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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Eat the Rich

Plaudits: Bon Appetit 2014 50 Best New Restaurants in America (with Mockingbird Hill and Southern Efficiency)
Neighborhood: Shaw/U Street

The Setup


After years circling around it, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I finally made it to Eat the Rich together, bringing along Official Brother of DCWD Phee with us.

The Vibe

Much like its Drink Company brethren, Eat the Rich is a small sliver of a restaurant, though in layout, it has more in common with Mockingbird Hill than Southern Efficiency: to wit, it features a bar to one side, with bar railing seating opposite, and a row of bench tables in a small dining room in the back. Here, it trades in the cleaner, typical restaurant decor for something a little more rustic and rural: shiny and silver and sheetmetal; it's probably the most fun decor of the three. And much like its neighbors, it's seemingly in a state of being comfortably full: not full enough to not warrant going in to check it out, but not empty enough to easily find a seat, especially on this late Thursday night.

The Food


Having already taken a taste at Southern Efficiency, we are only looking for some nibbles. So we order the trout hash: a mix of smoked trout, sweet potatoes, onions, and smoked egg. This was awesome, and perfect for the fall weather outside. Deep, salty, smoky; about the only complaint we might have had was the portion size.

I suppose you can't leave here without sampling the oysters, and luckily enough for us, our trip carries over into oyster happy hour. As one could reasonably expect for a Rappahannock-owned establishment, the oysters are delicious: pure, sweet, slippery, wonderful.

The Verdict


Not quite as good as Southern Efficiency, but close.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Party in the USA
Vibe:
Energetic to Noisy
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Eat the Rich on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Virtue Feed and Grain

Plaudits: Washington Post 2011 Fall Dining Guide
Neighborhood: Alexandria

The Setup


Meeting up with some friends and some of their friends in Alexandria for dinner, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I had ourselves a Sunday night dinner at Virtue Feed and Grain.

The Vibe

Perhaps the best thing that Virtue Feed and Grain has going for it is the space itself: a former stable that has been remade as a modern rustic tavern space. If the best of Pinterest sneezed itself all over a two-story barn space, that's what this would look like. On the first floor, a row of half-booths separates the bar area from the dining space, which consists of a row of long tables along the aforementioned half-booth, and another row of twos and fours along the windows.

The second floor is a much more open space, more bar and lounge than dining area, with squares of couches and candles amid low rafters and strung lights (perhaps a feature done up for the Christmas season, but certainly not out of place the rest of the year). This is the kind of space that if you rented it out for a wedding, you would certainly not be the first place. It's that pretty.

The Food


I order the fish and grits, which replaces the traditional shrimp with a mix of red snapper, clams, and crawfish. The cheesy/buttery flavor is also subbed out here, replaced with a tomato sauce base; in some ways, it might be more apt to describe it as a bouillabaisse that subbed out a side of bread and half its broth for grits. Either way, it's a passable bite but one without interesting spice; it lacks the punchy flavor of either inspiration, with the broth thin and without any of the richness one might otherwise expect.

Texas's bison burger elicits similar shrugs. For the promise of the marsala onion compote or herbed goat cheese, it's just a burger: not particularly juicy or daring. Like the fish and grits, if you lower your expectations to pub food, it's at least a different take. It's no more satisfactory than the classics however.

Perhaps the most interesting thing we taste is a sip of the soup of the day that the server brings out for someone else to try: tortilla soup. Maybe we should've gotten that.

The Verdict


The ambiance belies the food. Though what ambiance it is. Otherwise, it's just straightforward pub food.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

Virtue Feed & Grain on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 23, 2015

Date Ideas: Hill's Kitchen

And now for something completely different:

It's been more than a year since we got married, but one of the nicer gifts we were given was a gift certificate to a cooking class at Hill's Kitchen. For years, I'd been thinking about one of the knife skills classes, but just never gotten around to it. Now with a gift certificate in hand, I was... actually second guessing myself. There were a lot of options to choose from! Plus Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas is already a little more handy than I am with a chef's knife, so instead we signed up for the pasta making class.

