Tourist season is approaching, and even at 3:30 PM on a hot, sunny Tuesday, Mount Vernon had its share of crowds – although there was plenty of parking, and you could simply walk up and purchase a ticket ($20 for an adult), the line for the 3:50 PM tour of the mansion stretched to about 75 people – see the left of the photo:
The mansion and grounds close at 5 PM, and 5:30 would be a really good time to visit the Mount Vernon Inn, although if you want table service as summer approaches, I strongly suggest calling for a reservation in advance.
Happy Hour at the restaurant runs daily until 7:30 PM for drinks, Tue-Fri until 7:30 PM for food (there’s a small bar, deep within its labyrinthian set of dining rooms), but Happy Hour here is no bargain – you can save a dollar, maybe two, on a limited subset of the dinner menu, and the drinks offered are no great shakes.
Surprisingly, however, Mount Vernon Inn has several bottles of liquor worth ordering: James E. Pepper 1776 Rye, Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Jameson Irish Whiskey, and most importantly, this is about the only place left in the world to find Rare Wine Company’s special bottling of George Washington Special Reserve Madeira (they used to have .500 ml bottles for sale in the gift shop; I’m not sure if any are left there, but they have it by the glass in the restaurant).
There are two things you should know about the Mount Vernon Inn restaurant: It’s better than it used to be (it used to be abysmal), but regardless of the improvement, it’s still essentially a food-service restaurant – if you can accept the latter, it’s a pleasant, quirky place to dine. Also, if you know a little about beverages, you can find something to drink here (e.g., the Broadbent Vinho Verde, a bracing, dry white wine from Portugal).
Beers, not so much, although I admit to enjoying an ice-cold goblet of their house draft ($6 at Happy Hour – I can’t remember which one it was, but I can remember which one it wasn’t: Devil’s Backbone Lager) after a hot day on the grounds, and before cobbling together a light dinner.
Mount Vernon Inn’s “signature dish” is The Inn’s Famous Virginia Peanut & Chestnut Soup ($7 for a bowl), with roasted peanuts and water chestnuts. Tasting primarily of peanut butter (not unlike many dishes from West Africa), the recipe for this highly promoted soup can be found here. To the best of my knowledge, you won’t find any chestnuts in this soup (although it does have water chestnuts, which aren’t bad), and as for the margarine, well, just look the other way. If you enjoy peanut butter, this soup is a lot better than it looks (it looks horrific, but it isn’t).
And the Caesar Salad ($10 for an entree portion) is better than it needs to be. Made with romaine lettuce, shaved Parmesan, house-made garlic-Parmesan croutons, and elegantly tossed in a house-made Caesar dressing, this salad was ordered solely because the ingredients looked inviting (that’s a polite word for “harmless”), and sure enough, this salad was as good as you could reasonably expect. Also, it’s relatively inexpensive – our server was kind enough to split it for us, and what you see here is only half of the salad.
If you go to Mount Vernon, and you’re hungry, you’ll enjoy your meal at Mount Vernon Inn – the key is not to set your sights too high, and not to get your hopes up. As ugly as that soup may look, this was a very serviceable meal, and we left content and without too much strain on the wallet.
2 Amys is a diner’s best friend – the most important restaurant in the history of Washington, DC remains one of its very best, serving such diverse customers as families with infants in strollers, older couples out on date night, and award-winning chefs (chefs eat here all the time).
It’s a well-known “secret” in the DC dining community that the small plates offered at the bar (and which can be ordered in the main dining area) rotate on a regular basis, and is essentially Peter Pastan’s playground for experimenting with new and seasonal dishes.
What isn’t well-known is that legendary bar chef Scott Hager – who became a local celebrity by being drawn on 2 Amys menu (yes, that gentleman with the glasses was Scott) – has left and returned to Chesapeake, Virginia after many years running the food bar here. This Tuesday, the bar food was being made by a gentleman of enormous passion, creativity, and respect for tradition: Rick Cook, who has come from Etto, and who worked at both BlackSalt and at The Grill Room with the legendary Frank Ruta.
Perhaps even less-known is that once or twice a week – sometimes early on Tuesdays and Fridays – the wonderful trilogy of anchovies 2 Amys serves are de-boned, each one by hand, and instead of discarding the bones, they’re lightly coated and fried, resulting in one of the most delicious bar snacks you’ll ever taste – served in a basket atop a white napkin, as if they were potato chips, these bones are the essence of the anchovy, crispy like thin pretzels but with the flavor of the ocean, and not at all sharp. As the anchovies are packed in liquid, they’re salty as you would expect, making them the perfect beer snack.
Alas, this past Tuesday, my dining companion and I saw them sitting out on the bar, having arrived just before 5:30 on Tuesday to an almost completely empty restaurant. We ordered a carafe of the 2015 2 Amys’ ‘No Longer’ Rosé (a classic example of an “orange wine,” which goes perfectly with this – I urge you to try this combination if you get the chance). We were treated to one of the humblest and finest food and wine pairings you could imagine, and our little basket of fried anchovy bones went a shockingly long way – these things are deceptively rich, and even though it didn’t look like much, we ate our fill, and then some.
And it’s a good thing, because there were only *three* orders for the entire evening, and I must re-emphasize: They only de-bone the anchovies once or twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays are your best bet, but you should check before committing). At $4 per order – especially considering the labor-intensive nature of these anchovy bones – this is not a money-maker for 2 Amys; it’s a labor of love, walking the walk when it comes to using the whole animal and minimizing waste – this is precisely what Peter Pastan – and more recently Rick Cook – have always espoused, and it’s on full display here.
Fried Anchovy Bones with a carafe of 2 Amys’ ‘No Longer’ Rosé – a match made in, well, a match made under the sea and under the soil. Get them, and then try anything and everything else you see that looks or sounds good – do not hesitate to turn yourself over to the hands of Rick and the wonderful bartender Allie: They will help you to dine, and to dine well.
On a Sunday evening – early, just before 6 PM – the impressive and cavernous Del Mar was packed, with no tables available, and so we took our chances, walked in, and found room at the bar, where we were offered a drinks menu and a tapas menu. We asked our affable bartender (whom we got to know on a first-name basis – but I’m not going to mention his first name in this post) about getting the full dinner menu, and promptly received it.
