Smokin’ Jarhead – Former Marine Ron Johnson’s Smoked Meats for Catering, Parties, and General Delivery in the DMV

Ron Johnson, aka “Smokin’ Jarhead” is a former marine, now offering some of the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten, and absolutely some of the very best barbecue you can find in the Washington, DC area.

A couple months ago, I bought three Full Racks of Ribs ($24) from Ron, and he delivered them to my front door, where they were waiting when I got home. Between me and my son, one of them didn’t survive the evening; the second didn’t last the week, and the third is still in my freezer, waiting for Matt to come home from college in a couple of days – the ribs freeze, reheat, and are 90% as good even after being frozen and reheated – all the more reason to stock up.

Ron doesn’t have a brick and mortar location, and he doesn’t have a “food truck” in the traditional sense of the word; he has this huge smoker that he puts on a trailer, and brings over to catered functions anywhere in the DMV – extra delivery charges begin after 40 miles, which easily covers all of DC and the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Ron will smoke anything from ribs, to brisket, to pulled pork, and just about anything else, and he’ll bring the food to your door with a minimum order. Let me emphasize again: These are as good as any ribs I’ve ever had in the DC area, and that includes places like Johnny Boy’s, Buz & Ned’s, Chubby’s, and The Pit Stop – in other words, the Best of the Best.

It’s unusual for me to be raving about a place that doesn’t have a brick and mortar shop, but I did the same thing about Pupatella, eventually going on to declare them the best pizza in the area, which they were for a time – it’s the same thing with Smokin’ Jarhead: Just because there’s no storefront means nothing when he’ll bring your order to your door for you. If you’re having a Memorial Day cookout, or a 4th of July barbecue, or any other type of house party, he’ll arrive at your house with his smoker in tow, and everything will be cooked right there – no grocery store, no cooking, no cleanup – everything is done for you, and his prices are rock-bottom low.

I really don’t know what else to say: On short notice – one, perhaps two days, you can have the best barbecue in the area delivered right to your home. Call on a Tuesday for a Friday delivery, and the ribs will be waiting on your doorstep when you get home from a long week at work (this is exactly what I did; I’ve never actually met Ron – I paid him through PayPal, and the ribs were on my front porch when I got home the next day). If you’re having guests over for a party, get him and his smoker over there too. I recommended this to one of our members once, who has since turned into a repeat customer, and this is a quote from him:

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Ron continues to blow me away with the quality of his smoked meats. Ron dropped off a sizable rack of pork ribs two days before the Super Bowl. As usual, Ron was a perfect gentleman towards my mother and stuck around for a few brief moments to discuss what he’s been up to, interesting things he’s been smoking (Ron, you have *got* to let us know when we can taste your smoked oysters). After he left, we stuck the foil-wrapped ribs in the fridge. We were saving these for the SB after all. I followed the reheating instructions on AmazingRibs.com, which has you wrap the ribs in two sheets of aluminum foil, drizzle about 2oz of chicken stock on the ribs and then seal the foil sheets. Roast in a 225 degree oven with the rack you’re cooking on positioned in the upper-middle section of the oven. Heat until ribs measure 155 degrees in the center with an instant-read meat thermometer.

The ribs turned out perfectly this way, as if they had just come hot off the smoker. The smoke flavor was there in full force, and the ribs had a gentle, but solid bite to them. Not falling off the bone, but a real meaty sink-your-teeth sensation that still provided the distinctive melt-in-your-mouth texture that only expert Pitmasters can do. I expected the texture of the bark to suffer a bit from reheating, and it did, but only a bit and it certainly isn’t any fault of Ron’s. The bark still provided a solid punch of smoke that good bark should. I’ll experiment in the future with different reheating methods to preserve the crunch of the bark. Ron had graciously accepted my request of a dry rub applied to the ribs instead of sauce. P.S.: Ron, I’m not sure what your normal procedure is vis-a-vis dry rubs vs sauce, but I got the impression from the spot-on seasoning and flavor profile that the dry rub is your normal method. If I’m wrong, please correct me!

Overall it was a hearty and immensely satisfying meal that had me and my party guests chowing down to the very last scraps of meat on the bones. I continue to recommend Ron for anyone in the area looking for expert barbeque by an expert Pitmaster.

All you need to do is write Ron on his Facebook page or contact him via his business card (below), and tell him what your needs are, regardless of the size of your order. He’ll give you a quote that’s reasonable enough that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do this. Ron should be in constant demand, and have a two-month backlog – that is how good his product is.

Here are some facts about his meats: As a rule, he uses inexpensive cuts because the true flavor comes from his dry rub and the smoking process, but he will use whatever meats you request, so if you have a favorite butcher who makes a special cut of ribeye, or a favorite fishmonger who sells wonderful oysters, (I’m making an assumption here) he’ll go there, purchase them, and smoke them for you – either at your premises or at his, followed by a delivery or drop-off. Things like hams, chickens, sausages, and turkeys are no problem, and he’ll be more than happy to cater to vegetarians as well – the smoker has obviously seen meats in it before, so it would be impossible to keep kosher-vegan, but that’s about it in terms of limitations. Some more factual information from Ron himself:

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 I make up my own rub with a variety of spices, such as garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt, allspice,chili powder, Cayenne, and brown sugar.(I can’t give all the ingredients, I’m hoping to start selling it next year).After I rub the ribs I wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

For ribs I use a combination of hickory and cherry or Apple wood. For those you had I used hickory and cherry. I cook the ribs for a total of 8 hours at 225 degrees, smoke for 4-5 hours. Then I wrap them in aluminum foil with beer (usually Yuengling; don’t need anything dark like a stout) it’s more for tenderizing than for taste.

My delivery area is the immediate DMV, anything outside of 40 miles there is a small added charge. For catering and/or large orders I will need a 2-week notice. The best way to see where I am or get in touch with me is through my Facebook Business Page or my email – I try to reply to all emails within 24 hours or less: ronjohnson0819@gmail.com

The only other thing I want to emphasize is that supporting Smokin’ Jarhead will be supporting a former Marine who was placed in harm’s way to help defend our country – if you’re looking to support our nation’s veterans, then getting your event catered by Smokin’ Jarhead is a win-win for all involved.

One last thing: This is Ron’s full-time job; not some hobby he does on the side. He’s a professional in every sense of the word, and will bend over backwards so that you’re happy. If you trust me as a food critic, I’m happy to put my reputation on the line by recommending Ron Johnson – it will be one of the safest things I’ve done. Support this great man – email him him right now while it’s on your mind, even if you’re not ready to place an order.

Look at this smoker!

IMG_20150430_081154845_HDR.jpghttps_3A_2F_2Flh4.googleusercontent.com_2Fi7STLMH7T__rp56H0gwy7kzJqNmC_VVxzGEFfus3KO4_3Ds0-d.jpgIMG_20150917_184304081.jpg <— This could (and should) be your backyard at your next party!

And what emerges from that smoker? Have a look:

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I’m proud to have a chance to support our country’s veterans like Ron Johnson, but you can rest assured that if I didn’t believe in his product, I wouldn’t be writing this review, which is obviously a rave – that’s why I included the pictures, so you can see for yourselves that I’m not just, erm, blowing smoke.

