Minibites are delicious samplings of Don’s culinary adventures, condensed, distilled, and always meant to be savored with your Monday morning coffee.
The DCDining.com Restaurant Guide, i.e., Le Grand Champ, is located exclusively on donrockwell.com. (For an extra shot, click on the link and enjoy the full thread.)
Old South Mountain Inn (Boonsboro, MD) – A sentimental favorite because my mom loved it, long on charm and history, a hot buttered rum in the lobby after a hike was wonderful. Coverage Initiated as Noteworthy.
Spice X-ing (Rockville) – A disastrous New Year’s Day, with the P.O.S. system down, and all tickets and checks written by hand, and Sudhir Seth reportedly on the phone for five consecutive hours trying to resolve the problem. No doubt, it was the wrong moment to be here, but the service was actually quite good; the food, much, much less so, across the board. Unfortunately, downgraded to Good after my second straight disappointing dinner here, and that’s even with cutting them a good deal of slack for things out of their control.
Jake’s American Grille (Chevy Chase, DC) – An after-dinner cocktail after Spice-Xing, preceded by a full dinner the previous week. Although I prefer the (similar) food at Blue 44, this is the best bar that I know of in the Tenleytown / Chevy Chase DC area. Try the Cucumber Martini, ordering it vigorously shaken, unstrained (for those thrilling ice crystals), and most importantly: with “half simple syrup”; it’s too sweet otherwise. For $8, this is a very good cocktail. Maintained as a weak Very Good (for the bar and friendly service; not for the fairly ordinary “guy food”).
Modern Times Coffee House (Chevy Chase, DC) – Attached to Politics and Prose, two WiFi sessions, lots of coffee, and one grilled cheese sandwich this week makes me realize what a brain-dead act it was to have this ranked as low as it was in Upper NW. Enthusiastically (and belatedly) upgraded to Noteworthy where it should have been for quite some time now. Shame on me for having glossed over this.
Food, Wine, & Co. (Bethesda) – I’ve seen nothing about whether Michael Harr is still working here, but my appetizer (fried artichokes with sauce gribiche, try this with a glass of Drouhin Bourgogne Blanc “LaForet”) was outstanding, and my entree (the unusually named pork blade steak, medium rare, very ham-like) was very good. Service was a bit mixed: the ham arrived with no sides (I didn’t know this), then the redskin mashed potatoes that I ordered, then the rolls, in that order. Upgraded to Very Good which is probably where it’s been since Harr came onboard (I hadn’t yet been under his tenure). Half-price glasses of wines on Sunday and Monday nights.
District Kitchen (Woodley Park) – I caught District Kitchen, the much-anticpated Woodley Park restaurant featuring Drew Trautman as Chef and Jawad Saadaoui as GM, on the final night of soft opening, receiving a 15% discount on my tab. It was pretty empty (Drew, you should have put word out earlier on donrockwell.com, which is how I knew!). I’ve followed Drew’s career for awhile now, and have had some high highs (when he’s in a supportive restaurant that inspires him) and some low lows (when he’s in an unsupportive restaurant that doesn’t). Here, he’s inspired, perhaps because he’s co-owner. Get the Homemade Beef Jerky (listed as an app), and SAVE IT (trust me) to use as bread to soak up your Egg, Potato, and Mushroom hash – it’s breakfast for dinner, and it is a great combination with a good, full-bodied white wine. The Fusilli (also an app) makes a fine red wine course if you don’t want to delve into the entrees – trying small plates is a good way to go at a new restaurant. I really, really enjoyed my dinner here, and am initiating coverage of District Kitchen as Excellent, and one of the Top 2 restaurants in Woodley Park (even the most casual observer of the area dining scene is aware that this is a no-brainer). Trust me and give this place a try – it’s a restaurant worth supporting. Congratulations, gentlemen, for a fine start.
Pizzeria Orso (Falls Church) – Half-priced bottles of wine on Wednesday nights (a perfectly decent Chianti Colli Senesi discounted to $15.50, the unfinished portion taken home). Critics have really trashed Pizzeria Orso since the departure of Edan Macquaid (and the unceremonious firing of many other kitchen staff), but I have stood alone in maintaining that, while it is no longer world class, and no longer the best pizza in the DC area, it is still a Top 5 pizza in this area. Both my young dining companion (who knows, trust me, he knows) and I agree on this. Maintained as Very Good based solely on the strength of the pizzas. I’m proud to say that I was the journalist who originally broke the story about Pizzeria Orso, was the first to come out and say that it was producing world-class pizzas under its original pizzaiolo, Edan Macquaid, and have pretty much stood alone in contending that the pizzas are still quite good even after his departure. And yet, dcdining.com, donrockwell.com, and Don Rockwell have been completely ignored on Pizzeria Orso’s website where they list media reviews from relatively obscure sources, despite donrockwell.com being the largest and most successful regional restaurant website in the United States. But the issue runs much deeper than it first appears, and so that exposé will be saved for a later date, will have a larger scope, and will appear in a more noteworthy media outlet. Until then, if anyone wants to bounce some ideas, thoughts, or opinions off of me, I’d appreciate hearing from you at donrockwell-at-dcdining-dot-com. I’m going to take my time with this and do it correctly; not hastily.
