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Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Plaudits: Washingtonian 2016 #12
Neighborhood: NoMa

The Setup

It's Official Friend of DCWD AB's birthday and since we've all spent the better part of the past few months flirting with going to Masseria, we decide this is the best occasion for it.

The Vibe

Damn, this place is pretty. If Masseria were airlifted out of its spot a block over from Union Market hidden among dingy warehouses and a bank and placed in Logan Circle, the Washington food scene would be awash in lavish pieces about this gorgeous set-up. Stage one is an open patio, with large lounge couches and patio chairs around tables and fire pits, all the better to nurse a cocktail or a cigar. Stage two is a partially covered patio with an ornate tile floor, filled with garden party style tables; on this night, it's been transformed into a semi-private space where two full long tables dine.

It's sort of funny that the actual dining room (stage three, for those keeping track) is probably the most pedestrian of it all, and is still quite lovely. A huge open kitchen with bar seating draws your attention as the space - a beautiful mix of glass and concrete and brick and wood - unfolds, lined with half-booths and filled in with assorted tables. That's maybe the only downside: the table selection in the center of the room is a bit odd. Get placed in the wrong table and you might be subject to some tight turns and fly-by dishes from the always-be-moving staff.

The Food

We decide to go all in and opt for the five course menu, which allows us to grab most everything on the menu. Here's a quick run down and some short sentences about everything we eat.

To start, a slate of quick bites: a potato bombolini, provolone arancini, semolina and tomato paste, and squid ink breadsticks. The freaking bombolini itself was a highlight.

Here are two first courses that couldn't have been more different both in expectations and reality: I order a brodetto of beef tripe and lobster, whereas ALEX orders a simple grilled white asparagus with bottarga and a sorrel cream. Yes, the former has perfectly cooked lobster and a rich tomato broth. Sure, the tripe acts like a tendony pasta. But it's the latter's singular crisp flavors that are out-of-the-park good.

Similarly, sweet breads with radicchio are wonderful and smoother than any I've had in recent memory. But it pales in comparison to the dish that everyone can get behind: a delicate cobia crudo flaked with fennel and blood orange and chile that is mesmerizing. Also, you're never going to believe this but the pasta at this highly touted Italian restaurant is the incredible and consistently stellar part of the evening. This one was my favorite: maccheroni molinari with venison ragu. If you've had the rigatoni at Red Hen and loved it, this one might be even better. The second pasta dish of this round - a simple linguine with Masseria spicy xo sauce, olive oil, and garlic - is clean and straightforward, in a good way.

Our last pasta dish is just as sumptuous: an egg ravioli with crawfish. Beware: this dish is one large ravioli making it hard to share. Also making it hard to share? How delightful and rich the bite is. The veggies at the table try hard to convince me that the plate of mushrooms, turnips, and kale is comparable. But it isn't. Sorry.

The rest of the entrees all have their nice moments, ranging from solid to remarkable, though all something short of hyperbolic. A striped bass filet is wonderfully buttery; a dish of artichokes with blood orange and lemon makes up for previous simplistic veggie dishes; and a twin dealing of red meat - the lamb loins with sunchoke and spinach, and slices of suckling pig with escarole and fava beans - bring similar experiences: tender, traditional, straightforward, with the pig being a slight favorite for its delicate use of peas.

As for dessert, we try all three: bombolini with bits of rhubarb and lemon ricotta; a crostata with fruit marmalade and malted milk gelato; and a baked chocolate mousse with tiramisu gelato. Pick the third.

The Verdict

Perhaps not daring, but the cleanest, brightest, and most striking Italian food we've had in a while. Add in the setting, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more convincing debut.

Food Rating: **** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
 Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
(out of 5) (more than $100 for two)

Masseria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, April 11, 2016

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings, April 2016

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. Bad Saint
2. The Shaw Bijou
3. Tail Up Goat
4. Pineapples and Pearls
5. Alfie's
6. Kinship
7. Espita Mezcaleria
8. Hazel
9. Water and Wall
10. Osteria Morini

The DCWD Restaurant Power Rankings

Removed Crane and Turtle, Posto, Rogue 24 - closed. Removed Table, Roofers' Union, Bar Charley, Nava Thai Noodle, Cafe Saint Ex - fell off rankings. Added Kyirisan, The Dabney, Garrison, Masseria, Daikaya, Thally, Chez Billy Sud, Texas Jack's, Convivial.

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

44. 2941 
45. Marcel's
46. The Source 
47. Equinox
48. Corduroy 
49. Graffiato
50. Lyon Hall 
51. Brasserie Beck 
52. Casa Luca
53. Ted's Bulletin 
54. Izakaya Seki
55. Cava Mezze 
56. 701
57. Maketto
58. Thally
59. BLT Steak 
60. Bourbon Steak
61. Etto

62. Big Bear Café
63. DGS
64. Four Sisters
65. DCity Smokehouse
66. Meridian Pint 

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

Timber Pizza Co.

