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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Pulpo

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Cleveland Park

The Setup


With a new chef and a revamped menu in tow, Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas and I were invited to sample the changes at Cleveland Park's Pulpo.

The Vibe

Pulpo sits in the former Tackle Box space on Connecticut, a space that holds a dear place in our hearts, since this was one of the first spots we ever went to together, back when Texas was still just an official Friend of the blog. Since the restaurants turned over a year ago, Pulpo hasn't done much to change the physical architecture of the space, save for replacing a few picnic-style tables with more high-end group settings. The two-level exposed-ceiling, refurbished-warehouse feel remains. Instead, the shift has come in decor: a fresh coat of red and yellow paint, a few portraits of the octopus logo on the walls, and what was once the raw bar has been turned into an ice bucket for cold sherry storage.

The Food


As Pulpo is yet another small plates restaurant, a few rounds of food and drink came out, starting with a cocktail for me and wine for her. Mine was a Blood Thirsty Spaniard, a mix of rum, cherry brandy, port, cava, brandied cherries, and lemon. Despite all of the booze in it, the drink was surprisingly light, though not as sweet as expected. A fun drink from what seems to be an interesting and varied selection, which includes a number of virgin or alcoholic agua frescas that we didn't get to try on this dinner.

Two soups started our meal, both described as gazpacho, though neither hewing towards the tomato base the name might portend. The first was a watermelon gazpacho, bits of chopped up watermelon and tomato in a long-and-thin bowl, topped off with housemade ricotta and some basil. The second was perhaps an even further departure from the standard: an asparagus gazpacho, centered by a saffron soft-boiled egg and black caviar. Of the two, the watermelon was the far superior, with a tartness to each bite that I quite enjoyed (though Texas thought it was a bit acid heavy). Bites that blended the ricotta did a much better job of mellowing the dish out, and made the whole affair a good refreshing start to the meal. On the other hand, the asparagus one is perhaps the definition of the word "interesting." The dish's concept blends three incredibly strong flavors (asparagus, egg, caviar) which results in a forward flavor of salt. Again, for both of us, our thought on the soup was "this is intriguing, we've never had this before, not sure I would need to order it again."

The dishes came fast and furious after that, in sets of two. Round two brought us a plate of bacon brussels sprouts, and a chorizo pate atop an avocado mousse among pickled cauliflower. Our server proudly proclaimed that the bacon brussels sprouts is a dish that had survived the menu purge, a popular dish that frequently populates customers' orders and Yelp reviews. Still, he admits that the recipe itself is constantly tinkered with, meaning the blackened and dressed sprouts we received were different than the more-heavily-battered version of yore. The dish is good, with a strong char taste that's quite enjoyable. The variable here is the size of the sprout; smaller ones are more cooked through and are softer than the larger ones, resulting in perhaps an even textural finish. Really, this is mostly only a concern for those who like their sprouts one way or the other, but since Texas and I are split on that spectrum, the bowl is eagerly finished.

As for the chorizo pate, they arrive as inch-long cubes and are wonderful bits packed with flavor. The avocado mousse and cauliflower seemed secondary here, and added little to the pate, but the overall feeling on this dish was a pleasant one.

Our next set was a plate of ropa vieja, shredded beef atop a bed of black beans and tostones; as well as a basket of chicharrones with garlic aioli. The ropa vieja, a traditional Spanish dish, is brilliant and our favorite entree of the evening. The meat was a bit drier than perhaps we had expected, but was packed with spice and when mixed with the beans and crunchy tortillas bits below, was a wonderful textural mix that recalled a friendly homemade meal.

On the flip side, the chicharonnes (or perhaps as you know them, pork rinds) were reminiscent of more grab-and-go affairs. Light, airy, and with a hint of piquant, these were quite snackable and would make for perfect bar food, though perhaps not something to be regularly ordered for a dinner.

Our last round was a bit of seafood: a plate of sea scallops with blistered padron peppers and "angry" popcorn atop a sweetcorn puree; and the restaurant's eponymous octopus prepared with quinoa, olives, oranges, and parsley. Our server had noted that the menu itself, though recently redesigned, was still in a constant state of fine-tuning, and much like the asparagus gazpacho, the scallops pointed to that. To wit, the scallops themselves were wonderfully seared, and when taken together with the peppers was a fairly traditional, fairly savory bite. But the popcorn here confused us: dusted with a dash of heat, they were again "interesting," but we were unclear on their place in the large concept of the dish.

