Posts Tagged 'Restaurant Review'

Birch and Barley

Birch and Barley
1337 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20005

My birthday weekends usually turn into food weekends, and this past birthday weekend was no exception. Only hours after my parents’ plane landed in DC, I drug them down Wisconsin from their hotel to Sushi Ko. Friday night brought a stressful cab ride and an amazing meal at Rasika, where I drowned my transportation nerves in champagne cocktails spiked with candied ginger, fried spinach, and tandoori lamb so tender and flavorful that even my lamb-shy dad raved about it. Saturday was the highlight of the weekend and a meal that had been planned since October: Table 21 at VOLT.

All of these were wonderful, and I waved goodbye to my parents with a full stomach and a larger ass.

It was a great birthday weekend, but none of these meals were on my birthday.

This year, my birthday fell on that purgatory of all days, Sunday, and my parents were on a plane back to Little Rock that morning. Nevertheless, I still wanted to go out and do something for my birthday. What’s a girl who likes to eat to do? Why not … eat some more?

So I rounded up a small group of friends and decided to head to Birch and Barley. Chirchkey had fully impressed me with their beer list during my first and only visit, and the things I had heard about their food were mouth watering.

My friends and I were sat at a long rustic table lined with clear plastic modern chairs by a 10-foot window that covered nearly the entire front of the restaurant. The lighting was low, with a low buzz of conversation filtering through the large room and hovering around the bar.

Birch and Barley’s menu is broken down into 4 catagories: starters, flatbreads and pasta, mains, and sides. The options are small in number, but that didn’t mean I had an easy time choosing what to get. Per recommendation from our waiter, I started with the crispy fried duck egg, accompanied by pork belly, frisee, and quince. I ordered the dish based on the pork belly alone, which was succulent and brined in cider, but the egg was really the star, fried whole with a silky texture.

Lucky for me, I have other friends who love to eat, and one of them ordered the veal sausage flatbread topped with mushrooms, pecorino and parsley for the table. Also lucky for me, one side of the table decided not to try the pizza, which just left more for me. This could easily be a meal, and was really, really good, with a chewy crust and flavorful, fresh ingredients.

Unlucky for me was my main dish choice, the braised pork cheeks with white grits, parsnip, and pearl onions. Usually pork cheeks are deeply flavorful, but these were just bland and watery. The grits likewise lacked flavor, and the whole dish needed a good hit of salt and pepper. Again unlucky, none was to be found on our table.

My friends, however, favored better with their dishes. The hand rolled gnocchi with braised lamb neck was rich and flavorful, although I would not recommend it unless you really like lamb. Both of my friends who ordered the pasta also ordered the maple-glazed brussel sprouts, easily some of the best I have tasted, and they said that mixing the sprouts in with the lamb helped to cut the strong flavor and richness of the pasta. Another friend ordered the brat burger, something I must come back and order all for myself, and others tried the venison (did not get a chance to try) and the duck breast. Everyone else raved about their meals, I think I just ordered the wrong thing. Nevertheless, I would happily go back to try everything else.

Dessert was a real treat and both of our dishes were very imaginative, and very good. My dessert, the french toast, was brought out with a birthday candle and was free of charge.

Birch and Barley was one of the best birthday meals I have had in a long time, even given the weak pork cheeks I ordered. Good friends, good beer, and good food that we all shared, it was like a family meal around the family table.

Dinner at Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Restaurant
2340 Wisconsin Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20007

A few months ago I wrote a blog post on the then-impending announcement that Barton Seaver, head chef of Blue Ridge Restaurant in Glover Park, would be named chef of the year by Esquire magazine. When the news hit the DC blogs, it brought a rash of both praise and criticism. The point of the article was this: based on early reviews of Blue Ridge, it seemed very unlikely that someone like Mr. Seaver would be named chef of the year. Sure, he’s got the notable sustainability movement going for him, but based on the food alone, there was a question floating around on whether or not he really deserved the award.

Even though Blue Ridge is in my neighborhood and only a few minutes walk down Wisconsin from my apartment, I was pretty apprehensive about visiting for the first time. The reviews were pretty damning (a pot pie was described as having a glue-like texture), and the prices didn’t justify a risky gamble. Would our dishes be worth the money, or would we be sorely disappointed, with the additional sting of being out of wasted money? I’ll admit it, I was scared, and I didn’t think the food would deliver. I wasn’t ready to give it a chance.