We can't emphasize enough how fun the class is. Classes are seemingly restricted to 12 or so spots, so unlike other larger spaces, you're not jockeying for a view or for attention. The demonstration space is brilliant and just large enough, and the teacher is engaging. Most importantly, the instruction is simple enough that (and this happens more than I'd like to admit) we were able to recreate the steps without heavy use of the handout about a week later without incident.

Spaces fill up fast, but if you're looking for a fun, hands-on, collaborative food date in DC, we can't recommend the classes at Hill's Kitchen enough.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tico

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2015 #80
Neighborhood: 14th Street/ U Street

The Setup


I honestly can't remember how we decided on brunch at Tico, whether we were already there because we were going to TJ's or the U Street Farmer's Market, whether we decided to just mix it up after going to Blind Dog too many (or alternatively not enough) mornings. But there we were, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I, on a brisk day nomming on brunch at Tico.

The Vibe

You have to give credit to dining rooms that are willing to go beyond the exposed brick, post-industrial thing that every new restaurant of the last four years has just plopped down when given the ground floor of a new construction. So there's already that. Then there's the daring that it takes to take a space this big in a plot this prime (despite its Taco Bell/ChiDogO's past) and put it in the hands of graffiti and abstract art; this space certainly won't be confused with Central any time soon. But somehow, it all... works. Like eating in a big art studio warehouse. Even the concrete columns are splattered with paint. It's very colorful but not overwhelming at all.

The space is otherwise a big room with few screens making for natural dividers near the columns with every kind of table available throughout the big space except for the large bar on the right side of the room.

The Food


For brunch, I got the duck confit and green chili hash, which comes with two poached eggs and smothered in a bright yellow chipotle hollandaise. First, the downside: for $11, you get a personal skillet that can't be more than 5" across, which is a depressingly small amount of food for that much money (and certainly not enough to sustain a long brunch). That being said, what it lacks in quantity it makes up in quality: the duck confit is rich, the green chilis and hollandaise appropriately spicy, everything else blending in perfectly and smoothly.

Texas's frittata is a little underwhelming comparatively. while the lineup of asparagus, avocado, manchego, and piquillo peppers augurs something interesting, it comes across pretty meekly. Which is to say dense and sorta flat. I imagine the serrano ham, which Texas eschewed, might have added something to the equation, but not enough to make it a true standout.

The Verdict


Solid, if a bit overpriced.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd to Party in the USA
Vibe:
Chatty to Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Tico on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

minibar, Part Deux

Plaudits: Washingtonian
Neighborhood: K Street

The Setup


It was our one year anniversary and Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I were trying to find the best way to celebrate. My suggestion: a return trip to minibar. I'd spent the better part of our relationship telling her how great the meal there was, and wanted to share it with her. So almost five years later, we returned for dinner.


The Vibe

In the intervening years, minibar could not have changed more. Moved out of its self-descriptive spot in the second floor corner of the now-defunct Cafe Atlantico, the restaurant is now in its own space: a multiroom affair that has doubled the seating capacity and made the restaurant a lot more like Jose Andres's west coast dream space Bazaar. To wit, the decor is chi-chi and fanciful: marble-toned chairs, animal print rugs, white tiles and curtains, and abstract gold light fixtures. The space remains counter seating around an open kitchen, but instead of a squat tight high-top staffed by three chefs, it's a semi-circle around a space large enough for a veritable army to scurry around.

On the flipside of a wall (and a piece of glass firmly at eye level) is barmini, where you'll end up taking your dessert courses. Think of the new Jaleo set-up, but if all the colors were replaced by white and light wood, and you have a general sense of how the space is put together.

