Posto, 14UP

DonRocks, on 22 Jan 2015 – 5:18 PM, said:

Chef-Owner Massimo Fabbri, who has been at Tosca since it opened, is now cooking full-time at Posto, and for the first time in its history – since it opened over six years ago – Posto is now rated in Italics in the Dining Guide. Taking over as Chef de Cuisine at Tosca will be Matteo Venini, who began as a pastry chef, and clawed his way to the top.

Like Venini, Fabbri started out as a line cook working with Cesare Lanfranconi, worked his way up to Sous Chef, and then to Chef de Cuisine at Tosca where he was making arguably the greatest Italian Food, and certainly the greatest pastas, in the area. Note that this is before the return of Roberto Donna, and the Italian Renaissance in general.

However, his presence as the full-time Chef de Cuisine at Posto is a game-changer, and not only have they been raised to Italic, but they’ve moved up numerous slots in the 14UP neighborhood. It can not be overstated how important of a change this is.

eatruneat, on 23 Oct 2015 – 5:41 PM, said:

Has anyone eaten at Posto recently? Trying to decide between Posto and Red Hen for a pre-marathon dinner. While Red Hen would probably be the better overall experience, I won’t be indulging much with 26.2 miles of running waiting for me in the morning.

Almost a year ago, I quietly moved Posto up in the rankings in the 14UP neighborhood in the DC Dining Guide. Between that, and some less-than-splendid meals at a couple other previously highly ranked 14UP restaurants, Posto had crept up to #2, behind Etto, while others – who are still living off their old reputations – slipped down.

Last night, I went to a very empty Posto on the day before Thanksgiving, taking a seat at the bar in an empty restaurant around 6 PM – I went so far as to ask the host if they were open, and to ask my wonderful bartender (more on that in a bit) if there were some “easy” dishes I should be ordering, given that it’s a holiday, and that surely people were going to be on vacation. He confidently replied that, no, the kitchen is fully staffed, and the entire menu can be ordered with confidence.

It’s Happy Hour at Posto from 5:30-7PM during the week, and while some items are only a dollar off, others are substantially discounted. I unwound with a Negroni ($7 at Happy Hour) with equal parts Tanqueray Gin, Dolin Rouge Vermouth, and Campari – it was a beautifully made Negroni, served up and with an orange-peel, and put the happy in happy hour, as it packed something of a punch. Incidentally, my bartender showed his merits later on, when a gentleman to my left ordered a Vesper, and asked the bartender if he knew it (he said no, in his thick Italian accent). Apparently, this gentleman to my left was something of a Vesper connoisseur, as he rattled off the ingredients – one time only, in their proportions, complete with mixing directions (shaken, served in a martini glass) – about two minutes later, out comes his Vesper which he said was amazing, especially given that this was the bartender’s first-ever exposure to the drink. This bartender was good.

From the Happy Hour menu, I ordered the Salmone Bruschette ($5, normally $9) with house-smoked salmon, mascarpone, dill, and a little salt and olive oil, and from the regular menu, the Fettucini Carbonara ($20). I don’t have the menu with me, so I can’t list all the ingredients, but it was a classic carbonara presentation – this is a dish I used to dismiss until I was enlightened to just how difficult it is to execute, and since then, I order it whenever I can.

Both items were extraordinary, with the Bruschette – at $5 – being absolute charity, as there were two gigantic portions, and my only complaint with the carbonara being that there may have been a little *too* much Pancetta (of course, I always had the option to let it sit there, in the bottom of the bowl, and I chose not to exercise it).

In the middle of my Bruschette, Chef Fabbri came out, looking dapper in dress-casual clothing, and ordered a well-earned drink. He and the bartender were speaking a mile a minute in Italian. At some point, when the bartender walked away, I mentioned that there was *no way* I could understand them, despite being fluent in French and trying to learn Spanish. That was my way of saying hello to Massimo without trying to appear like I was currying favor. We talked for awhile, and then he headed back into the kitchen to prepare for some incoming diners – we shook hands, and introduced ourselves. We’ve talked and written in the past, but we’d never actually met; we didn’t say our last names, but I knew very well who he was. I should also add that he did cook or assemble either of my dishes, so at least one other person working the kitchen was doing a bang-up job last night.

Anyway, in the middle of my Bruschette, I switched to a glass of Soave ($12), a very generous pour, well-worth the price, served in excellent stemware at the proper temperature. I was in the middle of an outstanding dinner.

And then afterwards, I was pretty darned full, but asked to look at the dessert menu, and turned my attention back to the second half of my Negroni. Normally, I’d order some sorbet, or something light at this point in the meal (I’m also somewhat notorious for ordering dessert to *start* a meal – why should it be last just because it’s sweet?)