After I washed my hands (in the lovely and spotless restrooms here), my dining partner went to wash hers, and as we both enjoy Gin & Tonics – Del Mar’s menu is chock-full of them – I asked our bartender about the $28 Hable de Ti for two (“Talk about You,” get it? Ti for two?), and whether there was good reason to order this menacingly priced drink, as opposed to having two of the “regular” G&Ts from the menu – he suggested that if we ordered two of the single drinks, we could try different types.
In my wisdom, I ordered two of the single drinks, but the exact same one: the Te Quiero (“I Love You,” $14) with lemongrass, rosemary, grapefruit, and homemade tonic – made with Tanquery gin, and served in giant Tanqueray goblets, this was a magnificent drink, beautifully conceived, presented, and served from a futuristic-looking infuser.
After our drinks were poured, I turned towards my companion, and remarked that these were not expensive at all – the goblets were huge, filled to the very top with ice, and after our drinks were poured, there was fully half of our tonic remaining, and nearly one-third of the infused gin left in the infuser (notice all the ingredients in the photo) – when I asked our bartender how many iterations they could extract from one set of these infusions, he told us, ‘about four or five,’ and that (surprisingly) it didn’t take all that long to replace the ingredients – I suppose these are made in pre-prep, and simply placed into the device – still, it’s an extraordinary presentation well-worth seeing and ordering.
I finished my glass, and was ready for the rest – then came what can be best described as an “awkward moment”: The bartender had taken the gin away, I assumed to keep cool, and after I poured in some more of the tonic, I got his attention, and asked if I could have some more gin. At that precise instant, our bartender realized that I mistakenly assumed that the entire infuser was for us, and made a halting gesture, while reaching for the infuser, and adding some of the gin to my goblet. At *that* precise instant, I realized (due to the bartender’s halting gesture) that the rest of that gin wasn’t meant for us, and that one pour was all we were supposed to get. After taking a few seconds to compose myself, I said to our bartender, “I’m really sorry, I didn’t know that we had been poured the entire drink the first time,” he instantly replied, “I know you didn’t – that’s why I didn’t say anything,” and all the awkwardness melted away. It certainly wasn’t his fault, and I don’t think it was mine – it was a monumental miscommunication on a small scale. Here is what I would do if I were Del Mar: Don’t put such an extreme amount of ice in the goblet, and don’t leave such a large amount of tonic in the decanter – those two things really contributed to my having thought there was more gin to come; given that there wasn’t, there was too much ice in this drink, and the large amount of tonic really wasn’t necessary (although it certainly doesn’t hurt, as it’s delicious on its own). This is why I don’t wish to mention our wonderful bartender’s first name – because he *really* did nothing wrong here, and if you had to point to someone responsible for the communication breakdown, you’d have to point to me. Well, it’s a funny anecdote, but none of it matters (other than the recommendation about the amount of ice and tonic) because the drink was just fabulous – and worth the price even without any extra gin. Incidentally, I’d asked how the Hable de Ti (for two) was presented, and it was via an entirely different, but equally impressive, vehicle – it’s also a more complex drink, as it’s made with brine foam, Cava, etc. – next time I come here, I may have to give this a try, even though I couldn’t have been any happier with the Te Quiero.
For our second “awkward moment” of the night, we remained in the drinks department. After we finished our cocktails, I decided to order a bottle of Godello, my favorite white wine from Spain (recall the article “Waiting for Godello” which I wrote for Washingtonian in 2007) – just a couple weeks before we dined at Del Mar, we were in Catalonia (or Catalunya, if you wish), and even in places as cosmopolitain as Barcelona – which is nearly 600 miles away from Godello’s native Galicia – Godello was quite difficult to find, which really surprised me. Knowing from first-hand experience that Godello made in oak is more expensive than in stainless steel (and sometimes made just to export to Americans), I purposely ordered the least-expensive Godello on the menu – Godello isn’t an expensive wine, and this is one variety that I recommend people order the least-expensive offering they can find, because that possibly means that no oak was used. Hence, I ordered a bottle of 2015 Rafael Palacios “Louro de Bolo” ($56)and to nibble on while we waited on our entree, a classic tapa of Pan con Tomate ($10) – bread with tomato spread. Shortly after ordering, the sommelier arrived, apologized, and said they were out of the Rafael Palacios, but that he had another Godello that was even better. At this point, I expressed my proclivity towards Godellos with no oak, and he assured me that this wine was made without oak, and not only that, but as he was pouring it, he said he’d give it to us for the same price as the Rafael Palacios, which was a truly nice gesture. So instead, we got a bottle of 2015 Avancia “Old Vines” ($70 on the list), and this is where the moment became awkward, although the awkwardness was entirely contained within ourselves. The sommelier put the bottle on ice, walked away, and I turned to my companion and said, “How do you tell a sommelier he’s wrong about the wine not being made in oak?” The answer is: You don’t; you just enjoy it for what it is. The little sticker on the bottle that says ’92 points from Robert Parker’ should have been enough to tip off any wine professional that this wine had seen a healthy dose of oak, but then, there’s this:
which explains everything – the gentleman was probably “acting sommelier,” and I’m glad I didn’t say a word.
Back to that Pan con Tomate – we had just spent about five days in Spain, and had dined very well. Including some obligatory tapas-hopping in Barcelona, we’d just had Pan con Tomate twice, including once in a Michelin one-star restaurant. With all this fresh on our minds, we both agreed that Del Mar’s version was better than any version we had in Spain, and even if two pieces of ficelle topped with some garlicky tomato spread might sound expensive for $10, we also both agreed that the price was commensurate with quality – this was possibly the best Pan con Tomate I’ve ever eaten (I can’t swear to this, as I’ve been to Spain several times in the past ten years, but I’ve never had any this good in the United States). Simple and perfect, this bread is every bit as good as it looks (my apologies for the slightly blurred picture, and the lack of perspective in terms of size – they were ample pieces – not mammoth, but ample).
For comparison, here’s an order of Pan con Tomate (5 Euros) we had at a delightful little Bib Gourmand restaurant, Antaviana, in Figueres.