Here’s Ron’s business card – I urge you to give him a try, even if it’s just for a single rack of ribs (get dry rub – there are pictures on his Facebook page of pre-sauced ribs, and I got my order of sauce on the side so I could use exactly how much I wanted, when I wanted. It’s really good sauce, too, but you don’t want your ribs pre-sauced – whatever he uses in his rub is fantastic).

If you need an ice-breaker, tell him you’re a friend of mine.

SmokinJarHeadBusinessCardFront.jpgSmokinJarHeadBusinessCardBack.jpg

One final word: It’s not too late to remember Operation Honor Our Heroes this Memorial Day weekend – they *desperately* need both money and volunteers), Contact Christi-Ana Crews (my personal assistant) and help however you can. *Please read that post*!

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Grandale Vintner’s Table, Neersville, VA

A friend of mine and I went out for a beautiful drive Sunday afternoon on this splendid 80-degree day, touring the mansions of Potomac (we decided *not* to go downtown to DC during this Cherry Blossom Festival weekend), and ended up over at White’s Ferry. She’s a visitor, and was delighted by the old-fashioned charm of White’s Ferry – it had been several years since I’d been on it myself, and I’d forgotten just how much *fun* it is if you don’t have to wait too long to get on (I wonder if there’s a website anywhere that shows up-to-the-minute wait times – if so, would someone please start a White’s Ferry thread in the Visiting Washington, DC forum, and include the website information there? I think White’s Ferry is a fine tourist attraction, and merits its own thread).

We approached the Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets (another topic that merits its own thread in the Visiting Washington, DC forum). and had a decision to make, it being around 3:30 PM: should we head left, and hit the Udvar-Hazy Center (another topic that merits its own thread in the Visiting Washington, DC forum (I’ll shut up now)), :) or should we attempt an early dinner at Grandale Farm? It was *the* perfect day *and* we had time to make that our destination, and indeed, we chose the pleasures of the table over aeronautics and space flight (I mean, wouldn’t everybody?)

Seeing the entrance to Grandale was like seeing an old friend, even though I’d only been once before – it it was anything like I remembered it being, we would have a splendid meal, with competent kitchen work, and perhaps even get to dine on the patio (at this odd hour, it seemed like a reasonable bet). We also called to see if we needed a reservation (it’s open straight through the afternoons on Sundays, with no break between lunch (or brunch) and dinner. Do note that this is *not* a B&B; it’s a working farm that happens to have a restaurant attached to it, so don’t come hoping to snare a room, although there are numerous charming B&B’s nearby, so you’re certainly thinking on the right track.

Well, just like an old friend, Grandale was still there for us, but as old friends often do, it had changed radically – not necessarily for the worse, but it is a very different beast now than it was just two short months ago: The changes were implemented on Mar 1, 2016. Many things are the same, a few are better, and a few are worse. Chef Author Clark (not a typo) has been cooking here for the past ten years.

First of all, the restaurant is no longer called “Grandale Farm” – the name is now “Grandale Vintner’s Table.” In addition to the restaurant, there is now an elaborate, tourist-friendly, tasting room in a separate building – mere steps away from the restaurant – that would make for a very pleasant weekend outing. There are more-and-more of these sprouting up in Virginia, and with the right spirit, this could make for a fun lead-in for dinner at the restaurant – there’s a very pleasant patio/picnic area out back as well, and a light-snack menu is offered in the tasting room (which I assume is prepared in the kitchen, and walked over on an as-needed basis. I didn’t take note of many prices, since I was merely interested in an overview, and since they serve primarily their own wines – as well as a dozen-or-so well-selected craft beers, my take-away was that this might be an enjoyable experience, although I really have no idea what it costs – all of their own wines, sold under the “868” label, are in the mid-$20s per bottle (the winery is called 868 Estate Vineyards – in all honesty, the last time I was here, about four years ago, I didn’t even know they made wines). Since I told them I’d be dining next door, they were happy to give me free sample pours of what I was seeking: something dry and white, or perhaps pink, with good acidity to stand up to our meal, but also light and pleasant enough to enjoy on an 80-degree sunny day sitting on the patio. They had just run out of the Sauvignon Blanc (which I was told might have been the best choice), the Riesling was fermented with too much residual sugar remaining, and the Viognier was the better choice than the Roussanne due to its florality in the bouquet coupled with equal perceived acidity as the Roussanne, although either could have worked – the Viognier it would be. Many Viogniers, even ones from Granddaddy Rhône Valley, are a bit too much for me after one glass; this one was a perfect food wine, and could last through an entire meal as it was fermented completely dry.

One lesson I learned from my previous visit here was: stick with produce, but, it being mid April, pickings are slim, and my server’s advice was to stay local – the greens, the pork, the goat cheese, and a few other things. We built together a meal to share around what seemed like the wisest choices. The menu here is very different than it was before – it’s more expensive, has a more “scattershot” feel, and plays into the “share plates” tactic which is quickly becoming a local trend in many places – Grandale Vintner’s Table only had two items in this category, which they say are for “2-4 people,” but we bypassed both.

After having gotten our perfectly served Viognier ($25), and having had our questions about “local and seasonal” answered, we were ready to order, and asked our serve to bring everything whenever it was ready, and that we’d share everything. We ordered three items that complimented each other reasonably well, and went with the wine wonderfully.

The Mesclun Salad ($10) features a plate of greens “brought to them by a local couple about once a week,” our server told us. It was accented, lightly, with candied pecan, strawberry, and goat cheese, and mercifully *very* lightly dressed – barely dressed – with a champagne vinaigrette, allowing the greens to remain front-and-center on the stage. We both agreed that the only thing we would have changed about the salad was to have tripled the amount of strawberry (I think there was only one, cut into slices) and goat cheese (there was only one dab of goat cheese, about the size of a grape) – even if they need to charge a couple dollars more for the salad, it would benefit from both of these; otherwise, this was a wonderful showcase of fresh greens dressed with a light hand, and is something you should try if you’re here.

The one gripe I have with Soup du Jour ($6 for a bowl) is that it seems to be different every time I order it. On this visit, it was a chicken-tortilla soup “with white bean,” but it should have been “with corn,” as there were only about ten beans in the entire bowl, but there were dozens of corn kernels. This was a thin, somewhat dilute broth that would have benefited from more seasoning, even just some black pepper – it had a slight kick to it (and there was a small amount of dried red powder at the bottom of the bowl), but overall, it was merely a decent, innocuous soup that had an adequate amount of ingredients in the bowl – there were some in every single bite – but with a broth that was just a bit too thin and bland.

Local Pork Confit ($30) with pumpkin apple butter cornbread, broccolini, and what was termed a “blueberry Asian BBQ” was pleasant enough, with strips of pork confit, but it really pushed the price point at $30 – you get more pork on your average pulled-pork sandwich than you got on this composed plate, which came with a square of barely average cornbread, the entire plate garnished with the pumpkin apple butter, and the blueberry sauce which clearly contained mesquite (and that was the only “Asian” thing about it). The flavors knit together very well, and we happily finished not only the entree, but all three things – the one thing that saved this meal was the cost of the Viognier: $25 for an entire bottle of good, enjoyable table wine kept the price of the meal in the $70s before tip, the patio was beautiful – especially the background – and the service enthusiastic and pleasant.