The upside is the space is more composed and more formal. But the downsides are many: the price has doubled (from $125 a head to $250) - the only place where that might be made up for in quantity is the drink pairings; they are certainly more bountiful than most we've seen, with drinks as varied as funky European wines to tiki cocktails in tiny Easter Island head mugs to sake. The booze does make the specific memory of dishes quite foggy in retrospect.

More importantly, the intimacy is gone: whereas the tight space beforehand fostered the ability to speak freely and candidly with the chefs and truly interact, the shuttling back and forth limits your interaction mostly with one chef, who is tight-lipped and certainly less friendly than the previous iteration. All of this leads to an entirely different feel: where the old minibar felt like getting a guest pass into a food lab of affable wizards, this new minibar makes it seem like you're being shuffled through robotic motions, like a well rehearsed performance. If the latter is what you're looking for - a show with your dinner - that's perfect. If, like us, you wanted more of an experience, it's lacking.

The Food



What hasn't changed is the inventiveness of the food. As much as I'd like to wax poetic about each dish, we'll save the words for the ones that stand the most out in memory (like I said, the drink pairings don't help the memory).


A glass of champagne welcomes you in with a small snack to tide you over: flower petals encased in potato starch served in a book about flowers. Cute if unsubstantial.


The first dish doubles as one of two dishes that repeats itself from the last time, the hot and cold pisco sour. Still fun, still refreshing.

 

The next three bites come at the same time. A parmesan canele, a little candy-sized tube, is exactly what it sounds like, like biting into a chunk of parmesan custard. Pineapple shortbread is also exactly what it sounds like, but is a much milder flavor. The fun one is their take on a jumbo slice, a wafer-thin chip that combines a dusting of pepper, basil, and chunks of cheese to mimic pizza margherita.


The next bite is the second repeat of the night: an almond tart filled with blue cheese, presented on top of cold stones and chilled with liquid nitrogen. Funnily enough, also still fun and still refreshing.


A rubber ducky follows. If memory serves, it was made of spun cold foie gras and was delicious.



What was definitely not a misremembered dish was the next one, one of the standouts of the night: a play on late night chicken shawarma. A potato starch wrapper around a lettuce leaf wrapped around wonderfully spiced chicken bits, this was crunchy and satisfying.



The next dish depends on your opinion of uni. It's a burger: which is to say that the bun is a substance much like toasted meringue with a sea urchin meat, and some basil and tomato to finish it off. I loved it, but I also love uni. Texas thought, "Not my favorite."


You know what we both loved? The Vietnamese "pig ear" salad. The pig ear in this equation is a solid piece that plays like a large crackling, which serves as the base for pickled vegetables, Thai basil, cilantro, and if memory serves, a little pate. All of which comes with a do-it-yourself pipette of sriracha chili oil. This hit the mark for me, not the least of which because the flavors were spot on.


The fusilli course is one we expect, clear corkscrews that have been injected with basil pesto, along with some pine nuts, truffle shavings, and a large 63 degree egg. It's fun, but sort of a meh flavor wise.


This one is the dish that both of us think would be amazing but for one thing: the Andalucian tofu, which tastes of almonds topped with tomato ice, in order to recreate the taste of gazpacho. It would work too, if not for the pesky and criminally overwhelming salt flavor on the ice. Takes away from it completely.


minibar's take on shabu shabu is next. Here, small paper triangles are to be dipped into a beef broth to simulate the Japanese style of cooking beef in boiling water. Again, a valiant effort, but ultimately it's just broth. Really good beef broth, but still... you know, soup without anything in it.


The Iberico tendon also hinges on a deep beef broth, but it has the added advanatage of adding three gelatinesque tubes flavored to be like Iberico ham. A step up from the previous dish, but this is definitely where the lull in the program was for us.


The next dish is one Texas gives to me to finish: espardenyes (a Spanish sea cucumber) with bone marrow. Greatly depends on your love of bone marrow; I love it, of course, but your mileage may vary.


