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Thursday, October 29, 2015

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings, October 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
(updated to include soon-to-open restaurants, at least ones with somewhat clear opening dates)

1. Garrison
2. Bad Saint
3. Masseria
4. The Dabney
5. The Shaw Bijou
6. The Riggsby
7. Centrolina
8. Water and Wall
9. Osteria Morini
10. Thally

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings

With some movements due to recent meals. Removed Masala Art, Vinoteca, Smoke and Barrel, Mussel Bar, The Brixton, and Mango Tree - fell off rankings. Added Momofuku CCDC, Thip Khao, Restaurant at Patowmack Farm, DCity Smokehouse, Unum, The Grill Room, Bar Charley.

1. Komi 
2. Crane and Turtle
3. Rose's Luxury
4. Proof 
5. Toki Underground 
6. Red Hen 
7. Rasika
8. Inn at Little Washington
9. Momofuku CCDC
10. Birch and Barley
11. Rappahannock Oyster Bar
12. Mintwood Place
13. Compass Rose
14. Ghibellina 
15. Thai X-ing
16. Iron Gate
17. Blue Duck Tavern
18. Bar Pilar
19. Thip Khao
20. Fiola
21. Volt
22. Society Fair
23. Minibar 
24. Trummer's on Main 
25. Comet Ping Pong
26. Vermilion
27. Granville Moore's 
28. Maple Ave
29. Southern Efficiency  
30. Estadio
31. Restaurant at Patowmack Farm (coming soon)
32. Eat the Rich
33. Jaleo
34. Kapnos
35. Little Serow
36. The Partisan
37. Cork
38. Zaytinya
39. Boss Shepherd's
40. Smith Commons

41. 2941 
42. Marcel's
43. The Source 
44. Equinox
45. Posto 

46. Corduroy 
47. Graffiato
48Lyon Hall 
49. Brasserie Beck 
50. Rogue 24 
51. Casa Luca
52. Ted's Bulletin 

53. Izakaya Seki
54. Cava Mezze 
55. 701
56. Maketto
57. BLT Steak 
58. Bourbon Steak
59. Etto

60. Big Bear Café
61. DGS
62. Four Sisters
63. DCity Smokehouse
64. Meridian Pint 

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

First Look: Momofuku CCDC

Plaudits: None (yet)
Neighborhood: Downtown/Metro Center

The Setup

It's our wedding anniversary. And what better way to celebrate than a meal at one of DC's newest and most hyped arrivals - David Chang's Momofuku CCDC.

The Vibe

Built into the new CityCenter complex (thus the CCDC part), the space oozes New York cool. Normally I'd use that phrase ironically or at least self-deprecatingly - especially in a complex that shares a wall with a Gucci store - but in fairness, this is a clean, fun space. A vast open kitchen lies to one size, opposite the walled off Milk Bar section. Through this funnel is a two part dining room: a labyrinthine series of high-tops, bar seating, and a smattering of twos and fours all in simple angular light wood hutches, and a raised platform of larger tables in the back (which remains mostly empty tonight).

The "cool" part comes from some of the decor touches: a series of swirling and colorful abstract paintings, some small and in frames, some gargantuan and painted right on the walls, and of course the eponymous lucky peach symbol everywhere. The handsome part comes from the ubiquity of light wooden slats that line the otherwise black and beige walls. A light sound of clattering pans and expediting competes with indie rock - Weezer comes on during dessert - and the not insignificant buzz. Something to consider for a two-person evening? Your odds on being seated in either a communal high-top or even a four-top with another couple seems to be about even money. We'll have to see if this continues as the buzz dies down.

The Food

We're starving and there's lots of Momofuku legends on this opening menu, so we order a solid run of food. To start two of the steamed buns: pork with hoisin, scallion, and cucumber; and brisket with horseradish mayo, pickled red onion, and lettuce. Let's just put it the Princess Bride way: "You know Toki Underground? Terrible." Which is to say, that the exemplary buns at Toki pale in comparison to how pitch perfect these are, to both the touch - smooth and soft and pillowy, and to the taste. Here, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I are split: the pork buns are her favorite and the more traditional - belly that melts into your mouth with the familiar salt of hoisin and pickled cucumber. Meanwhile, I'm more into the brisket versions with their subtle smoky flavor matched by bright mayo.