Yelping for Truffles

Oh dear, and then came dessert. We said we were pretty full, and had about an hour drive to get back, but we’d like to at least look at the dessert menu. Our server replied that there were three desserts being offered, and she could just recite them. The first two were typical desserts (I don’t remember exactly what they were – maybe a cheesecake, and a flourless, gluten-free, molten chocolate cake) at typical dessert prices (I don’t remember what they were, but they were within the norm), but it was the third thing that made our jaws drop. “And then we’re also offering a free dessert for people who are active on Yelp or Trip Advisor,” our server said. “Chocolate truffles. A box of two – I could give you each one so you’d have four total.” She didn’t come straight out and insist that a review was written, but I told her I’d be happy to review the restaurant, and that the truffles weren’t necessary, much to her surprise – I get the impression she’d never before heard that reply.

“Are you sure you don’t want them?” she said “No, it’s fine – but thank you anyway,” we replied.

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The Dabney, Blagden Alley

I went to the The Dabney right when it opened, and liked it well enough, but what I experienced there this week was a restaurant that has started to come into its own – the entire experience being at a much higher level.

Even when it opened, The Dabney had a strong beverage program, but not what it is now. Paying homage to The Dabney’s commitment towards “local,” I started out with a draft of Right Proper Ornithology, brewed right up the street, and weighing in at a refreshingly light 3.9% alcohol – a Grisette – closely related to a Saison in that it’s meant to keep you light on your feet, and can be had in multiples during a single sitting.

Here’s a slight mistake I made so you don’t have to: I began my meal with an order of Pumpernickel Toast ($4), topped with ricotta, smoked honey, and charred Spring onions. The mistake was not in ordering this delightful bread course, but in forgetting that The Dabney serves you a complimentary slice of grilled ciabatta, with flavored sorghum butter that is, in itself, a wonderful course, and more than enough to satisfy any bread cravings a single person may have. Remember this if you go there alone, but don’t neglect the Pumpernickel Toast just because of this, because both bread plates are delicious.

Then came the 1-2 punch of the main course: Lacquered Quail ($25) with Chesapeake Oyster Stuffing (inside the deboned quail), brown butter, greens, and golden raisins – the only bones that remained were the legs, so you could pick each one up and finish off the dish. It was fantastic, and even better with a side of Ember-Roasted Young Potatoes ($8) – make sure to turn your head towards the kitchen when ordering, because the wood-burning fire is raging, several feet high, and these clearly picked up some of the smoke, and were served with pork sausage, sour cream, and mustard. The two dishes as a combination worked brilliantly, and I couldn’t help myself in getting two different reds: a Beaujolais, and a Chinon.

The Beaujolais ($12) was a 2014 Château Cambon, which, although not from a single village, had a reasonably full body and a delicious palate presence. However, even this fine example of Gamay was dwarfed by the Chinon ($11), a 2014 Fabrice Gasnier “Les Graves” – a single-vineyard, 100% Cabernet Franc with a body that would put many a St. Emilion to shame. This is a red wine I could drink every day and not get tired of, and I made sure to save half a glass of it for my dessert, which I knew in advance would be chocolate.

Devil’s Food Cake ($9 (all desserts are $9)) came with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Pumpernickel Streusel (closing the circuit from the first course of the dinner), and Candied Ginger, and went splendidly with the Chinon. Has anyone noticed that we’re having an ice-cream spurt in town of late? We’re seeing flavors now that we’ve never seen before, and we’re seeing them at many, many restaurants. Ten years ago? It was 2 Amys; now, there are fully two dozen restaurants serving homemade ice cream filled with heart and soul.

My bartender was fabulous, and this meal at The Dabney solidifies the restaurant in my mind as one of the very greatest newcomers on the scene (I had some doubts after my first visit, but no longer). Well-worth the time and effort to get into Blagden Alley early, right at 5:30 when they open.

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Grapeseed Bistro & Wine Bar, Bethesda

On Friday evening, I *finally* got out to one of Grapeseed’s Friday-night Dinners, a multi-course menu that, in this case, coincided with their 16th anniversary – it was a “Best Of,” four-course, prix-fixe menu for $45 ($11.25 per course). Chef-owner-star-athlete Jeff Heineman often gives members of donrockwell.com a meaninful discount when attending these meals – all you have to do is join, and it doesn’t cost you a dime to do so.

After having a seat at the bar, I wound down with a happy-hour $5 wine: an Adras Godello – Grapeseed offers a select group of wines (decent wines) which are five dollars for a generous glass from 5-7 PM.

This, before finding out that Scott Johnston had bought me, as a gift, the wine pairing to go with the tasting menu (thank you, Scott!), so I had plenty to drink with my meal for the entire evening. That’s the type of warm, friendly nature that Jeff Heineman helps to foster on donrockwell.com – although I could hardly conceal the joy on my face when I found what Scott had done for me, it didn’t surprise me one bit. That’s the way the website is with each of its members, and the only way for you to really know is to join and find out for yourselves. I always tell people to write me if there’s a problem, and in eleven years, there have been almost no letters in my mailbox, other than ones lauding the community for being so knowledgeable and kind, and the discussion on such a consistently high level.

And so, the tasting menu it was, and I was starving because I hadn’t eaten all day. Grapeseed’s four-course Friday-night Dinners are a steal, and if you haven’t tried them, you’ve really missed out. For many years, I’ve had two restaurants – Passage to India and Grapeseed – ranked #1 and #2 in Bethesda in the Maryland Dining Guide, and have been unwavering in my support of them; yet, their reputation among DC-area food lovers are just not very high, similar to nearly every other restaurant from the Maryland suburbs with the possible exception of some Chinese restaurants in Rockville, and some informal, inexpensive mom-n-pops in Beltsville; regardless of the reasons, I can say with great confidence that these two are among the very best restaurants in Montgomery County, and the Friday-night prix-fixe dinners are an inexpensive way to familiarize yourself with the caring, family-run atmosphere of Grapeseed, at nearly Restaurant Week pricing – this, with more food, and better food.

After relaxing with my Godello (and to tell you the truth, I have not found one single Godello that even remotely resembles the glorious wines that I had in Galicia, Spain in 2007 when I traveled over there with Gerry Dawes, visiting winery-after-winery. The curmudgeonly Gerry is the world’s leading authority on Spanish food and wine who lives outside of Spain, and if you think that hyperbolic accolade sounds impossible, you simply haven’t yet met Gerry – the man knows *everything*, as he has made the county and its culture his only purpose in life. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Spain, and don’t mind paying real money for his expertise, I would urge you to at least contact him – tell him you’re a friend of mine, and see what he has to say.

