Washington, DC

Contents :  B Too | Botanical Gardens | Cuba Libre | District Kitchen | Eno Wine Room | Kramerbooks & Afterwards Cafe | Le Chat Noir | Lavagna | Lupo Verde | Mediterranean Way | National Gallery of Art | The Phillips Collection | Range Restaurant | Scion Dupont | Sette Osteria Restaurant | Smash Records | Slate Wine Bar & Bistro | Soho Tea and Coffee | SuitSupply | Surfside | Zengo | Zorba’s Cafe


“Monuments and archaeological pieces serve as testimonies of man’s greatness and establish a dialogue between civilizations showing the extent to which human beings are linked.” ― Vicente Fox

© David-Kevin Bryant

Belgian food as avant-garde cuisine is entirely possible and Chef Bart Vandaele’s B Too is proof.  The former “Top Chef” contestant’s restaurant along 14th Street is dining at its most adventuresome.  As one would expect from this northern European country, the list of ales and beers is extensive, so much so it’s the size and weight of a book and includes an equally impressive number of wines.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The only way to start off such a meal is, of course, with Belgische frietjes, or Belgian fries, and B Too’s are excellent.  No one would fault you for simply sticking your head in the basket containing the delicious and tender potatoes and using it as a feed bag.  They are that good and are accompanied by the requisite mayonnaise.  The high standard was easily maintained throughout the rest of dinner :

― Kaas Creaties, or cheese plate;
― Mussels, with celery root, spring onions, shiitake mushrooms and thyme;
― Eendenborst op Z’n Vel Gebakken, or pan-seared duck breast with mushrooms and spring onions;
― Le Steak Royale Belge, with frites and salad;
― Macaroni en Kaas.  Baked mac and cheese with breadcrumbs; and
― Wafel van Kreeft.  Waffle topped with lobster meat, tomato and arugula.


“Pull up a chair, take a taste, come join us.  Life is so endlessly delicious.” Ruth Reichl

© David-Kevin Bryant

Service, both at the bar and at the front of the house, was excellent.  Save room for coffee, especially if you’re a Pedro Almodóvar fan.  The restaurant’s coffee and espresso service features Illy’s limited edition cups with graphic designs from the Oscar-winning Spanish director’s films.

© Illy Coffee Co.

Botanical Gardens :

© David-Kevin Bryant

“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in…what more could he ask?  A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.” ― Victor Hugo

© David-Kevin Bryant

It is indeed possible for limited-chain restaurants to step out into the spotlight and showcase really great drinks and food.  Cuba Libre is proof.

Cuba Libre, Chinatown, Washington DC.  © David-Kevin Bryant

The Cuban restaurant and rum bar, which also has locations in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, can be found in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood and is a great destination for dinner and happy hour.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

On a particularly dreary day, my bestie and I stopped by, just prior to the happy hour crowd’s arrival, and savored a number of tapas plates, all of which were generous and extremely well-priced :

― Bay scallop ceviche, shrimp ceviche;
― Churrasco steak slider;
― Grilled baby octopus, served with Haitian eggplant salad;
― Mamá Amelia’s empanadas, a combination of mozzarella, tetilla, Monterey Jack cheeses, sweet roasted onions, and Aji-sour cream dipping sauce;
― Pineapple guacamole cubano; and
― Yuca fries, crispy and accompanied by Cilantro-caper allioli.

We also enjoyed the signature grilled pineapple mojito, which I highly recommend, and red wine.  It wasn’t long before the place became packed.  The noise level, however, did not become intolerable and I’m looking forward to rounding up even more friends and returning.