As an aside, while in Barcelona, the former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, had been arrested in Germany, and was in danger of being extradited back to Spain for trial. Many Catalunyans didn’t take kindly to this, and on Sun, Mar 26, we were right in the thick of some pretty intense protests that seemed not-too-far from becoming riots. While walking to dinner, I caught some of the action on my phone:
On to the main event! Del Mar is bringing Las Vegas to DC, in terms of size, atmosphere, and prices, so I wanted to go straight for the jugular, and let the restaurant show at its best. We ordered the Paella de Pescado y Mariscos ($98, serves 2-4) with Maine Lobster, wild calamari, PEI mussels, and tiger prawns, made with Bomba rice, and served with real garlic alioli (although certain purists would argue that Catalan allioli (note the two ls) should never have any egg, there are varying degrees of tolerance for this pressing issue):
The paella is just the right amount for two people, if that’s all they order, and is served tableside – the seafood was fantastic, the portions were generous, the rice was just right (both in quality and ratio), and the alioli (however you want to spell it) hit a home run with me. I barely finished my half, and helped my dining companion finish her lobster (*that* wasn’t going to waste), but there was some rice left on her plate that I just couldn’t finish – this doesn’t look like a huge portion, but it’s deceptively rich, the alioli not helping in that department. I got permission from our jovial server to take a picture, and although I said I’d try not to get his face in, he said he didn’t mind (I actually did try not to, but failed).
Overall, there wasn’t much more we could have asked from our meal at Del Mar – with tax and tip, the final bill was right around $250, and while expensive, we both felt the meal represented very good value for the money, as it was outstanding in just about all facets – atmosphere, service, and cuisine. Dining here won’t come cheap, but it’s *easy* to say I’ll be back here numerous times, and mean what I say – Del Mar is a wonderful restaurant, and just what The Wharf needs as its anchor.
I’ve been meaning to write this for quite awhile now, as Little Serow remains one of my very favorite restaurants in the area – remarkably, it has remained just as consistent and value-driven as it was when it first opened, years ago. Little Serow is Johnny Monis and Anne Marler’s gift to Washington, DC.
My apologies for the blurriness of thumbnail pictures #3 and #4 – #4 in particular deserves to be shown in all its splendor (you can click on all the pictures, and expand them; then, click the “back” button on your browser to return to the post).
The Basket of Sticky Rice (always served here – to be used as a palate cleanser):
Nam Prik Hét (Pork Rinds with a dipping sauce of mushroom, shallot, and finger chilies – brought as an amuse-bouche):
The Basket of Greens (always served here, to be used as wraps, palate cleansers, etc.):
Tom Kha (the well-known soup with fish dumplings, grachai (brined rhyzome), and lime leaf):
The importantly named Ma Hor (sour fruit, sweet pork, and dried shrimp (so says the menu; I’m pretty sure there are dried anchovies in here):
Laap Gai Chiang Mai (chicken, chicken offal, and lanna spices – This is the same dish that Eric raved about up above, and was the first indication that we were going to be really, *really* full when we left – this dish was extremely rich and filling, as well as absolutely delicious (but you must like offal, because it’s there in spades). See that little hunk of white on the right side of the plate? That’s cabbage, cut to extreme thinness with a mandolin, having the same type of layering as a thousand-layered baklava, each piece intended to be used either to pick up a piece of your dish as a wrap, or simply munched on as a palate cleanser (we did both)):
Tow Hu Thouk (tofu, ginger, and peanut – a merciful lightening in both texture and flavor, as two Laap Gai Chiang Mal-like dishes in a row would have been tough to stomach, so to speak. This dish came at the perfect time in the meal, and we were actually *less full* after finishing it, than we were before starting it – this type of presentation is typical of a master chef like Johnny Monis. Don’t get me wrong – this wasn’t a “light” dish; it was a lighter dish: You can see from the fried tofu alone that it wasn’t intended to be a trou Normand, but it still had the overall effect of making our lives easier for the next half hour):
Phat Phak (greens, garlic, and oyster sauce – Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But these three “common” items were combined and executed perfectly, and this dish was a great example of how much it matters to present well-prepared dishes in a logical order – they worked brilliantly at this point of the meal. Now, this *was* intended to begin winding things down, as the chicken offal course could have taken out an NFL Linebacker for the evening, and at some point, mercy needed to be displayed, if only for one course!):
Si Krong Muu (pork ribs, mekhong whiskey, dill – So, instead of “See Spot Run,” we have “Si Krong Muu.” I’ve had this at least twice now, and both times it has been fabulous, even if it was the dish that would make the toughest of competition eaters wave the white flag. Not particularly heavy (in fact, it’s very light and elegant), it was merely a back-breaking straw – I’ve never met anyone who has left Little Serow hungry; more importantly, I’ve never met anyone who has left Little Serow unhappy. This sauce has similar, heavenly qualities as a Frank Ruta consommé, and serves to lighten the dish (and overall meal) both aromatically, and also with a touch of acidity that serves as a melting agent – it’s just a wonderful place to finish your meal.
Citrus Mignardises (Soft, cool, pastry shells filled with a yuzu-type of citrus custard, the entire bite presenting itself with an almost-inexplicable, cool, rubbery, creamy, semi-sweet, acidic, refreshing magnificence that I’ve only had a few times in my life, with the very best of dessert bites). I’m not even quite sure what this was, but it was one of the greatest bites of food I’ve ever eaten, and it could not have arrived at a more opportune time – just when I thought I could eat no more, I craved an entire bucket full of these (and the always-delightful Sarah McCarty, our wonderful server, was kind enough to bring us two more with the check, for which we rest eternally grateful). Words cannot adequately describe how perfect these little bites were at this moment. Accompanied by a glass of Calvados, which also assisted as a melting agent, we left overjoyed, content beyond words, and ready to take on the world – and, incredibly, not all that much poorer, as Little Serow remains one of the greatest values in Washington, DC dining history.
I don’t care what Michelin’s criteria are for “Bib Gourmand” or “One-Star” awards – the fact that Little Serow doesn’t have one is just as absurd as Komi not having One Star until this year (Komi is closer to a Two-Star restaurant than it is to One-Star, but not having *any* stars was just ridiculous, and shows how little credence you should put in Michelin outside of its home turf.