The octopus (the menu's central feature, given the name of the restaurant) was also interesting, but in a better way. The bits of octopus were rendered much differently than in other establishments, resulting in a less chewy, more tender bite. The accompaniments could have punched it all up a bit more, but the dish as a whole was nice.

Our last dish was also perhaps our favorite of the night: a take on tres leches with a layers of angel food cake mixed with goat cheese frosting, dulce de leche, a sheep's milk foam, blueberries, and crumble. For both of us, tres leches can verge on the edge of saccharine or overly cloying and syrupy. This was far from that: a dessert that managed to be both milky and gooey but light, one that mixed the more traditional hints of caramel with mellowing flavors of goat cheese. One of the better desserts we've had this year.

The Verdict


Still evolving even after the recent menu change, so some of the dishes are still a work in progress. But there are some wonderful bites to be had here.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing
: Browse for some offbeat gifts at the quirky Wake Up Little Suzie, a small store on the same block.

Pulpo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First Look: Ted's Bulletin on 14th

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Two locations: Capitol Hill and 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


With a need for dinner up around 14th and U in hand, and a brand-new, sparkling Ted's Bulletin waving its hand at us within eyesight of the intersection, Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas and I headed over to the brand new edition of the Capitol Hill restaurant.

The Vibe

Admission: I haven't yet been to the original version. In fact my basis of comparison here, much like my general standard for the entire restaurant explosion of the 14th Street Corridor, is from being a resident. Over the last nine years of the city, and the last three+ as a resident of the general neighborhood, seeing older run-down shops turn themselves into big-block, mixed-use anchors is altogether startling, exciting, and interesting.

Ted's Bulletin is one of these. For the life of me, I can't remember what used to sit on that block, only that now the ground-level restaurant occupies an incredibly large space a block from its sister restaurant Matchbox. The space itself is apparently larger than the original, the product of a full-service bakery and bar as you enter. The interior decor is like a high speed collision between a diner and a 1920s bar (a la across-the-street Bar Pilar): vintage paneling meets deli letterboards, mustard yellow button-tufted upholstery meets swivel pedestal bar stools and refurbished schoolchairs, a metal tiled ceiling and art deco light fixtures meets painted exposed brick and several projections showing The Wizard of Oz. Beige, the aforementioned yellow, chocolate brown, and black is the palette of choice throughout the restaurant, from the simple bar and bakery upfront, to the main dining area in the back, which consists of a row of counter and kitchen seating, a ring of half-booths, and three rows of booth-style table seating.

As is a new restaurant's wont, service is up-and-down. Our milkshake order is strangely incorrect (strange in the sense that it seems to combine two different milkshakes, rather than just a outright misorder), but our server is fun, knowledgeable, and makes some fine suggestions to guide our dinner.

The Food


The menu at Ted's Bulletin is large and varied, and hews more to the diner side of the things. To wit, breakfast is served all day, lunch and dinner start at 11am, and the pickings (in most ways, thankfully) hedges its bet by being bigger and greasy-spoonier. Texas and I split an Apple Pie milkshake, loaded with a mix of actual apple pie filling and Bailey's. As noted above, our first shake arrives with what appears to be an incredible load of coconut, and our second corrected shake seems bereft of the promised crushed graham cracker, which acts as the crust. Still, the shake is admirably thin, unlike the sludgy, hard-to-slurp milkshakes at other more speed-oriented places.

For our meal, Texas orders the "famous" grilled cheese and tomato soup. Our server helpfully lets us know that while the default is white bread and American, that there are a variety of breads and twelve different cheeses we can sub instead. Moreover, when Texas contemplates adding a side of mac and cheese, our server suggests we just put the mac and cheese on the sandwich itself. What arrives is just that: a mac-and-cheese filled marble rye sandwich bound together by American that's gooey and filling. As for the soup, even with my dislike of tomato soups, even I had to admit that this was delicious, a mild restrained version free from the oversweetness that plagues the Campbell's variety, that was pleasantly chunky and herb-forward.

