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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

First Look: Haikan

cross-posted at DCist

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

When it comes to ramen, there are some strong opinions—you might even say fault lines—in my household. I'm a unabashed fan of Toki Underground's inventive and rich Taiwanese-style ramen. My wife, on the other hand, can't get enough of the purity and depth of Daikaya's Sapporo-style noodles. But both of us have been anticipating the opening of Haikan—Atlantic Plumbing's newest ground floor addition. And so has the rest of the city: 10 minutes before opening on Saturday, a line had already wrapped around the restaurant.

Our dinner lived up to the hype. Despite the fact that we sat during literally Haikan's first real dinner shift, the quality of what the kitchen produced augurs something special.

Haikan is the third restaurant from the group behind the recently-opened Bantam King and Daikaya. If you've eaten at both the ramen bar and izakaya of Daikaya, you have some idea of what you're in store for at Haikan. There's an emphasis on salt and soy-leaning ramen as well as neatly composed dishes that modernize Asian themes and classics.

For the Daikaya fans, the shoyu ramen is a perfect replication of the sister restaurant's soup. It's dense and inviting and full of umami and vigor. If you're a meat eater, splurge for the extra chashu topping on any of your ramen bowls. But if you're not, we were particularly impressed with the look of the vegetarian bowl, topped with a heap of seasonal vegetables. There are also shio and miso versions of the restaurant's Sapporo-style ramen.

As for the other dishes that we ordered, they ranged from solid work to hits. The crab rangoon is the upscale version of the Chinese restaurant staple that you never knew you needed, with chunks of real crab and delightfully creamy cheese inside. The mapo tofu poutine is something that by all accounts shouldn't work, but absolutely does; small mozzarella curds blend seamlessly with Chinese mouthnumbing spice in Haikan's version of poutine gravy. The caprese salad made with burrata cheese, strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, and yuzu vinaigrette is a good dish, if not a particularly inventive one.

The most sippable thing at Haikan might not be the ramen broth. That designation may go to a cocktail that combines shochu and housemade honey and grapefruit soda. If you need to beat the heat outside, or in your bowl, that's the way to go. There are other Japanese-inspired cocktails, like Old Fashioneds made with Japanese whisky, and even a gin-based drink called Wasabi Peas that contains snowpeas, yuzu and, yes, wasabi.

It might seem antithetical to eat ramen outside—especially in this particular heat—but rest assured that Haikan will be one of the cooler patios in D.C. in the very near future. There's a long wooden communal table under one of the more handsome restaurant signs in the city. Inside is just as nice: a particularly bright and geometric and angular decor that replicates Daikaya's ramen bar set-up, but with a bit more polish.

The Verdict
Dinner at Haikan probably was the most graceful restaurant opening we've seen in years. And if this is what dinner is like now, that snaking line that greeted us upon arrival might just be a permanent feature.

Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
N/A
Vibe:
Noisy
Cost:
$$
 (out of 5) ($25-$50 for two)

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

DCWD Travels: The Slanted Door, San Francisco

Neighborhood: San Francisco

It's not every day that you get a Vietnamese restaurant with some national acclaim; or that it's right there next to you as you walk along the Bay toward the Ferry Building. So here are some thoughts on the experience:

  1. The internet tells me that this is the third iteration of the restaurant, and you can tell that this place is pretty successful; not only does it occupy a prime amount of real estate in the aforementioned Ferry Building, but it clearly turns a lot of tables pretty much all day. There's a lot of space in the dining room and it's a nice gussied up. That being said, it does feel a bit... corporate. It's sort of like DBGB at City Center. Pretty... just apersonal.
  2. That being said there are lots of good things here. I don't know that I had ever had banh bot loc - which is like a tapioca-based version of banh cuon - but these dumplings which came either with mung bean or shrimp and pork belly fillings, were freaking epic. Similarly, some mien - glass noodles - which came with dungeness crab, were a surprise in how light and lively each bite was.
  3. As for authenticity, I ordered my typical bo luc lac - shaky beef. This was incredibly on point: just the right splashes of salt and pepper, punchy watercress, and the ability to recall fond food memories.
  4. It's not all perfect though. Spring rolls are huge, but ultimately dry. For another, the price range is up there. And at times, it seems our server was really trying to upcharge us. See the brussels sprouts and mushrooms dish he pushed on us: limp and boring.




Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 2.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
 Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Energetic
Cost:
$$$$
(out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)

Monday, August 1, 2016

DCWD Travels: Farmhouse Inn, Northern California

Neighborhood: Sonoma, California

Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas had never collected a Michelin star yet, so with the possibility of indulging while in Sonoma County and with a friend in Official Friend of DCWD CC there, we stopped by the Farmhouse Inn.

This is the kind of bed and breakfast that tops Travel and Leisure lists, and draws A-list actors for a getaway, so that gives you an idea of the sort of charm you'll get. Charming refurbished barns, picket fences, and a dining room reminiscent of a brighter Inn at Little Washington.

Time and time again, we're impressed by the fact that great kitchens are ones that take good ingredients, pair them dramatically, and get out of their way. Here, a crudo of red snapper with pickled beets, puffed rice, and a yuzu-ginger vinaigrette alternates between sharp and smooth; as do oysters dashed with a ponzu granite. If the Japanese bent isn't your style, then the swirl of savory of sweet in the duck breast salad - dashed with pistachio, chicory, candied kumquats, and cranberry ginger - is just as brilliant.

The coursing is also done with the keenest eye for nuance and transition; if the first courses are breezy and bright, then the second courses are mildly richer with the occasional refresher, while the entree round brings heavier winter fare. The appetizers bring familiar flavors in fun combinations: grilled octopus and a black bean and pear salsa; lobster and lentils, but in a sausage form; and fettucine with bolognese, but with duck and quail eggs.

On the other hands, classic combinations are covered in the entrees ably, sometimes in combination themselves: the rabbit rabbit rabbit takes a bacon-wrapped loin, a roasted rack, and a leg confit and punches it up with mustard cream; a duo of pork belly and tenderloin is given brussels sprouts and parsnips to bring it to earth; and a gamey elk tenderloin has spaghetti squash and a turnip-potato gratin to welcome you in.

The Verdict

Perfect.

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