If you haven’t yet been to Little Serow, it remains one of the most important restaurants in all of Washington, DC, given its regional emphasis, its almost-humorously low price-point, its impeccable service, and its consistently superior quality. I compare it to Tail-Up Goat or 2 Amys as much as I do any other restaurant, even though those three restaurants simply couldn’t be any more different.
We had a reservation at Chloe, and were cordially greeted, and given the option of sitting at a table, or the Food Bar – the tables seemed a bit close together, so we opted for the latter, mostly to optimize side-by-side sharing (everything at Chloe is designed to be shared, our server told us).
Having just sat down, we were given the option of house-filtered still or sparkling water – we ordered still, and each began with a cocktail not on the menu: My friend ordered a French 75 ($12, with which our friendly server was unfamiliar, but he was fairly certain that the bartender would be familiar with), and I ordered a Gimlet ($14) with a neutral gin (Plymouth?) – I said that to avoid the dreaded Vodka Gimlet. I was then asked if I wanted my Gimlet up, or on the rocks (up!), which was much-appreciated, and when the cocktails arrived, they were very good, if perhaps just a touch towards the sweet side (but not over the edge by any means).
The menu, top-to-bottom, features dishes which increase in size as you progress downward. We were very much in a fishy mood, so one thing we definitely wanted was the Crispy Whole Sea Bream, which our neighbors at the bar seemed to be enjoying – alas, we were told that they’d just served the last portion. (Chloe had just opened about one-week before, and on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was fairly well packed, so I suspect they’re selling more product than they had guesstimated – a good thing for them). As good as the Spice-Roasted Chicken sounded – and it sounded wonderful, marinated in Pho-like seasoning – we were “Chickened Out” over the past few days, so decided instead to go with an armada of smaller plates for our meal, and we’re glad we did, because every single dish was good, and one in particular was earth-shattering.
Cobia Crudo ($14) with avocado, Thai chiles, lime, fish sauce, crispy shallots, and puffed black rice was the first dish to arrive, and it went *perfectly* with my Gimlet (the lime in both the drink and the dish really complemented the other ingredients). Raw cobia is a rubbery fish, not unlike raw octopus, and this dish was textural heaven with the crispy shallots and puffed black rice, but it was also wonderfully acidic in nature with the lime and Thai chilis – everything cut by the avocado and the firm, assertive, spanking-fresh cobia. This was a great dish, perfectly balanced, and the pieces of cobia were ample enough to cut in half (although that isn’t necessary) – I got chills thinking about Chef Karoum, and what he had been doing at Asia Nora (which I once had ranked in Bold in the Dining Guide – read the first post in the Asia Nora link: You’ll get a kick out of it) – would Haidar Karoum feel liberated enough from Proof to let his wilder side shine through once again? This dish gave me hope (which was to be completely fulfilled a couple of dishes later). Notice also how well and proportioned everything is cut here.
In the interim, we’d finished our cocktails, and ordered a bottle of Fleuriet Renaissance Sancerre “La Magie des Caillotes” (a painful $50) which, primarily to its moderate oaking, won’t win any awards in my house, but was well-made, correct both for the varietal and region, and ushered us throughout the entire meal (or could have). Thankfully, beverage director Tyler Mitchell seems not to have been indoctrinated by Mark Kuller’s proclivity for 16%-alcohol Chardonnays that were beaten with the Oak Stick (Mark and I got along famously, but I could never reconcile our tastes in wine – when Proof opened, I gave him a bottle of 1966 Lafite-Rothschild, and to this day, I’m left wondering if that incredible wine was completely overwhelmed by an Aussie Shiraz – ack).
Broiled Local Oysters ($13) with horseradish glaze, rutabaga kraut, brown bread crumble was an interesting dish. It arrived on a large tray, fancifully served on small, white stones, and looking like a bigger dish than it actually was. But as long as you don’t mind paying $3.25 per oyster, you’ll be well-rewarded with this: Assuming you eat the oyster in a single bite (which you must), you’ll be greeted with all four flavors clearly delineated, as well as a downright symphonic combination – this is a fabulous melange of flavors and textures, with the simple brown-bread crumble taking it over the top.
Spiced Beef Hummus ($14) with pickled radish, harissa, buttered almonds, and snow-shoe naan was the dish of the night for me. Haidar has some Lebanon in his ethnicity, and this dish is running through his blood – there was something about it that said, “This is my soul.” While I’ve never been to the Middle East and tried the magnificent-looking Hummus at the amazing restaurants there, this set a new standard for me in the DC area. Not only was it the best hummus I’ve had locally (and I’ve had dozens), but the beef turned it from a very good dish into an “Oh my God!” dish, and the almonds lent an almost-thrilling texture atop the beef. If you love hummus, and don’t mind eating beef, this is one course you absolutely must order at Chloe – and to scoop it up with, the snow-shoe looking naan was hot from the oven. This may not have been the best bread I’ve had (it was firm on the outside, and very bready on the inside – more so than almost all naans I’ve had – not that there’s anything wrong with that); nevertheless, it was a great vehicle for scooping up the plate of awesome sitting in front of us. Chloe’s Hummus is the one dish that has been calling to me, and even as I write this, I would drive down there *right now* for another plate of this magnificent cuisine.
Roasted Kabocha Salad ($11) with kabocha squash, green apple, watercress, pepitas, and cider vinaigrette was served alongside the Hummus, but since it was cold, and the beef and the bread in the Hummus course were hot, we saved it for something of a trou Normand, plowing through the Hummus with only an occasional bite of watercress. Although this was the least fascinating dish in a fascinating meal, it served its purpose very well, as it transitioned us into what would be a very rich, flavorful gnocchi. A perfectly dressed watercress-based salad, I would recommend doing a little more with the kabocha, rather than laying it atop the salad – if the kabocha had been served hot and seasoned (maybe even with a small dotting of yogurt), the dish might have been transcendent; as it was, it was merely very good and pleasant, with the apples and pepitas adding slight sweetness and texture, and the cidar vinaigrette adding acidity – I again emphasize this was perfectly dressed. We’d forgotten to take a picture, so instead, when we remembered, we made a smiley face to show our approval.