The real pleasure of the night though is a dish that sneaks in under the radar: raw rockfish seasoned with yuzu and bonji - Chef Chang's specific spice blend, and topped with apple. This was superlative in every way; it's not a stretch to say that it is one of the best things we've eaten all year. The beautiful blend of citrus and sweet with the rockfish's delicate texture was to die for. One has to hope this stays on the menu given how I would recommend this restaurant just for this.

Two more entrees round out our night. The eponymous Momofuku ramen arrives, and if anything, is the one slight disappointment of the night. We're spoiled for choice here in DC with ramen, and compared to some contemporaries, the broth here seems a little thin and a little one note - that note being very much pork. Which is too bad, since with just a little bit more soul, this bowl would have been to die for: shredded pork shoulder, beautiful pork belly, and a perfectly poached egg make this a wonderfully consistent treat.

The other main is the storied chicken, which if we figured out the bowl correctly, comes both with the Korean-style double-fried tangy spicy style, and the Old Bay-flavored Southern style. It depends what you like, but Texas truly digs the former and I'm into the crunch on the latter. A jalapeno ginger dipping sauce seems unnecessary given the heat, but is tasty; the same could probably be said of the side of collard greens with vegan XO sauce that comes alongside.

The Milk Bar-provided desserts are just as good as advertised. After seeing approximately fifty soft serves pass by us, we decide to go for it, a swirl of cereal milk and crack pie ice cream coated with corn flake crunch that is just... I mean, this is what heaven is, yes? In some ways, the actual crack pie we also order - a gooey butter cake for those Midwesterners among us - pales in comparison.

The Verdict

Instantly, one of the best spots we've had in the city, and that's on the opening weekend. What is does with time seems almost unimaginably tantalizing.

Food Rating: **** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)

Momofuku CCDC Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Royal

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street/Ledroit Park

The Setup

With a light dinner around our house on our minds, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD ended up at the newly opened Royal in Ledroit Park.

The Vibe

You have to credit to restaurants that turn former graffiti targets into handsome storefronts, so for that The Royal deserves some plaudits - as of yesterday, Google Maps still shows the transition depending on if you view the building from the 5th Street or Florida Ave side of the intersection. In fairness, the full plate glass door and sliding door windows are quite charming, as is the slate gray paint job. With that said, nothing else about the interior design surprises: a conventionally cleaned up space with all the trappings of hip new places (see: exposed brick, neutral monochrome paint colors, some "quirky" uses of reclaimed wood or metal, hanging globe lights). The space is small and half-bar, with only a row of bench half-booths and eight patio seats. The net result: cute, but small.

The Food

It's a light meal for us on this occasion, and between the two of us, we ordered four small plates (because, of course, it's small plates). Every dish rates about the same, which is to say, decent but nothing that makes me want to evangelize the restaurant. Unsurprisingly - given the Colombian provenance of the restaurant's menu - the two cheese arepas are the closest that the restaurant gets to a highlight. They're fluffy and heavy on the cheese, which has just the right amount of salt; a little tomatillo salsa perks up the whole affair.

The rest of the dishes are best described as shrugworthy, I suppose. A steak is grilled to a nice outside char - and it too, is helped by a little green sauce - but for $20, the portion seems out of whack (comically, the Royal website's photo of a steak seems twice the size of the fist-sized filet we receive). A vegetarian mix of grilled avocado, lentils, and house quinoa (whatever house quinoa means) meanders with a slightly-too-tart vinaigrette and lacks a killer punch, while grilled squid with smoked tomatoes reminds you of basically every other grilled squid dish - which in this case, is the source of shrugging.

