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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

DCWD Travels: Pinche Taqueria, Denver

Neighborhood: Denver

The Setup

Having only had a light dinner earlier in the evening, by the time 9pm rolls around, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I are getting a little hungry on this, the last night of our Denver trip. I don't know if it was serendipity or blind luck that caused us to go look for tacos, but a quick internet search found us a taqueria with national plaudits that was just open enough to go crosstown to pick some up. That's how we found ourselves at Pinche Taqueria at 9:45pm on a Sunday evening.

The Vibe

It's a small space; there can't be more than 30 seats a total, with a row of two-tops against the front windows, a larger table by the front door, and a communal bar area smack dab in the center. Otherwise, the restaurant is unencumbered by the Mexican kitsch that percolates through many a taqueria; instead the space is pretty typical: exposed brick and garnet tile alongside blacks and browns in a dim red and orange light. Still even at this late hour, the place is pretty full.

The Food

Texas and I order five tacos to split in varying degrees. The one I remember the least is the griddled cotija cheese, which came topped with a roasted poblano, chipotle corn, and sour cream. Take that fact for what you will.

The other veggie taco we order is a bit more noteworthy: a grilled mushroom mix - shitaki, crimini, and oyster - also topped with the aforementioned cheese and corn, but with the benefit of an ancho chili creme. Big flavor, bold spice, decent taco.

Of course, obviously the meat tacos stand out more in the memory for me. The least dazzling is the pescado, a chipotle and beer battered white fish covered in slaw, avocado, pineapple guacamole, and pickled red onion. This isn't to say it was bad - in fact by comparison, I wish we had more of those fish tacos here. But it certainly isn't the best fish taco I've ever had either, though I can't put my finger on just why.

By far, the most incredible are the lengua - beef tongue with avocado, onion, tomatillo salsa, and a guajillo honey mayo - and the pork belly - three incredibly generously-sized chunks of sweet-and-sour braised meat with candied garlic and cabbage. They're both juicy and sating, though the lengua wins extra for the diversity of sweet and creamy flavors that come paired with the rich tongue on each bite.

The Verdict

I'm just gonna come out and say it - I've had the supposed best tacos in L.A. I've had what I consider to be the best tacos in D.C. These tacos dwarf them both.

Food Rating: **** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Hipster Hangout
(out of 5) (less than $25 for two)

Pinche Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 26, 2015

DCWD Travels: Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen, Denver

Neighborhood: Denver

The Setup

Left to our own devices and wanting some version of a small meal after an afternoon baseball game, we wandered around Larimer Square until we settled on the place that Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas had eye-balled in the first place (the result of a giant tap handle sign): Euclid Hall Bar and Kitchen.

The Vibe

Euclid Hall's decor falls into what I'd call the modern taphouse: think Woodberry Kitchen, with its exposed brick and wood, its wide open floor plan with a large bar and series of booths making up the majority of the seats, and in a coincidence, stairs to a second floor. In Euclid's case, the first floor almost entirely consists of bar space and bar seating, with high tables and high chairs in both booths and communal table set-ups. Upstairs is a little more of a traditional dining room, though there also remains a six seat bar, where Texas and I sit for this meal.

The Food

We aren't particularly hungry (which as it turns out, might have been unfortunate for us), so we decide to play the elimination game until we land on a single entree - each person takes turns eliminating something they don't want until you we land on one thing. What we end up with are the Thai-style mussels, soaked in a white Thai IPA and lemongrass-infused coconut milk, with hints of kaffir lime, Thai basil, chilies, and shallots. For all of those rich strong flavors, they don't necessarily come through on the actual mussels. Sure, the best part of many a mussel dish is dipping the bread in the sauce and just nomming on that - and with the grilled country bread provided here, that certainly couldn't be more true. But in other places - most notably Granville Moore's - you can really get the flavor punches from the bivalves. Not necessarily here. Still good though.

The real reason though that I look back at this meal in fondness is the dessert. Dessert is always a coin toss for us - as with most people, I find - and in this case, we decide, why not. So we order the warm chocolate chip blondie, itself flavored with stout caramel and topped by a generous helping of Bailey's flavored ice cream and candied walnuts. The phrase, "yes, yes, a million times yes" comes to mind when I think back about this dessert. Elegantly simple and not overly saccharine, it tastes like a wonderful childhood come to life.

The Verdict

Good beer list, good food, good spot.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Euclid Hall on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

DCWD Travels: Root Down, Denver

Neighborhood: Denver

The Setup

Our next stop on this western swing is Denver, where our group (Official Brother and Sister of DCWD Phee and Elle, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas, and I) look for brunch at Root Down.