The night I found out that I would finally be working again (albeit in an unpaid position), I wanted to celebrate with a dinner out. Nothing fancy, and I didn’t need a full 3 course dinner, I just wanted to go out and have someone else cook me a meal, somewhere where I could sit down and have a beer or a glass of wine with dinner. Jay agreed after a little arm-twisting, on the condition that we stayed local. In other words, our neighborhood, no driving. This was a severe limitation on my choices, but still provided me with a decent selection. Just as I was turning over my options in my head, Jay suggested, “Why not Blue Ridge?”

Blue Ridge?

You mean the same place with the bad reviews? The place with the pricey and over-reaching menu? The place with the consistently bad service? The place whose chef’s achievements I had just questioned?

I was skeptical, I was nervous, but I really wanted to go out to dinner. Then Jay looked at the menu online, read off some of the selections, and then told me the average prices. Not only were the menu offerings appealing, but the prices were also much more reasonable than I remembered. Ok, let’s give it a shot.

The interior of Blue Ridge is decidedly simple, with quilts lining the walls under a blue ceiling and rustic, somewhat homemade-looking chandeliers serving as the light source. I can appreciate the easy casualness the restaurant is attempting to attain, but there’s something a little lacking. Although the tables and settings are fine, something about the interior decoration suggests an indifferent, amature effort. It almost works, but for me it doesn’t quite mesh.

Regardless of the wall coverings, our table was cozy and intimate. Soon after we sat down we were presented with a paper bag full of popcorn,  intensely salty with a hint of sweetness that we couldn’t quite identify. It’s also wildly addictive, with each bite spurning on more eating frenzy.

If you like plaid shirts and dark fingernail polish, you’ll love the waitresses’ outfits. The service was pleasant albeit slightly aloof, and I might have waited for my first beer for a while, but this is just me nit-picking. Our waitress warmed up a little as the night went on, and really there wasn’t anything major to complain about. One observation: I never saw a male server. I think the bartender may have been male, but the only staff I saw was female. Not sure if this is some sort of standard or just a fluke of the night.

For a first course, Jay and I split the fresh Rhappahannock oysters on the half shell. The only complaint I have with these oysters is that I had to do the work of separating them from their shells, an unpleasant surprise when I tried to eat my first oyster and only the house-made sauce slid into my mouth, leaving the oyster securely teathered to the shell.  On the good side, the oysters themselves were extraordinarily fresh, like bursts of clean water in my mouth. I personally prefer salt-water oysters because of their briney-ness, but these were clean, simple, and without a hint of unpleasantness. I could probably eat a whole bucket-full of them (and will definitely be visiting Blue Ridge’s oyster happy hour sometime).

Second course for me was the grass-fed burger with garlic fries. I was a little disappointed that grass-fed steak that appeared on the online menu wasn’t listed on our menu, but I wasn’t going to let my red-meat craving go unsatisfied. Cooked to order (medium rare please), with juice dripping down my hands and covering my face, the burger was surprisingly light and clean tasting, with that wondeful flavor that comes with grass-fed beef. And don’t even get me started on the fries. They’re so garlicy, salty, not at all greasy … the flavor is so intense that ketchup almost detracts from it.

Jay ordered the rustic pork meatloaf with smokey tomato sauce and garlic-yogurt potatoes. The menu sure didn’t lie when it labeled the tomato sauce as smokey, and it infused the already flavorful meatloaf with its deepness.

Even though we intended to escape Blue Ridge without ordereing dessert–we had cookies waiting for us at home and more on the way–we just couldn’t go without at least looking at the dessert menu … a fatal mistake that always leads to ordering. The rootbeer floats and cream soda floats were very enticing, reminding me of hot summer days by the pool at my parents house when I was a child, and the honeycrisp apple tart caught my eye, but the new jersey blueberry cobler was what I couldn’t go without. It’s more of a crisp than a cobler considering there’s not any cobler dough, but the deep, intense, clove-rich flavor is enough to make you forget or care about any difference. I recommend topping it with a scoop of lush vanilla and spreading the ice cream over the top to help cool down the cobler.