It was the night before Thanksgiving, and all through my house, not a creature would be stirring, not even my little louse (whom I took back to his mom’s earlier in the day). So I said “to heck with it,” and drank dessert with a glass of Zenata Amarone Grappa ($13), one of Posto’s top-of-the-line offerings – getting through a glass of grappa, for me, is like getting through a glass of drain cleaner. I *like* it, but there’s no denying that both grappa and eau-de-vie smell and taste like hospital disinfectant – I guess you could call it an “acquired taste.”

So I sat there over the next fifteen minutes or so, and enjoyed my digestif, being regaled by watching and chatting with the bartender, who, inexplicably, is the gentleman in this video. I can’t explain it any more than you can, but if you go to Posto – and you *should* go to Posto – and he’s working the bar, then you’re in good hands.

After last night, Posto has assumed the #1 position in 14UP in the DC Dining Guide. I haven’t had a meal like this on 14th Street all year. Nowhere else will you hear Posto being in the discussion as “best restaurant on 14th Street” (think about it for a moment), but I’m telling you that it is absolutely in the running. Fabbri’s permanent placement there has raised it up to the top, and these folks should be very proud of what they’ve done – it was never like this when it first opened.

I should mention, in fairness, that I saw a pizza being brought out, and from what I gleaned, Etto can rest comfortably on that front.

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Earl’s Sandwiches, Ballston

(See the Feb 13, 2012 Minibite here.)

FWIW, I think the Angry Catfish Po’ Boy on the March specials list is a strong offering.

That Angry Catfish Po’ Boy was on the sandwich sign outdoors last night – it might only be running through Nov 30, so if you want it, I would recommend getting it soon.

My young dining companion came over last night  after being at college for three months . He was tired, hungry, frazzled from rush hour traffic, and needed something casual, quick, and good: Earl’s Sandwiches to the rescue.

We drove to the Ballston location, parked right in front, and only one group was in front of us, so the wait was negligible. The Tuesday-night special was a half-price Pork and Fries Sandwich with the purchase of any beer, so we essentially got two-for-one ($8.99), and I unselfishly rescued Matt from drinking alcohol by taking his beer, a bottle of Allagash White ($5.99, ouch) which, quite honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with – it has good flavor, and didn’t come across as a mass-produced product at all – Allagash used to be a microbrew (and still may be, technically), but it’s a definitely a mass-produced product at this point; the beer was perfectly fine, and I’d order it again if I saw it.

The Pork and Fries Sandwich was served Primanti Bros.-style in that the fries were inside the sandwich. I don’t care much for this type of pile-on, as it’s usually just too much glop, especially with the other ingredients: roasted pork loin, chipotle mayonnaise, french fries, roasted red peppers, sweet pickle chips, and chopped onions on a large, sub-style grilled ciabatta roll.

Well, although this wasn’t a “dainty” sandwich, it managed to carry its weight deftly, and with some finesse – at no time did I feel like I was eating a grease-bomb. But that’s Earl’s Sandwiches, coming to the rescue – if this place was in downtown DC, it would be twice as popular as it is, and despite the openings of some worthy competitors, Earl’s is still is at-or-near the top of the area’s sandwich shops.

More importantly, I got a clarinet concert when I got home.

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Ichiban, McLean

I hadn’t been to the McLean Ichiban in awhile, and I wanted to go and give them my support today – if you scroll up, you’ll see they were closed for six weeks (a remarkably *short* six weeks) after a car ran through the front of their restaurant, causing front wall damage.

Also, if you go here, you’ll notice that there appear to be at least three independent Ichiban’s in the DC area.

Sitting at the sushi bar for a late lunch, I got a cup of hot tea (gratis), and didn’t see anything that really excited me, so I ordered a couple of rolls, thinking I’d at least keep it on the healthy end.

However, I looked over to my right, and noticed a chalkboard, and on it was written Pork Ramen ($12). Given the ramen craze in this town of late? I felt it was my *duty* to try it. I’m glad I had a book, because it was a good ten minutes before it arrived (which is perfectly reasonable, but I’m still glad I had a book).

Although one person has described it as looking like  “dirty dish water,” I can assure everyone it was a perfectly decent bowl of ramen, with two large pieces of pork – it was on the bland side, but came with some chili-sesame oil (I can’t remember the brand, but it looked like a tiny jar of iodine drops) – anyway, I didn’t use it except to give it a taste (and sure enough, it tasted like chili-sesame oil). The “dirty dishwater look” of the ramen might have been due to Hakata Tonkotsu.

