New Heights, Woodley Park

Disclaimer: I’m personal friends with the co-owner of New Heights, and dine here often. That said, I’ve had the restaurant rated #1 in Woodley Park since long before we were friends, and am a genuine fan of Chef Logan Cox even though I’ve never seen him outside of the restaurant. It would be a disservice to Logan if I recused myself from writing about his complex, intricate platings and his fanatical commitment to quality.

At New Heights, the bread is homemade, and this time it was a basketful of slightly drying ciabatta (it’s very difficult to keep airy breads moist in this weather), fantastic whole grain, and good corn bread. The disk of moderately creamy butter always comes topped with milled Fleur de Sel.

Sometimes I’ll start with an entree and end with an appetizer, and so it was this evening. Poached Escolar ($25) is new on the menu, and comes with roasted beets, a spruce gelée (!), and a foamed golden beet vinaigrette. It would be appropriate to think of this dish as a composition of beets, because they are the star of the plate – they’re everywhere, in all shapes, cuts, and textures. The spruce gelée was just a couple of dabs, but was perhaps the most fascinating item on the plate, especially when you go on a hunt for a nearby sprig of rosemary.

Cox never fails to impress me, even when he isn’t around. His sous chef, Erik Morgan, was running the kitchen Thursday night, and I didn’t even realize it until after I’d finished the escolar. Cox’s dishes are extraordinarily complex (if a bit unintegrated – the diner often enters into an implicit compact with the chef to experiment and mix things together), and for Morgan to successfully execute this plate says a lot for both men.

On to the appetizer, which may as well have been an entree due to its heft. Crisp Braised Pork Shoulder ($13) is presented in a bowl with charred octopus, corona beans, and gaeta olive agro dulce. This was a magnificent cut of pork shoulder which many might mistake for pork belly, oven-braised (no sous-vide here) then grilled, and potentially in direct competition with the charred octopus, both alpha dishes tempered by the agro dulce (which was more dulce than agro) and grounded by the corona beans, given a bit of color by strands of fennel head. Two things would have taken this dish over the top: a wood grill (which New Heights does not have), and an “edge” of some sort – acidity, salt, forest floor – to counteract the pork-octopus-corona trio; I suspect ratcheting up the opposing, sour pole of the agro dulce would do the trick.

Johnny Spero, who used to work with desserts at Komi, is going to be working pastry at New Heights, but not for a couple more days, so instead I went with the Artisanal Cheese Selection ($12 for 5 cheeses). All cheeses are from Cowgirl Creamery, and there are eight on the list; I went with the Wild Weed Gouda, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Great Hill Blue, Cashel, and Dante, the presentation served with honey (on the honeycomb) and a stack of grilled bread.

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