All in all, I was very impressed with Blue Ridge. Surprisingly so. I had set the bar so low and had expected such a disappointment that I couldn’t help but like the clean, focused presentations. After dinner I went through some of the bad reviews from the early days of the restaurant and noticed that Jay and I didn’t order any of the “bad” dishes. I don’t know whether we were just lucky or if the food was just honestly good, but I’m leaning toward the latter. Cooked to order, fresh, local ingredients prepared with a focus that likely develops out of learning from your mistakes, the food at Blue Ridge was a far cry from the expectations of over-worked, over-imagined, and ill-conceived dishes I had been prepared for. Jay and I both loved our meals, and we’re adding Blue Ridge to one of those solid go-to spots on our list of restaurants. I’m happy that Blue Ridge is within walkign distance from my apartment and that a local restaurant is receiving good press nowadays. Although I hold by my original skepticism, well-founded in early reviews, I have a feeling there has been a change in Blue Ridge since its opening, one for the better.

Zed’s Ethiopian Cuisine

Zed’s Ethiopian Cuisine
1201 28th St. NW
Washington, DC 20007

When mom visited me in DC for the first time this past October, I spent a lot of time preparing for her visit by thinking about where to go for meals. Some decisions were easier than others: I booked Volt at least a month in advance, with Rasika not far behind. Lunches, on the other hand, were unplanned. I knew that I wanted to let mom experience cuisines that she couldn’t get back in Little Rock, Arkansas, so I was happy when she jumped at the idea to try Ethiopian food.

I have been to three Ethiopian restaurants in DC (Meskarem, Etete, and Zed’s), and Zed’s has always been my favorite. It’s not necessarily just the cuisine, but the setting and the service as well. Etete’s service is agonizingly slow and tends to forget our appetizers. Meskarem is agonizingly crowded at times, although cheap, and located in an area where it can be extremely difficult to find a parking spot. Zed’s, on the other hand, is located in an old townhouse, with white table cloths, padded chairs, and nice table settings that all lend to an atmosphere of elegance.

Everything is set up with the expectation of a fine meal. Until you get the meal, and you must eat with my hands.

Personally, I think Ethiopian food is a lot of fun, especially with a large group of people. When you’re forced to share dishes with your fellow diners in a very personal way by feeding yourself with your fingers alone, you can’t help but notice a breakdown in personal walls. It’s almost if the food brings you closer together. Besides, who doesn’t like feeling like a child and eating with their hands? There’s something of the naughty-is-good thing that adds a litle thrill.

We chose the following dishes for our lunch:

Chicken Doro Watt: tender chicken, red pepper sauce, spices served with hard boiled egg
Cubed Beef Special Tibbs: extra lean cubes of beef marinated in chef’s special sauce
Mild Cheese Ayeeb: dried curds of Ehtiopian-style cottage cheese, spices
Red Lentil Miser Watt: red lentils spiced with berbere (red pepper) sauce

All of the dishes were excellent, with rich, deep spices that merged well with each other. For instance, a bite of lentils went well with a small dab of cooling cheese, followed by a spicy beef cube. The only dish that I wouldn’t recommend is the chicken doro watt, if only for the fact that it’s hard to eat; tearing chicken off the bone with your fingers is not the most effective way to eat chicken, nor the most enjoyable. There is another chicken dish on the menu that is made of strips of chicken, and I will probably try that instead next time. Also, little insider tip: the bread on which the dishes rest is some of the best once the dishes are actually gone. Try tearing off some lentil or beef-juice soaked bread to finish off your meal.

Mom said she really enjoyed the meal, which made me very happy, and thought that it was a lot of fun. Happy, stuffed, and our breaths smelling like a spicey nuclear meltdown, we decided to take a walk around Georgetown.

Thanksgiving Dinner at Blue Duck Tavern

Blue Duck Tavern
24 and M Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20037

Nothing puts me in the Thanksgiving spirit quite like spending all week cooking. Last year I hosted Jay’s family for one of the best and most memorable Thankgivings I’ve had, and I spent a solid 2 days standing up in the kitchen cooking. Some might call this tiring, some might call it torture, but the days of non-stop cooking and preparing were some of my favorite. I could plan my own menu, roast my own turkey, bake my own bread, and gladly feed the results of my labor to my extended family.

Last year was my first turkey, but this year brought another first: the first Thanksgiving without any visiting family. It was hard, I didn’t like it, but it was decidedly more relaxing. It never really felt like Thanksgiving because I didn’t make anything, but it let me enjoy my couch a lot more, and I got to spend a lot of time with just Jay.

Rather than cooking just for 2 this year, I made reservations at Blue Duck Tavern after reading an article in Bon Appetit magazine about the best restaurants in the country for Thanksgiving dinner out. Jay and I had visited Blue Duck over the summer for an anniversary dinner, so I knew it was good, and I thought, why not? Already this Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be traditional, so why not let someone else do the cooking?