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup

Opening up in place of neighborhood favorite Blind Dog Cafe, we went over to pick up some takeout brunch from new Darnell's pop-up Timber Pizza Co.

The Food

We order two divergent pizzas. The first is a time-limited (seemingly) breakfast pizza, with egg sidled up against potatoes, capicola, and cheddar; the second is the Green Monster - a pesto base with mozzarella, feta, kale, and zucchini atop it.

There are decent pizzas living inside these personal-sized $12 pizzas, but there's something about it that just isn't great. Maybe it's how overly burnt the whole affair is; I like char on my crust as much as the next guy, but this felt more like the result of a "oh crap we left this in the oven too long" moment. And yet somehow, the zucchini is undercooked, hard and dense, the likely result of the chunks being too large.

The Verdict

Maybe they've gotten better since then, but not my first stop for pizza in the neighborhood.

Food Rating: **
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Bar Rating:
 (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

Friday, April 1, 2016

First Look: Kyirisan

cross-posted at dcist.

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: Shaw/U Street

The Setup

I still vividly recall my first trip to Maple Ave. Drawn to Vienna, Virginia by Washingtonian’s Top 100 Very Best Restaurants list, we must have driven past Maple Ave at least twice before finally realizing, “hey, that place that looks like a 1950s hamburger shop? That’s it.” It was an odd construct to say the least—food of the caliber one might expect at some of the area’s more refined white-table restaurants served in one of the most quotidian dining rooms.

That was early 2013. In the intervening years, times have changed for Chef Tim Ma. For one, Maple Ave no longer exists under his aegis; it was sold to employees in 2015. But perhaps more importantly, in Kyirisan—his newly opened flagship in The Shay apartment building in Shaw—he has found a space befitting his bold flavors.

The Vibe

Which is a tough task to say the least. For those bemoaning the looming closing of Petworth’s gone-before-its-time Crane and Turtle, myself included, Chef Ma’s emigration from Fairfax is a welcome replacement in delightful French-Asian fusion. To wit, he has brought along some of his greatest hits, like the crème fraiche-Korean chili wings or the lovingly-seared duck breast with Chinese five spice flavors.

But back to the room. I try not to get too worked up about décor these days, given that every hot new place seems to have decided to light its post-industrial exposed brick with dim pendant lighting. But where others have turned their tables into a game of dark orange shadows, Kyirisan is bright and energetic in its design, like a page ripped out of a mid-century modern catalog. Royal blues and golds and browns and slates meet each other in angular lines; even the wall sconces are geometric. As you sink into your tufted booth, you feel like you’re eating in someone’s well-appointed dining room.

The Food

This is exactly what Chef Ma and company are going for. And it’s easy to feel that homey quality in each of the soulful dishes that cross our table. The scallop and coconut risotto with basil ice cream, another Maple Ave transplant, is adventurous and playful—and one of the few dishes we insist on ordering again on a second visit. As Joey Ma, Chef Tim’s wife and front-of-house, puts it, “it’s weird but totally works.” Agreed. But what makes it perhaps the most enjoyable is how comfortable and lived-in the bites feel; this is a dish that feels more personal and approachable than any other risotto in D.C.

If his previous stops hinted at the French-Asian fusion in Chef Ma’s arsenal, that dial is turned up to 11 here. A pickled quail and prawn combo with Chinese hot pot sauce brings memories of childhood jaunts to Chinese restaurants and dim sum meals past, as does deep fried tofu—especially when you let it really soak up the rich black pepper sauce it sits in. A bowl of coconut-saffron mussels is perfected by Asian chorizo and buttery crostini toasts. The epitome of this vision is also the brightest spot of the meal for me: a perfectly seared halibut filet that would have felt at home at Central or Le Diplomate—if not for the peanut and hoisin flavors that accompany it.

Other can’t miss dish? A raw fluke crudo that shows the kitchen’s light touch, drawing out the fish’s delicate flavors with pistachio and lime and fennel. A cauliflower tortellini on our second trip is so light that it melts as effortlessly on our tongue as the butter sauce and ricotta it comes with. And if you like crawfish, then the langoustine and cauliflower bowl is for you, a rich soy flavor punctuated by moments of pickled ginger clarity.

But leave room for dessert. Of the three of us at this meal, we all picked a different favorite: mine is the custard cheesecake with hazelnut ganache, but it’s easy to see how the matcha pavlova with black sesame cream and a raspberry mint coulis, or the raspberry cobbler with mascarpone ice cream would be just as winning.

It’s not all perfect. A seared duck liver with stroopwafel leans a tad gummy, and feels a little discordant from the rest of the menu. A black forest cake that moved from special to menu dessert on our second trip is fairly pedestrian.

The Verdict

But overall, this is the best addition to the U Street Corridor/Shaw restaurant scene in a long time.​

Food Rating: ****
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
 Smart Casual
Bar Rating:
 Quiet Drinks to Classy Crowd
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)