I began my meal with a Peruvian dish: Peruvian Causa (a potato-based dish), with House Made Ossabaw Prosciutto (aging for two years), avocado, and crab. At an average of $11.25 per dish, you wouldn’t expect the first course to be so bulky, but the potatoes allow it to contain some heft while judicious portions of the Prosciutto and crab act as flavoring agents more than primary ingredients. Grapeseed seems to lack a full-time saucier to integrate the dishes, so my one knock on the restaurant is that certain things are “ingredient-driven” and combinatorial rather than they are down the street at Passage to India, where saucing and long-cooking are two integral components – two such very different restaurants, both wonderful in their own way. My first “tasting wine” (technically a three-ounce pour; in reality more like four, which often happens here with diners) was a Galerie Sauvignon Blanc, much more pungent, and with better supporting acidity, than a typical Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, which tend to be flabby and put their hot climate on full display; not here. Look for this wine on their menu when you order, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised – I, myself, was silently thanking Scott Johnston, and I still had three wines remaining (the price of a wine tasting to accompany the meal is something of a pittance: $20)

Next up was a wonderful piece of Black Sea Bass with Bouillabaisse sauce. I hadn’t glanced at the menu, but noticed a roux-like substance on one of the crostini, mentioning that they must be trying to imitate Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, and sure enough they were. This dish was halfway between a fish dish with sauce (it was, after all, a good-sized portion of black sea bass), and a bouillabaisse (as it was served atop a hot broth, almost making it into a soup should the diner wish to cut their fish). After taking a tiny nibble of each ingredient, I mixed everything together with gusto – exercising caution not to cut up my fish in order to keep it warm, deciding instead to cut-and-soak each individual bite as I went along. The wine was a Genio Espagnol Monastrell Rosado which went perfectly with the seemingly sriracha-flavored aïoli substituting for a true roux.

The crescendo continued with an Elephant Trunk Sea Scallopwith lobster mashed potatoes, and pine-nut lemon vinaigrette – the lobster mashed potatoes being the star of the show here, as there was a hefty portion of lobster in the mashed potatoes – I was surprised to receive only one small scallop until I realized the generous portion of lobster meat, and think this dish could have tolerated a second scallop, but again, after reminding myself that these averaged $11.25 per dish, there was no legitimate complaint I could register, especially after seeing the potatoes. Pairing with this was a Two Sisters Chardonnay – a $50+ bottle at retail which amplified the butter in both the potatoes and the vinaigrette. The wine alone was worth close to the price of the dish.

Finally, Duck Confit with House Made Gnocchi, Tomato Jam, and Ramp Butter, served with a Lake Chalice Pinot Noir which is one flavor I had been missing all evening – a fruit-driven Pinot Noir from New Zealand that turned a white-wine meal into a red-wine finish. I made sure to save half my wine for the dessert which I knew I was coming, and would put as an extra charge on my bill: Chocolate Crẽmeux (I’m a sucker for red wine with chocolate, three mounds of mousse-like chocolate drizzled with salted caramel and devil’s food crumb – this could have tolerated (perhaps even benefitted from) a darker red, but also went just fine with my New Zealand Pinot Noir.

Thanks especially to Scott Johnston, the bill for this meal was somewhat ridiculous, and if you’ve missed out on Grapeseed’s Friday Night tastings, you’ve been doing yourselves a disservice. Go, and go at your first opportunity – coupled with their bar happy hour which runs from 5-7, you can eat here like a king at a pauper’s ransom, especially if you start early.

Grapeseed is not a fancy restaurant in the least – it’s a neighborhood tavern where people are welcome in t-shirts and jeans, and has been serving this level of food for sixteen full years – it is one of Bethesda’s great culinary treasures: a Cheers-like bar where people remember your name on your second visit, and where you always leave feeling satisfied, and wondering if you’re sure you paid enough for your meal, especially if you got one of these Friday-night specials. What an exemplary neighborhood restaurant this is!

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Tail Up Goat, Adams Morgan

How to tell the difference between the two from a distance, on an island overrun with both: “Tail up goat. Tail down sheep.”

Such is the origin behind the name of Adams Morgan’s hottest new restaurant, Tail Up Goat – and I loathe to use the word “hot,” but that’s what it is, yes, already.

Late on a Tuesday evening, around 8 PM, I called just to make sure it wasn’t full, and was told that the bar area is first-come, first-serve, and that a couple is finishing up their entrees right now (so yes, it was full). I suppose I arrived around 9 PM, trying to park in the lot just south of the new building housing both Tail Up Goat and Philz Coffee (Tail Up Goat is hard to see, but it’s around the corner, on the north side of the building, on Adams Mill Road).

I pulled into the parking lot, which had a bunch of towing signs on the wall, and began to turn around and leave before seeing an attendant. “How much is parking?” I asked. “Twenty dollars,” he replied. “Nah, that’s too much,” I said, and he answered, “How long will you be here?” I said “About seventy-five minutes,” and he said, “You can park for ten dollars.” It was Tuesday night at 9 PM, and even in Adams Morgan I knew I’d find a space, so I politely declined and went on my way. Take note: the “twenty-dollar” parking charge might be negotiable.

I walked into a full Tail Up Goat, and while the main restaurant on the other side of the divider was full, there were two seats available facing the wall on the side counter near the bar, and I nabbed one of them (I hate seats like these, because the wall is right in front of you – but they’re designed to be a holding area). Unfortunately, I sat there for about five minutes without being waited on (was I supposed to walk up to the bar?) Anyway, two bar seats opened up a few minutes later, and I looked at the hostess, inquisitively – she nodded her head, I took one of them, and from that point forward, service was delightful.

You’ll be initially taken back by the price of beverages here – they’re expensive, and there’s no getting around it. I desperately searched for something in the single-digits before stumbling across something I’d never seen before: a Grapefruit Radler ($7 for a 16-ounce can) by Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg, Austria. And boy am I glad I did, because not only was it delicious, but it went perfectly with my entire meal. It was essentially a beer mixed with grapefruit juice, about half-and-half I think, and is less than 3.2% alcohol – that was fine by me, and you’ll be surprised at how good this is (it’s not overly sweet, which makes it something of a mead-like beverage).

Tail Up Goat has three “bread courses” which *start* at $10 each. ‘This had better be some pretty good bread,’ I thought to myself, before asking, and finding out that they were essentially open-faced sandwiches; not just bread (this is not clear from the menu, so don’t let it scare you away). I began my dinner with a Brown Rice Bread ($10) with fermented turnips, yogurt, and hazelnut picada, and I knew right away that I was in new culinary territory with Tail Up Goat – I’d never had anything like this in my life: An absolutely delicious wedge of bread, cut in half, about the length and width of a woman’s forearm from elbow to wrist, and almost an inch thick – slathered with these wonderful vegetarian toppings which were unlike anything I’d ever eaten. The bread was homemade and pretty-much perfect – calling for a knife-and-fork cut – and the flavors from the toppings knit together in a way that defined synergy – the sum was greater than the parts (even though the parts were wonderful), and this was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten lately (I also hadn’t eaten in well over twelve hours, so I was starving).

I didn’t feel any need to change from my Grapefruit Radler for the duration of the meal, and continued with a small main course – a pasta dish – Maltagliati ($17), wide, sheet-like pasta, house-made, with fermented honey sausage, pea shoots, and a buttery or semi-creamy sauce that brought it all together. I was surprised at the intensity of the pea shoots, because there weren’t *that* many of them, but that’s what quality produce will do for you, and even though there wasn’t much sausage, that, too, permeated the dish – the sauce was the vehicle for all the flavors to co-mingle, and it was like a party of complimentary tastes, the pasta itself lending texture and substance. Although not a huge dish, the quantity rested in the quality.

