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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings, February 2014

If you missed it, here's our explanation of the power rankings, and the initial post. Now for the updates:

20 Restaurants We're Excited About 

Removed Iron Gate. Added Alba Osteria, moved Maketto down pending opening.

1. Bluejacket
2. Rose's Luxury
3. Table
4. Mandalay
5. Eat the Rich
6. Et Voila!
7. Del Campo - a little bit of a cheat, since we sent Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern in our stead.
8. Red Hen - okay, definitely a cheat, since Official Wife of DCWD Texas has already eaten here; she just didn't bring me along. If we had included it in this ranking, it would have easily made the Top 20.
9. Daikaya - Texas has a good habit of not bringing me to dinners.
10. Alba Osteria 
11. Restaurant Eve
12. Water and Wall
13. Thally
14. Piola
15. Ambar
16. Makoto
17. Unum
18. Seasonal Pantry
19. Liberty Tavern
20. Maketto 

10 Non-Sitdown Restaurants We Love

1. Harold Black
2. Golden, Brown, and Delicious (GBD)
3. Red Apron Butchery
4. Buzz Bakery
5. Fast Gourmet
6. Taylor Gourmet
7. Northside Social
8. Amsterdam Falafel
9. Ray's Hell Burger
10. Good Stuff Eatery

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings

Removed Elisir and Hanoi House - closed. Added Iron Gate and Southern Efficiency.

1. Komi
2. Minibar

3. Proof
4. Toki Underground
5. Blue Duck Tavern
6. Rasika
7. Inn at Little Washington
8. Birch and Barley
9. Iron Gate

10. Fiola
11. Volt

12. Rappahannock Oyster Bar
13. Society Fair
14. Trummer's on Main
15. Comet Ping Pong
16. Mintwood Place
17. Thai X-ing
18. Palena
19. Tallula 

20. Vermilion
21. 2941
22. Marcel's
23. Estadio
24. Little Serow
25. Bar Pilar
26. Cork
27. The Source
28. Equinox
29. Posto 

30. Corduroy
31. Ghibellina
32. Zaytinya
33. Smith Commons
34. Graffiato
35. Jaleo
36. Granville Moore's
37. Maple Ave

38. Southern Efficiency
39. Brasserie Beck 
40. Rogue 24 
41. Kapnos
42. Casa Luca
43. ChurchKey
44. Ted's Bulletin
45. Lyon Hall
46. Izakaya Seki
47. Rasika West End
48. Bistro Bis
49. 701 

50. BLT Steak
51. Bourbon Steak
52. Etto
53. Four Sisters
54. Big Bear Café
55. Meridian Pint
56. Seventh Hill Pizza
57. Medium Rare

58. Le Diplomate
59. Obelisk

60. Oval Room
61. Art and Soul
62. CityZen
63. Poste
64. Bearnaise
65. BlackSalt
66. Central Michel Richard
67. Doi Moi
68. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
69. Ripple
70. J&G Steakhouse
71. Kramerbooks/Afterwords
72. Vidalia
73. Range
74. The Pig
75. 2 Amys
76. Sushi-Ko
77. 1789
78. Hank's Oyster Bar
79. Oyamel

80. Tabard Inn
81. Nava Thai Noodle
82. Pho 75
83. Café Saint Ex
84. Hill Country
85. Masala Art
86. Vinoteca
87. Smoke and Barrel
88. Mussel Bar
89. Right Proper Brewing Company
90. Satellite Room
91. Taan Noodles
92. Eventide
93. The Brixton
94. Sushi Taro
95. Garden District
96. Cedar
97. Tosca
98. Westend Bistro
99. Dukem
100. Bibiana

Monday, February 10, 2014

Iron Gate

Plaudits: Washingtonian
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


Frankly, it's surprising it's taken us this long to get around to here. Years ago, Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC sent me a text message - "Iron Gate for a date" - as a suggestion for a future dinner with a love interest. That particular love interest didn't pan out, but I kept the text message, even as the restaurant, one of the longest running restaurants in the city, shuttered. So you could imagine my excitement when the buzz came that Tony Chittum (he of the wonderful Vermilion in Alexandria) and the folks at Neighborhood Restaurant Group were revitalizing the old, date-perfect spot on a quiet part of N Street.

Luckily for me, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas is a little more forward thinking than I am. For our three month wedding anniversary, she surprised me with a dinner date.

The Vibe

The original Iron Gate had earned a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most romantic spots in the city, and this reincarnation is no exception. The restaurant starts in what may best be described as a converted alley: a long thin passage with a few forlorn tables up front and a long bar running the length ensconced in a brick-lined walkway. Large, almost medieval-style chandeliers hang from the twenty foot ceilings while gas lanterns adorn the right-hand side opposite the bar. Stepping into this space, you're reminded that part of Iron Gate's charm is that the restaurant is like stepping into the 1920s - the antique furniture, the dull orange glow, the actual-rustic-not-just-refurbished-wood feel - but along with that comes the actual lack of modern amenities - like full indoor heating. Instead, you'll have to make do with an abundance of patio heaters installed to combat the fierce cold.