Ichiban’s was a serviceable bowl of ramen – nothing great, and not bad at all. More importantly, the restaurant was full by the time I left, and even had a very short wait. This made me happy given what they had suffered earlier in the year.

I’ve never been a big fan of the McLean Ichiban, especially considering Tachibana is right down the street – it’s not cheap, and the sushi and sashimi are of middling quality.

Remember also that this is apparently *not* the Ichiban whose owners also run Asian Kitchen on Lee Highway in Arlington, better known as “the parking lot for District Taco” – that honor goes to the Ichiban in Alexandria.

Do you want a rave review? I can’t give you one. Do you want a trashing? I can’t give you that either. Ichiban is middle-of-the-road sushi, and serves a purpose for McLean workers seeking a quick and healthy lunch break that won’t break the bank.

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Danji Asian Bistro, Centreville

I stopped in for lunch at Danji Asian Bistro today, and my bill was under $10 (after tax but before tip) for what was a relatively massive portion of food.

Danji is in the gigantic Old Centreville Crossing Shopping center (the one with Spa World, H Mart, Honey Pig, etc.), and it’s front-and-center so you can’t really miss it.

There were only a few people dining for lunch, and one employee was easily handling all front of the house operations.

I felt like ordering something unusual, so I got the Kalchi Jorim ($8.99, $9.99 at dinner), which was translated as “Belt Fish and Vegetables.” The order came with five panchan in addition to a wonderful bowl of flavorful broth with tofu, and a fairly generous portion of Belt Fish with some vegetables and a small amount of (moderately spicy) sauce in a hot metal bowl, alongside a plain bowl of steamed rice.

Belt Fish comes across to me as a cheap, bulk fish, and I’d be very surprised to find it was on any type of endangered-species list – this was most likely frozen as well, as it had a fairly firm texture. If you’re in a hurry to eat, this is one dish you want to stay away from, as it is quite bony, both with the main spinal cord, but also with smaller, needle-like bones throughout – it would be tough (and probably not worth it) for a restaurant to filet this fish, as there wouldn’t be much meat left after you did.

Still, taken as a whole, my lunch was a bargain, and I left full and happy, only ten-dollars poorer, and probably consumed less than 1,000 calories including my bowl of steamed rice. Although I wouldn’t go out of my way to return to Danji (there are several interesting restaurants in this shopping center), I wouldn’t avoid it either – it’s worth a try, and is certainly an average to above-average Korean restaurant.

Pssst … they have Korean Fried Chicken on their menu.

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Bánh Ta, Eden Center

Last week, I got this tweet from Jonathan Copeland:

Screenshot 2015-11-19 at 19.02.38

Although I had largely forgotten about it, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, it resided, because I was thirty-minutes early for an appointment in Falls Church today, and – <blink> – I remembered. I didn’t remember who sent it, and I didn’t remember the name of the restaurant; merely that someone I trusted had mentioned good Bánh Mì in Eden Center – I pulled in.

I wasn’t at all sure which restaurant it was, and there has been *so much* changeover in this shopping center in the past six months that Saigon West is borderline unrecognizable. I waffled a bit, then headed into Bánh Ta, and as soon as I walked in, I thought to myself, ‘This *must* be the place.’

Bánh Ta is a tiny little pillbox boutique, just a few stores down from the outstanding Thanh Son Tofu, which has the best tofu I’ve found in the DC area. Despite being just a counter, it’s very upscale looking, with market goods and an atmosphere that reminds me of a smaller version of the incredible Phu Quy Deli Delight. If you haven’t been to Thanh Son Tofu or Phu Quy Deli Delight: GO!

I ordered a #1, Pork Belly (Bánh Mì Thit ??, $4), the ?? being on the sign in the first link in the previous paragraph, and absolutely indecipherable by me and my illiterate Vietnamese (my apologies to native speakers – any guidance will be much appreciated).

It’s no secret that I haven’t exactly been blown away by DC-area Bánh Mì – in fact, the only ones I’ve had that I even consider “good” have been somewhat Americanized (Dickson Wine Bar and the underrated and under-appreciated Ba Bay).

Until today, that is. Thanks to Jonathan’s recommendation, I’ve now had what I believe to be the first authentic Bánh Mì that I can say, with my European-influenced palate, and with an absolutely clear conscience, is *really, really good*! You don’t even need a second one to fill up on, as the size is ample, so both qualitatively and quantitatively, we have ourselves a front runner in the local Bánh Mì wars – you could say, if you valued bad puns more than honorable use of language, that this Bánh Mì, won me.

These three storefronts in Eden Center are less than 100 yards away from each other, and justify a special excursion to experience. I am – *finally* – sold on the merits of this sandwich, and I suspect that in Vietnam, it gets even better than this.