About halfway through my pasta, I asked my kindly bartender if I could order something to go – I wanted to try some more of their menu, but my tank was getting full. Unfortunately, they don’t do carryout (unless you have leftovers on your plate), and it’s probably for the best. So I decided to stuff myself, and ordered a Mortadella Sammy ($6), which immediately got my bartender’s approval – she said that’s a dish where nearly everything is made in-house. The wonderful, brioche-like roll (this is essentially one single slider), house-made mortadella, fermented fennel, and preserved-lemon aïoli – I could have *sworn* there was cheese in this sandwich, but the menu says otherwise – *something* lends an intense flavor and binds it together, probably the fermented fennel.

My bartender asked me if I wanted to see the dessert menu. “See it, yes,” I said, “but *only* see it, because I’m stuffed.” Oh, it hurt to pass on the Budino, but that’s what next-time’s are for.

I’ve never had food like I had at Tail Up Goat, and I’m not even sure how to classify it – when I asked my bartender, she said that it couldn’t be pinned down to a single country, and she’s right. ‘It’s sort of Mediterranean,’ she said (or something like that), and I can see that, but I can also *not* see that. For now, I’m calling it “Modern Alpine” (a term I just made up because I can’t think of another) as well as “Modern Mediterranean” which doesn’t feel quite right – although I’ve been to Scandinavia, and even had dinner at the Michelin two-star Bagatelle in 2000, which was the only Michelin two-star restaurant in all of Norway until 2012, this was nothing like that, as Bagatelle was much more traditional and very seafood-oriented (the Porgy for Two caught my eye at Tail up Goat, and is something I plan on trying one of these days). However, there’s *something* about Tail Up Goat that gives a Scandinavian “feeling,” although I don’t know why – it’s kind of how I picture the modern-Scandinavian movement led by Noma, but I really don’t know much about that movement or its cuisine, and quite honestly, I really don’t know why I think that – perhaps it’s because I can’t think of anything else!

Needless to say, Tail Up Goat is ranked *strongly* in Italic, and is now officially christened as the #1 restaurant in Adams Morgan. Cedric, if you were at Mintwood Place full-time, it might be a different story, but I associate you now with Convivial, and in my mind, it’s essentially impossible for a chef to play ball at this level in two different restaurants, especially if they’re in different neighborhoods. Although you may not agree with me, I hope you understand. And for those who are curious, I would have had Convivial instead of The Dabney in the James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant – regardless, I have it ranked as the #1 restaurant in Shaw, which is exactly where it belongs.

Although there is some painful mediocrity in the DC area of late, at the top level, life is awfully good right now, and Tail Up Goat is right up there. This is an important opening, and I predict great things for Tail Up Goat – congratulations to all who are involved with this fine restaurant which doesn’t even blink when it comes to using fermentation, mild sweetness, and texture as integral parts of its cuisine.

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Trummer’s on Main, Clifton

(Click here for the Jun 5, 2011 Review)

Trummer’s on Main is still the beautiful building it was, and the last few miles of the drive down Chapel Road are as nice as any in the area. The bar itself remains absolutely stunning, and was nearly empty on a Sunday night, even though the parking lot was full and upstairs was undoubtedly packed.

My bartender has been at Trummer’s for quite awhile, but he’s not going to be there much longer, as he’ll be seeking a new lot in life within the next couple of weeks – and I wish him the absolute best in his journey. I ended my drive out to Clifton with an Elliot Ness Amber Lager ($6) by Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland – I love this beer, and whenever I travel to the midwest, I keep an eye out for offerings by Great Lakes Brewing Company. Although Trummer’s is best known for their cocktails, they have a few really nice beers on their menu as well, and for some reason, I don’t seem to mind paying triple-retail for a $6 beer as much as I mind paying triple-retail for a glass of wine, or $12 for a cocktail (Trummer’s excellent cocktails, which I’ve enjoyed in the past, are $12).

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Under Chef Austin Fausett, the menu at Trummer’s has really changed, and I ordered two dishes which sounded interesting to me – note that these are from the regular Dinner Menu, and not from the Bar Menu. I began with the Sweetbread & Chorizo ($15) appetizer with chimichuri mayo and plantains. I don’t like taking pictures of dishes, but it would have been much easier to simply show you what this looked like with a photo. It came out kabob-style, in a line, alternating sweetbread, chorizo, plantain, sweetbread, chorizo, plantain, etc., the entire line fixed to the dish by a very thin scraping of chimichuri mayo underneath. Off to the side, there were also three dots of the chimichuri mayo in case you wanted a tiny amount of extra dunking. The sweetbreads were lightly breaded and seemingly deep-fried, but were not hot when they arrived, the chorizo was like no chorizo I’ve ever eaten, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was chorizo – it was also seemingly lightly breaded and deep-fried, but I’m not quite sure how it was cooked. Nevertheless, it had excellent flavors, and was much more mild than what I was expecting, so it didn’t overwhelm the sweetbreads. The crispy slices of plaintain served as separators as much as anything, and if you ate from one-side-to-the-other (as I suspect most people do), it provides a textural crunch in one-third of the bites – the plantains were mild, and not unlike what you’d buy in a health-food store. Everything was bite-sized, although I cut each of my meats in two to make the dish last longer. The kabob-like line itself was perhaps eight inches long, so there wasn’t a huge amount of food here. The flavors didn’t really “mesh” so much as they “didn’t clash,” and the temperature was just not hot enough to make this a great dish – it *must* have been fried earlier, although I can’t say for sure. The one thing missing from this dish, as trite as it may sound, was love – this was just a presentation of food, and while both meats were quite good, cut properly, and seasoned well, it just didn’t integrate, and the only way I’ll remember it a year from now is to refer back to this note.

With my main course I got a glass of the NV Trummer’s House Label Cabernet Sauvignon ($10), which was a couple dollars less expensive than the name wines. This came from Barboursville, Virginia, and my bartender confirmed that it came from Barboursville Vineyards. A Chardonnay is also on offer for $8, and when I asked my bartender how the wine was, he said it was light, done in stainless steel instead of oak (“Buddy, you’re talking to me like I’m your best friend!”) My guess is that since it’s non-vintage, Barboursville sells off young-vines wine, and wouldn’t hesitate to marry different vintages in one cuvée, which is fine. What isn’t fine is that the wine was resting atop the counter of the bar, and was, simply put, one of the warmest red wines I have ever been served in a restaurant – and that’s saying something. My guess is somewhere in the mid-70’s – the room itself felt perfectly comfortable, but it must have been slightly hotter behind the bar because this was absolutely warmer than 72 degrees. It ruined an otherwise “pleasant” table wine, which has seen very little bottle age, and was dominated by fruit-forward flavors, but not astringent tannins and (blessedly) no oak. Nevertheless, the wine was ruined, and it was poured right when my entrée arrived, so there was none of this “Could you stick it in the freezer for ten minutes?” tactic available to use – I choked it down, but Trummer’s should have paid *me* ten dollars to drink this otherwise-pleasant quaffer.

