We had a reservation at Chloe, and were cordially greeted, and given the option of sitting at a table, or the Food Bar – the tables seemed a bit close together, so we opted for the latter, mostly to optimize side-by-side sharing (everything at Chloe is designed to be shared, our server told us).
Having just sat down, we were given the option of house-filtered still or sparkling water – we ordered still, and each began with a cocktail not on the menu: My friend ordered a French 75 ($12, with which our friendly server was unfamiliar, but he was fairly certain that the bartender would be familiar with), and I ordered a Gimlet ($14) with a neutral gin (Plymouth?) – I said that to avoid the dreaded Vodka Gimlet. I was then asked if I wanted my Gimlet up, or on the rocks (up!), which was much-appreciated, and when the cocktails arrived, they were very good, if perhaps just a touch towards the sweet side (but not over the edge by any means).
The menu, top-to-bottom, features dishes which increase in size as you progress downward. We were very much in a fishy mood, so one thing we definitely wanted was the Crispy Whole Sea Bream, which our neighbors at the bar seemed to be enjoying – alas, we were told that they’d just served the last portion. (Chloe had just opened about one-week before, and on a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was fairly well packed, so I suspect they’re selling more product than they had guesstimated – a good thing for them). As good as the Spice-Roasted Chicken sounded – and it sounded wonderful, marinated in Pho-like seasoning – we were “Chickened Out” over the past few days, so decided instead to go with an armada of smaller plates for our meal, and we’re glad we did, because every single dish was good, and one in particular was earth-shattering.
Cobia Crudo ($14) with avocado, Thai chiles, lime, fish sauce, crispy shallots, and puffed black rice was the first dish to arrive, and it went *perfectly* with my Gimlet (the lime in both the drink and the dish really complemented the other ingredients). Raw cobia is a rubbery fish, not unlike raw octopus, and this dish was textural heaven with the crispy shallots and puffed black rice, but it was also wonderfully acidic in nature with the lime and Thai chilis – everything cut by the avocado and the firm, assertive, spanking-fresh cobia. This was a great dish, perfectly balanced, and the pieces of cobia were ample enough to cut in half (although that isn’t necessary) – I got chills thinking about Chef Karoum, and what he had been doing at Asia Nora (which I once had ranked in Bold in the Dining Guide – read the first post in the Asia Nora link: You’ll get a kick out of it) – would Haidar Karoum feel liberated enough from Proof to let his wilder side shine through once again? This dish gave me hope (which was to be completely fulfilled a couple of dishes later). Notice also how well and proportioned everything is cut here.
In the interim, we’d finished our cocktails, and ordered a bottle of Fleuriet Renaissance Sancerre “La Magie des Caillotes” (a painful $50) which, primarily to its moderate oaking, won’t win any awards in my house, but was well-made, correct both for the varietal and region, and ushered us throughout the entire meal (or could have). Thankfully, beverage director Tyler Mitchell seems not to have been indoctrinated by Mark Kuller’s proclivity for 16%-alcohol Chardonnays that were beaten with the Oak Stick (Mark and I got along famously, but I could never reconcile our tastes in wine – when Proof opened, I gave him a bottle of 1966 Lafite-Rothschild, and to this day, I’m left wondering if that incredible wine was completely overwhelmed by an Aussie Shiraz – ack).
Broiled Local Oysters ($13) with horseradish glaze, rutabaga kraut, brown bread crumble was an interesting dish. It arrived on a large tray, fancifully served on small, white stones, and looking like a bigger dish than it actually was. But as long as you don’t mind paying $3.25 per oyster, you’ll be well-rewarded with this: Assuming you eat the oyster in a single bite (which you must), you’ll be greeted with all four flavors clearly delineated, as well as a downright symphonic combination – this is a fabulous melange of flavors and textures, with the simple brown-bread crumble taking it over the top.