Absolutely initialized in Italic in the East Falls Church section of the Virginia Dining Guide, and I’m very much looking forward to a repeat visit, thanks to the recommendation of Jonathan Copeland.

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The Dabney, Blagden Alley

I wasn’t going to write up my meal at The Dabney, because it was on October 31st, the very first night they opened for business, and I was an early customer, so that quite likely means I had both dishes I ordered the very first time they were ever prepared.

Nevertheless, this restaurant seems to have some interest in it, so I’ll contribute my experience – with the caveat that that this was the first night they were in business. However, I should mention that the “normal” things that go wrong on the first night (i.e., service), didn’t, so this is probably pretty representative.

I grabbed a seat at the end of the bar (on the left when you walk in). I asked my bartender to make me a Gimlet with Hayman’s Old Tom, and it was not just good – it was perfect. Perfectly poured, perfectly shaken, perfectly served – whoever this girl was obviously knew what she was doing. It was remarkable to watch, actually, and it turns out this was Tyler Hudgens, who is not only running the bar at The Dabney, but also ran the bar at The Columbia Room for several months. Yeah, she knows what she’s doing.

As a side note, I overheard that Version 2.0 of The Columbia Room (which is opening directly above The Dabney) will be opening soon. The precise word Angie Salame uses is “Novemberary,” so you can take that for whatever it’s worth.

I enjoyed my Gimlet as much as any I’ve had since Dwayne Sylvester shook me one at BourbonSteak awhile back – these drinks were both peers. I *love* tiny ice crystals in my Gimlets, as they add a thrilling textural nuance to the drink (even though some purist bartenders refuse to create them).

Anyway, after I unwound with my 10-out-of-10 Gimlet, I decided to do something a bit odd: I created an Egg Tasting dinner, with wine pairings for each.

For my first course, from the “Dishes” section of the menu (which falls in-between “Appetizers” and “Family Style”), I ordered the Baked Farm Egg ($18), with creamed celeriac, farro verde, kimchee, and herbs. With the dish, I ordered a glass of Sherry (which delighted Tyler to no end), an El Maestro “Sierra” Amontillado 12-Year ($13) which was pretty much a perfect Amontillado, and I would urge Sherry drinkers to spend the extra dollar and get this instead of the (also very fine) Hidalgo La Gitana Manzanilla “En Rama” – as good as the La Gitana is, this is better, and more suitable for this type of cuisine. Speaking of which, this dish was an obvious riff on Bibim Bap, even though I’m pretty sure that’s going to go over the heads of the vast majority of diners here. I know the ingredients aren’t typical for such a thing, but it was “strongly influenced” by this Korean classic. Surprisingly, I thought the Sherry would go with this even better than it did – maybe this needed soju, I don’t know – the pairing was good, but not the dazzling brilliance I’d hoped (and thought) it would be.

Next up: a step backward to the “Appetizer” section, where I ordered a Buttermilk Biscuit with fried egg, foie gras, country ham, apples, and maple ($15). And with it, I opted for a glass of 2014 Bernard Baudry Chinon “Les Granges” because I wanted the green-pepper stalkiness of Loire Valley Cabernet Franc with the ingredients in this dish – I waited awhile, and was told they had to bring a bottle up to the bar; I told them not to worry about it, and instead ordered a 2014 Chateau Cambon Beaujolais ($14) which I figured would be the next best thing, and “close enough,” and sure enough, it was – it went beautifully with the dish. Two components in the dish itself needed work: the egg was slightly overcooked (I wanted runny), and there was no discernible foie gras, anywhere I looked or sniffed – there might have been a thimble-full mixed into the sauce, but none that I detected. So I would suggest the restaurant either up the ingredient, or the diner should not assume it’s going to be there.

This was an extremely light meal, although I did manage to down three drinks, and I decided to keep it that way – it was a really good showing for the first night of a restaurant, and I have souvenir menus from The Dabney’s first night in business (yes, I asked). Especially with The Columbia Room on top of it, and with Rogue 24 next door for now, The Dabney, and Blagden Alley in general – with La Colombe coffee (which The Dabney serves, btw) seems poised to be a shining star pocket of cuisine. Keep an eye out for it.

My, how cuisine has changed in this town over the past thirty years – my, how it has changed just in the past five years.

The Dabney is initiated strongly in Italic in the Dining Guide, and should be on your list of places to try.