Blue Duck Tavern serves most of its dishes family style in large copper dishes, and you spoon your own portions onto your plate. This friendly and interactive mode of presenting food is somewhat reminiscent of a traditional Thanksgiving, so it was comforting to eat a dinner away from home in this setting. To add to the comfort and familiarity of the meal, the furniture in the restaurant is more rustic than fine, with thick wood tables and wooden Amish chairs. The kitchen itself almost merges into the dining room, with no walls to divide the cooks from their patrons. It’s almost if the cooking staff wants to include its diners in the preparation of their own meal, and remind them that a good Thanksgiving meal can be made by someone else.

My first course was a salad of sautéed brussel sprouts, mushrooms, and carrots in a creamy sauce with a parmesan crust. Although the sauce was rich, the vegetables were delicately prepared and cooked  just enough to bring out their flavors without becoming mushy or bitter. The crisp on top was also very light, and the flavors of each component retained their independence while also working together with each bite.

Jay’s salad was a little more deconstructed: roasted quince, mix green salad, gorganzola cheese, and fresh-made brioche. Again, each element of the dish had a strikingly individual character, but brought together the flavors played one after the other in the mouth, starting with the sweet quince and rounding out with the deeply creamy Gorgonzola.

There’s nothing quite like my mom’s turkey and gravy, so it’s unfair to expect even Blue Duck turkey to live up to that near-perfect expectation. The turkey at Blue Duck was alright, nice and moist, but it wasn’t the rosemary and herb infused southern style turkey that I grew up on. At least the white meat. The turkey leg was presented almost like turkey bbq, pulled off the bone and minced, soaking in giblet gravy, and excellent twist on the tradition.

Roast turkey with giblet gravy
Rather than have two servings of turkey, Jay decided to go with the braised beef rib. Served on the bone, the rustic presentation was in contrast to the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the beef.

For the side dishes, we tried to stick to both the simple and familiar. Of course, at Blue Duck nothing is really “simple,” but for example we opted for garlic and chive mashed potatoes over a sweet potato gratin or fingerling potatoes with bone marrow (which part of me was screaming to order). Other side dishes included a tart and chunky cranberry and orange sauce, croissant stuffing with pears and sausage, and creamed spinach.

Cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes

Croissant, pear, and sausange stuffing

Creamed spinach

Dessert also centered around the traditional and familiar: apple pie and vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. It was almost as dessert should be, with simple yet powerful ingredients that brought back countless years and memories of family and other holidays.  And, unsurprisingly, each dessert was phenomenal. The crust on the apple pie was so light it almost crumbled just by looking at it, while the apples were tart and firm. You can’t get much better than fresh made ice cream, and the chocolate sauce was so thick that you couldn’t pour it out, you had to spoon it onto your ice cream. Think less of sauce and more like viscous fudge.

Apple pie

Nothing can replace a Thanksgiving meal with family and time-tested recipes, but the Blue Duck Tavern did a good job of making us feel at home and giving us a good time.

Barton Seaver to be named Chef of the Year by Esquire

Glover Park restaurants have been struggling. Within the past year, at least 4 have closed their doors, moved, or completely reworked their menu. Yes, this year has also brought us Surfside, Z Burger, and Bruegers Bagels, but we lost Margarita’s Mexican, a solid place for good takeout, Busara moved away, Ceviche closed and reopened as Kitchen (a welcome change, Ceviche was highly overrated with mediocre-at-best food and a nearly non-existent wine list, especially for a self-proclaimed wine bar), and just the other week Pizza Hut shut its doors. The plague of boarded up restaurants extends beyond just this year, however, and it’s hard to miss the papered-over windows and empty buildings that spot our small stretch of Wisconsin. Not only has Glover Park been losing restaurants, but it’s been losing the sole purveyors of specific cuisines. Yeah sure, you can walk up or down Wisconsin to find Mexican, Italian, or Thai, but these places used to be in our neighborhood, and now they’re gone.

I was pretty unhappy when our local Thai restaurant Busara moved away. No longer could I stroll down the street from my apartment for some good, spicy curry or satisfying noodles. Now, I need to make a trek. Nearly every day, I walked past an empty, lonely, and dark building, staring into the vacant interior with the longing hope that something else would come to fill the space.