Dominion Deli (Merrifield) – A regular, 6:30 AM breakfast stop, Dominion Deli is nothing more than a cook on a flat-top, making breakfast platters or sandwiches. This week, it was Huevos Rancheros ($3.50) which were a bargain for the bulk, but somewhat bland. Having gotten to sleep at 3 AM, and moaning when the alarm went off at 6, I had Matt phone me in two orders of them, thinking I would scarf and get back to bed after dropping him off at school. I went back to bed all right, for several hours, but never did finish that second order because they were ample. Not my favorite breakfast item here. Initiated in the dining guide as Useful, and the bottom restaurant in Merrifield, but that is not an insult: it’s not an ambitious restaurant, yet does what it’s trying to do decently. It’s a competitor with Subway, etc., and does it better because there’s a bit of soul that goes into what they do. I’m glad it exists.
The Bayou (West End) – Thanks to donrockwell.com member “dcandohio” (from New Orleans), I had a really nice dinner at The Bayou. There are no draft beers (there’s no room for them), but a nice selection of Abitas, of course, and a couple bottles of Amber ($4.55) were all I needed with my surprisingly good Catfish Po’ Boy Platter ($17.95) which sounds like a lot, but you get a lot: an outstanding biscuit as a sort of “amuse-bouche” with honeyed butter (extras 25 cents and worth it if you need them), then a two-part Po’ Boy with fine, fried catfish, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle, and my de-lish remoulade on the side so I could spread it myself, all served on Leidenheimer rolls that the bartender said are brought in every other day from new Orleans. My sides were equally good: red beans and rice, and collard greens. I was pretty darned full, but there hadn’t been a miss in the bunch, so I kept going and got a Pecan Tart ($8.00), made in-house like all the other desserts here, which completed a meal without a single flaw. Enthusiastically upgraded to Very Good in the dining guide, and I’ve already written a friend of mine from New Orleans and urged her to come try this little-known surprise.
Little Serow (East Dupont) – My favorite website of perhaps any restaurant in the United States (click), this was my first time here, and I got in line outside at 5:20. Johnny Monis showed up at 5:30 in the kitchen, and was cooking the entire time I was there. A bottle of sparking Grüner Veltliner ($40) was ordered with the tasting menu ($45), and I was mesmerized by one of the greatest dining experiences I’ve had in memory. I don’t know if Johnny Monis is a genius, or just a studious, hard-working intellect like Frank Ruta; I suspect it’s a bit of both. This meal was so good, so important, that I made the following tweet 30 minutes before leaving: this. Do I really need to say any more? Well, yes, I do: $45 for this dinner (at least for the solo diner) is an unsustainable price. If you want to try Little Serow, try it now. Get there at 5:20, get in line, and get a bar stool for one (the tables are primarily for two, with only a couple for four) – this restaurant is designed for deuces, not threes, not ones, and certainly no more than fours. Love your sparking Grüner, ask the wonderful staff for some beers to match some of the fiery hot dishes (which work better than the Grüner, thanks to the wisdom of the precocious Kat Bangs), and turn yourself over to this wonderful restaurant, one of the most important restaurants to open in Washington, DC in memory. Having already nominated Fiola and Rogue 24 as Best Restaurant to open in 2011 in the United States, I realized that I’d missed one. Bravo to Chef Monis, and his wonderfully enthusiastic and talented staff. Initiated as Outstanding in the dining guide, raised above Sushi Taro (not without some thought), and one step away from the very highest ranking which almost nobody gets (and I don’t believe Little Serow is shooting for that level, so GO NOW while it’s still $45, or kick yourself 5 years from now when it’s $75). You heard it here first. Note to staff: Please don’t get sick of me in the future – I really, really like this place. DCDining.com’s Restaurant Of The Week.
Villa Bella (Burke) Good bread, exuberant service, and a fine pizza highlighted this wonderful surprise 1:30 PM lunch. The rest of the food is sitting in my fridge; Matt will have the fine pizza leftovers for breakfast; I will have the very good home-made bread with my coffee and some home made preserves. This place was better than it had any right to be. Our server was justifiably proud, saying he’d worked here three years, and has yet to get sick of anything. I believe him – Villa Bella was a very nice surprise, and coverage is initiated as Good.
BTS (Burger, Tap, and Shake) (Washington Circle) – Crowded, with the ultra-light furnishings too close together (the lack of weight makes the smallest bump move things), but my, what good high-volume burgers and fries BTS is cranking out. Matt got a Tejas ($8) which I got my first time, and loved; I got the Southern Comfort ($8), also very tasty, we split some French Fries ($3) which were easily better than the norm for burger shacks, Matt loved his $5 Black and White shake, I, my draft of Fordham Lager ($6), and we left in less than 45 minutes, happy, full, and satisfied. BTS has modest ambitions, and executes them very well. After a second visit, raised to Very Good which is more than generous given its unambitious genre (but if I didn’t do this, then almost no hamburger spot would be in Italic, and this is one of the best in the area).
Since this is a dining guide-related blog entry, I should add that I often adjust entries based solely on strong user input. An example of this, during the past week, would be Hollywood East Cafe which I demoted several slots in Wheaton. This is not uncommon for me to do, given that I know who our users are, and when enough trusted members say something, I know when to believe them. So yes, there are all sorts of tweaks, here and there, especially when someone reports on a new restaurant that I’ve not yet visited. This is as it should be, and is why it’s extremely important that I continue a rapport with our outstanding members, and remain ever-vigilant in reading their opinions and writings about restaurants. Best regards, cheers, and see you all next Sunday evening and Monday morning with more updates.