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Rose’s Luxury, Barracks Row

On a rainy Monday evening I was heading downtown to have dinner somewhere – perhaps Purple Patch, or Thip Khao – but I thought to myself, at 7:45 tonight, this is my best chance to get into Rose’s Luxury, so I went to Barracks Row, driving around-and-around for what must have been over twenty minutes, trying to find a parking space that wasn’t zoned. Finally, I succeeded (anyone who thinks Rose’s Luxury isn’t a neighborhood restaurant only needs to try and go to it from another neighborhood – the fact that they don’t offer valet parking almost by definition makes them a neighborhood restaurant).

I walked in, and despite there being no customers at the host stand, the hostess told me there was still a short waiting list, but the bar upstairs might have seating – I walked up, and as I did before, grabbed the very last seat at the bar – this restaurant was now completely full on a rainy Monday at 8 PM.

My bartender clearly demonstrated why Rose’s has such a fine reputation for service – he was as friendly to me as he could have possibly been, and while I saw some professional service lapses when I was there (not from him), the service staff is absolutely there to please the customers. The service at Rose’s really does make a customer feel like a welcome guest, and that the staff is glad to have you there. Why can’t other restaurants use such common sense in dealing with their clientele?

Wanting to unwind with a drink, I began my meal with a cocktail from the “everyday” section of the “Cocktails” menu: a Dry Rye Gin and Pumpkin Spice Tonic ($12), and despite it being stirred with a deft hand, it was like so many other pumpkin-based drinks are: overwhelmingly of pumpkin. Pumpkin, nutmeg, and sugar. Oh, it was a real cocktail, but if you get as tired of pumpkin being the dominating flavor whenever you order something with that word in the name, I would advise turning your attention elsewhere.

My kindly bartender advised me that even though the restaurant features “small plates,” they add up quickly, and for me to get two or three, depending on how hungry I am. I made my meal nearly vegan, save for a bit of yogurt in one dish, some grated cheese in another, and of course the generous use of butter in the wonderful potato brioche that everyone receives who orders dinner. This is one of the best bread services in town, and is an early way to go straight to the diner’s heart – a smart move, and a wonderful treat. The crust keeps the bread warm inside, so there’s no need to tear right into it, if you want to wait and have it with your meal (although it’s hard to resist the bacon, chives, and butter which come along side, just for one, little piece before the meal). The bread knife they supply is a good imitation of a Laguiole (but it isn’t).

Rose’s Luxury was offering 13 plates total on this evening, 2 of them family style. From the “warm & grill” section, I began with Charred Carrots with Harissa, Housemade Yogurt, and Pearl Onions $12. In my limited experience with Rose’s, I’ve noticed that they take seemingly disparate ingredients, and mix them together in a bowl, figuring the flavors will work when taken as an ensemble. In this case, they worked fairly well, but the execution is what fell short – my first bite of carrot (they were cut into bit-sized morsels) wasn’t completely cooked, and was very firm, almost to the point of being crunchy. I didn’t know if this entire plate would be al dente, but I didn’t think this worked at all. My second bite of carrot, on the other hand, was cooked all the way through, and was the typical mushy carrot you’ve come to expect. The harissa atop the yogurt made this a fairly spicy dish, and the little pearl onions hidden underneath added a nice touch of sweetness. This was a good, innovative, and somewhat interesting dish, but not something I’d get again in the future, as the flavors didn’t really resonate with me – even if the texture had been perfect, I would have merely “liked” this creative dish.

Before my first course, I opted for the only Rosé on the wine list: a glass of 2014 La Grange Tiphaine, Tournage Riant, from Touraine in the Loire Valley ($12, retail price $16.99 a bottle). I had no idea what type of grapes went into this wine, but it was a fascinating mix of Grolleau Noir, Cot, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay – no Pinot Noir! Unfortunately, the wine is red and fruity, more in the style of a Spanish Garnacha, and I was hoping that it would be a typical, bone-dry, pale, French Rosé. Having clearly undergone malolactic fermentation, where tart malic acid (think: apples) turns into soft lactic acid (think: milk), this had a nose of yogurt, which I find off-putting in my rosés, and without the perceived acidity necessary to work well with food. I was wondering, after taking the first whiff, and knowing this would be a highly lactic wine, whether or not the yogurt-on-yogurt combination would work; it didn’t – this dish, because it had sweetness from the pearl onions, needed a more neutral or acidic wine. It’s a shame this is the only Rosé on the entire list. Of note: diners get a tasting pour before having to commit to an entire glass here, so I certainly had the option presented to me to change wines, and opted not to. This is yet another wonderful service touch that Rose’s is so famous for.