The Vibe

I confess to knowing next to nothing about Denver's neighborhoods, but the geography of it all is quite fascinating. Root Down sits in a converted mechanic's garage in the middle of a quiet neighborhood that could easily pass for the suburbs but for the gridded streets. Yet, when we get there a shade early, we find a small stretch of art shops a short walk away, and the shadow of Coors Field just a stone's throw away. This is a long way of saying that much the same way Denver is a strange, eclectic mix of hip and dense, artisan and conventional, Root Down fits in pretty well, reflected in the decor (all the hallmarks of a converted industrial space), and the clientele (a interesting mix of boozy brunchers and folks with unconventional hairstyles, piercings, and tattoos.

The converted space makes for a nice variety of seating options. A large patio dominates one side of the restaurant, underneath an awning but connected to the other half by open garage doors. Inside sets of round booths surround a small strip of an open kitchen. A small bar, that seems more for waiting than for dining, lies on the other side.

The Food

We'll run this in reverse order: The breakfast burrito that Elle orders is the most bland and shrugworthy of what we get: while it gets some perks from bits of chorizo and the fun mole sauce, everything else is a shade dry, making for a strange gummy mouthfeel. This isn't too say it was poor by any means, just a fairly average dish compared to the others.

Sadly to say, my pulled pork omelette probably comes next, if only because of the quality of the other bits. What it has over the burrito is the interesting pull of the lime sour cream that runs inside, which combined with flavors of scallion and sharp cheddar, bring out some really fresh notes. Perhaps the only complaint is that there isn't more of it.

The last two dishes are the clear favorites. Phee goes with the fried chicken and goat cheese biscuits, which has the additional benefit of being topped by a fried egg (and incidentally sidekicked by a light kale salad). The biscuits are lovely - less dense than the typical biscuits which makes them fluffier. The fried chicken is notable for its batter, and a lovely fry. Even the kale is bright on the palate.

The truly decadent dish Texas orders though is my favorite: a tater tots benedict, where a patty of squished potatoes is topped with pepperoni, and drenched in a ranch hollandaise. I can't say whether or not this was good for anyone's heart health, but it certainly was rich on the taste buds.

The Verdict

Fun food in a fun spot. A nice neighborhood find.

Food Rating: *** 1/2
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Root Down on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 12, 2015

DCWD Travels: The Kitchen, Boulder

Neighborhood: Boulder, Colorado

The Setup

The next few weeks take us out of the District to the Centennial State for a several day trip through Colorado - which sheepishly took place more than a few months ago. First stop, Boulder. The beauty of Boulder is that there is no shortage of local-food-friendly restaurants along the main stretch of downtown. The downside is it's hard to get a seat in many of them last minute. Luckily, the four of us (Official Sister and Brother-in-Law of DCWD Elle and Phee, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas, and me) were able to snag a table at farm-to-table bistro The Kitchen.

The Vibe
In many ways, the phrase "rustic chic" might have been invented to describe The Kitchen's aesthetic. Reclaimed wood tables match the reclaimed wood floors, as ornate chandeliers dangle overhead. Exposed brick walls sit alongside stonework, with large chalkboards announcing specials and purveyors alike. Neutral white paint is accented by deep royal blue in the slender quiet bar upfront, while the back dining area is dominated by browns, notably the large communal table in the middle; it's flanked on either side by a set of freestanding four-tops and a row of two-tops.

Upstairs, another more casual and bustling bar space awaits, while a sister restaurant, more along the lines of gastropub, sits next door (and is literally named, Next Door).

The Food

We always love eating in groups because it gives us free rein to order a bevy of dishes off the menu. Feeling particularly ravenous on this occasion, we order three rounds of food: starters, pastas, and mains. I suppose you could sum up the entire evening with this word salad: straightforward combinations, well-executed, nothing incredibly transcendent, but all in all a solid meal.

Perhaps the one thing that bucks that trend is the first dish: a peach bruschetta, topped with basil, saba, and the real draw - burrata. In many ways, it is also quite straightforward in its own way, like taking all of the bits of a cheese board and taking it in one bite. Still, the play on bruschetta and the use of burrata is intriguing, highlighted by the brightness of the peach, making the dish a fun success.

Contrast this with our other starter, a conventional grilled octopus and white bean salad, paired with greens and interestingly enough, a salsa verde. Well-charred, light on the oil, and herb-forward; yet, a familiar dish that we've had before. This one was close to the mean.