Walk through this section and you'll reach the courtyard, a beautiful open space decked out with black wrought iron patio furniture, and shaded by large trees and some lattice work; this outdoor space probably couldn't be lovelier in the spring/summertime, but is obviously closed for our dinner. Instead, we're placed in the back dining area, a building that's reminiscent of 1789. It's the kind of room that very much looks the part of an old country inn converted to a restaurant, what with its expansive use of brick, relatively low rafters, and its central fireplace (which is continuously stoked throughout dinner). Seating consists of a few tables scattered centrally, with a section of half-booths toward the fireplace - there are a few two-tops, but mostly four-tops. On the end near the door is a bar where the small plates are out for display (think Etto or 2 Amy's). And throughout the night, an eclectic mix of mellow music plays overhead: The Xx's Stars, Sarah Vaughan's Whatever Lola Wants, and Gotan Project all pleasantly cycle through the night.

We also don't usually comment on service here, except in the rare instances when it's very good or very bad. This was one of the former circumstances: the analogy of a tightly run ship seems almost miniscule with how smoothly and effortlessly the service blended into everything. Our server was one of the most pleasant we've ever had, dishes were whisked in and out with ease, interruptions were gracefully kept to a minimum. At having learned it was an anniversary of sorts for us, we were presented with not only a copy of the menu from the night, but also some information on a wine we had particularly liked from that evening. It's these small things that turn a good dinner into a great one, and Iron Gate excels at them.

So I don't say this lightly, especially given the spot's reputation: Iron Gate is indeed one of the most charming, romantic spots in the city.

The Food


Iron Gate's menu features two tasting menu choices with optional wine pairings, all of which are exceedingly cost effective considering the prices of other tasting menus around the city. Like the four-course tasting at the Inn at Little Washington, Iron Gate lets you assemble your own menu from its list of options (though their selection is a bit more limited than the Inn), all stemming from a Greek and Italian context. What's awesome is that Iron Gate will let you mix up those tasting menus: to wit, Texas decided on the four course menu, while I wanted to try the six course (though both of us opted for the wine pairings) so the restaurant allowed us to stagger our options accordingly.

A quick aside for the beverage program: I've now had the pleasure of sipping on Jeff Faile's cocktails and wine choices at three of his restaurant stops (my first trips to Palena and Fiola before this meal). This meal was very much in line with the expectations by the first two: eminently sippable cocktails and interesting pitch-perfect wine pairings. A delight.

Your first course is chosen for you: a set of seasonal sharing plates for the table. Usually (with only a few exceptions, like Obelisk or the late Eola) this augurs a small bit of amuse-bouche portions. We were pleased, however, to receive a steady stream of small plates. Some were more memorable than others: the gigante beans coated with salsa verde were fine but forgettable, a little too one note compared to its neighbors; black truffle arancini didn't pack as much punch as the main ingredient might suggest and were fleeting in portion size. Some ran into amusing and interesting territory: a set of pickled turnips, cucumbers, and carrots was a perfect use of in-season foods and made for a fun crunch-tart bite; and trout roe puree was delightfully free of any heavy salt, and instead tasted more like a savory hummus.

But by far our favorite dishes were a ball of mashed beets and walnuts, which made a beet believer out of beet-hater Texas; an apple and charred leek salad topped with shavings of parmesan-like cheese that was fresh and playful; and perhaps the best fresh bread in the city: a hearty focaccia with baked-in potato chunks, olives, and shredded provolone.

Round two brought two of the more delicious meals of the night: for Texas, a caramelized ricotta gnocchi with trumpet mushrooms and mascarpone; for me an avgolemono - a Mediterranean egg-lemon soup. The gnocchi was masterful, taking the internal pillowyness of the pasta and adding a nice sear onto its sides, which gave the pieces a beautiful taste and a fun firmness. It was a warm and inviting bite that was comforting with the weather outside. My soup, while a bit heavy on the acid half of the dish, was still as friendly as bowl of chicken noodle soup on a blustery day, though its inclusion of chicken veloute and orzo was a welcome step up from Campbell's.


The first of my extra courses came next: a North Atlantic scallop crudo topped with shaved baby fennel, some slivers of cara cara orange, chilies, and two quite sizable glops of sea urchin. One's opinion of this meal is entirely based on one's opinion of sea urchin; if you love it, then this dish is all the decadence that one can muster from the ocean, like dipping your hand into the ocean of the coast of Greece: slick, oily slivers of scallop with the weird bitter tang of urchin, moshed together with pleasant sharpness of fennel and punctuated by the sweet tart oranges. If you don't, I can see this dish being a little overwhelming.