Flag of Cuba
© DeviantArt

Woodley Park’s District Kitchen serves very good seasonal and American food, and has fries that are out of this world.  It would be easy to under-estimate the establishment when you first enter as it has the stripped-down and laid back look of a pub.  The menu, however, is clearly aiming at something more ambitious and the restaurant delivers.  Friends and I stopped by and enjoyed the following :

― caprese salad with basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella;
― dry aged steak burger, served on a brioche bun, with fries;
― gazpacho with shrimp;
― grilled salmon with basil-lemon risotto;
― lump crab and grilled corn with avocado dressing on grilled country bread; and
― nicoise salad, made with egg, green beans, greens, olives and a poppy-seed vinaigrette.

The group consensus gave very high marks to the restaurant and we all agreed the fries are a huge standout.  I look forward to returning.

The entrance to the Woodley Park neighborhood’s District Kitchen.  © David-Kevin Bryant

There is a place with a laid-back and cool vibe, with more than just a hint of sophistication in Georgetown, and the historic place is better off because of it.  Over the years the neighborhood, defined by the intersection of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, has been plagued by the closing of more independent restaurants with chain establishments taking over.  Luckily, there have been some very noteworthy dining establishments and pubs opening―Bandolero, Bodega Spanish Tapas, Robert Sandoval’s El Centro, the Irish Rí-Rá, and Thunder Bar to name just a few.  At the top of this list is Eno Wine Room, located near the Four Seasons Hotel.  Its staff pays impeccable attention to recommending cheese and chocolate pairings with its list of domestic and imported wines.  On my first visit, I ordered a glass of cabernet from Washington state and this was the accompanying cheese plate :

― Green Hill from Thomasville, Georgia
― Lange Robiolo from Langhe Italy
― Red Row from Esmont, Virginia

The cheeses, ranging from soft and sweet to buttery, were delicious and followed by Gearharts Chocolates’ Taj Ganache, a dark chocolate with hints of ginger and cardamom.  We also ordered the “Bruschetta Flights” plate and each piece of the crispy bread was accompanied by a different topping :

― cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, creme fraiche, mint
― duck prosciutto, fig jam, creme fraiche
― peperonata, opal basil, parmesan
― white bean ragout

The platter is so good, and won so many raves from my fellow guests, I have yet to visit Eno and not order it.  The relaxed atmosphere of the place, which features warm woods and subdued lighting, is a complete break from so many other bars.  The staff is friendly, pragmatic, and knowledgeable.  Eno has easily won me over and become one of favorite places in the city.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

Even in this digital age, there is nothing that even remotely approaches the slight rush of walking into an actual bookstore and the tactile sensations of browsing through very real pages of books.  Add an excellent restaurant, a helpful staff, late dining on the weekends, live music, and a well-stocked bar with cafe seating, and what you have is heaven on earth.  What you have in other words is Kramerbooks and Afterwards Cafe.

© David-Kevin Bryant
© David-Kevin Bryant

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” ― Oscar Wilde


Located on Connecticut Avenue, just north of Dupont Circle, this Washington institution is one of my favorite places in the city, partially because bookstores are so rare, and partially because the food and drink is so good.

© David-Kevin Bryant

One can spend hours browsing through the books and periodicals; or, grab a beer and mixed drinks during happy hour in the adjacent bar; or, dinner in the cafe which features an excellent variety of well prepared dishes, like crab cakes, desserts, omelets, pastas, and small plates; or, end the evening with some great live music.  Or, all the above.

© David-Kevin Bryant
© David-Kevin Bryant

There is great outdoor seating, too, and the people-watching is second to none.