We're a little spoiled for choice in DC with pasta these days, so the set of pasta dishes here have to compare directly with those we've enjoyed before. So while the tagliatelle bolognese is easy on the taste buds - mostly since it lays easy on the sauce - and gets a little juice from its mix of beef, pork, and lamb, it falls short of similar entrants from our recent past (see: Red Hen). For its part, the summer-friendly ricotta gnudi, made comforting and light with corn, mushroom, and tomato accoutrements punctuated by hints of guanciale, is creamy and effortless and distinguishes itself well.

The mains follow suit. A sturgeon dish is about as bistro as it comes, decked with green beans and potatoes and complemented by greens and a dijon vinaigrette. Like an escapee from the Joy of French Cooking, it charts a steady path, but is fairly lackluster when it comes to interesting flavor.

An oven-roasted lamb parks itself similarly, gaminess matched by little else than salt and pepper. It's a good one note, but not even a Moroccan-inspired side of couscous, harissa, and cucumber raita can stop it from being a little tired halfway through.

Oddly enough, it's the pan-roasted chicken that wins out, but not because of anything protein-driven; rather it's the curried cauliflower and kale, drizzled with some radicchio/cilantro butter that amuses the palette most.

The Verdict

If seasonal and farm-to-table is what you want, this is as good a place to get it as any. Straightforward food done well.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Quiet Drinks (downstairs) Hipster Hangout (upstairs)
Vibe: Energetic
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

The Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 9, 2015

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings, March 2015

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

10 Restaurants We're Excited About 

1. Crane and Turtle
2. Fiola Mare
3. Water and Wall
4. Osteria Morini
5. Bluejacket
6. Unum
7. Thally
8. Et Voila!
9. Restaurant Eve
10. Sona Creamery

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings

With the New Year comes the opportunity to rethink how these meals lasted the test of time, and the true value proposition - is the cost of a tasting menu of Marcel's worth the price difference relative to a pizza from Ghibellina? Also, removed Taan Noodles - closed; CityZen - closed; Cedar - fell off rankings. Added Boss Shepherd's, Eat the Rich, and Roofers' Union.

1. Komi 
2. Proof 
3. Toki Underground 
4. Rose's Luxury
5. Red Hen 
6. Rasika
7. Inn at Little Washington
8. Birch and Barley
9. Rappahannock Oyster Bar
10. Mintwood Place 
11. Thai X-ing 
12. Iron Gate
13. Blue Duck Tavern
14. Fiola
15. Volt

16. Compass Rose
17. Ghibellina 
18. Society Fair
19. Minibar 
20. Trummer's on Main 
21. Comet Ping Pong
22. Vermilion
23. Bar Pilar
24. Granville Moore's 
25. Maple Ave
26. Southern Efficiency  
27. Estadio 
28. Little Serow
29. Cork
30. Zaytinya
31. Boss Shepherd's
32. Smith Commons

33. The Partisan  
34. Eat the Rich
35. Jaleo
36. 2941 
37. Marcel's
38. The Source 
39. Equinox
40. Posto 

41. Corduroy 
42. Graffiato
43. Lyon Hall 
44. Brasserie Beck 
45. Rogue 24 
46. Kapnos
47. Casa Luca
48. ChurchKey
49. Ted's Bulletin 

50. Izakaya Seki
51. Cava Mezze 
52. 701 
53. BLT Steak 
54. Bourbon Steak
55. Etto

56. Big Bear Café
57. DGS
58. Four Sisters
59. Meridian Pint 

60. Seventh Hill Pizza 
61. Bearnaise
62. Ripple
63. The Pig 
64. 2 Amys 
65. Rasika West End
66. Bistro Bis
67. Medium Rare
68. BlackSalt 
69. Central Michel Richard
70. Sushi-Ko 
71. Pearl Dive Oyster Palace 
72. Hill Country
73. Vidalia
74. 1789
75. Le Diplomate 
76. Hank's Oyster Bar
77. Oyamel
78. Tabard Inn
79. Obelisk
80. Right Proper Brewing Company 
81. Satellite Room 
82. Oval Room 
83. Art and Soul 
84. Poste
85. Range
86. Doi Moi
87. Table
88. Del Campo
89. Roofers' Union
90. Nava Thai Noodle 
91. Pho 75
92. Café Saint Ex
93. Masala Art 
94. Vinoteca 
95. Smoke and Barrel 
96. Mussel Bar
97. The Brixton
98. Sushi Taro

99. Kramerbooks/Afterwords
100. Garden District