I ordered the House Cabernet because I asked my bartender how well he knew the menu (“Fairly well”), and asked his opinion between the Cheshire Pork Loin Wrapped in Mustard Greens and the Local Angus Beef Flank Steak ($29) with dandelion greens, olive yogurt, asparagus, and lemon-anchovy butter – he said hands-down the Steak, explaining that it was really special. I said “A medium-rare flank steak sounds pretty good to me right about now,” and he replied, “Yes, they’re all medium-rare.” *CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!* “Is it cooked sous-vide, then seared?” I asked. “No, it’s seared first, then cooked sous-vide for three-and-a-half hours,” he replied. Given that we just had a dust-up about sous-vide cooking here, I went with the steak, yet again preparing to be open-minded.

This was an unusually presented flank steak (I’m used to a big, long thing flopping off the plate; this was sliced, with a little of the butter melting atop, the greens spread throughout, and the yogurt resting at the base of the plate). Sigh, let’s get this out of the way. First of all, it wasn’t medium-rare, it was – at best – medium, but closer to medium-well in terms of color. The texture of the steak was all wrong – despite being long cooked, it was both tough and flavorless, bordering on being dry. I’m not familiar with searing steaks *before* giving them a bath, but you should consider this a cautionary tale should you ever hear of such a thing again. It wasn’t “bad,” mind you, and this is *exactly* why I think sous-vide is such a revolutionary technique for places like jails or hospitals who can keep their costs down by not having chefs – you can put out a decent-tasting plate of food that even a fool couldn’t foul up, but the upper-limits of the quality aren’t very upper. I finished the dish – it was fine – but I’ll never order it again, that’s for sure. Twenty-nine dollars for this plate of food? No thank you.

I hadn’t eaten all day, and had worked out, so I knew I’d be hungry later if I didn’t drink eat something else. I asked my bartender what types of Bourbon they had, and he pointed out the list on the dessert menu. I noticed a Wild Turkey for $8, and just to make sure, I asked if it was the 101 (it was) – let me tell you something, folks, there’s *nothing wrong* with Wild Turkey 101, and it’s often better and cheaper than most bourbons on a restaurant list. As a daily-drinking Bourbon, I’ll take this anytime, and you should file that away for future reference. Once again, I asked my bartender about recommendations, this time for dessert, and he said, without hesitation, the beignets. “Stefan and Victoria scoured New Orleans, trying every beignet they could find,” he said, so I ordered the Cinnamon Sugar Beignets ($12), which were served freshly fried, and with a side-cup of piping-hot chocolate and whipped cream for dipping. My plate consisted of five very large beignets, each the size of a plum – now granted, these were not cheap, but they were delicious, and so massive that I ended up eating two, drinking the final gulp of hot chocolate, and taking three home wrapped in a paper napkin to have with my coffee the next morning (and it was a good call, too). I can gladly recommend that you order these if you come here – they really are good.

Trummer’s on Main is maintained in Italic, and if you’re in the Clifton area, is worth a visit, but do not order blindly – ask questions, and if you don’t like what you hear, keep asking. It’s a wonderful institution that has seen better days in the kitchen, but it remains very good in the grand scheme of things. Will I have cravings to hop in the car and drive out to Clifton? No, but I wouldn’t avoid it, either. Over the years, I’ve been here probably between five and ten times, and I will be back in the future to see what they’re up to. I have this little voice in the back of my head telling me the chef is better than what I experienced on this Sunday evening.

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Requin, Pop-Up, Mosaic District

This is the first time, and perhaps the last time, I review a pop-up restaurant – there are just too many variables at play that I’m unfamiliar with. The dinnerware, for example. How am I supposed to evaluate this? I really have no idea, because I just have no experience with pop-ups and the problems that accompany them. One pop-up might have stumbled upon some fantastic dinnerware, and another might be saving their money for their “real” restaurant – there’s no way for me to know.

I met a friend at Requin, and our eager server – Great American Restaurant Group-trained – was anxious to cue in on our movements. He rushed over, for example, when we looked up from our menus – it had a certain degree of charm, but also a certain robotic component to it. Regardless, he was aiming to please, and I didn’t wait long at all for my Founder’s Breakfast Stout ($8), cheerfully poured into my glass for me. Our enthusiastic server having taken a fair amount of time to explain the three sections of the menu to us, we were left with no doubt that the first section was hors d’oeuvres, the second section was appetizers, and the third section was dishes for two people to share (and I mean right down to the average number of bites of food per person), and that people generally leave happiest if they order a couple small plates, and split an order for two. Note that the large portions were indeed large, but that you’ll be committing quite a bit of money to them, at least in Merrifield terms, so make sure at least two people really want what you order:

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There are certain things this restaurant does very well, and there are also several things this restaurant does catastrophically wrong. One of which I’ll merely touch on, because I understand this is supposed to be a temporary restaurant (but it has been open nearly four months now): It’s perfectly fine to use “Franglais” on your menu, mixing French and English, but *please* pay someone twenty dollars to proofread the menu, which has numerous errors in spelling, grammar, tense agreement, and as a result, comes across as somewhat slapdash. If you’re going to throw in some French, by all means do, but get it right, and definitely don’t let this very fixable problem carry over into the permanent space. For example, there is *no such thing* as <<petites plâques>> on a restaurant menu, and your server spoke the term as well – it does not exist in restaurant parlance.

We decided to go with our server’s advice, and get two appetizers and a large dish to share, starting with Lobster Ravioli ($18) with potato, leek, and spinach, and Grilled Swordfish ($15) with harissa, beluga lentil[s], and radicchio. These dishes were essentially served at the same time, and my first bite was of half a ravioli – “Hmm, Jennifer’s pulling a Yannick Cam,” I said to myself, noticing that the dish was served pretty much at room temperature, maybe slightly warmer. There were a total of five ravioli, in a sauce very much like a New England Clam Chowder thickened with potato, and temperature aside, it was quite good (my dining partner proclaimed it her favorite dish of the evening). I then took a bit of the lentils, saying to myself, “This is cold.” Not room temperature, but cold – the tiny little chunks of swordfish were slightly warm, but the lentil salad accompanying them was cold – clearly intentional, but it took us off-guard, and it would have been nice to know this in advance if it wasn’t a mistake.

Our dishes were served on two medium-sized serving dishes, while our “plates” were tiny little bread plates, square, perhaps 5-by-5 inches at most. Speaking of which, we got no bread, and there was a critical sauce component with the ravioli, as well as the lentil salad, so when our server came over and asked us if we needed anything, I asked for some bread. He offered me some “crostini for $2, or some garlic bread for $3.” I didn’t need garlic bread; merely something to soak up the sauce with, so I ordered the crostini, not realizing that it would be served in the most literal of terms: we got a basket with five tiny, thin slices of baguette that had been grilled or toasted into the actual meaning of crostini: crust. They were the consistency of croutons, and we had as much chance of swabbing up our sauce as we would have had with a little dish of saltine crackers. Well, they served adequately as food-pushers for the lentil salad, but were otherwise extremely disappointing, and they also tell me not to order the crostini-based small plates here, which is one of the “small plates” they offer. Even though crostini are traditionally hard and crunchy, when you order them in this town, you’re more often than not going to get something more like bruschetta – grilled, but not to complete crunchiness – they serve no purpose at all, unless you were to order a bowl of soup and immerse them completely. Still, the swordfish dish was quite good as well, so both dishes had very good flavors, and some potential.