A rush of blood the head, i.e., actual books.  © David-Kevin Bryant
Le Chat Noir
©

Located along the 4900 block of Wisconsin Avenue in the Friendship Heights neighborhood, Le Chat Noir serves some of the best French cuisine in the city.  Steeped in Art Nouveau, the bistro is charming and picturesque.  The menu brought back fond memories of travel through the southeastern part of France and the melodious nature of the Marseillais was personified when we were greeted by the restaurant’s owner, Marie.  We decided to order a variety of appetizers rather than a full meal.  The Trio du Terroir, or duck pâté with pistachio mortadella ham and saucisson, was accompanied by warm bread.  The pâté was silky and flavored perfectly.  The Tartelette Astérix, or onion tart with bacon and brie, was flaky and the bacon was crisp.  We also enjoyed the delicate Saumon Fumé, or Norwegian smoked salmon, lemon and crème fraiche-chives dip.  The crab meat served in a pastry shell was featured as a special during our first visit.  We then ordered the crème brulée classique and tarte tatin for dessert.  The top of the former cracked perfectly when broken and the custard was creamy.  The latter was picture-perfect and the carmelized apples were delicious.  The restaurant made such an impression on us, we returned half a dozen times over a 2-month period.”””


“Monuments are for the living…not the dead.” ― Frank Wedekind

Dupont Circle.  © David-Kevin Bryant

Friends and I had the pleasure of dining at Lavagna, located just south of the Eastern Market metro station on 8th Street.  The restaurant prides itself on its dedication to Italian cuisine; its reliance on local farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia; its hand-made pastas and seasonal menus; and its in-house, smoked and cured meats.  It’s also unbelievably affordable.  We began with the charcuterie board which features blue, goat and gouda cheeses; crostini; house-cured meats; house-pickled vegetables; house preserves; and olives.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The Tasso ham in particular was excellent and our waiter happily obliged when we requested focaccia bread on the side.  The sampling of food was more than enough for the four of us.  Here is a summary of what we ordered afterwards :

― Chesapeake rockfish, with broccoli rabe, fingerling potatoes, paprika olive oil and lemon butter;
― rigatoni pesto with basil, pine nuts, and house Italian sausage;
― risotto with crimini and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and mascarpone; and
― freshly made spaghetti with meatballs.

For dessert we shared the Madelein & Macaron with mascarpone custard, flambe fruit, and wild berry herb coulis, and the Duo Crema Bruciata.  The service, from the hostess, to our waiter, to the attentive manager, was excellent and the restaurant easily earns 4 out of 4 stars.  We were so impressed, in fact, we returned for brunch a couple of weeks later and again, the food was delicious.  We enjoyed bottomless mimosas and strawberry bellinis and the dishes we ordered received high marks :

― Eggs Florentine with foccacia, spinach, Mornae sauce, potatoes;
― goat cheese and pepper preserve omelet with potatoes;
― house applewood bacon;
― house Italian sausage patties;
― Italian sausage gravy with foccacia biscuit, scrambled eggs;
― smoked gouda and arugula omelet with tomato, basil creme fraiche; and
― veggie frittata with mushrooms, kale, red peppers, onions, potatoes.

The brunch menu features mascarpone pancakes, with honey Nutella mascarpone, and fruit.  We ordered it for dessert to share and it was a home-run, 4-star plate.


“People come to Italy for all sorts of reasons, but when they sat, it’s for the same two things…love and gelato.” ― Jenna Evans Welch

© David-Kevin Bryant

This is what unbridled joy looks like …

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© David-Kevin Bryant

My bestie, Ellie, a lover of affable company, fine wine and great food, took me to celebrate my birthday at Lupo Verde, located at the intersection of T and 14th Streets, near the U Street corridor.  The Italian establishment served one of the best meals I have had the pleasure of enjoying in the nation’s capital, surpassed only by the top-notch service by the attentive and friendly staff.  Intimate, welcoming and with an industrial design, the restaurant is a stellar achievement.  We ordered the following :

― asparagi e salmone, or steamed white asparagus, house cured salmon with quail eggs and veggie sauce;
― baked branzino, with citrus, herbs and sea salt;
― grilled calamari, dressed with lemon-chili oil ; and
― tortellini with beets, sheep’s milk ricotta, burrata and truffle oil.

To finish the meal, we shared the Semifreddo al Pistacchio, or dark chocolate and pistacchio semifreddo with orange cream, a dessert so delicious and satisfying, I needed a cigarette.


