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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

El Camino

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Bloomingdale

The Setup


With Official Co-Writer/Husband of DCWD Kim out of town on business, I decided to use the time to catch up with friends and try new brunch spots. Official Friend of DCWD Audrey lives in charming Bloomingdale and fortuitously saw that El Camino was starting brunch service the weekend we were looking to get together. With that clear sign from the universe, we decided to give the brand new brunch at El Camino a try.

The Vibe

From the outside, you might miss El Camino. There isn't clear signage, and I was happy to have Audrey's inside neighborhood knowledge, or I would have walked right past it. Once inside, the restaurant had a small, cozy feel with a few round half-booths and two tops tucked up front by the big windows, a large bar that begs you to come back at happy hour in the middle, and additional half-booths in the back near an open window to the kitchen. The decor included solid dark wood furniture and red plush booth backing, yellow walls and colorful framed artwork of the Virgin Mary. Our server was friendly and helpful, always with a smile.

The Food


I was happy to see that El Camino clearly marks their vegetarian and gluten free items, a practice that I've really come to appreciate. Audrey and I are both vegetarians, so on this trip we decided to go for the egg and green chile torta with queso oaxaca, lettuce, pico de gallo, salsa verde, and house made crema, and the chilaquiles with smoked gouda, caramelized onions, and fried eggs.

Audrey's torta was delicious, with lightly cooked scrambled eggs and lots of flavor from the salsa verde. In my opinion, the bread is what makes or breaks a torta, and the bread was definitely on the right track, though not overly special.

For the chilaquiles, the chips are clearly key. Too often chilaquiles suffers from overly soggy chips. I'm happy to report that was not the case here! The perfect crisp-to-liquid ratio, I really enjoyed this. My only complaint might be that the ratio of (delicious) chips to filling was just a little heavy on the chip side. However, the flavor with the gouda and caramelized onion was really on point.  If I'm being picky, I wish it was a little warmer and the cheese a little more melted... but the speed at which I lapped it up indicates I wasn't being picky.

The Verdict


Solid neighborhood brunch location. It was easy to grab a table on a Sunday afternoon and a great place to catch up with friends for tasty dishes inspired by Mexican staples.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

G by Mike Isabella

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: 14th Street/U Street

The Setup



On our monthly anniversary date, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I ventured over to G.

The Vibe

G is the latest in the Mike Isabella empire, and perhaps best represents the dual pathways that the former Top Chef-testant is headed these days. By day, it is a high end sandwich shop, a putative rival to 14th Street neighbor Taylor Gourmet. By night, however, the concept is tasting menu only, sort of like Iron Gate without as many choices. Because of that needed versatility, the space is a little bit of a mash-up, with an open kitchen sitting behind a fast-food-style counter with a few bar seats to one side, and a mish-mosh of two-tops and four-tops within a structured set of walled-off booths. G share some stylistic touches with neighbor/sister restaurant Kapnos. But where the latter aims for trendy in the club sense, the latter aims for trendy in the stripped-down, converted sense. It's fun, if simple, and incredibly dark (see: no pictures).

The Food


Like Iron Gate, the meal starts out with a family-style antipasto course, though these are a skooch smaller, fewer in number, presented on a huge board, and Italian in style. Our dishes that night include strips of prosciutto, a plate of pickled vegetables; eggplant and pine nut crostini; mozzarella di bufala slices topped with fava beans and mint; and sweetpea aricini atop a ricotta smear. It's hard not to compare with Iron Gate, frankly: the pickled vegetables for instance, aren't nearly as tart or crisp. Of the dishes provided, the standouts are the arancini (fleetingly small, but pleasantly flavored) and the mozzarella which is nicely mild and smooth.

For both the primi and secondi courses, Texas and I split the two options. I have the fettucine, which bathes in a creamy pecorino sauce dotted with bits of guanciale and chili. It's a dish that's fun, more oily than creamy, with a slick and punchy mouthfeel. It's the bits of pork that provide a fun salt and gamey flavor every once in a while, and there's enough to keep it interesting. The pasta itself also seems miniaturized along with the size of the portion; these aren't your typical fettucine alfredo noodles. Still the most noticeable characteristic is the freshness of the housemade pasta, which is pleasing.