For my second course, I ordered from the “pasta” section: Hand-Cut Chitarra with Caramelized Cauliflower and White Wine Soffrito ($12), chitarra being a relative of spaghetti, and soffrito being the Italian cousin of a French mirepoix. This dish was very uninspired, if pleasant, and the caramelization of the cauliflower was the one thing that made it stand out from being something you might make at home. With the Rosé, it was actually somewhat ponderous, but when I switched to my final drink, a glass of 2014 Weingut Muller-Grossman Grüner Veltliner ($11) from Kremstal in Austria, the formidable acidity took over, lifted the butter and herbs, and made the pasta dish better than it previously was – a perfect example of food-and-wine synergy, and a fine pairing. Weingut Muller-Grossman makes several Grüner-Veltliners, and I don know which this was; I suspect it retails for around $14. In summary, if youŕe going to get this pastas dish, have it with the Grüner and not the Rosë – the Grüner stayed with me for the rest of the meal.

My final small plate (my bartender was correct: three was plenty) was Vadouvan Curry with Sweet Potato and Caramelized Banana ($12), a typical, Rose’s Luxury dish due to its unabashed use of sweetness as part of a savory course. In this case, it was something of a thick, squash bisque in nature, despite having no squash – it came in a bowl, was to be eaten with a spoon, and had distributed throughout it, bite-sized chunks of sweet potato and banana. Vadouvan is a French derivative of masala – essentially aromatic herbs to enhance the curry. This was another fascinating fusion of the Far East, the Near East, and Europe, all in one bowl, and I’m afraid to say it didn’t work within the context of this meal – by itself, for a quick, healthy lunch, it would have been fine. I don’t know what the base was, but I’m thinking there might have been some yogurt in it – regardless, this thick, sweetish “curry” went beautifully with my zippy, acidic Gruner, and was another match made in heaven. Once again, the execution had some problems – for example, my first bite of banana was actually cool, cooler than room temperature, but not cold, whereas everything else in the curry was warm. I was wondering if Chef Silverman was pulling a José Andrés and playing around with temperatures, but my other bites of banana, except one, were all warm, so it was a mistake in execution.

Chef Silverman exudes confidence in mixing savory and sweet, and such disparate flavors from around the world into one melange. I applaud it, and I respect it, while not necessarily liking everything I have here. Wine selection is absolutely crucial, because with the right wine, these dishes either improve, or they decline – order wisely, or ask for help – and think: acidity, acidity, acidity: This food cried out for a crisp wine of at least medium body, preferably without any oak – my Gruner Veltliner. Out of 10 wines by the glass featured on the menu, my Grüner was one of only 4 which were $11 – the least expensive price. You don’t need to spend a lot here. That said, by the bottle, there are two slightly pricey examples of “orange” wine (I still want to know who coined the term, “orange” wine – it’s appropriate, and I never saw it before the first time I ate at The Red Hen). I have yet to encounter one, anywhere, that’s fairly priced – these are not expensive wines.

In retrospect, I was wishing I had saved room for dessert, because I’m sure they were both fabulous and partly savory. My bartender handed me the menu, and I had to decline because I had been pleasantly sated. Midway through the meal, I ordered one item from the “Family Style” section of the menu to take home with me for lunch the next day: Smoked Brisket, White Bread [Actually, Texas Toast], Horseradish, and Slaw ($29) which was delivered and explained to me just as I was paying the check (perfect timing, Rose’s, and a good all-around job with the service!) I was encouraged to make sandwiches, and so I did – I had enough for two full sandwiches: four pieces of Texas Toast, five generous cuts of brisket with a good proportion of fat attached, a tub of horseradish, and a tub of beautiful, red cabbage slaw. One of the two sandwiches is pictured, in two perspectives, in this post. You might be asking yourself two obvious questions: 1) with tax and a 20% tip, the price of each sandwich came out fo $18.85. Is this a crazy amount of money for a couple pieces of brisket on toast? 2) Equally as interesting, is this the type of thing you’d expect to see in an absolute, very best, top-of-the-top, lines-down-the-street, nationally recognized, restaurant that has critics fawning and assigning the highest possible rating? I have enough faith in our readers where I feel no need to answer either of these questions.

Rose’s Luxury is an excellent restaurant that does so very many things right. It’s also not trying to be an elite, cross-town place to dine, or a destination restaurant like Inn at Little Washington. Rose’s Luxury is to be lauded for doing exactly what it set out to do: Be a comfortable, exciting, neighborhood restaurant that exceeds the normal standards of that moniker. Aaron Silverman is to be commended for taking all the inexplicably lavish praise in stride, and for sticking to his guns. Although I’ve never met Aaron, we’ve talked on numerous occasions, and I think very highly of him as someone with his head screwed on properly. He won the lottery by opening Rose’s Luxury, and should enjoy this ride for as long as it lasts – this is perhaps the single most successful restaurant in the history of Washington, DC., outdoing every queued-up place from Pasta Mia, to Georgetown Cupcake, to Little Serow (well, maybe not Little Serow) – my point is that there’s no logical possibility that Aaron could have predicted, or should have predicted this extraordinary level of popularity, and from what I can tell, it couldn’t happen to a nicer person.