Eve left the Garden with only two items.  The first, of course, was a partially eaten apple―hardly an appropriate gift for a house-warming party or birthday celebration.  The second, rumour has it, was the recipe for tiramisu.  Roughly translated as “lift me up,” the Italian dessert is a feast for the eyes and food porn for the palate.  Made with lady fingers soaked in espresso and layered with a whipped mixture of mascarpone cheese, sugar and sprinkled with cocoa, the dessert even appeals to those lacking a sweet tooth.  Most served in restaurants is lackluster, suffering from soggy ladyfingers, and inexpensive vanilla custard substituted for the creamy and sweet mascarpone.  For those who want to make it at home, you need to start with the finest ingredients and at the top of your list should be imported ladyfingers.  The Italian version of the cookie is baked twice.  Why ?  By baking the delicate cookie twice, it ensures as you layer your dish with the mascarpone, they will soften, and not become soggy.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

Finding the imported version is a breeze with Mediterranean Way at 1717 Connecticut Avenue.  The store is great place for Italian, Greek and Spanish specialties, all of which are reasonably priced.  The staff is jovial, well-informed and most willing to assist.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

A new exhibition opened at the National Gallery of Art.  Based on black-and-white chronicles of Paris in the 1870’s, Charles Marville :  Photographer of Paris is the first exhibition in the United States of the French photographer’s work.  Featuring more than 100 of his pictures, the exhibit was located in the West Building’s Ground Floor galleries.

Charles Marville
Rue de Constantine, Paris, by Charles Marville.  © commons.wikimedia.org

Washington, DC is the home to the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution, a collection of museums and galleries devoted to various subjects and areas of study, and forming the physical boundaries of the National Mall.  It is a great source of pride for the capital city and no matter what time of year people choose to visit, the museums are always crowded, particularly Air & Space, a favorite among children and fans of aviation history.  The city, however, has other gems which may not be as famous but nonetheless demand our attention.  At the top of the must-see list is The Phillips Collection, located in the city’s Dupont Circle neighborhood.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

It is the home of Renoir’s spectacular Le déjeuner des canotiers, or “Luncheon of the Boating Party,” and the modern museum could rest on its laurels on that fact alone.  But, it’s also the destination of ground-breaking and revelatory exhibitions you won’t find elsewhere.

"Luncheon of the Boating Party, " (1880–1881) / Pierre-Auguste Renoir
“Luncheon of the Boating Party, ” (1880–1881) / Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Phillips also has a new permanent installation in German artist Wolfgang Laib’s Wax Room.  The artist melted close to 450 lbs of wax and labored with a small selection of tools to carefully smooth the material into a uniform texture and color.  The golden surface is illuminated by a single light bulb which hangs in the middle of the room.

Waxroom
© The Washington Post

Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” named the Voltaggio brothers, Michael and Bryan, as the winner and runner-up, respectively, in Season Six.  While Michael has focused his efforts on the West coast dining scene, Bryan has stayed east and his Volt, located in Frederick, MD, continues to win accolades.  His Range, on Wisconsin Avenue, is further proof Bryan’s talents are nothing short of extraordinary.  I met friends there for brunch and my first impression was, “wow.”  The entrance and interior is sleek and exquisitely designed; the lighting, subdued and warm.

© David-Kevin Bryant

We decided to order appetizers to share before we tackled the brunch menu.  The restaurant’s cornbread, along with the crispy brussels sprouts―yes, brussels sprouts―had already earned a reputation in the Washington area as must haves :

― Charcuterie board, i.e., artisinal Atlantic cheese, hams, hearth baked breads, house pickled vegetables, pates, preserves, salumi, terrines;
― crispy brussels sprouts; and
― iron skilled cornbread, bacon marmalade.