For her part, Texas gets the sunchoke tortellini with yellow squash atop a spread of ramp pesto. Her pasta is similarly excellent, though the starring flavors of sunchoke and ramp are unique and therefore a tad strange. It's the epitome of seasonal, which is appreciated, but a bit combative and restless; it's almost too bright.

On the main course, I order the lamb shoulder, a slow-roasted chunk among small cubes of yukon gold potatoes, in a gremolata and rosemary sauce. This was certainly not what I was expecting, in a good way. The meat is stringy and falls apart like butter with the mere suggestion of a knife. The flavors are all there, but the distraction here is how oily the whole affair is. Not a huge obstacle, but still something noteworthy.

Texas gets the roasted striped bass filet, perched atop a bed of garbanzo beans, carrots, and romesco sauce. The point of note is the sear on the fish which produces a nice caramelized crust. The parts here are well complemented, with a solid romesco providing the strongest taste; only the slightly undercooked beans detract.

The Verdict


At times innovative, at times a little wild.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)


G Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2015

Monday Munchies: G Sandwich at Nationals Park

This week we've got two different reviews of essentially the same place: Mike Isabella's G concept. Today's focuses on the sandwich shop side, specifically the newly opened outpost at Nationals Park. Thursday, we'll look at the tasting menu at the original 14th Street location.

On this occasion, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I were attending a Nats game and looking for a dinner. In earnest, we sought out G stall, where four options are available (only one of which is vegetarian). I ordered the Drewno, an eponymous creation of The Source chef during his run as a guest chef at G) - a housemade kielbasa topped with Italian beef, pickled vegetables, and sauerkraut. Texas picked the roasted cauliflower, topped with a romesco sauce, pickled vegetables, and paprika.

The sandwiches are surprisingly long and thin - ficelle-sized is probably the most accurate way to put it. Mine was pleasant enough, though the promised beef was quite sparse (if not altogether lacking). It also begs the question: are the marginal benefits of better bread, a housemade sausage, and pickled versus grilled vegetables enough of a difference relative to a regular Senators Sausage? Similarly, Texas's cauliflower was fine, but felt lacking, likely a function of the realities of a vegetarian ballpark sandwich. It's flavor points were nice, but it seemed to miss that critical central theme - the cauliflower just couldn't cut it in that role. The cost here too is something to weigh; while the price isn't as inflated as other ballpark entrees, I'm not sure that either is worth the double digit outlay.

The Verdict


Good, but probably not my first choice at the game.

Taste Test: 2.5 Forks
(out of 5)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Noelia

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Downtown/Metro Center

The Setup


Invited for a dinner, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I stopped by an early meal at Noelia.

The Vibe

It's an unenviable task trying to fill a downtown restaurant space. With large square footage, high rent, and foot traffic mostly composed of tourists or hotel guests, many who've attempted it end up trying to please only a certain expensive niche (see: Elisir), please everybody (see: Co Co Sala), or end up using the space for mixed concepts (see: The Hamilton). Noelia, in some way, tries to do all three. That's the way I reconcile the space with its stone walls and chocolate wood accents, reminiscent of an Italian grotto contrasted with its front bar with TV screens and electric purple backlighting, like any number of happy hour club spaces; and somehow amongst this, projection screens showing black and white movies. In some ways, the space feels wide open; in other ways, it feels subterranean.

Service is a little up and down. A wine list isn't presented when we're seated, and when we ask for one, an iPad is handed to us with no instruction and an odd wine list app. And when we ask for recommendations from the waiter, he points us to two of the more luxurious sounding entrees - which double as the two most expensive. Still, the rest of the night goes on without much notoriety.

