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:
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.
“And finished in the oven.”
$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.