Enology Wine Bar
3238 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington, DC 20016
(202) 362-0362

It’s the first night my mom is in town for a long weekend, and I have no idea where we’re going to dinner. This is very uncharacteristic. One of my favorite things to do is plan dinners, scouring reviews and recommendations online for hours before finally making the all-important reservation. VOLT was one of the first restaurants I scheduled, and it was long, long ago, followed by Rasika and then Zaytinya. This comforts me, makes it so I can sleep at night. I like having eveything on lock down.

For the night mom was flying in, however, it was all in the open.

Where would she want to go? Would she be up for the wait, crowd, and noise at 2 Amys, one of my most favorite casual places? Would she want Mexican from Cactus Cantina? Would she want to walk somewhere from her hotel (conveniently located 3 blocks from my apt), or would she be willing for the bigger pulse of Penn Quarter? The questions, they never stopped.

Mom was supposed to get in at 4. She got in at 7:30. We didn’t leave for dinner til 8:30. We headed for 2 Amys. The wait was at least an hour.

What to do? Jay and I had purposefully avoided 2 Amys recently knowing that we would try to go there on Friday. Since we usually only go during the week, we forgot about the crowd. I didn’t want Mexican, and Cafe Delux just wasnt exciting enough. Shit.

Then we remembered Enology, the local wine bar just across the street from Cactus Cantina. Darkly lit, it sat unassuming across from the bright neons of CC. Jay and I had eaten there once when it first opened, remembered it was pretty good (although small portions), but we hadn’t been back in a while. Mom was interested, so we gave it a shot.

Immediately after walking in, mom commented that the liked the lighting in Enology much better than 2 Amys, an almost literal night and day comparison. Enology is more sophisticated as well, more appropriate for a mom visit.

We took our time with the menu, starting with a 6-cheese plate and ordering one dish at a time. Although our server was a little slow and somewhat inconsistent, walking by our table when we had empty plates and glasses a couple of times, she remained very cordial and apologized for delays. Being a wine bar, the wine list is very extensive, giving you the opportunity to order vintages you are comfortable with or to branch out to things unfamiliar. I started with a J Brand sparkling wine, followed by a petit manseng from Monticello, and finished with a viognier from California.

I remember the food being good from my previous visit, but it was surprisingly good this time around. After the cheese plate, mom and I each ordered the vineyard salad, with mixed greens, dried cherries, blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette, and herbed lavash, a hard and crunchy flatbread. Jay had the saltimbocco gianni, veal and pork meatballs nestled on top of a chunky tomato sauce. The combination of flavors in the salad was very well balanced, light but satisfying with a pleasant contrast of textures, and the meatballs had a deep, old-country flavor that paired well with the slightly acidic sauce. We also all shared the pesto flatbread, topped with tomatoes roasted to perfection, marshmallow-like pillows of mozzarella, and a mild yet strikingly green and fresh pesto sauce. The flatbread itself was exquisitely soft, not chewy, with just enough form to hold its toppings without getting soggy.

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For our second course, mom and I both chose the seared rockfish. Jay characteristically chose the skirt steak, which was small but cooked and seasoned expertly, accompanied by a huge pile of very flavorful fries.

The rockfish, however, was really the star. Simple, focused, and surprisingly good, each element played well with the rest of the dish. Even though the fist was topped with the now ubiquitous foam, the foam itself imparted a subtle, almost sweet briney-ness remeniscent of the sea. The fish was well seasoned, flaky and moist, and rested on a small pile of baconed green beans, both crispy and crunchy with a nice salty and smoky flavor. All in all, it was an elegantly worked yet simple play of flavors that continued devloping on the tongue after each bite.

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Nothing pleases me more than a varied and imaginative dessert menu that does not feel obligated to only offer generic and mass-appealing mainstays (think creme brule, cheesecake, chocolate cake, flan … you get it). These desserts were all these things, and really effin good. Jay chose the pumpkin ravioli, which in essence was molten pumpkin pie filling held together by a crisp and sweet pastry crust, drizzled with dark chocolate and accompanied with mascarpone cheese. Excellence in fry form.

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Mom and I must have channeled some identical spirit, because again we both ordered the same thing, the banana split terrine. Think your ice cream birthday cake, take it to an Ivy League school, get it a job on K street, and this is what you get: strawberries n’ cream gelato, sliced bananas, walnut-oreo crust, with chocolate covered sour cherries. Each individual part of the dessert maintained its integrity, with distinct flavors popping with each bite, and yet each component mingled well with the rest, reminding you of what a true banana split should taste like. Fun, playful, and a successful reworking of a classic childtime favorite.

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Enology sat dark and forgotten for too long at the top of the hill just up Wisconsin from our apartment. It watched us as we walked by to go eat at other restaurants, it knew we didn’t think of it as an option, it knew we thought it was boring or too populated by loud single girls out on girl nights to be worth our time for a nice meal. Nevertheless, it’s focused, well balanced and well executed food reminded us of what we have been missing, and it successfully found itself in the short list of good neighborhood go-to staples. We’ll be back.


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October 2009
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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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