Russet Potato Gnocchi ($16) with smoked king oyster mushrooms, kale, black pepper, and pecorino was to die for, and a deceptively rich, filling dish. I’m well-aware of how good that picture looks, and I promise you this dish was every bit as good as it appears. I consider this to be more of a mushroom dish than a gnocchi dish, due to the attention the smoked king oysters commanded, but the gnocchi – a rather robust gnocchi – wasn’t afraid to stand with it, side-by-side. Even the kale, which might sound extraneous, made the dish better (the butter didn’t hurt either), and the pecorino as a generous finishing agent was just perfect. If you’re a vegetarian who eats dairy, and are looking for a meat substitute, then get a double-order of this, and you’ll die happy (perhaps literally).
Maine Scallops ($17) with celery root, pomegranate relish, wilted greens, and celery salad was a dish of four *perfectly cooked* scallops resting atop puréed celery root, and was just about a peer to the gnocchi dish. This dish, in addition to the scallops, really played with and showed off the aspects of celery, and the pomegranate relish again added the texture that was a theme throughout this tremendous meal. If you like scallops, you’ll *love* this dish – rich, satisfying, but also playful and cognitive (who would think to put pomegranate relish on scallops with celeriac?) – a wonderful finish to a wonderful dinner.
Well, not quite …
Meyer Lemon Tart ($10), and these were definitely Meyer Lemons, was topped with a homemade type of blueberry compote, and stars of lightly blowtorched meringue, all in a graham cracker crust. The consensus was that this was a wonderful tart, and could only be approved upon by a thinner graham cracker crust if possible – I even had the thought that it would be in keeping with the evening to serve it in phyllo dough instead of graham cracker crust – this would highlight, rather than compete with, the other ingredients, and allow them to show their formidable flavors. We were stuffed before we ordered this, but it looked *so* good when we saw one come out that we threw caution to the wind, ordered two glasses of Calvados ($12 each), and ordered this very good tart.
It’s amazing that Chloe had been open for about a week when we dined here – it was bustling with people, and if we hadn’t gotten a reservation, we probably wouldn’t have gotten a table, and this was on a chilly Tuesday night. You can assume Chloe will be packed in the near future, and count your blessings when you get a reservation here, although I do recommend sitting at the food bar – it was a wonderful place to eat, stay warm, and watch the show, although prices do add up quickly here for two people. That massive Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop is in grave danger the next time I darken this door – or should I get that Chicken? An excellent beginning for the restaurant, and a welcome return for Haidar Karoum – Chloe is comfortably ranked #1 in its neighborhood, and easily meets the criteria for an Italic ranking in the DC Dining Guide.
We were in Woodbridge on Friday, and stopped in for a late lunch at 2PM (lunch ends at 2:30PM). We asked the fully staffed restaurant if their kitchen was still open, and they didn’t even bat an eye – I suspect if you show up at 2:25PM, you’ll be treated the same way. We were given the best table in the restaurant, in the corner, overlooking the entire dining room, and the service for the duration of the meal was not just good, but superb – as good as you would expect at Marcel’s.
After asking us for still, sparkling, or ice water, our exceptionally professional server asked us if we’d like a drink, and we each got a glass of Belle Jardin Blanc de Blancs Brut NV ($11), a sparkling wine from Alsace which is not a Crémant d’Alsace (which is fermented in bottle like Champagne); rather, Belle Jardin is made by a less-expensive process termed Charmat, where the wine ferments in tank (H/T: Ben Giliberti), thus, it would be termed a Vin Mousseux(just as Eskimos supposedly have fifty words for snow … (you can tell a lot about what’s important to a culture by its lexicon)). Note also that Calvert-Woodley is currently selling this wine for $143 a *case* – yes, it’s a brutal markup by Bistro L’Hermitage (example #17,512 of why your restaurant adviser needs to be a beverage expert, every bit as much as knowing cuisine – but nobody ever is). In fact, I’m going to pick up the phone and call Calvert-Woodley right this minute, and order a case for myself (NB – I just did: total cost with tax, $157.30). This wine is perfect for an aperitif, a French ’75, or to have by the bottle with Thai food – enjoy it.
Normally, Bistro L’Hermitage would course everything out, but my dining partner ordered soup and salad, I ordered a sandwich, and at our request, they happily said they’d bring out everything together (it just made the most sense). They also brought out a basket of very good sliced baguette – not baked in-house, but seemingly baked earlier in the day, perhaps par-baked also – as well as a ramekin of wonderfully creamy butter, atop of which we sneak-shaked some salt and pepper (I have a fetish for lightly salted butter – nothing kinky; I just think it tastes better).
Soupe d’Onion [sic] ($8) was a bowl of deep, rich, seemingly long-cooked beef broth packed with onion flavor (and fully cooked slices of onion), along with a slice of that baguette topped with gruyère and some parsley as garnish. A perfect example of an imperfect dish that had been cooked with love, I would order this soup again and again – it was delicious.
The Salade Cesar ($9) was a lovely plate of romaine leaves that was more appealing to the eye than to the palate. A perfectly lovely dish, but I prefer my romaine cut for me (unless it’s grilled), and the dressing was more of a “creamy garlic” than that of a classic Cesar – they also skimped a bit on the white anchovies, and the croutons were crunchy-hard (they weren’t from a box, but I prefer at least a touch of “give” in my croutons, which is why I generally cast them aside because they’re so often like crackers). You can look at this salad and see that it wasn’t bad, but if there was a weak link in the meal, this would have to have been it.
Croque-Monsieur Classique ($16) was an interesting take on this wonderful French sandwich. Billed as a “hot ham and cheese sandwich,” with “cornichons, Meaux mustard, and fries,” that’s pretty much what it was, and the thing that made it interesting to me was the combination of Meaux mustard and something I don’t ever recall seeing on a Croque-Monsieur: the cheese they used was thinly sliced Brie. Much of Brie is made in the town of Meaux (it’s not too far from Paris), and although this wasn’t the AOC Brie de Meaux (which is unpasteurized and tragically illegal in the U.S.), I’m quite certain this cheese was Brie instead of the usual Gruyère (I even saw some tiny bits of the rind, which confirmed my suspicion – you can see a tiny piece of it in the center of the sandwich in the photo). I thought this (probably unintentional) coupling worked extremely well – they went heavy on the sliced ham, and the toast could even be considered “Texas toast,” as it was quite thick. The fries were house-cut, and made this into one heck of a hearty meal which I couldn’t quite finish. Incidentally, if you’re ever in France, and come across “Brie de Meaux” that says “au lait cru” (raw milk), get it, even though you think you’ve had Brie a million times, this will be a life-changing experience. Raw-milk Brie de Meaux is one of the world’s great cheeses, but even plain old, industrial Brie is a cheese that I’ve re-fallen in love with, and it worked very well on this sandwich.