For my dish, our server narrows my burger debate down to one: the peanut butter bacon burger, which is exactly what it sounds like. My other options had been more traditional (or at least safer), but this was an incredible surprise, the kind of dish that makes you think out loud, "I don't know who decided to combine these things, but it's incredible that it all works." Even a few days later, I can't fully describe what exactly the peanut butter added, only that it felt much the way a strong broth binds together all the components of a soup. Not an everyday sort of meal, but one that merits a strong recommendation.

Full from our dinner but wary of the immense buzz surrounding it, Texas and I got one of Ted's Bulletin's famous homemade pop tarts to go. How much one enjoys it is strongly correlated with how much one likes the sort of cupcake icing that is ubiquitous these days. For us, the filling was great and the crust was good, but the icing was heaped on a little too much for us, and both a little too saccharine and starchy for our liking.

The Verdict


A fun and friendly restaurant that caters to the family-style, and delivers good refined diner-type food. Once it settles in, definitely worth repeat visits, whether for the hangover breakfast or the group dinner.

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


Teds Bulletin 14th Street on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Le Diplomate

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/Logan Circle

The Setup

After months of circling it, and fresh off a Book of Mormon performance at the Kennedy Center, Official Co-Writer/Fiancee of DCWD Texas and I, along with Official Friends of DCWD Flo and Burgh squeezed ourselves into four seats at the bar at 14th Street hotspot Le Diplomate.

The Vibe

Le Diplomate is the first D.C. outpost by Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr, and takes over for the former eyesore of a laundry building on the corner of 14th and Q. In its place is a gorgeous renovation, a full-commitment recreation of a bustling Parisian brasserie and/or a carbon copy of his successful restaurant Parc. I have a particular affection for restaurants that offer a variety of seating options, and Le Diplomate offers just that: a thin row of outdoor seating along 14th Street, with a much larger patio on Q Street; a sun-room style wing bathed in emerald green tiling and an equally vibrant tiled floor; a bustling bar area that arcs off the vertex of the restaurant; and the main dining area, a wood-paneled traditional cafe-style room replete with faux aged beige ceiling trim, marble tops, globe lights, and French paraphernalia. One thing you can't say is that they didn't go all the way.

Tables are incredibly hard to get: both nights we tried to walk-in around 5:30-6pm, and were firmly told that they were fully committed. In fact, we only lucked out by grabbing one of the handful of bar seats, a commodity so precious that one lady threw me some shade for not ceding my seat to her in her vain attempt to amass a row of them for her cocktail party. The buzz is noticeable and there seem to be a preponderance of four-tops or round booth seating, so twos might suffer a bit here. Still though, a perch on one of the outdoor tables on the 14th Street side on a warm-weather day might be one of the more desirable spots along the newly revitalized restaurant corridor.

The Food


A round of cocktails was ordered: mine a Pompidou (Bulleit bourbon, creme de cacao, and a coldbrew punt e mes), Texas's a gin cocktail with St. Germain and cherries. Neither was a knockout, but both were sharp.

To start, the table shared two appetizers: tuna carpaccio, and escargots in hazelnut butter. In what is quickly going to become a theme of this write-up, there's probably three as much tradition hanging around this menu as there is innovation. Each was pretty par-for-the-course as far as preparation went, the carpaccio topped with sea salt and chives and a thin layer of olive oil, tender and flavorful. The escargot were few and far between, and the hazelnut flavor was a little muted relative to the butter portion (though again, I suppose that's to be expected), but still quite nice.


The second round of food was perhaps more superlative, though faded a bit more with each bite than we would have liked. My duck breast, roasted with hints of lavender and honey and complemented by bits of artichoke, fennel, and almonds, was very good, but was perhaps a bit chewy on the tenderness spectrum; other duck breasts have melted in my mouth more convincingly than this one, and this one took a bit more heft to tear into than I would have liked. Texas's skate grenobloise, topped with capers and drizzled with lemon and a beurre noisette, was also a wonderful presentation, though a shade heavy on the salt. Flo and Burgh's country duck terrine hewed closest to tradition, fatty and packed with flavor.



A dessert round of Le Diplomate's version of a chocolate mousse/napoleon and a creme brulee yielded similar results: flavors that were consistent and could have rolled right out of any Parisian patisserie's.



The Verdict

A very good brasserie bite, a wonderful experience, but perhaps not as on point and as amazing as its expectations portended.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing
: A dinner this classy deserves to be nightcapped with some drinks at the rooftop of the Donovan House, especially before the pool closes for the summer.

Le Diplomate on Urbanspoon