One thing you can't say is that minibar is taking off anything from the presentation: here a papillot filled with steam and smoke is cut open to reveal beech mushrooms which are then topped with shaved truffles. Here's where the meal starts to pick up: Texas loves mushrooms, and so this hits good notes for her. Where everything else are familiar flavors in new ways, these are new and interesting flavors.



The next dish is one that Texas is a little too full to finish, and which I graciously (and voraciously) take: a perfect little square of squab with the fat rendered beautifully. Electric.


Alright, I'm going to be a little honest here. By this point, the booze has hit us pretty heavily. We're having a great time, but the actual food content doesn't resonate in the brain if it isn't superlative. So these bonne bouche cheese puffs probably are a straight shot of goat cheese. But they weren't good enough to stick.


Same goes with the "first frost" which we vaguely recall has some flavor of green apple, but is otherwise entirely lost on us.


You know what doesn't escape the memory? The last dish before barmini: the "Breakfast in Hokkaido," a giant puff of milk sitting atop rice puffs. This is like the best cereal bowl I've ever had, crunchy and creamy and milky and fun.



The barmini dessserts come in three stages: a dish full of different trifles and petit-fours (like a raspberry chocolate bar, a yuzu marshmallow, and a raspberry wasabi bonbon); a set of "Krispy Kreme" chocolate donuts; and "whiskey bottles," which are gummies flavored like the spirit. These were fun, if unsubstantial, with the donuts probably the most fully composed.

The Verdict

This pains me so much. I LOVED the original minibar; it was intimate and fun and quirky and the flavors hit on all cylinders. But this iteration lacks some of the charm of the old space, offering an entirely different experience (and in this instance, really not as friendly a one as last time), and at twice the cost, not nearly the same value proposition. Still one of the feature tables in the city, but no longer can stay at the head of the class for me.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

minibar by José Andrés on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Munchies: 100 Montaditos

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Two locations: Arlington/Navy Yard

Let's just get right to it, because there's not that much to say. We needed a quick lunch in Arlington. So Official Friends of DCWD MPDD, CC, and MM and I all met up at 100 Montaditos, part of a chain predicated on providing 100 different varieties of sandwich, along with a few Spanish tapas like olives or cheese.

Calling them 100 varieties of sandwich is a little bit farfetched though. For one, each sandwich comes on the same small baguette that can't be more than 2.5 - 3 inches long. For another, the different varieties are seemingly just different combinations of a core group of something like 20-30 different ingredients. And given how those ingredients are combined, I can't necessarily figure out why some combinations are priced one way, and others are priced another.

Still the most shrugworthy part are the actual sandwiches. In longform, a baguette can be wonderful; compressed this small, it's almost all crust, alternating between too hard and too tough. The fillings are also underwhelming, like something assembled at a college cafeteria in Spain.

Maybe if you needed something quick to eat, but otherwise, definitely worth a pass.

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)

100 Montaditos on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 12, 2015

DBGB Kitchen and Bar

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2015 #82
Neighborhood: Downtown/Metro Center

The Setup


Looking for a nice place to eat after catching a movie at Gallery Place, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I decided to slide into a table at CityCenter debutante DBGB Kitchen and Bar.

The Vibe

DBGB's buildout is a reflection of the whole CityCenter complex: glassy and chic and buzzy. The dining area is a two parter - a bar upfront on a lower tier, and behind a set of stairs, a more formal dining room packed to the gills with booths and long rows of two-tops in various combinations. The bar, open to the world through full-length windows decorated with white paint drawings of the restaurant's signature dishes (baked Alaska, the hamburger), is hopping even at 9pm at night, brightly lit with globe light fixtures and a backlit bar.

The main room is lined with shelving atop the boothes, filled with food items like a storefront might be, and the restaurant's signature items: plates decorated in red and black by a veritable who's who of famous chefs from DC and beyond. It's perfectly nice, but there's no escaping it: there's no elbow room or privacy in this place.