The food at Bistro L’Hermitage was very good, but as good as it was, it was surpassed by the charmingly beautiful atmosphere and the genuinely caring, professional service – Youssef Eagle Essakl knows how to run a restaurant with panache and aplomb. Bistro L’Hermitage *might* have been demoted from Italic, ever-so-briefly, when Chef Burkhart left for a few months, but it has been both classified in Italic, and also ranked as the #1 restaurant in Occoquan, since shortly after it opened in 2007 – there was nothing about this lunch that would make me think otherwise.
We ate there over the weekend, it is worth a visit. The bar program is biggest strength. We found the menu, even as it has expanded from the previous iteration, was waaay too pork and chicken-centric, one member of our group was disappointed there was no grilled fish items. Another lamented there were too few veggies options to balance the meal. But, I understand they will expand the menu in about a month. Service is not on par with the bar program, yet.
I would recommend the Ukoy, Sisig (to share amongst like 6 people), Ihaw-Ihaw Special, and Kare-Kare. Bicol Express was excellent as well.
The bar program is still a big strength at Bistro 1521 – their beer selection is crammed full of “local” brews (enough to make this grizzled veteran wide-eyed), and their wine list is workable, with fairly priced wines by the glass. Our bartender, David, was a very nice person who offered to go back and get my friend a taste of Banana Ketchup, which he’d never before heard of (banana ketchup is a staple condiment in the Philippines, and is often sold under the label of, believe it or not, Heinz (aside – one of Australia’s largest players in the Vegemite market is Kraft, who recently began selling a product that’s Vegemite mixed with cheese, called Cheesybite!). I’ll take banana ketchup over regular ketchup any day of the week).
I agree that spicy wasn’t spicy except for a direct bite of red chili; green chili wasn’t spicy at all.
I have a relatively penetrating knowledge of Filipino cuisine, having studied it for years, and having taken part in numerous Filipino family functions among other things (you do not leave these things hungry, I assure you). One attribute about most Filipino foods is that they’re generally quite mild; in fact, spiciness is the exception (although it is highly regional, and there are some spicy dishes) – another attribute is that the Filipina home cook will often have a massive jar of MSG crystals at the ready – they use MSG like we use antibiotics, but this is mostly for home cooking. I’m surprised the bar at Bistro 1521 didn’t have bowls of Pulutan or Tenga ng Baboy, but this did used to be an Applebee’s, and they know their Ballston clientele might not go for such tawdry things.
I began my meal at Bistro 1521 with a 10-ounce snifter of Grapefruit Sculpin IPA($9) made by Ballast Point Brewing Company – a San Diego, CA-based brewery with an outpost in Daleville, VA; but don’t be fooled by the homey “small-town, craft brewery shtick” – Ballast Point was sold for over $1 billion to Constellation Brands, a Fortune 500 company worth over $41 billion. I *really* hate that the consumer must research each individual beer to determine whether or not they’re essentially buying Budweiser – someone should publish an annual guidebook to this that you can take to the supermarket; alternatively, retailers and restaurants should do the work for the consumer. This beer was as boring and soulless as you might imagine – yes, you could taste hints of citrus, but so what?
My friend started with a glass of 2016 Trencalos Sauvignon Blanc ($8) from the Castilla region of Spain (there are numeros typos on the wine list at Bistro 1521, e.g., “Reisling,” and there was one here, too). This was a generic Sauvignon Blanc with enough acidity to cut through the mildly zesty notes in the appetizers and her entree – you could tell it was a Sauvignon Blanc, but it would take someone like Gerry Dawes to know it was Spanish, much less Castilian.
I’m grousing about both of these drinks, but they’re really no different than what you find at 95% of restaurants, so don’t blame Bistro 1521; the blame goes much further up the chain than this. Hell, the Original Sin lies with Procter & Gamble.
Both drinks were served in good stemware and at the correct temperature, with friendly, prompt service, and there isn’t a whole lot more this restaurant could have done.
Our appetizer was an order of Lumpiang Shanghai ($5 at happy hour; normally $9) – two very good lumpia, halved, and nicely presented with appropriate dipping sauce (which worked much better than the banana ketchup). These were very good lumpia, arguably the highlight of the meal, and although I’d never pay $9 for two of them, they’re worth getting at the $5 happy-hour price.
I’d finished my glass of beer, and despite ordering a “red-wine” course, wanted to stick with white, so I got a glass of 2016 Domaine Bellevue Unoaked Chardonnay ($9) from Touraine, France. I’ve had this wine numerous times, and knew what I was getting in advance – compared with my friend’s Sauvignon Blanc, I would recommend that others tend towards the Sauvignon Blanc due to its crispness, but I also knew that my dish was going to be somewhat stolid, and not needing any type of zing from my wine.
With her Sauvignon Blanc, the classic Filipino dish with the funny name, Bicol Express ($17), specifically marked “spicy.” This was a stir-fried dish of “sliced,” pinkish pork, coconut milk, ginger, peppers, and shrimp paste, served with a small bowl of steamed, white rice. We both agreed that the dish had good flavors, and only the mildest hint of spice – and the Sauvignon was the wine of choice here. Up above, I said the lumpia was “arguably” the highlight of the meal; this was the other argument – although this dish won’t win any awards, it tasted good, and was well within the spirit of Filipino home cooking. I can recommend this for people to try – not necessarily for Filipino nationals, but for people looking to transition into the cuisine.
