick. And just as delightfully salty. On the other end of the flavor spectrum, the honey banana katsu, with nice notes of caramelization and sweet. There are solid successes: the duck fat pork ribs that drip with a slick and sweet soy glaze that combines all the wonderful parts of Japanese cuisine with the oh-you-all-know-you-love-them guilty pleasures of Chili's; a pleasant grilled shrimp hinted with shichimi-garlic butter; a delightful crisp on the pork belly buta bara. There are also some small slip-ups: a slightly overcooked sword fish robata, a thin dashi tofu broth, and a yellowtail and scallion roll that needs just one thing more.

Still, it's hard to imagine something that crams well-presented Japanese flavors in a convivial atmosphere better than Kushi.









The Verdict


If you can't squeeze into Izakaya Seki, or your party's looking for something a little more... well, party-esque, some of the best Japanese flavors.

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Munchies: Lemongrass Truck

In our endless search for the best banh mi in the city, we of course decided to try the many Vietnamese food trucks that have popped up with their mobile contemporaries. On this trip we sample the Lemongrass Truck and its signature dish: the eponymous lemongrass chicken banh mi.

There's a lot to like about this representation: a nice crusty roll, solid pickled vegetables.  What's curious is the lemongrass chicken, a little bland and thin. What ultimately makes it intriguing and enjoyable, a spicy mayo with hits of lime and hints of spice that bind the whole thing together.


The Verdict

Pretty solid.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

First Look: Range

Neighborhood: Friendship Heights

The Setup


A needed day off and a pair of free AMC movie tickets were already in the bag, and the subject of dinner had come up. "Hey, there's an AMC in Friendship Heights. Why don't we try Range?" asked Official Co-Writer/Girlfriend of DCWD Texas. Brilliant idea.

The Vibe

It's no secret here that we love what Bryan Voltaggio does, from the upscale Volt to the downscale Lunchbox. Part of that is his restaurants' design aesthetics, which often puts modern touches into traditional settings, transforming it overall into something clean, functional, and pleasing. On some level, Range's interior conceit is the equivalent of taking Volt's front room and back room, mashing them together, and landing them in a mall.

Ah yes, the mall part. Range sits on the second (or at least one level above ground) floor of the Chevy Chase Pavilion, a stark newly renovating mall on the very edge of the District's limits. The restaurant makes fun use of this blank canvas: its main dining room curves around the floor's edge with full-length window panes for its wall, like an observation deck. Which is nice on one hand, since it allows you to see Range's brilliant decor from a lot of vantage points in the mall, and since the mall's renovation has included bedazzling itself with LED screens that shift colors. It's also weird, since your view on the edge isn't something like the City of Seattle or the international terminal at LAX, but rather an under construction Starbucks.

Still, the interior is charming. Like his other spots, the mood is relaxed and inviting, almost austere in its lack of adornments. Instead, it brings a lot of clean white and grey and beige and lots of horizontal lines, from the honey brown slats behind the bar, to the triplet lines that mark each interior column. A good deal of glow is provided from the exterior mall, with light supplemented by a multitude of fishbowl-sized orbs and track spotlights. The furniture is modern too: lots of squarish leather-upholstered ecru seats in the house.

Seating wildly varies with fours and twos scattered about, and ringside seating along the edge of the massive open kitchen. There's something to be said that a two-top can be either the best seat in the house (central in the main dining room along the windows) or the worst (squeezed in the back in the half-booths). The scale of the restaurant can't be understated either; a walk to the bathrooms shows you that there's a whole other dining room and private room to the rear.

The only other thing to note is the buzz around the place: it's still early yet, but it's hard to imagine the excitement around Range dying down substantially any time soon. I mean, it's a native son with Top Chef credentials debuting his newest restaurant as he moves evermore towards central D.C., with few if any contemporaries in the surrounding neighborhood; to wit, its next-door neighbor is a Cheesecake Factory. The incredible diversity of patrons is noticeable: there are almost as many businesspeople in work attire as there are locals in sneakers. It'll be interesting to track how Range plays out: is it just a neighborhood place or THE neighborhood place? Put another way, is it the restaurant you put your jacket on for, the one you reserve when you want to signal to your date that you're serious? Or is it be the familiar "our restaurant" sort of place where families takes their kids every Sunday? Or will it be both?

What's definitely true is this: on this Tuesday night, the place is packed.