The Food

Texas and I decide to split two dishes: the scallop and asparagus risotto and the sea bass (one of the dishes so regularly recommended by the staff). The risotto was passable but forgettable: it's is a tad undercooked and a tad undersalted, leaving it mildly dense rather than sumptuous. The scallops exhibit a similar lack of seasoning but are cooked well.

The sea bass itself is pleasant, mildly flaky and a little buttery, but a little one note. By far the best bite of the evening is the bed of wilted spinach and horseradish potato puree that the filet sits on; it alone intrigues the palate with notes that fill the mouth. At least, it's understandable why this dish came recommended from the staff.

The Verdict


In many ways, Noelia does exactly what is asked of it: provide a luxurious-sounding meal in an upmarket setting in a section of town frequented by the hotel crowd. Whether it does enough to distinguish itself from the other hotel restaurants is an inconsistent prospect.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Noelia Italian Kithen on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bergami's

*filed by Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas*


Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: NoMa

The Setup


I was invited to try out Bergami's, a new pizza place in the Rhode Island Row complex.

The Vibe


Bergami's is just one of a number of choose-your-own-adventure Chipotle style pizza places that have popped up in the city (many of whom we'll profile over the next few weeks). It's fairly unassuming when you first walk in: sort of dim with a seating in the form of high-top counters and bar tables, and an unexpected Illy coffee and espresso bar. The color scheme steers right into the Italian: red and white and green in bold strokes. It's less a date place than an in-and-out place, but it could do the trick.

The Food

What set Bergami's apart from the other pizza places we've seen is two interesting touches:  an array of crust options including whole wheat, gluten free, and cauliflower crust, and a decent selection of craft brews (including a grapefruit beer). On this trip, I tried a cauliflower crust vegetarian pizza, topped with a red sauce, and loaded with broccoli, spinach, mozzarella balls, roasted red peppers, and feta with a sprinkling of parmesan, arugula, and balsamic. My companion went with something from the menu: a garlic-based white pizza with roasted red peppers and shrimp.

The pizza was intriguing: you're both eminently aware that you're eating a cauliflower crust, but you also don't feel like you're not eating pizza, if that makes sense; it's not like eating a triangular salad, which is sort of what I was expecting. At the very least, you could tell that the pizza was thoughtful: with 30 years of combined pizza experience, small touches like the consistency and flavor of the red sauce spoke of a steady and family-influenced hand. Perhaps the only downside? The thin crust means you probably need to use a knife and a fork (something Official Co-Writer/Husband of DCWD Kim disdains).

The Verdict


Solid choice with surprising depth.

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


Bergami's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2015

Oohs and Aahs

Plaudits: Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry Top 50 2009
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup


We've lived around U Street for something like three or four years now. And despite this, we had never been inside venerable institution Oohs and Aahs. A Livingsocial deal and a particular desire for quick dinner gave us the spark we needed to change that.

The Vibe

All around Oohs and Aahs are references or reminders that Guy Fieri once featured the place on his Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Which explains everything you need to know about the interior: just like any greasy spoon. Six or so stools sit at a bar up front, while additional seating exists in a small space upstairs. The wall (again, like many diners on this stretch) is covered with pictures of celebrities, presumably those who've visited Oohs and Aahs (though unlike Ben's, these are just general pictures rather than pictures of said celebrities eating there).

The Food


We both decide to go with a fried fish and two sides, with Texas going for the catfish, mac and cheese, and candied yams, while I opt for the fried shrimp, collard greens, and grits; somehow, neither of us thought to go with fried chicken. Sad.

Still the bits that we did get are, for lack of a better word, soulful. There's a nice hint of spice on the batter, which is deep and crispy. Yet the whole thing doesn't overwhelm; the shrimp is really lightly dusted, and the catfish isn't one of those English-style fried fish that's wholly encased in a hard shell of batter. Plus the portion size is unbelievable; the sides burst from the styrofoam containers.

Speaking of the sides: delicious. You can taste how bad these things are for you (but they taste so good!), with the sugar of the yams, and surprisingly the grits, being among the strongest memories. I love the brine on the collard greens; only the macaroni and cheese fails to be noteworthy.