They say never to order an entree for one of the side dishes, but I did anyway. Mechado ($23) was presented a *lot* like an American pot roast, mashed potatoes, and greens dish, basking in a thick gravy – except this was braised short ribs, grilled asparagus, “Mechado sauce,” and mashed purple yam. It had the feel (if not the look) of something you’d get at a hotel banquet, but was actually quite enjoyable, the one exception being when it cooled to room temperature: The Mechado sauce brown gravy, which had been thickened with corn starch, separated and clotted – there seemed to be a similar, but less dramatic effect, with the shrimp paste in the Bicol Express; however, the Mechado gravy became mildly disgusting once it broke. Nevertheless, it was a good dish, and every bite of food was finished on all the plates. I won’t recommend this to people, and would urge the restaurant to stay closer to its roots, instead of trying to guess what Ballston residents might be looking for in a restaurant. Let them come to you: Word will get out, I promise.
There were two semifinalists from Indianapolis for the 2017 James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes award (all five finalists were from Chicago). One of these was Bluebeard, reviewed both here and three posts above in this thread. However, if you want breakfast at Bluebeard, you’re out of luck, as it’s open only for lunch and dinner. Milktooth, however, is open only for breakfast and lunch, and is *the* restaurant to go in Indianapolis to find an outstanding breakfast (Bluebeard and Milktooth are nearly across the street from each other).
Chef Jonathan Brooks has set up an extremely casual, high-volume operation that feels much more like Shapiro’s Deli than any sort of fine-dining establishment. Tank-top and shorts? No problem! I took a seat at the bar so I could watch the cooks, who were operating in high gear at around 1 PM on a Friday afternoon.
My delightful server, Jess, took my order – I got a Large Glass of Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice ($3.50), and something similar to what Washingtonians might see at Tail-Up Goat: House Salmon and Cream Cheese Rillettes on House Challah ($14). Fourteen dollars seemed expensive for what might be akin to lox and cream cheese on a bagel, but this was more than that, and served in the style of Tail-Up Goat’s “Bread Courses.”
While I watched three of the cooks, mesmerized by the high-heat, high-speed, high-risk ballet they were dancing, I saw with my left peripheral vision a figure, creeping towards me very slowly – I turned, and it was Jess carrying my orange juice – very slowly, very carefully, as it was filled slightly over the brim, and one false movement on her part would have meant a spill, but she somehow didn’t spill a drop. I thanked her, bent down, and slurped my first sip, and it was perfect – I was now staring down sixteen ounces of fresh-squeezed perfection, and already deciding whether I would chug it and order a second one, or quench my thirst with water instead (I opted for the latter so as not to be a sea slug).
A couple minutes later, my Rillettes arrived – this is one case where a picture does some damage to the final product, because it had been pea-shooted to death. Now, I like pea shoots, but one of the three cooks, during their ballet, had grabbed a fistful of pea shoots with too much gusto, and the condiment was over-stacked. Not a problem, because I just pushed most of it aside, and made myself a little side salad, while enjoying a terrific rillettes on bread that was almost surely baked that morning. It was a great, knife-and-fork, open-faced sandwich. I should add that there are many more items on Milktooth’s menu which are more complex and interesting; I merely ordered what I was in the mood for, but their menu has just about anything you can think of – do take some time and look at their food menu – they have a good selection of beer and wine also.
Do not judge this fine open-faced sandwich by this poor photo!
It’s remarkable that Jess didn’t spill a drop, and be sure you’re aware that the rillettes sandwich was *much* better than it looks here. Both Bluebeard and Milktooth are two of about six very, very serious restaurants now in the Indianapolis area – this is slowly but surely becoming an important dining city, no doubt helped by the Convention Center. On my way out, I took $6, handed it to who appeared to be the head cook, and asked him to split it between the three of them – they deserved this and much more.
Bluebeard In the southeast cultural district of Indy, Fountain Square, contemporary Italian-inspired cuisine featuring the best in local produce. The building also houses a wholesale bakery, Amelia’s.
On 8/6/2014 at 7:57 PM, seanvtaylor said:
Recognizing that this is from 2012, but I just had dinner two nights in a row at Bluebeard, and Wow! I was exceedingly impressed, but think that the menu is much more squarely American than Italian-inspired at this point–and that incorporates the fact that one night I had radiatore bolognese as my main course. This is a big-league restaurant–perhaps the Woodberry Kitchen of Indianapolis, though not as big and with slightly different ambitions.
Dinner 1 started with their bread basket, served with garlic oil, anchovy butter, and honey butter. The bread was from Amelia’s and delicious, and the anchovy butter was unreal. I ate too much of it, enjoying it all of the way. I then had their melon salad; this is a dish that I feel that I could easily whip up at home with a watermelon, a canteloupe, and a cucumber–except theirs had coppa and curtido, and basil and mint, and manchego, and a white balsamic viniagrette. This is one of the best dishes I’ve eaten this year. I then had the radiatore–a massive, mid-western portion with their butcher-block bolognese–a mystery meat mixture that was spicy and rich. It was too much, so I took it back to my hotel and ate it as a snack and later as an early breakfast, cold by that point, of course, but still flavorful and better than my options at Starbucks and Panera.
Dinner 2 kicked off with pickled herring–a tasteful preparation, not over-the-top large, so just the right way to start the evening. The octopus confit was very good–I’m not sure what the confit-process added, as the octopus seemed closer to a classic sous-vide preparation (if there is such a thing for octopus). It came in a nice broth with corn and (what I think) were partially sun-dried tomatoes. I finished with lamb-belly buns–exceedingly spicy with dragon sauce, cooled slightly with pickled radish and pickled, umm, pickles.
The cocktail program is substantial and worthwhile, with friendly and knowledgeable bartenders.
I’d say, “I wish that we had a place like this here,” but we do–a number of them. It’s just really nice to see this place out in Indianapolis–what appeared to be a really good food town, in my too-brief stay.
I had dinner at Bluebeard this week, and Sean’s description is just about perfect. Instead of adding to the general description, I’ll add some more data to support it:
Bluebeard has a wonderful drinks program, and it was my own fault I didn’t turn myself over to them – I knew what I was ordering (sort of), and if I had it to do again, I’d get one of their $7 (!) house made Gin and Tonics to start.
A general rule-of-thumb when someone sets foot in Indiana is that they only need a two-word vocabulary: “Three Floyds” (who, by the way, has opened what is reportedly an excellent brewpub (with good food) in Muncie). I started with a pint of Three Floyds Necron 99 ($6) which was tapped earlier that day. It was very much of a well-made IPA (I didn’t know this when I ordered it), hop-forward, and not my style of beer despite its obvious quality. If you like IPAs, then grab this should you see it, but I drank it relatively quickly because I knew it wouldn’t go with my food (Bluebeard had ten fascinating beers on tap; this was the only Three Floyds, and this is what I specifically asked for).