I waited.

Then, finally, little by little, things began to change. The “Busara” metal lettering and purple neon was removed from the exterior of the building. Boxes began to pile up behind the large glass doors. The exterior was completely altered and repainted. A logo appeared on the side of the building.

Needless to say, I was very excited when Blue Ridge first opened. I didn’t know much about the chef, Barton Seaver, but I knew he came from Hook, a heralded seafood restaurant in neighboring Georgetown. This fueled my anticipation, along with the concept for the restuarant and the long, wooden, old-looking bar that stretched away from the entrance. A new restaurant in the neighborhood, and a classy one at that? Yes please, sign me up.

And then it did open, and lo, the critics spoke.

Todd Kliman, from The Washingtonian: “The biggest disappointment is that Seaver’s flavors are timid: The redeye gravy that comes with fried eggs and a biscuit has no soulful punch, while an appetizer of fingerling-potato halves stuffed with the same pimiento cheese was bland.” As for the mission of the restaurant: “Blue Ridge is strong on the issues. But so far at least, there’s more to admire than desire.” The caption to the picture on the review states, “The serene patio at Blue Ridge, in DC’s Glover Park, aims to soothe the nerves. But the fashionably unfashionable cooking falls short of transporting.”

Tom Sietsema, from The Washington Post: In his review entitled, “It’s Downhill at Blue Ridge,” Sietsema writes that it sometimes tastes like the chef is overcommitted. “Count me among the disappointed diners.” He was surprised, “even a month after launch, to find [himself] pushing away some of the food he and his charge, chef John Murphy, were offering.” As for specific items of food, some things just don’t live up to expectations. “The most Southern notion, sweet potato fritters, sounds enticing, but the fried marbles turn out to be pasty in their centers, with an aftertaste reminiscent of underdone doughnuts. No thanks.” Furthermore, even though the “vegetable potpie sounds promising,” Sietsema knocks this promise away: “Four small rosemary-buttermilk biscuits provide a top crust, a clever idea that gets erased by your first taste of the filling. It’s a pale-yellow glue that is not quite solid, not quite liquid and definitely a waste of good vegetables.” The service gets inconsistent reviews as well.

Tim Carman from The Washington City Paper: “Yes, I understand the connection that Blue Ridge is making … What I don’t understand is why Blue Ridge’s kitchen can’t seem to cook those farm-to-table ingredients any better. I’ve visited Blue Ridge on three occasions now, and every time, the kitchen has screwed up one preparation or another. Once it was the bluefish, grilled into an almost moisture-less block and served with an overly bitter  mint-pecan pesto (which has since been ditched). Another time it was an heirloom tomato salad, served with bitter frisee and funk-forward smoked cheddar croutons, the entirety of which was salted as if the kitchen were trying to preserve the thing. Then there was the grilled pork loin, practically raw on one side and approaching medium on the other, or the broiled Rappahannock oysters that were drowning under a sea of herbs.”

Given this kind of criticism, you might not think that the food coming out of this kitchen would earn the head chef many accolades, especially not something like, oh, let’s say Esquire Magazine‘s “chef of the year,” or that the restaurant itself would be the best of the nation.

And there you would be wrong. In November, Esquire Magazine will name Seaver chef of the year.

Jane Black, also of The Washington Post, who congratulated Seaver in her All We Can Eat blog article last week for being named Esquire‘s “chef of the year,” stated that she was impressed by “Seaver’s vision and sensible sustainability.” Although she quotes Esquire Magazine‘s food critic John Mariani for praise of the food itself, Black herself never even comments on the food, only offering good words for Seaver’s advocacy for sustainability. It seems that ideas, purpose, and advocacy alone can get you named chef of the year. Forget about that whole cooking thing.

The news has sparked a debate on city food forums, including The Washingtonian’s Best Bites Blog. Much of the frustration comes from the fact that Mariani only ate at Blue Ridge once for lunch with a group of friends, and that Seaver knew Mariani was there. More than one commentator across the different forums has noted that perhaps it is Seaver’s publicist that got him the award. Maybe it’s his youth and good looks. A quick gloss over multiple reviews suggests that it’s not what counts, the food.

Not all reviews are negative, and those on yelp.com fall anywhere between excellent and terrible, with one advising other to-be restaurant goers to “Skip it.” Nevertheless, the general impression seems to be that the chef of the year title should have gone elsewhere, with most of the yelp criticism centering on the opinion that the food is too salty.