The Food


Having been to Bar Boulud, I knew what I was getting into: brasserie food, classic French. We went almost entirely with our waiter's suggestions. First up, a fall squash soup for Texas and some pork belly chunks for me. The soup was the clear winner with some spice coming from garam masala and some crunch from pumpkin seeds. Pleasantly reminded us of the liquid autumn soup that we enjoyed so much at the Inn, though perhaps a step below that one. The pork belly was something straight out of a textbook, crispy pork belly cubes served with mustard and cornichons. It did the trick, though presented nothing new.

For our main course, we split a sausage duo, and a black angus beef duo. Based on our waiter's suggestion, we went with the Thai - a pork, lemongrass, and red curry mixture - and the boudin blanc - a traditional truffled pork sausage. The former was fun, reminiscent of the flavors of Bali with the side of green papaya and fried rice with quail egg a particular pleasure. The boudin blanc split us: for me, it reminded me of the texture and flavor of Vietnamese gio lua, so I quite liked it; Texas meanwhile thought it lacked a little panache, and much preferred the mashed potatoes it came with.

As for the beef duo - slices of hanger steak with white beans aside a tomato and oxtail ragout - both of us came with the same reaction: perfectly decent, nothing to call home about. Executed well enough, but nothing there that screamed that we needed to have a second go at it.

The Verdict


There are some good plates here. But I don't know that there's a single dish that we had that justified the buzz. A perfectly solid restaurant, but probably not worth it for the price.

Food Rating: ** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
 

DBGB Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Compass Rose

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2015 #98
Neighborhood: 14th Street/U Street

The Setup


Wandering up 14th Street and needing dinner, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I decided to follow the hubbub and stop for dinner at Compass Rose.

The Vibe

We are fond here of using the phrase "like someone built a restaurant into their dining room, but in this case, it seems pretty apt. Built into a Victorian townhouse, the kitchen is in the basement level with the dining room on the main floor. It's cozy with a row of half-booths lining one exposed-brick wall and a set of bar-height two-tops on the other. In back, there's a tiny square bar. Overall, it feels cozy, like the kind of informal dining space you find all over abroad, with a buzz that matches.


The Food


The conceit of Compass Rose is the world's street food under one roof. So, at any given time, the restaurant features anywhere between 12-15 different dishes from all around the world, ranging from side dish to small plate to basically an entree. Encouraged to treat it like sharing plates, we choose four dishes from all over. First up is the bhel puri chaat from India, essentially a salad of puffed rice, sev crunchy noodles, potatoes, tomatoes, sunflower sprouts, peanuts, and mint to be eaten in lettuce cups with a tamarind chutney. The most notable part of this dish was how fun it was: crunchy, light, fresh, with a hint of spice.

The second dish was perhaps the most run-of-the-mill (though maybe that's because I'm Vietnamese, and pressed shrimp is a thing): a set of Thai shrimp skewers. Again, remarkably light with an aroma and flavor that evoked Bali for us with its use of lemongrass and ginger.

The next set were what sealed the night as a good meal; perhaps, it's no wonder why they are two of the more notable dishes on the menu. One was the khachapuri, a Georgia dish that is best described as cheesy bread. Indeed, a pan-pizza-like rectangle of bread acts as a long bowl for a mixture of cheese and egg, whisked together tableside. Gooey and decadent, this was like the world's best drunk food. For anyone who loves saltier cheese or mozzarella sticks, this is for you.

The other was the lomito, an Argentinean sandwich, presented here as roast pork and nduja (a spreadable pork sausage) on a ciabatta roll with avocado, tomato, and lettuce. Much like the chivito at Fast Gourmet, this is an eminently craveable dish, especially the rich savoriness of the roast pork. So much so, that flexitarian Texas was fighting me for each bite. 

The Verdict

Incredible. Sometimes when kitchens try to do too much, they miss on everything. This is the opposite: a neighborhood spot that deserves visit after visit with all its variety.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5) Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
 

Compass Rose on Urbanspoon