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Thursday, September 29, 2016

China Chilcano

Plaudits: Washingtonian 2016 #71
Neighborhood: Downtown/Penn Quarter

The Setup


Despite visiting all of Jose Andres' other restaurants, we somehow happen to have missed China Chilcano. After a night at Ford's Theatre, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I ended up there.

The Vibe

Much like all of his other haunts, China Chilcano sits squarely in the middle of Downtown/Penn Quarter, and its insides can probably be best described as "overly designed." What do I mean by that? This is the kind of place whose space, like Jaleo's, is intricate and conceptual and themed. For China Chilcano, this means a high speed collision of bright neon and bamboo, of shabby chic tables and chairs and marbled floors, and decorative themes taken equally from Japanese ramen bars and the Nazca lines. This would feel at home in Vegas.

The Food


The menu, influenced as it is by the fusion cuisine of Chinese and Japanese immigrants in Peru, is eclectic, extensive, and varied. It being an Andres restaurant, its mostly small plates for sure, though there are a few dishes that could serve as an entree.

Results vary; distinct and memorable flavors are usually there, though not exceptionally executed. A cobia ceviche is fun in the way it balances the slurpy, slimy fish with huge cuts of leek and avocado, but the chunks of fish are almost too big to really get the nuance. The tacu tacu - a mix of beans and rice and braised oxtail is a shade dry, while the Hong Kong-style rice noodles are fun texturally, but lack a counterweight to the sole note of tomato.

Perhaps the only thing that's note-perfect is the dorado siu mai, melt-in-your-mouth dumplings that lead with the pork and mushroom notes, topped with tiny eggs and gold dust.

Of note, the cocktail program gives you about a billion options, and all are refreshing and satisfying.

The Verdict


Fun and fine.

Food Rating: ***
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Suits Scene
Vibe:
 Noisy
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)


Monday, September 26, 2016

Hazel

Plaudits: None
Neighborhood: U Street

The Setup



Of the jillion or so restaurants that have popped up in our neighborhood recently, Hazel was simultaneously highly anticipated and doubted. Why the paradox? On the one hand, its provenance was a pretty good sign; few Neighborhood Restaurant Group spots have disappointed us. On the other hand, a week before our reservation, Official Co-Writer/Wife of DCWD Texas and I were sitting at the bar at Kyirisan when a couple of women plopped down beside us and audibly "meh'd" at the dinner there - they in fact come to Kyirisan for a perk-up dessert. So there's that.

Also joining us on this trip: Official Friend of DCWD AB.

The Vibe

One thing you can't deny is that Hazel is handsome, particularly its outdoor patio. If you can grab a seat there, do it. It's slim by charming, like a poor man's Masseria. The inside is a little more staid, with a dining room that combines the feel of Birch and Barley, the decor of Rose's Luxury, and the tiling of Estadio. The downside was the service: our server was at points inattentive and at others unhelpful. Not a good look.

The Food

There's three of us and a short menu of small plates, so we basically try everything. At issue for me is that there's very few things that are both good, and that can't be found better somewhere else. The gnocchi with a pork-kimchi ragu is solid, but there are a bunch of other places (Red Hen, Casa Luca, Iron Gate, to name a few) that do similar dishes better. The summer corn donburi is fun, but on some level it's a bowled version of the El Chucho cobbed version at twice the price. And both the hamachi crudo with crispy rice and crispy chickpea tofu are passable, but similarly structured dishes can be found at the aforementioned Kyirisan just down the street. So, all good, but nothing I would steer anybody out of their way for.

What dishes are distinct split between this is good, and "what is this even." In the former category, the zucchini bread with foie gras mousse and chamomile gelee, a series of hipster food words that shouldn't work together but absolutely do; as well as an octopus salad that would rival any Spanish-style grilled or ceviche version of the meat. On the flipside is a seafood pancake - of which my only memory is the moving bonito flakes; and the barbecued carrots, which as immemorable as they are confounding.


The Verdict

Some knockouts, some solids, some wut.

Food Rating: ** 1/2 
(out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code:
Casual
Bar Rating:
Classy Crowd
Vibe:
Chatty
Cost:
$$$
(out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)


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