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.