In the Don Rockwell Dining Guide, Rose’s Luxury is maintained as “Excellent,” and is ranked 3rd in Barracks Row behind  Garrison and Sushi Capitol, although I can easily see how any informed, reasonable person could shuffle that order around. Though I most likely prefer The Red Hen (which opened at almost the same time as Rose’s, and was completely drowned out in the publicity wars and social-media chatter – Rose’s is a genuine cultural phenomenon), I have all four of these restaurants rated as “Excellent,” and consider them all to be peers. Beuchert’s Saloon and perhaps Montmartre (I haven’t been since a recent change occurred) are not that far behind. On any given day, I could not say one is better than the others, and (this is important, so remember I said this) neither could anyone else. We’re lucky to have all six of these restaurants, five on Barracks Row where Belga Café used to be the best game in town (and I could name a dozen more area restaurants on the same level, or even at a higher level) – Rose’s Luxury is an excellent restaurant that will most likely remain in Italic for as long as it wants to stay open, and is certainly one of the Top 10-20 restaurants in the Washington, DC area – I say that as a high compliment and honor, even though people will read that and want to approach my house with pitchforks and torches, and burn it to the ground for committing heresy – to these people I simply say that Rose’s Luxury was not, is not, and never will be aiming to be ranked in Bold – they are not *trying* to be the best-of-the-best-of-the-best. Nothing of the sort – I suspect that, like Mike Isabella (btw, have you heard anything at all about Graffiato lately?), Aaron feels as though he won the lottery, and if the press wants to rave about his restaurant and make him and the investors millions of dollars? Good for them, I say – I’m happy for them. I’m happy for them all. No, I can’t explain it, but I can’t explain a lot of things – I just hope that the quality, or at least the press, remains where it is so the dining public remains happy as well.

Screenshot 2015-11-24 at 08.28.15 Screenshot 2015-11-24 at 08.28.30

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Mazagan, South Arlington

Pay no attention to anything you’ve read or heard about Mazagan; go here and get the Bastilla ($9.50, get the one with chicken) and Moroccan Couscous ($18) with caramelized onions and raisins. The couscous would make a perfect carryout dish – it will retain its heat for at least 30 minutes. If you don’t want to invest your time, at least get this to take home.

Don’t let the Hookah room scare you away – that’s late-night stuff; the bar is a great place to dine, the food is made from scratch, and the interior reminds me of Monty’s Steakhouse in Springfield  – it’s a very nice-looking restaurant … and there were *no* diners in the main restaurant when I went. None.

The *last* thing I felt like doing right now is posting about a restaurant; it would have been immoral if I hadn’t.

Trust me – we could be in danger of wrongly losing yet another restaurant if you don’t.

Comfortably placed in Italic, and ranked as the #1 restaurant in South Arlington in the Dining Guide with no serious challenger in sight.

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The Shack, Staunton

Winding down my recent trip to the Midwest, I drove from Louisville to Staunton for my third consecutive evening of trying James Beard Award semi-finalists and finalists, in three different categories (Great Lakes, Southeast, and now Mid-Atlantic). First, let me recommend the Stonewall Jackson Hotel for anyone staying over in Staunton who can find a decent price – I spent too much time deciding on a hotel, and it was a mistake trying to save twenty bucks – if it’s between this place, and an interstate Best Western, stay here (trust me).

After a power nap, I strolled over to The Shack, a mere 1 1/2 blocks away from the hotel, arriving right when they opened to make sure I got a table – and I’m glad I did, because although I had the table to myself the entire time, the restaurant was beginning to get busy when I left.

I took a seat facing the kitchen, and began my meal with a bottle of 2013 Domaine de Triquet Sauvignon Blanc ($24), yes, that’s right, $24 for a bottle of good-quality, French Sauvignon Blanc – I knew I’d take half the bottle back to my room, but you can also order this by the glass for a mere $6 (sounds crazy, doesn’t it?)

The only thing my server urged me to get was the Blistered Shishito Peppers ($3, I think), served like you’d see edamame presented in a Japanese restaurant. These were probably still in the field 24 hours before, and there wasn’t a single hot one in the bunch. Sipping my first glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the shishitos were a great way to wind down and begin my meal in a relaxed, unhurried fashion, and thanks to my server for recommending them.