Out came the chicken on a huge serving platter. Our plates were changed (we got new little square bread plates), but our silverware wasn’t – we were left with the same dirty silverware we’d used for our first courses (yes, I’m sure our server would have happily brought us new knives and forks, but at these prices, you don’t ask for such things – they’re just supposed to happen). Both my dining companion and I were intrigued by the chicken, so I asked our server early on how long it would take to roast. “We can have it whenever you want,” he said. At Kinship, for example, the order must be placed 80 minutes before the chicken is served, because that’s how long it takes them to roast it. Here, our server said he could have it right after we finished our appetizers.

“It’s cooked sous-vide then,” I said.

“Yes.”

“And finished in the oven.”

“That’s right.”

$39 for pre-cooked chicken. Well, at least it was very good chicken, cut into four pieces (white-dark-white-dark), and served with a large serving cup of pommes purées (“potatoes with butter and cream,” our server said; “cream with potatoes and butter,” I thought to myself, wondering how many calories were in this), and a wonderful side of root vegetables – red beets, golden beets, carrots – that was as beautiful as it was delicious. And to top everything off, a pitcher of truffle jus which we decided to keep and add ourselves. We clumsily put a piece of the white-meat chicken on our plate, which took up about two-thirds of the space, ladled some pommes purées next to it, using it as a dipping sauce because there was no other choice due to space constraints, and poured a bit – just a bit – of the truffled jus atop things – there was only room for a couple tablespoons-worth because the plates were so ridiculously small, that it would have gone over-the-edge. The crostini sat there, being used occasionally to push a falling item back onto the plate. Well, the chicken might have been cooked sous-vide before being finished in the oven, but it was still delicious roast chicken, brined for 24 hours before being cooked, and moist throughout – including the thickest portion of the breast meat.

All-in for two, with two beers, no dessert, two apps, one entrée for two, tax, and tip: $113.40.

So flavor-wise, we batted three-for-three at Requin (which means “shark” in French). It was the little things – the menu, the bread, the temperature, the dinnerware – that ratcheted this meal down a few notches, and if you go, make *sure* you bring up these four things *before* you order: get the garlic bread, not the crostini; make sure they know you want the items hot (if you do); ask for large dinner plates; and ask that your silverware be changed in-between courses. If you do these four things, and order the exact same items we did, you’ll come away from your meal happy enough. This restaurant needs to be secret-shopped, and I hope they take this review as a well-meaning secret shop, because that’s kind of what it is. If they listen to what I’m advising them here, they’ll make a lot more customers happy, because it’s the little things that first-time chefs sometimes just don’t see, but people like me see day-in and day-out. I hope Requin does well – they have the potential to do so.

The food at Requin tasted very good; it’s all the other little things that worry me, such as them operating in the freshly vacated Gypsy Soul space, and still appearing to be taking short-cuts. Time will tell, I suppose. They’re hiring right now, so who knows what the future will bring in Southwest DC.

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Takumi, Falls Church

(Click here for the Dec 17, 2015 Review)

I sat at the bar for lunch a week ago and, in effect, had an omakase:  We told Chef Yu two or three things we wanted, and asked him to supplement with whatever was good that day (but not the really pricey o-toro).  At ten pieces, we’d had enough:  bronzino, medai, hamachi belly, another hamachi of some sort, char, three types of salmon, walu, aji; approximately $37 or so — not cheap for lunch, but in NYC it would’ve been twice that.

I sat at the bar of Takumi Sushi Bistro the other evening, and began my evening with an Echigo Premium Red Ale ($8 for 11 ounces) from Niigata, Japan. I *love* this beer, and generally order it whenever I see it – as you know, I prefer a malt profile to a hoppy one, and Echigo Premium Red Ale is right up my alley – if only it wasn’t so expensive. Does anyone know where to find this at retail?

The beer went delightfully with the Sushi Fresh Cuts of the Day ($40), which included 10 pieces of superior nigiri, and 1 maki roll. In this case, there were 2 pieces each of madai, hamachi suna-zuri, shima-aji, sake harasu (brushed)and o-toro, one raw, the second lightly seared with a handheld torch. The maki was the exact roll you see here on the top-left (I’m writing this post entirely from memory, and don’t remember the exact prep, but it was a worthy follower to the nigiri).

I eat sushi more slowly than I’m supposed to, but nevertheless, this was a quick excursion – expensive, and worth it. Takumi remains the best sushi bar in Northern Virginia, and I don’t even know what’s close.

 

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Drift on 7th, Shaw

You folks may have noticed that I’ve taken a bit of time off from writing reviews – I have a lot of personal items on my plate (details forthcoming at some point), and writing reviews takes quite a bit out of me. I’ve still been dining out every meal (I mean, I need to eat, and I don’t enjoy cooking and doing dishes), but writing day-in and day-out really takes its toll on me, and I’d rather not write at all than write poorly.

But Sunday evening, I told Ferhat Yalcin, owner of Drift on 7th (NB – you temporarily need to sign in to see DC threads), that I would stop by. I needed to discuss something with him, and he told me that Drift was open until 11 PM, so I didn’t get in there until around 9:30 PM – had I known that the entire Shaw area was going to be a ghost town on Sunday evening, and that I’d be walking into a completely empty restaurant with several of the staff waiting for me to show up, well, suffice it to say that I felt rude and selfish having this happen, but I just had no idea – Ferhat wanted to show me the hospitality and cordiality that he is justifiably recognized for, even if it meant having some of his staff work late on an empty Sunday night just for my behalf. I should go ahead and issue a disclaimer here: Although I have never socialized with Ferhat, or spent any time with him outside of a restaurant situation, I have still gotten to know him fairly well – primarily from Corduroy – and consider him a personal friend for whom I would bend over backwards. My one requirement for eating at Drift was that I would not accept anything complimentary – this is his livelihood, and I would be a fraud as a critic if I took anything for free. Regardless, you should read this review with our collegiality in mind, and take it with a grain of salt if you wish.

I had gone primarily to talk with Ferhat, but also wanted to try his restaurant for the first time, and I am *so* glad I did. When the great cook Julien Shapiro was heading the kitchen at Eat the Rich, I went out on a limb and proclaimed them the best pure seafood restaurant in the DC area (this is before Fiola Mare had become a juggernaut). However, Julien is gone now, and although I haven’t been to BlackSalt in over a year now (I had previously given them that distinction), I must now say that Drift on 7th is now my choice as “Best Casual Seafood Restaurant in the Washington, DC Area.”

Taking a seat at the kitchen bar (what used to be FishNook), I chatted with Ferhat about things while enjoying a Tavern Ale ($7) from AleWerks Brewing Company in Williamsburg, VA. I asked him what dishes he was most proud of, and he told me he’d appreciate a critic’s opinion on his Bouillabaisse ($18), a deep, rich, pot-heated fish stock with Rockfish, Hake, four beautiful PEI Mussels, Gulf Shrimp, Saffron, and a freshly grilled piece of sourdough to stick in the bottom of the bowl, letting it get saturated with the broth.