Our last dinner course brought Texas a garlic crusted rockfish with clams and an overeasy egg, and me a duo (trio?) of sweetbreads matched with similarly diverse presentations of carrots. The rockfish is in a word - fun; a mix of goopy and light that feels almost like a thin broth. The sweetbreads - two seared versions with a fun eggroll-esque preparation in the middle, and carrot three ways (puree, pickled, roasted) - are delightful, playful and savory with a heavy nod to the season.

Rounding up the meal were the dessert courses: my extra course of Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson cheese paired with a leek marmalade and a fennel seed cracker; a Gianduja terrine with hazelnut ice cream and a frangelico caramel; and a Campari panna cotta with winter citrus. The desserts, like the desserts at nearly all of Neighborhood Restaurant Group's restaurants, are created by Chef Tiffany MacIsaac, and if you haven't yet sampled one of her creations, I would stop what you're doing right now and book yourself a reservation. Putting aside the cheese course (which was lovely, but ultimately not groundbreaking), the desserts are powerful and elegantly composed: the terrine is a brilliant pierce of chocolate flavor, while the Campari spike of the panna cotta is one of a few powerful sharp bursts of tart that combine sweet with sour crisply.



The Verdict

Playful, elegant food with exquisite service in one of the most charming dining rooms in the city. What's more to say?

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks to Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) (more than $100 for two)

Iron Gate on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pizzeria Paradiso Releases New Cookbook

This post was guest-written by Official Friend of DCWD HR Intern.
 
Last week, Ruth Gresser, chef and owner of the popular Pizzeria Paradiso restaurants, opened up the doors to her Georgetown location to talk about her new cookbook, Hands-On Cooking Lessons for Making Amazing Pizza at Home, and let guests enjoy some of her pizzas that appear in her book. Like her personality, the cookbook is full of fun – what Gresser says is what she’s after.

In talking about her beginnings, Gresser revealed that she was one of the first to open a Neopolitan Pizzeria in the DC market. Accordingly, she considers herself to be a “Matriarch of Pizza” – and the title is deserved. With three locations, the original in Georgetown and two additional locations in Dupont Circle and Old Town Alexandria, she’s established herself in three prime locales for foodies, and her tables always seem to be filled. She said herself that everyone loves pizza. And she’s not wrong. After all, in her words, it’s a complete meal, it can run the gambit from rustic to refined and there is a huge range and variation in what you can get.

To that end, Gresser offers a series of levels within her new cookbook. She starts with the basic tomato and cheese, including seven variations on the theme. The second level features some classic favorites like Pizza Margherita and Pizza Quatro Formaggi. Level 3 provides some original recipes from Gresser’s kitchen. Finally, the upper levels (going all the way up to 7) encourage experimentation, allowing readers to play with various sauces, proteins, vegetables and even fruit toppings – all going back to the goal of wanting people to have fun with pizza.

I got to try some interesting and unique creations from Gresser, including the Chickpea pizza (garlic, onions, tomato, feta, chickpeas with a yogurt sauce), the Asparagus pizza (onion, tomato, tarragon, fontina, lemon, asparagus) and Prosciutto pizza (rosemary, onion, gorgonzola, fig, prosciutto di parma), with a Berries pizza for dessert (almonds, marscarpone, honey basil, lemon, mixed berries). Having sampled these, I was ready to buy the book and start cooking right away.

Luckily, Gresser gave us an opportunity to craft things in the comfort of her restaurant. She got me started on my own creation, which I promptly loaded up with caramelized onion, gorgonzola and fig to my heart’s content. After she had it baked in the brick oven, it was topped with prosciutto – and man did it taste good. It was easy enough to do that I feel confident about repeating the process in my own home. While Gresser gives you several dough-making options (including a gluten-free variety!), she mentioned that all of her locations sell dough, just in case you’re looking to take it easy or you’re in a little bit of a time crunch – which I will certainly take advantage of.

Pizzeria Paradiso will be running some additional events in the coming weeks in celebration of the launch. From February 1 until February 8, if you purchase a book at any Pizzeria Paradiso location, you can get an 8-inch pizza and a draft beer for $10. Gresser will be signing books at all of her locations, on the 5th in Dupont, the 6th in Georgetown and the 7th in Old Town. Until February 15th, pizza lovers can use #kwpizzacontest to post pics of pizza for a chance to win a copy of the cookbook – as well as a $25 gift certificate to Pizzeria Paradiso. And finally, on February 12 there will be a party at Brewmaster’s Castle in Dupont featuring pizza from the restaurant paired with beers and cider from DC Brau, Oxbow, Millstone and Stillwater, as well as pizza making demonstrations with the chef and book signings. The cost of the event is $65 ticket, with half of the proceeds going to Heurich House Museum.