Since this was my first time here, I wanted to concentrate on fresh produce, and order as many things as possible, so I made it a mostly vegetarian meal of small plates, and took my dessert back to my hotel room to be enjoyed later that evening (and enjoy it I did). I ordered several items, and told my server it was fine to bring everything as it was ready – I was there to nibble and nosh.

Tomato and Peach Panzanella ($8) with charred pickled shallots, esmontonain, and basil was an excuse to show off superb tomatoes and peaches, although the tiny pieces of bread were perfectly textured as well (crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, perhaps pan-fried in olive oil). Ian, if you’re reading this, and *if* I’m remembering correctly, I think it was a mistake to use grated Parmesan (or whatever it was) on this dish.

Cucumber and Wax Bean Salad ($6) is something I surprised myself by ordering, and despite having possibly been harvested within the past 24 hours, the salad itself just didn’t thrill me, and was perhaps the one weak point of the meal – this needed to be gussied up a little bit – something, anything to add some flavor to these relatively neutral-tasting ingredients. If you like naked cucumbers and wax beans, go for it, but you have to really like them in order to like this.

Field Peas with Cornbread ($6) was an awesome display of excess by this diner – despite how healthy this food was, I didn’t need this dish because it was somewhat redundant to the wax beans. That said, it was a great show of ingredients, and I found myself filling up almost exclusively on vegetables, and merely nibbling on the fine cornbread.

At this point, I was stuffed, and I took my Buttermilk Custard, Nectarine, and Cornbread Crumbs ($7) back to the hotel – a mere five-minute stroll on flat terrain – and enjoyed it later that evening, right after I’d drained the final drop of wine, and then I tucked into the best night’s sleep I’d had in quite awhile. It was a great evening, and Ian Boden is a chef to remember.

This was my first visit to The Shack, and I can summarize it like this: farmer’s market-quality ingredients, cooked simply and with a master’s touch. This is a restaurant that lets the ingredients take center stage and take the bow; not one with an ego-driven chef who feels the need to neutralize nature’s bounty. Don’t expect Michelin 3-star technique here because the chef chooses not to use it – this is simple food of the highest quality, done just the way you want it. Italic all the way in the Dining Guide, and if I had to name one area restaurant it reminded me of more than any other, I would name Grandale Farm, with the caveat that I didn’t test The Shack’s kitchen in the slightest, and I suspect that Ian can cook rings around most any chef in the exurbs.

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Centrolina, City Center

I can’t get used to this alley being here; nonetheless, I love the area, and hope that DC can have about twenty more like it in the future. After the parking gods smiled upon me, I strolled into the bar at Centrolina and immediately wanted to relax with a beer – a DC Brau Peppercorn Saison ($7). About all I can say is, “Damn, I wish I liked this brewery more because it has become ubiquitous, and there’s almost no escaping it.” Anyway, I switched to a Bertani Bertarose ($11) to have with my meal, and I’m glad I did. A friend pointed out that this may have been 3 Stars Brewery, and it may well have been.

The Polpo ($14) was just fantastic – I’ve had Amy’s polpo before, and knew that I was going to like this dish, but it exceeded my already-high expectations, primarily because it came with something I’d never tasted before: Cotechinata – a roulade of pig skin which was cut, texturally, by potato confit – there’s something about the starch in the potato that neutralizes any perception of fattiness (think about how a loaded, stuffed baked potato can absorb butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon fairly effortlessly). Anyway, it’s an appetizer portion, also came with a celery salad, and was done right – for every ten octopus dishes I’ve eaten, it seems like about one has been executed really well (same with squid), and this was that one.

Casunsei ($23) was a wonderful bowl of ravioli, stuffed with shredded beef, swiss chard, speck, golden raisin, lemon, and butter sauce – ah, yes, it’s those last three ingredients that took this dish from good to great, and you shouldn’t hesitate to get it. It’s not a huge portion, but that really didn’t matter, because I also got a ridiculously large side order of Barbabietole ($9), salt-roasted red beets – this was such a big portion that I couldn’t finish it, and I told Amy (later on, in a text message) that I thought the dish was too large for one, so it might be a bit smaller now. Or, if not, get it for two.

This was my introduction to Centrolina, but was also about the fifth restaurant where I’ve enjoyed Amy’s cooking, and she keeps getting better. There was nothing about this meal that I wouldn’t recommend, and the only reason I wouldn’t get things a second time is because there’s so much else to try here. Centrolina is officially, and strongly, initiated in Italic in the Dining Guide. I don’t quite understand why people are packing Fig & Olive when it seems like the food is prepared in, and shipped down from, New York, perhaps in vacuum-packed plastic bags, but who am I to judge the dining habits of DC 20-somethings.

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