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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pho Viet

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Petworth/Columbia Heights

The Setup


Wait, good pho? Somewhere in the District? Now I have to find out. On this trip with me: Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD BS and Rae.

The Vibe
There are a few rules of thumb in searching for good pho for me. One is that in a restaurant with pho in the name, don't order anything else - and conversely, don't order the pho in a Vietnamese restaurant without it. But the other big rule of thumb is to be wary of the pho in places with nice decor. Give me a hole-in-the-wall, because those are the places that serve the best soup. This trim but spartan dining room, with a small patio and maybe 20 seats between four-tops and the bar, decorated only by a lone TV among the exposed brick, certainly meets that standard.

The Food

Given my upbringing, I'm pretty strict on pho - even more so on ::shudder:: vegetarian pho. But I have to hand it to BS (who probably provides 20 percent of the restaurant's income): even the veggie pho here is noteworthy - especially if you go for the spicy version. Sometimes, veggie pho around this city is thin and bland. This was neither, which was a pretty pleasant surprise.

Still, it couldn't go toe-to-toe with the pho dac biet I order. Deeper broth than any we've had in the city, and a great noodle-to-broth ratio. The dac biet comes with a pretty wide range of meats (even bo vien, beef meatballs, which is a surprise). Especially on this lazy Saturday morning, an incredible feeling of umami and comfort.

And for what it's worth, decent summer rolls and spring rolls.

The Verdict

Instantly moves up to the pole position for best pho in DC.

Food Rating: *** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 1.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$
 (out of 5) (less than $25 for two)


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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sally's Middle Name

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: H Street NE

The Setup


For some reason, the opening of Sally's Middle Name on H Street provoked a desire to visit from Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas. Joining us on this trip was Official Friend of DCWD Rae.

The Vibe
I'd never been to the Parts and Service Pizza joint that Sally's Middle Name replaced, but I imagine that the space didn't differ that greatly; it's H Street after all. What do we mean by that? A garage door window opens onto a bright room of dark wood flooring and bright white subway tile. A chalkboard wall sits opposite a 12-seat bar and open kitchen toward the back of the restaurant, while the rest of the dining area upfront is basically composed of a handful of two and four-tops. Small globe lights illuminate the menus, written both on the aforementioned chalkboard and again with black marker on the subway tile catty-corner to it. It's simple, fun, convivial.

The Food

You have to hand it to Sally's Middle Name: they've taken the seasonal promise of a restaurant and taken it to its natural extreme. From the outlook of the rotating menu that day, it reads like the chef picked up 20 crates of a few fruits and vegetables, and just tried putting them together in as many combinations as possible. To wit, a salad of apricots, melons and tomatoes with hazelnuts blends in the memory with a different salad of melons, tomatoes, blue cheese, and walnuts. Fresh - particularly in the dressing - but too similar.


Some of it makes you wonder about the value proposition. Small plates we get. But when two dishes - grilled peppers with apricots and lime, and grilled squash and onions - come out, you wonder if it's worth the money you've just spent on the fistful of produce with char lines that doesn't necessarily exhibit any value add.


Which isn't to say there aren't fun and interesting bites. A yellow tomato gazpacho is a dazzling sweet spoonful, an herb-brined chicken breast is wonderfully salty, and a halibut filet on a peach romesco is beautifully seared. Though again, when the latter two come at entree prices for a quarter of the portion one might expect at other eateries, it's less fun.


Desserts play a similar role. An olive oil cake with poached apricots is crisp, and a blackberry pie - which we pair with corn ice cream - is soulful.


The Verdict

Especially for the vegetarians among us, some good flavors that don't exclude you from the rest of your dinner party. But a pretty large hit on the wallet for the satisfaction.