“Oh, you’re giving me Roux, too,” I said.

“It’s not Roux; it’s Sriracha Aiöli,” Ferhat replied. Works with me!

This was a fisherman’s stew, but done in a bouillabaisse style, and was absolutely delicious because the fish stock was already deeply saturated with flavor from fish bones, carcasses, etc., and the “fish fish” was added at the last minute so it was cooked just enough to make it warm, while at the same time retaining a sashimi-like quality – the depth of the broth and the freshness of the fish made this dish a bargain at $18, and I commented that I would have happily paid $24.95 for it, and not batted an eye. Take away the Roux and the bread, and you have yourself a large, filling bowl of fish stew that probably had only about 500 calories.

Before the Bouillabaisse, however, I enjoyed an order of Seared Sardines ($14), two *gigantic* sardines – each the size of my hand – with house-made black olive tapenade and that same grilled sourdough bread that I had with my stew (this may not normally be the case – a half-slice clung to the arm of my wool sweater, and was hurled to the ground after parting ways with the thread to which it clung, so Ferhat made me another piece).

Since this was my first visit to Drift on 7th, I wanted to try more of the menu, but it was after 11 PM, the staff had been there all night, and I wanted to let them get home, so I ordered a couple things to go so I could get a better sampling, and had them the next day.

New England Fish Chowder ($7) was ridiculously good, and right now it gets my vote for Best New England Chowder in the Washington, DC Area. I also want to add that I’m a sucker for New England Clam Chowder – I adore it – and that I think of it like … um … pizza: Bad pizza is better than no pizza at all. The whitefish (hake, rockfish) were tightly packed raw, and I was instructed to heat the chowder, and add the fish at the last minute, and I must say, I did a yeoman’s job in fixing this because it was perfect. If you like this type of chowder, get it here. At $7, you’ll be thanking me, I promise. In full disclosure, Ferhat did tell me that he was going to give me a little extra soup, and it was in a plastic container, so I don’t know how this is normally plated – but there was no faking the flavors, or the freshness of the fish.

Lobster Bisque ($7.50) with tomato, saffron, and basil oil in the stock – none of which seemed prominent – was a page right out of Tom Power’s cookbook. Even a small portion was so rich that it was enough for a light lunch without any bread, or any other accompaniment. It wasn’t exactly like you see at Corduroy, but it was clearly influenced by Power, even though Ferhat may say otherwise.

I don’t normally include photographs, but because the restaurant was empty, and because it is so vastly different than Fishnet, I’m going to include pictures of the interior, the sardines, and – thanks to my forgetfulness – the last half of my Bouillabaisse, after I had stirred in the aiöli and eaten nearly all the fish. It comes out with a clear fish stock, and you mix in your own aiöli – what you see here is still wonderful, but also represents the second half of the dish (you’ll see what I mean when you order it, and you *should* order it).

Drift on 7th is a winning restaurant, and the only thing that will prevent it from succeeding is if it doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. I’ve been absent from the critic scene for over six weeks, and this wonderful seafood restaurant – which fits right in with the other restaurants on the block – was enough to inspire me to get back into writing. I can honestly say that if this was anywhere near my neighborhood, I would eat here two, maybe three, times a week – even living where I live, I plan on being a regular customer here.

DriftInteriorDriftSardinesDriftBouillabaisse

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ABC Canteen, Fairfax

(For the Dec 4, 2015 Review, click here.)

Having had such wonderful tamales on my previous visit to ABC Canteen, I made a return visit for lunch to explore in more depth. At the very top of their menu is the Fish & Chips ($7.95), three large strips of cod, with a sturdy, tempura-like batter having a pale, golden hue that’s optimal for flavor, texture, insulation, and handling – it’s easy to pick these cod strips up and dunk them in the house-made tartar sauce without loss of integrity. They also came with some thin-cut, fairly typical frozen french fries that I thought had one shake of salt too many – I would urge less exuberance with the salt-shaker, and allow the diners to self-adjust as needed. If you like fish & chips, you’ll enjoy this fish and tartar sauce, while being left wishing for more distinctive chips. A Fountain Soft Drink ($1.85) allows for unlimited refills (depending on the time of day, and my current need for caffeine and/or sugar, I auto-adjust the ratio of Diet Coke to regular Coke – almost always, I stick with Diet Coke, but on this day I cheated by adding a couple ounces of high-test for a cheap, temporary fructose buzz.

The Tamales ($2.50) are still chicken or pork, and I got four of them to go – three chicken, and one pork – and I’m not sure why I was surprised to open the container only to be stared down by four unadorned corn husks. I mean, what else was I expecting? The corn husks being the perfect protector, I nibbled my way through this order, making it last over the course of two days. Without any adornment, the tamales might be (might be) a touch dry, so if you get them to go, make sure to get a few containers of sauce to add – I did this, and was glad I did. The tamales remain terrific, and are reason enough to frequent ABC Canteen.

On the following day, I got a text message from my young dining companion asking me if I wanted to have lunch. I knew just the place, not far at all from Woodson High School and his home turf: ABC Canteen – straight down Pickett Road, left on Lee Highway, and you’re there. On my first two visits, I had flown over with drones on reconnaissance missions; now, I had the infantry and strong air support backing me, and the two of us carpet-bombed the menu. I started with another Diet Coke ($1.80), because you need to cut corners where they’re expendable, and I certainly don’t need empty calories from soft drinks.

Chicken Wings ($10.50 for 12): Get them. We had a choice of BBQ or Buffalo sauce (Buffalo), and blue cheese or ranch dipping sauce (ranch) – Matt adores chicken wings (he’s 18), and we both really liked these – it hurt for me to show restraint, but I saw how much he was enjoying them, so I let him have the lion’s share. There seemed to be an even mix of wings and drumettes in the order – I suspect if you prefer one over the other, all you’d need to do is ask, but I don’t know this for a fact.

Both of us got a Steak Mojo Sandwich ($7.50), a surprisingly elegant sub, smaller than a foot-long, featuring much higher-quality steak than is the norm (this was actual steak; not Steak-Umms), a light touch of Monterey Jack, Sriracha mayo (faux-Mojo sauce), lettuce, and tomato, all neatly served on a relatively short, flat, toasted sub roll – this was not a sloppy sandwich at all, and wasn’t the type of gooey, saucy steak-and-cheese that leaves you feeling guilty for having downed.

Perhaps the highlight of the meal was a justifiably vaunted, highly touted order of Hush Puppies ($2.50), which were delicious for reasons I wasn’t expecting: the flour inside was pale, and there were no kernels of corn; the batter and the fry-job were both perfect, and the texture, consistency, and halbtrocken palate presence were absolutely appropriate, and these were a perfect accompaniment to our sandwiches.

Note that there are combos on the menu which include soft drinks – at the time of this writing, I have no idea whether or not I ordered them or got the discounts (I just now noticed, and don’t much care, but thought it was worth a mention).

ABC Canteen is strongly maintained in Italic and remains recommended – it’s an independent restaurant worth your time and effort: The food here is good, the restaurant is squeaky clean, and the service is extremely friendly and thoughtful. I again want to stress that this is very, very close to the intersection of I-66 and Nutley Street.

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