The Food


Our waitress stops by to do the normal "let me tell you about our restaurant" shtick (oh hey, this place is small plates, bee tee dubs), when she drops an interesting note: the kitchen, the open one that extends across the entire back of the restaurant with a score of chefs shuffling around behind it, is actually nine (!) separate kitchens that are operating fairly autonomously. Each of them revolves around one of the categories on the menu, ranging from the raw to the wood grill. They'll fire stuff accordingly (you're not gonna get your steak before the bread), but things are coming as they're done.

So our first three dishes arrived fairly concurrently. The first was the skillet corn bread with a bacon marmalade, which frankly might have been the best part of this early round. The corn bread was relatively light, even with its healthy pat of herbed butter on top, with a nice homey moistness about it. The marmalade was assertive but not aggressive, dancing that fine line between being too jammy and being too salty quite admirably.

The other two dishes were good but had their little imperfections. Our crudo of kampachi with pine nuts, radicchio, microgreens, and a candied lemon puree was a perfectly good dish but had some minor things about it that made it miss the cut: our particular slices of fish were a little tendony, and the lemon hit was a tad bit overpowering. Still, the flavor combinations were nice and straightforward. It was something that was enjoyable but not terribly memorable.

Our pasta was the pumpernickel cassarecci with bits of lambs tongue and (supposedly) gruyere. The cassarecci were a little firm for my taste (though Texas noted, that might have just been the necessary consequence of their composition), but I quite liked the pumpernickel flavor. The lambs' tongue bits were juicy, though a little small and infrequent. And I say supposedly on the gruyere, because I'm not sure there was any on the dish (maybe it was in the sauce). Either way, not a bad dish, just not our favorite either. Texas and I love to play what I call the "Elimination Game" when we can't decide on a dish on a menu; each person takes a turn eliminating something they don't want until you get down to the ones you want. This one was my call, and when the chestnut ravioli we passed on landed at the next table, I was a little sad, we didn't get that instead.

The meal picked up significantly from there though, starting with our first main: a prawn pizza topped with arugala and black winter truffle. I have strong feelings about shrimp; I grew up with the deliciousness of Vietnamese poached shrimp, and so I'm always wary of ordering it elsewhere. Still, these prawns were perfectly cooked, and the pizza was delicious: crisp, faintly blackened by the wood oven, with a light oil to it. The arugala was a strong complement, though the truffle was less apparent. Definitely a highlight to our night, and one of the better bang-for-your-buck items on the menu.

The last two dishes came at the same time, the first a seared hanger steak with roasted shishito peppers, the second slices of venison with an espresso spaetzel, a crisp oyster, and candied orange peels. Both can be described in relatively the same way: solidly cooked with a nice sear and tender on the inside; a nice hint of salt on the crust; very forward earthy flavors.

The difference were their accompaniments: the shishito peppers were straightforward, finished with some fleur de sel, while the venison's partners were a little more creative, though no less successful. We didn't get much of the espresso part of it, but the orange peel was a cool sweet pairing.

To end the night, we ordered the chocolate ganache tart topped with an almond milk ice cream and some poached pear. To quote Texas, "Yea. It's a ganache, alright." Which is to say it was not an outlier both in a good way and in a bad way. For me, the ice cream was the most interesting part, a nice milky addition that changed it from being just a hit of chocolate.

The Verdict


It's not quite a finished product yet (something we definitely factor in). And we recognize we had high expectations, given our experiences at Chef Voltaggio's other restaurants. It's not Volt South, and frankly, it's not trying to be. But it's a solid addition to the neighborhood, a wonderful date space, and a kitchen with a lot of potential.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: There's plenty of shopping to be had here on this strip of Wisconsin Ave. from the department stores down the street, to the Mazza Gallerie and Chevy Chase Pavilion itself. We stopped by Williams-Sonoma ourselves.

Range on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bobby's Burger Palace

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: K Street/Foggy Bottom

The Setup


Needing a quick bite in the Foggy Bottom area, and with long lines all over the new Avenue compelx, I popped by Bobby's Burger Palace.

The Vibe


One of the more recent additions in the chain burger restaurants to land in D.C., Bobby's Burger Palace is brought to you by the eponymous Chef Bobby Flay's and offers a bright vibrant and borderline-amusement-parky vibe that you would expect from a celebrity chef's casual outpost. Maybe it's the whimsical S-shaped countertop that winds its way along one wall, striped in shades of brown with a complementary printer ribbon-esque lighting fixture above it. Maybe it's the preponderance of bright colors in the rainbow color scheme, taken from the colors of a clip art burger: fifty shade of brown, a lime green, a bright orange-red, and a dull orange-yellow. atmosphere. Maybe it's the series of modern floating orb light fixtures or the myriad tableaus of burger ingredients. But all of it combines to make the space feel like the midpoint between a mid-century modern/pop art installation and a restaurant at Disneyworld.