The Verdict

A perfectly fine neighborhood spot, but nothing to go out of your way for.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
 (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

The Royal Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thip Khao

Plaudits: Nominee - Bon Appetit's 50 Best New Restaurants in America,
Neighborhood: Columbia Heights

The Setup

With adventure on the mind, we finally made it up to one of DC's hottest new restaurants, Thip Khao. In tow, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas, and Official Friends of DCWD Baboon and G.

The Vibe

The restaurant's booming reputation has made way for an expansive space, which alternately turns from something like 90 seats in the elongated main space, to another 30 or 40 on the patio. This also makes for a lively atmosphere; on this Thursday night, every seat is packed to the gills.

Decor takes its cues from nearly every other buttoned-up Asian restaurant in DC this side of Rasika: bright colors - here a pale key lime and mandarin orange - perked up by Asian wall art and kitsch. Otherwise, the build out is the same bones as you would expect from a restaurant in the ground floor of a mid-aughts condo: exposed ceiling, hardwood floors, straight lines from one clump of half-booths and four-tops toward a short bar toward another half of full booths and group tables.

The Food

The funniest - and by funniest, I mean most charming - thing about the Thip Khao menu is that three different menus appear before you as you sit down (not even including the drink menu): a regular menu, which in most restaurants would be enough. But then there's the "jungle" menu, a list of adventurous dishes with atraditional meats (e.g. intestines) or spices ratched up to 11. And then there's an invasive species menu, a nod to the terrible quirk that fish like snakehead happens to be both prized in Southeast Asia, and abundant in the Potomac. With all this, it's hard not to be overwhelmed.

So we let our server decide for us, for the most part. We lock in on three dishes that we're certain about, one from each of the aforementioned menus. The one with the most pre-meal buzz is the duck laab - a mix of minced duck meat, toasted rice, scallions, cilantro and mint. It meets those expectations, with standout texture and spice. An order of piing leen - grilled beef tongue with some dipping sauces -from the jungle menu is decent though curious, coming in strips rather than a whole chunk which leaves the big flavors a bit dried out. From the invasive species menu, we grab crispy fried fish - with the out-of-stock snakehead replaced with equally invasive blue catfish - replete with a bright salad of mango, cherry tomato, avocado, ginger, garlic, cashew, and lime. This is the highlight of the meal for me, a fresh sweet and engaging meal.

Our waiter recommends an additional three dishes: the naem khao - a dish similar in style to the laab, but with sour pork, peanuts, and coconut replacing the duck and with lettuce wraps accompanying it - is my second favorite of the night, given how forward and fun it is. A gang hua paa - light tomato broth soup with salmon heads - reminds me of Vietnamese canh chua, but getting at the salmon meat is difficult, and ultimately is shrugworthy, despite its hints of tamarind and chili. Surprisingly though, the dessert is the most curious - a pumpkin rice pudding which veers enough from what traditional end-of-meal fare is at other restaurants on both looks and tastes that it ends up a headscratcher.

The Verdict

When it's on, incredible and unfamiliar flavors that make you want to come back for more.

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
(out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

Thip Khao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Munchies: Republic Kolaches

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup

Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas is, well, from Texas, meaning she has been talking about kolaches for the better part of our relationship (sample dialogue: "These danishes are good, but they're no kolaches"). So when the Republic Kolaches pop-up started showing up in our backyard, we made a series of visits.

The Food

Over the course of a few weeks, we've tried almost all of the various kolaches: chorizo and egg, half smoke jalapeno, saag paneer, vanilla bourbon peach, cream cheese and pecan, and blueberry and ricotta.

I'm going to let Texas take it from here: "I like them. I'm happy to have them so close by, and they really fill a kolache void in my life in DC. I think with something as nostalgic as kolaches, it was always going to be hard to live up to expectations, and in fact in different parts of Texas, the kolaches really vary. This version was more like a Parker roll than the danish-like kolaches I grew up with, a fluffier dough that was less sweet. But I appreciate how creative the flavors are, especially the savory ones. So, if I can't get the Czech Stop kolaches from West, Texas, these are pretty good.

The Verdict

Delicious breakfast.

Food Rating: *** 1/2 
(out of 5)