Spiced Beef Hummus ($14) with pickled radish, harissa, buttered almonds, and snow-shoe naan was the dish of the night for me. Haidar has some Lebanon in his ethnicity, and this dish is running through his blood – there was something about it that said, “This is my soul.” While I’ve never been to the Middle East and tried the magnificent-looking Hummus at the amazing restaurants there, this set a new standard for me in the DC area. Not only was it the best hummus I’ve had locally (and I’ve had dozens), but the beef turned it from a very good dish into an “Oh my God!” dish, and the almonds lent an almost-thrilling texture atop the beef. If you love hummus, and don’t mind eating beef, this is one course you absolutely must order at Chloe – and to scoop it up with, the snow-shoe looking naan was hot from the oven. This may not have been the best bread I’ve had (it was firm on the outside, and very bready on the inside – more so than almost all naans I’ve had – not that there’s anything wrong with that); nevertheless, it was a great vehicle for scooping up the plate of awesome sitting in front of us. Chloe’s Hummus is the one dish that has been calling to me, and even as I write this, I would drive down there *right now* for another plate of this magnificent cuisine.
Roasted Kabocha Salad ($11) with kabocha squash, green apple, watercress, pepitas, and cider vinaigrette was served alongside the Hummus, but since it was cold, and the beef and the bread in the Hummus course were hot, we saved it for something of a trou Normand, plowing through the Hummus with only an occasional bite of watercress. Although this was the least fascinating dish in a fascinating meal, it served its purpose very well, as it transitioned us into what would be a very rich, flavorful gnocchi. A perfectly dressed watercress-based salad, I would recommend doing a little more with the kabocha, rather than laying it atop the salad – if the kabocha had been served hot and seasoned (maybe even with a small dotting of yogurt), the dish might have been transcendent; as it was, it was merely very good and pleasant, with the apples and pepitas adding slight sweetness and texture, and the cidar vinaigrette adding acidity – I again emphasize this was perfectly dressed. We’d forgotten to take a picture, so instead, when we remembered, we made a smiley face to show our approval.
Russet Potato Gnocchi ($16) with smoked king oyster mushrooms, kale, black pepper, and pecorino was to die for, and a deceptively rich, filling dish. I’m well-aware of how good that picture looks, and I promise you this dish was every bit as good as it appears. I consider this to be more of a mushroom dish than a gnocchi dish, due to the attention the smoked king oysters commanded, but the gnocchi – a rather robust gnocchi – wasn’t afraid to stand with it, side-by-side. Even the kale, which might sound extraneous, made the dish better (the butter didn’t hurt either), and the pecorino as a generous finishing agent was just perfect. If you’re a vegetarian who eats dairy, and are looking for a meat substitute, then get a double-order of this, and you’ll die happy (perhaps literally).
Maine Scallops ($17) with celery root, pomegranate relish, wilted greens, and celery salad was a dish of four *perfectly cooked* scallops resting atop puréed celery root, and was just about a peer to the gnocchi dish. This dish, in addition to the scallops, really played with and showed off the aspects of celery, and the pomegranate relish again added the texture that was a theme throughout this tremendous meal. If you like scallops, you’ll *love* this dish – rich, satisfying, but also playful and cognitive (who would think to put pomegranate relish on scallops with celeriac?) – a wonderful finish to a wonderful dinner.
Well, not quite …
Meyer Lemon Tart ($10), and these were definitely Meyer Lemons, was topped with a homemade type of blueberry compote, and stars of lightly blowtorched meringue, all in a graham cracker crust. The consensus was that this was a wonderful tart, and could only be approved upon by a thinner graham cracker crust if possible – I even had the thought that it would be in keeping with the evening to serve it in phyllo dough instead of graham cracker crust – this would highlight, rather than compete with, the other ingredients, and allow them to show their formidable flavors. We were stuffed before we ordered this, but it looked *so* good when we saw one come out that we threw caution to the wind, ordered two glasses of Calvados ($12 each), and ordered this very good tart.
It’s amazing that Chloe had been open for about a week when we dined here – it was bustling with people, and if we hadn’t gotten a reservation, we probably wouldn’t have gotten a table, and this was on a chilly Tuesday night. You can assume Chloe will be packed in the near future, and count your blessings when you get a reservation here, although I do recommend sitting at the food bar – it was a wonderful place to eat, stay warm, and watch the show, although prices do add up quickly here for two people. That massive Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop is in grave danger the next time I darken this door – or should I get that Chicken? An excellent beginning for the restaurant, and a welcome return for Haidar Karoum – Chloe is comfortably ranked #1 in its neighborhood, and easily meets the criteria for an Italic ranking in the DC Dining Guide.