The Verdict


If you're in the mood for soul food, then there's no better place in the city.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 1 Heart (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)
Pairing
: Howard Theater for a show.

Oohhs & Aahhs on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Roofers Union

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Adams-Morgan

The Setup


After attending a pop-up for Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley at Iron Horse, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I successfully navigated a group of friends over to Roofers Union.

The Vibe

Roofers Union arrives in the ashes of the ignominious end of The Reef, the Adams-Morgan institution that seemingly vanished overnight over a stabbing incident. In many ways, it's the latest change to a strip that seems destined to be excising its wild, hard-partying reputation by installing increasingly upscale and serious restaurants (just kidding, stay you, Adams-Morgan).

Still, the resurrection of The Reef space is impressive, considering most of the touches that marked the old space remain (including, sadly, the fish tank). The only bit that remains is the color scheme, a mix of cool blues and grays that stripe the walls, from actual paint to a line of hanging overalls. From there, the scheme is very post-industrial chic, with large mechanical wall art, and garage style light fixtures. On the first floor (which is actually the building's second floor), a bar sits to one corner of the restaurant, while the rest of the space teems with high-tops, two-tops, and a few large group tables.

The space marries many of the decorative themes of sister restaurant Ripple with what's in in restaurant design. Nothing about it is particularly new; if this plopped down on 14th Street, it would blend right in. In a way, it's both within Adams-Morgan and without, a polished facade that still lives  the feeling you get from being in the neighborhood - that constant, moving buzz - without the encumbrances of actually being on that sometimes intoxicated stretch.

I'd be hardpressed to not note that the service here was terrible. Our server just plain forgot about Texas, leaving her without food or drink for practically the entire time the rest of our table was served. Texas calls it, "one of the worst service experiences of my life."

The Food


If anything, what distinguishes Roofers Union - like many of its fellow newcomers to 18th Street - is the polish that it presents with its food. The menu takes Ripple's seasonal, earnest themes and boils them down to even simpler, homier food. This isn't to denigrate the dishes themselves, far from it. Rather that Roofers Union's entire conceit is the combination of the commonplace - a chicken sandwich, a hot dog - with the refinement of culinary school. Take our pop-up meal at Iron Horse - a simple short boiled housemade bratwurst tucked into a pretzel bun with housemade mustard and sauerkraut. Nothing could be simpler and yet it burst with flavor, the sharp bite of mustard cutting through among a symphony of other bold flavors.

This time, I order the veal sweetbread po' boy and experience similar enjoyment. The sweetbreads come in meatball-sized lumps that burst with juicy significance with each bite, laced together with a deceptively sweet aioli. It's fleetingly small, but well worth it.

Texas, for her part and based on our experience with Ripple's local sourcing focus, orders a dish recommended to us: the chicken thigh sandwich, a fried chicken filet basted with sriracha honey. It's sharp, with some zip to to the sauce, and for me, this is even with the po' boy in its flavor. Still, Texas is underwhelmed, lusting after some of our compatriots' veggie burgers. Take that for what you will.

Perhaps the only misstep on the night is the merguez, which comes bunless, instead sitting itself in a bed of lentils with hints of mint and harissa. Frankly, its color and coil shape is unfortunate, but more unfortunate is its flavor, which is tepid rather than spiced. The lentils are also formless, with the added deficit of being gummy. A forgettable dish.

The Verdict


A solid space for improved takes on guilty pleasure foods.

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


Roofers Union on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An Update

Hi readers! It's been a while since we've updated this space, and for that we apologize. We've got a backlog of more than 20 reviews that are from way back when (some trailing back as far as six months). Sure, they're probably not as timely, but since they generally affect how we feel about a place, they're still applicable. We've got reviews stemming from a turn through Denver, some new pizza and takeout spots, a bunch of buzzy newcomers, and a return to minibar. They'll be coming two or three a week until we catch up.

Thanks for bearing with us!