My first course also was just put on the menu yesterday for the first time, and is the first time this year I’ve seen butternut squash (autumn is on its way). A small Butternut salad ($13) was an ingredient-driven, farm-fresh, composed plate that looked unbelievably good. This may have been a personal thing, as I was somewhat salt-deficient, but it came across to me as a bit skimpily dressed, and while the ingredients were all just about perfect, I think it could have used a bit more seasoning to bring everything together. Still, you can tell it was a terrific salad just by looking at the picture – it contained cubes of butternut squash placed inside endive leaves, bacon, goat cheese, pecans, basil, shallot, and bourbon maple bacon vinaigrette which lent an undertone of bacon to the dish as a whole. It was an honorable salad, a very, very good salad, but just a touch on the bland side for me to call it a “great” salad.
<— This was just as fresh as it looks.
Having knocked back my Necron 99, I wanted one more drink to carry me through the meal. I love Chinon, and equally love the producer Couly-Dutheil, but haven’t had much Chinon Rosé. A generous glass of 2016 ($13) was disappointing – very much like a grapey Spanish rosado rather than a pale, bone-dry Provençal rosé. This wine is a vin saigné – literally a “bled wine” … the wine is “bled” (or siphoned) off the top of the vat, and the pink wine on top is made into a rosé. This has the added benefit – especially in lean years – to make the remaining wine in the vat darker in pigment (the pigmentation agents have more mass, and drop to the bottom of the vat, thus making a more concentrated red). Vin saigné is a *much* cheaper way to make rosé, and truthfully, it shows in the end product (which is pleasant, but never, ever profound). I knew this was 100% Cabernet Franc – the menu even said so – thus, it would be impossible for it to be anything *other* than vin saigné. In no way were either of these drink “errors” the fault of Bluebeard – I knew exactly what I was ordering, and the fact that I didn’t love the selections falls on me and me alone. For them to even have either of these two offerings speaks volumes about their beverage program – they’re both quite uncommon to see in restaurants.
Up until this point, things were more “impressive” than “great.” However, that was to immediately change with my entrée: a Papardalle ($32). with butchershop Bolognese (more on this in a moment), tomato sauce, Parmesan, and herb oil. I asked my wonderful bartender about this Bolognese dish, and he said it’s one of their classics – something that’s generally on the menu in one form or another – I had a long day of travel (and after all, I’m 1/4 Bolognese), so it hit all the right notes for me as comfort food. They served it with a basket of sliced bread, baked at their bakery next door – something akin to a thinly sliced baguette, but slightly airier. While $32 seems like a *lot* of money for a pasta Bolognese, let me start by saying that this dish was enormous – enough for two people – and the Bolognese didn’t seem spooned on; it seemed ladled on. Picture being at Nonna’s house in Bologna for Sunday dinner — “Nonna can I have seconds?” “Sure!” “Nonna, can I have thirds?” “Sure!” It was all I could eat, and there were a couple fork-fulls of house-made papardelle left on my plate, because I was stuffed to the gills: and I only had one little piece of their bread, too. The Bolognese sauce was thick and meaty, meaty, meaty, with a predominant undertone of fennel – if you don’t at least “like” fennel, you probably won’t like the flavors of this great sauce. There was plenty of papardelle, too, perhaps not *quite* as al dente as I wished, but I was so busy plowing through it that I hardly noticed – it was a sensational dish, and one which I could eat often. Do not let the price scare you away from ordering this – it was just fabulous, one of the best Bolognese dishes I’ve ever eaten.
<— This photo may not look that big, but it was a *huge* plate of food (that’s a pasta-twirling spoon).
So technically, I only “loved” three out of four things I had at Bluebeard, but I fell in love with the restaurant – I could see what was behind the bar (they have a first-rate beverage program), and I could see some of the other plates arriving as well. The comparison with a “small Woodberry Kitchen” is quite apt, and accordingly, Bluebeard was a semifinalist for a 2017 James Beard Award for Best Chef – Great Lakes – their talented, fully deserving chef is Abbi Merriss.
Bluebeard is now the best restaurant I’ve ever been to in Indianapolis, which is saying something, as I’ve been here about a half-dozen times, and have really sought out the best and the brightest, as well as hitting up the classics such as Shapiro’s Deli (which now has an IND location) and St. Elmo’s Steak House (where you’ll most likely go only one time).
Bluebeard has a lot to be proud of, and a great future ahead of them.
I went to the City Vista (and only remaining) location of Ray’s Hell-Burger last night. We each got a large The Funky President ($10), one order of French Fries ($3.50, enough for two), and a Diet Cheerwine ($3).
It had been quite awhile since I’d had a Hell-Burger, perhaps going on two years, and I’m happy to say that these burgers seem to be as good as ever. “The magic is in the meat,” and these really taste like someone stuck a steak in a grinder, ground it, and cooked it up as a patty. “The Funky President” is served with aged Vermont Cheddar and a slice of tomato, and it’s just a great combination of flavors.
I used a little Gulden’s mustard as dipping sauce for my fries (I know, I know), and the sandwich itself was terrific when dabbed in the Gulden’s. The fries seemed like they were lightly dusted with Old Bay Seasoning, were long and thick – almost steak fries but not quite – and were served fresh from the fryer.
My only “beef” with the meal is the aesthetics of how the burgers are served – in a little recycled-cardboard oyster-shell. The problem with this is that the substantial grease from the burger drips and pools, and is pretty unappealing. It’s also partially absorbed by the paper, but if it were served on a plate – even a paper plate – the fries could pick up some of the juices from the burger. (Now that I’m typing this, I realize I could have put the fries underneath the burger in the oyster-shell and approximated the same result.)
Anyway, the consensus is that this was a terrific burger-and-fries meal, and even though I’m sorry Ray’s Hell-Burger is no longer in Arlington, you can still get there from the 14th Street Bridge in ten minutes without traffic. I would still recommend this to anyone coming in from out-of-town.