How to tell the difference between the two from a distance, on an island overrun with both: “Tail up goat. Tail down sheep.”
Such is the origin behind the name of Adams Morgan’s hottest new restaurant, Tail Up Goat – and I loathe to use the word “hot,” but that’s what it is, yes, already.
Late on a Tuesday evening, around 8 PM, I called just to make sure it wasn’t full, and was told that the bar area is first-come, first-serve, and that a couple is finishing up their entrees right now (so yes, it was full). I suppose I arrived around 9 PM, trying to park in the lot just south of the new building housing both Tail Up Goat and Philz Coffee (Tail Up Goat is hard to see, but it’s around the corner, on the north side of the building, on Adams Mill Road).
I pulled into the parking lot, which had a bunch of towing signs on the wall, and began to turn around and leave before seeing an attendant. “How much is parking?” I asked. “Twenty dollars,” he replied. “Nah, that’s too much,” I said, and he answered, “How long will you be here?” I said “About seventy-five minutes,” and he said, “You can park for ten dollars.” It was Tuesday night at 9 PM, and even in Adams Morgan I knew I’d find a space, so I politely declined and went on my way. Take note: the “twenty-dollar” parking charge might be negotiable.
I walked into a full Tail Up Goat, and while the main restaurant on the other side of the divider was full, there were two seats available facing the wall on the side counter near the bar, and I nabbed one of them (I hate seats like these, because the wall is right in front of you – but they’re designed to be a holding area). Unfortunately, I sat there for about five minutes without being waited on (was I supposed to walk up to the bar?) Anyway, two bar seats opened up a few minutes later, and I looked at the hostess, inquisitively – she nodded her head, I took one of them, and from that point forward, service was delightful.
You’ll be initially taken back by the price of beverages here – they’re expensive, and there’s no getting around it. I desperately searched for something in the single-digits before stumbling across something I’d never seen before: a Grapefruit Radler ($7 for a 16-ounce can) by Stiegl Brewery in Salzburg, Austria. And boy am I glad I did, because not only was it delicious, but it went perfectly with my entire meal. It was essentially a beer mixed with grapefruit juice, about half-and-half I think, and is less than 3.2% alcohol – that was fine by me, and you’ll be surprised at how good this is (it’s not overly sweet, which makes it something of a mead-like beverage).
Tail Up Goat has three “bread courses” which *start* at $10 each. ‘This had better be some pretty good bread,’ I thought to myself, before asking, and finding out that they were essentially open-faced sandwiches; not just bread (this is not clear from the menu, so don’t let it scare you away). I began my dinner with a Brown Rice Bread ($10) with fermented turnips, yogurt, and hazelnut picada, and I knew right away that I was in new culinary territory with Tail Up Goat – I’d never had anything like this in my life: An absolutely delicious wedge of bread, cut in half, about the length and width of a woman’s forearm from elbow to wrist, and almost an inch thick – slathered with these wonderful vegetarian toppings which were unlike anything I’d ever eaten. The bread was homemade and pretty-much perfect – calling for a knife-and-fork cut – and the flavors from the toppings knit together in a way that defined synergy – the sum was greater than the parts (even though the parts were wonderful), and this was one of the most delicious things I’ve eaten lately (I also hadn’t eaten in well over twelve hours, so I was starving).
I didn’t feel any need to change from my Grapefruit Radler for the duration of the meal, and continued with a small main course – a pasta dish – Maltagliati ($17), wide, sheet-like pasta, house-made, with fermented honey sausage, pea shoots, and a buttery or semi-creamy sauce that brought it all together. I was surprised at the intensity of the pea shoots, because there weren’t *that* many of them, but that’s what quality produce will do for you, and even though there wasn’t much sausage, that, too, permeated the dish – the sauce was the vehicle for all the flavors to co-mingle, and it was like a party of complimentary tastes, the pasta itself lending texture and substance. Although not a huge dish, the quantity rested in the quality.
About halfway through my pasta, I asked my kindly bartender if I could order something to go – I wanted to try some more of their menu, but my tank was getting full. Unfortunately, they don’t do carryout (unless you have leftovers on your plate), and it’s probably for the best. So I decided to stuff myself, and ordered a Mortadella Sammy ($6), which immediately got my bartender’s approval – she said that’s a dish where nearly everything is made in-house. The wonderful, brioche-like roll (this is essentially one single slider), house-made mortadella, fermented fennel, and preserved-lemon aïoli – I could have *sworn* there was cheese in this sandwich, but the menu says otherwise – *something* lends an intense flavor and binds it together, probably the fermented fennel.
My bartender asked me if I wanted to see the dessert menu. “See it, yes,” I said, “but *only* see it, because I’m stuffed.” Oh, it hurt to pass on the Budino, but that’s what next-time’s are for.
I’ve never had food like I had at Tail Up Goat, and I’m not even sure how to classify it – when I asked my bartender, she said that it couldn’t be pinned down to a single country, and she’s right. ‘It’s sort of Mediterranean,’ she said (or something like that), and I can see that, but I can also *not* see that. For now, I’m calling it “Modern Alpine” (a term I just made up because I can’t think of another) as well as “Modern Mediterranean” which doesn’t feel quite right – although I’ve been to Scandinavia, and even had dinner at the Michelin two-star Bagatelle in 2000, which was the only Michelin two-star restaurant in all of Norway until 2012, this was nothing like that, as Bagatelle was much more traditional and very seafood-oriented (the Porgy for Two caught my eye at Tail up Goat, and is something I plan on trying one of these days). However, there’s *something* about Tail Up Goat that gives a Scandinavian “feeling,” although I don’t know why – it’s kind of how I picture the modern-Scandinavian movement led by Noma, but I really don’t know much about that movement or its cuisine, and quite honestly, I really don’t know why I think that – perhaps it’s because I can’t think of anything else!
Needless to say, Tail Up Goat is ranked *strongly* in Italic, and is now officially christened as the #1 restaurant in Adams Morgan. Cedric, if you were at Mintwood Place full-time, it might be a different story, but I associate you now with Convivial, and in my mind, it’s essentially impossible for a chef to play ball at this level in two different restaurants, especially if they’re in different neighborhoods. Although you may not agree with me, I hope you understand. And for those who are curious, I would have had Convivial instead of The Dabney in the James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant – regardless, I have it ranked as the #1 restaurant in Shaw, which is exactly where it belongs.
Although there is some painful mediocrity in the DC area of late, at the top level, life is awfully good right now, and Tail Up Goat is right up there. This is an important opening, and I predict great things for Tail Up Goat – congratulations to all who are involved with this fine restaurant which doesn’t even blink when it comes to using fermentation, mild sweetness, and texture as integral parts of its cuisine.