In the grand scheme of things, Seaver’s award might not be that big of a deal. The November issue of Esquire will come out, Blue Ridge will be nationally known, and my neighborhood will be crowded with all types of palettes. Some will claim it to be the best restaurant they’ve ever visited, others will see past the glitz and acclaim and actually pay attention to the food. Given the fact that I’ve never eaten there–on purpose–I can’t really comment on the quality, sadly. Although I will be grateful that my little neighborhood will finally have some business, I can’t help but wonder about any possible aftermath, whether the crowds will go as quickly as they will likely come, and how this is really going to fix our neighborhood restaurant blight.

Enology

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.

enology and zeds 004

enology and zeds 005

enology and zeds 007

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.

enology and zeds 008

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.

enology and zeds 010

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.

enology and zeds 009

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.

National Cheeseburger Day, and a trip to Tune Inn

Friday, September 18, 2009, is National Cheeseburger Day.

Although there are food holidays just about every day, this one has me pretty excited. Maybe it’s because I’m always looking for a good excuse to have a burger. Now that I live in DC, there are countless places to go to get one of these all time favorite pieces of grub, with burgers ranging from your basic flat patty to more elaborate offerings made with lobster, tuna, or even ostrich.

When celebrating this great day, however, I decided to stick with the original: ground beef with a slice of America, please. A small group of us from the office walked over to Tune Inn on Pennsylvania to take advantage of the holiday, and the burgers certainly did not dissapoint. Juicy and flavorful, parked between a fluffy bun, it was the type of burger you grew up eating. My only complaint is that the patty itself was a little thin–I definitely favor the big thick kinds that stay a little pink in the middle–and I was somewhat regretful that I did not order a double. Even so, this left room for some homestyle, like mom used to make fried okra and absolutely masterful fries. If you think you’re getting sick of fries, or the ones you have are always too greasy, you owe it to yourself to try these babies. Crisp even after waiting for nearly half an hour for the check, I don’t think I’ve ever had fries of this caliber.

If you’re looking for other good burgers in the DC area, a couple of local newspapers and magazines have “best of” lists. Here is a list of the best burgers from The Washington Post:

  • BGR: The Burger Joint (Bethesda, MD)
  • Big Buns Gourmet Grill (Arlington, VA)
  • Central Michel Richard (Washington, DC)
  • Elevation Burger (Falls Church, VA)
  • Good Stuff Eatery (Washington, DC)
  • Palena (Washington, DC)
  • Ray’s Hell-Burger (Arlington, VA)

And here’s another compilation from the Washingtonian:

  • Harry’s Tap Room (Clarendon, VA)
  • The Prime Rib (Washington, DC)
  • Black’s Bar and Kitchen (Bethesda, MD)
  • Billy Martin’s Tavern (Washington, DC)
  • Morton’s (Washington, DC)
  • Brasserie Les Halles (Washington, DC)
  • Fuddruckers (Washington, DC)
  • Chapwicks (Washington, DC)
  • Union Street Public House (Alexandria, VA)
  • Silver Diner (Clarendon, VA)
  • Capital Grille (Washington, DC)
  • Sign of the Wale (Washington, DC)
  • Quarry House Tavern (Silver Spring, MD)
  • Whitlow’s on Wilson (Clarendon, VA)
  • Boulevard Woodgrill (Clarendon, VA)
  • Clyde’s of Georgetown (Washington, DC)
  • Tastee Diner (Bethesda, MD)
  • Tune Inn (Washington, DC)
  • Majestic Cafe (Alexandria, VA)
  • J. Paul’s (Washington, DC)

Note that these lists were made prior to the opening of The Counter

Others in DC I would recommend: Z Burger, Five Guys, Cheff Geoffs, Bourbon Glover Park. And how could I forget Cafe Atlantico, home of the cuban burger pictured above.

Charlottesville, VA: I think The Virginian has the best burgers in town. Thick and so juicy that you’ll find yourself whiping juice off of your arms, cooked to order with multiple types of cheese and topings. According to a fellow UVA grad and chef, however, the best burgers can be found at Riverside or Mel’s Cafe (both of which I have not been to, but want to try now!). The fries are pretty ballin’ at The Virginian too, and there’s a decent beer list.  Michael’s Bistro has some amazing bison burgers.

Little Rock, AR: Sometimes you just can’t beat the burger from the Purple Cow (get an adult milkshake while you are there!).


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