Food Rating: *** 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
 Hipster Hangout
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Komi, Part Deux

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2015 #1, Washingtonian 2014 #3, Washingtonian 2013 #2; Washington Post 2014 Fall Dining Guide
Neighborhood: Dupont Circle

The Setup


It's a dual birthday to celebrate, with both Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and Official Friend of DCWD BS growing a year older. To cheer the good occasion along with Official Friend of DCWD Rae, what better than the restaurant I keep as my number one, and a spot that Texas has yet to visit: Komi.

The Food

Nearly nothing has changed about Komi since my last visit; not the format, nor the decor, which in some ways is a blessing. The lone shift is the sommelier; the former somm, who had made the previous experience so memorable, has since departed, though she is replaced with an equally accommodating, equally skilled, slightly less zipfully named counterpart. What is perhaps even more pronounced from the last meal almost five years prior is the attention to detail that service entails. Two servers bus our table after each course, so coordinated that they pick up each individual utensil at the same instance, like two graceful robots doing a synchronized swimming routine. It's an oddity at first, but comforting all the same.

As before, the meal unfolds as a slowly building multi-course extravaganza, starting with amuse-bouche sized bites before culminating in a shared family-style serving. What's new this time is the appearance of Rae, a vegetarian, which gives us the opportunity to peek into the restaurant's meatless options. The first course is a good example: where our brioche puff is topped with salty trout roe, hers comes with avocado. It's just alright. The next dish is significantly better: a sashimi slice of mackerel as red as a beet, and with fresh flavor that slays.

A scallop duo follows, a callback to five years ago, which remains as fresh and lively as before. In some ways though, Rae's smoke-filled soup - the ingredients of which fade in the memory, the taste of which does not - is the winner this round. Texas even conjures up a trade just to have a few more nips. Duck rillette with ramps on sourdough comes next; if there is one dish that is forgotten in the grandeur of the night, it's this one.

The next few dishes are some of the most exemplary. A small set of grilled octopus bites are fresh and wonderfully charred. But the true hyperbolic dish is a simple set of dates filled with mascarpone: sweet and creamy, so simple in its creation, but so perfect in its presentation. Crazy good.

The last sets of dishes are where Chef Monis's approach to strong, clean flavors with flairs for innovation are most apparent. A finger of foie gras mousse sits atop a rhubarb and beer jam, a fun way of presenting the traditional savory-sweet interplay. Two sets of pasta shine with springtime flavors: fava bean stuffed agnolotti are given a light salt touch from wonderful crab meat, while melting gnocchi is given some spark by beech mushrooms and asparagus. The coup-de-grace is the family-style servings of braised lamb neck and stretches of suckling pig - complete with fluffy pita-like bread and dips of lamb fat hummus and berbere spiced yogurt - beautifully fatty and punch-in-the-face flavorful.

The Verdict

Still the best.

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Bistro Bohem

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street/Shaw

The Setup


With a need for dinner near our house, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I happened upon Bistro Bohem.

The Vibe

We have circled the dual Bohem space for quite some time. Half the space is a cafe, which we've also never stepped foot into. On the bistro side is a bar area with a spare few seats, mostly at high tables and an actual bar. The real seating comes in the form of a sizable outdoor patio and a side room, which is the real dining area at double the size of the front room. Here, an exposed brick room of greens and browns come decorated with various kitsch. It's nice if unmemorable.

The Food


On this trip, I order the pork schnitzel, because what else does one do at a German restaurant? Of the many styles offered, I go with the one covered in arugala, tomatoes, and some provolone cheese. It's tidy though a bit of a nothingburger, like something one could have popped out in a home kitchen having been told what schnitzel is. If there's a surprise here, it's the side of mashed potatoes which is happily heavy on the butter.

For her part, Texas's roasted portobello burger - which comes on a pretzel bun topped with house grilled veggies and provolone - is an actual, literal nothingburger. It's indistinguishable and lacks any discernible punch. Even the house made potato chips, fried down to a dark brown, are worth passing on.

The Verdict


Fine, I suppose.

Food Rating: ** 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
 Quiet Drinks
Vibe:
Calm
Cost:
$$
 (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)


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