Neighborhood: Dupont Circle
I guess the downside of entrenching yourself in a city as we have is that you're constantly setting yourself up to watch friends leave. Case in point: Official Friends of DCWD Ang and Mark (or @I_Flip_For_Food and @WalkerMark10 as we first met them) of I Flip for Food and their departure to lands west. So after celebratory goodbye drinks at Madhatter, a group of us that included Mark, Ang, Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC, and new Twitter friend @WashingTina thought it appropriate to grab one last, late-night meal at Dupont newcomer Agora.
Like all of the restaurants on that strip of 17th St, Agora is defined by a large patio and the lively atmosphere that emanates from it and spills onto the street. Should you actually sit inside, as we did on this balmy late night, you are met with a dining area that it seems is half-bar (this is Dupont after all), with the other half split into an island of two-tops in the center, and a row of half-booth seating on the left side of the restaurant. Other than that, there are a few high tables in the window nooks, but seating is mostly combinations of two-tops.
The decor is black with highlights of red, which helps set the mood at night, though it might be foreboding in the daytime. The brick arches around the dining area gives you the impression that you're sitting in a really large brick pizza oven, while a flatscreen TV by the bar blasting a constant rotation of Madonna and Lady Gaga music videos reminds you once again that you are on 17th St. On the other hand, the service was very good with a very friendly accommodating waiter who helped us out even though we came in maybe 20 minutes before the kitchen closed.
Apparently, we had walked into the tail end of Turkish Restaurant Week in DC, so a special prix fixe menu was available (and at $25 for four small plates courses, it wasn't a bad deal). So here's a mish-mash of what we ate.
Ang ordered first and got the labneh, strained yogurt with diced apples and walnuts and endives to scoop it up. I liked the idea (mostly because it reminded of some sort of Coquille St Jacques presentation), and the flavors were okay, though I would have wanted more of the apples and walnuts and the straining made the yogurt a little more mild than I'd maybe wanted.
CC ordered the same, but in only saying "I'll have the yogurt," her order got lost in translation and the waiter brought her cacik yogurt (or as you better know it, tzatziki), the traditional mix of cucumber, dill, vinegar, garlic, and olive oil flavors. As opposed to the other yogurt, this was a strong flavor that was clean and presented nicely. Still, sort of plain, and definitely nothing to call home about.
Both Mark and I went with the arugula salad with heirloom tomatoes, goat cheese, and lemon and olive oil (I mean, goat cheese, please was there any choice?). I liked the salad's simplicity and the goat cheese was great, but it was the heirloom tomatoes that stole the show for me, yellow and green and deliciously ripe. Again, good fun with the heirloom tomatoes, but otherwise a pretty typical presentation.
WashingTina's husband ordered the kasik salad (diced tomatoes, onions, parsley, cucumber, feta, black olives, olive oil, lemon, crushed red peppers). But for me, the winner was WashingTina's htipiti, a salsa of sorts of diced roasted peppers, feta, thyme, and olive oil. A nice and mild creaminess with some wonderful oiliness that made me delightfully happy, and definitely made we want to make it in the future for a party... or myself.
With only four options, the group of seven ordered everything we could. CC followed Ang's lead again and they both ordered the crab falafel, which was exactly what it sounds like. Like the lovechild of crab cakes and falafel, this was one of the few total misses of the night; I like crab, I like falafel, but this flavor was just not something I enjoyed in the least bit. Bad, just bad.
The table also featured a dish of steamed asparagus with orange aioli, and another one of sauteed spinach, onions, garlic, pine nuts, and crushed red peppers. I was so engrossed in my other dishes that I sadly didn't get a good bite of either of them.
So for me, the winner was mine: a phyllo spring roll filled with goat cheese, herbs, red peppers and served with a tomato marmalade. The roll was great, like a cigar of goat cheese with that beautiful tart creaminess just melting in your mouth. But it was the accompanying tomato marmalade that was excellent, combining the savory flavors of tomato with a sort of sweet jamminess that made it sing.
With the third course came the protein. CC and Ang ordered the kofte, miniature lamb and beef meatballs in a cherry sauce. Like a couple of the dishes before it, the main focus of the dish was solid, presenting good Mediterranean flavors, but it was the cherry sauce that augmented the dish and made it better, adding notes of sour and sweet that were definitely enjoyable. The meatballs themselves were sort of eh.
I went with the kibbeh, bulgur dumplings filled with lamb, beef, almonds, and pine nuts in a yogurt sauce. The bulgur gave the dumplings a taste of falafel, which was nice. But I mean, this dish was going to win no matter what. Lamb AND beef? Almonds? Pine nuts? Clutch. The only downside was that there were only two of them.
WashingTina's husband ordered the adana kebap, skewered ground lamb and beef with grilled tomatoes and onions. Again, the combination of lamb and beef helped, melding well into a thing of brilliance. The surprise for me was WashingTina's order, a grilled filet of branzino with olive oil and grilled lemon. Perfectly cooked, and not flaky as branzino may get sometimes, but melting and oily with a strong flavor of lemon that came across wonderfully.
There were only two options for dessert, and they could only provide us with one portion of one of the options, so we all basically had the baklava. I'm not normally a fan of baklava, since the nuts sometime overtake the whole thing. But this one had an orange glaze on it, which took the baklava in a whole different direction, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Mark and I hoarded the only plate of the other dessert, disks of shredded kadayif layered with vanilla milk pudding and topped with orange blossom honey and pistachios. This was great. The shredded kadayif disks were fun, crunchy in texture and grainy in flavor and working well with the pudding (I don't even like pudding, so this was a huge surprise). Again, notes of orange came across the best here, and they were appreciated.
Despite all of the wonderfully adventurous meals we've had for the blog, a meal always boils down to execution of flavors. Within the bounds of Mediterranean food, was Agora terribly creative? Not really. I realized halfway through the meal that all of our choices were basically just combinations of the same list of ten, maybe fifteen ingredients. No seriously, go back and read them; the same things keep popping up (peppers, feta/goat cheese, phyllo, beef and lamb, tomatoes, lemon, olive oil, orange). But was this a good meal? Yes. Did I really think any of the dishes were too redundant? Not particularly. This is a case where CC and I, based on the things we ate and ordered, would rate this meal differently. But I'm the one writing this entry, so...
Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd to Party in the USA
Cost: $$$ (out of 5) ($50-$75 for two)
Pairing: One of the more underrated things to do is to build something together, and one of the best hardware stores in the city, True Value Hardware, is just up 17th St. For a really reasonable price, you can get some scrap wood custom cut for you and make that kitchen step stool you always needed.