The Food


While the menu obviously lacks variety in dishes, you can't say the Burger Palace lacks variety in the type of burger you can consume. There are at least ten burgers with multiple milkshake choices, most of the former attaching themselves and their ingredients to an American city: Dallas, Philadelphia, L.A., Miami. On this trip, I sampled the Napa Valley, appropriately topped with goat cheese, watercress, and a lemon honey mustard, and ordered a vanilla caramel bourbon spiked milkshake.

There are a lot of jokes to make about Food Network stars and their restaurants these days (see: Wells, Pete and Fieri, Guy). But this burger was actually pretty decent, with a nice portion of goat cheese on top of it, and a nice match of tart and mellow and juiciness. It almost made me feel a little bit guilty that I liked this burger, from a celebrity chef with scores of restaurants pressed into obligatory "grill guy" service, as much as I have liked other burgers from more local restaurateurs. Though, on the other hand, the milkshake was just okay, since more punch would have been nice (if that comes with more bourbon, that'd be okay by me).

The Verdict


Not bad, Bobby Flay, Not bad.

Food Rating:
** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Frat House
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Quick Bites: Equinox

Our love for Equinox is pretty much all over this site. So it was to our dismay that we saw Tom Sietsema's sizable downgrade for the restaurant in the city's paper of record. Had Chef Todd Gray indeed lost his mojo?

A recent visit proves otherwise. Take the simple salad of rainbow beets, ricotta beignets, pomengranate seeds, and toasted pistachio, which plays light and sweet, playing up the earthiness of the beets by pairing it with a sweet citrus vinaigrette. A classic beef carpaccio with quail egg and mushrooms presents on the palate exactly as expected, with an extra hint of truffle. Two pastas dazzle: a pappardelle with grilled octopus, caramelized butternut squash, rapini, and chorizo is wonderfully seasonal, a deep and warm bite of salt and savory; while an agnolotti of ricotta cheese and caramelized onions, cabbage, and a parmesan-truffle butter sauce is a late candidate for dish of the year, with a swirling indulgence of captivating flavors.

Definitely still one of the best.





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

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

We Made It From The Market: Arctic Char with White Beans, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes

Sometimes you find something at a market that you just want to eat that night. And sometimes you find something in the back of your pantry and need to use it up. This post is about both of those times.

The item in question in the first bit is a bright piece of arctic char. The ingredients in the second were a few cans of white beans and some tomatoes. A quick Epicurious search later and voila! The below, from Bon Appetit:

Arctic Char with White Beans, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes

Oven-dried tomatoes:
1 pound plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Beans:
1 cup large white beans
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup chopped leek (white and pale green parts only)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped peeled carrot
4 cups (about) low-salt chicken broth, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 small bay leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 pound fresh wild mushrooms (such as chanterelle, porcini, or stemmed shiitake), thickly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped

Fish:
Olive oil
4 6-ounce arctic char fillets with skin (each 3/4 to 1 inch thick)
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

For oven-dried tomatoes:
Preheat oven to 250°F. Cut each plum tomato in half lengthwise and place, cut side up, on rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle tomatoes with oil, then sprinkle with chopped thyme, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Roast tomatoes until tender and dry-looking on top but still moist, about 1 hour 45 minutes. Cool

For beans:
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leek, onion, and carrot; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Add 3 cups broth, wine, bay leaves, chopped sage, and reserved mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any sediment behind. Drain beans; add beans to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until beans are tender, stirring occasionally and adding more broth by 1/2 cupfuls to keep beans just covered, about 2 hours. Season beans to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced wild mushrooms, garlic, and shallot; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir mushrooms into beans. Keep mixture warm. 

For fish: Preheat broiler. Brush fish on both sides with oil; place on broiler pan, skin side down. Sprinkle each with salt, pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon fennel pollen. Broil fish, flesh side up, 4 inches from heat source until just opaque in center (do not turn), 4 to 5 minutes. 

Spoon 1 cup bean mixture into center of each plate. Top beans with tomato halves, then fish, flesh side up.

Taste Test: 4 Forks