I expected the cornbread to be a worthy choice as we had already heard rave reviews, but I was unprepared for just how fantastic it was.  We also ordered the following :

― Bacon, egg and cheese, served with croissant, goats cheese and nueske’s bacon;
― French toast, with wild berries, smoked cream cheese, maple syrup; and
― lamb neck hash, with fingerling potatoes, jack cheese, sunny side hen egg.

The croissant was buttery, flaky and warm, so much so I immediately thought of my favorite patisserie in Montreal and concluded the owners would be quite impressed with Range’s version.  The French toast was the best I have eaten and the smoked cream cheese and wild berries were sweet enough to render syrup almost completely unnecessary.  And the lamb hash was delicious.  The manager was courteous and stopped by frequently to check on us; our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable.  No detail was spared and its apparent a great deal of thought and artistry went into the menu, its preparation and the environs in which the food is skillfully prepared and proudly served.

2014
© David-Kevin Bryant

It took a couple of weeks but we were finally able to make brunch reservations at Scion Dupont, the immensely popular restaurant on P Street near Dupont Circle, and it was well worth the wait.  We started with the bottomless mimosas which were good and made with fresh orange juice.  A friend ordered fried pickles, a first for me.  They had the right amount of crispness but were not greasy.  And highly addictive.  We also ordered the following, all of which were quite good :

― Breakfast potatoes.  They were so good, the table next to us placed an order after listening to us rave about them.

― The lobster reuben had generous amounts of meat and the sauerkraut was very good.

― Egg white omelette with turkey sausage, mozzarella, peppers and jalapeno.

It was accompanied by an all-you-can-eat fruit bar, the best of which was the pineapple and melon.  For dessert, we ordered the apple tart which was served with sabayon and it was a knockout.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

Sette Osteria Restaurant is located at Connecticut Avenue and R Streets, north of Dupont Circle.  Friends and I decided to have brunch there on an uncharacteristically cool day.  The restaurant’s interior is a mix of Mediterranean styles with contemporary accents and the main dining room was flooded with warm, natural light.    We ordered bottomless mimosas and bellinis along with the following from the brunch menu :

― Egg white pollo omelette, served with prosciutto, chicken, Swiss cheese;
― ham omelette, prepared with jalapenos and cheddar cheese;
― side order of bacon; and
― smoked salmon platter.

I arrived a few minutes early, before the restaurant was even ready to seat people, and in no way was I made to feel like my presence was a burden.  The prices were reasonable and the food was very good; the mimosas and bellinis were excellent; and the side order of bacon was huge.  It was freshly prepared, chewy with just a hint of crispness on the edges and, thankfully, not swimming in grease.  When our waitress set the plate down, she cheerfully announced, “We made enough so you can all share.”  I would definitely recommend the restaurant.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

Located in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, Smash Records has two of the coolest things ever–Converse and vinyl albums.  The former will never go out of style; the latter produce sound fuller and richer than their CD and download counterparts.  Just listen to U2′s “The Joshua Tree” or Peter Gabriel’s “So” in all three formats for further proof.


Located in the Glover Park neighborhood, close to the intersection of Calvert Street and Wisconsin Avenue, is one of the city’s best when it comes to the ever-increasing list of wine bars, i.e., Slate Wine Bar & Bistro.  Blink and you might accidentally walk past it as their facade is a narrow one.  Don’t let that fool you.  Their huge front windows can be opened during great weather, allowing you the opportunity of enjoying impressive drinks and service, but also people watching, too.

© David-Kevin Bryant

The interior has a cool, minimalist vibe and a soundtrack to match and Chef, owner and sommelier Danny Lledo’s experience is clearly evident in the quality of wines available.  Just as impressive is the establishment’s happy hour prices and plates, along with their signature cocktails.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

My bestie, Ellie, has tasted mussels all over the city but raved Slate’s platter of steamed mussels with wine sauce was the best she has eaten.  I enjoyed their new Aromas of the Fall cocktail, made with bitters, cinnamon syrup, fresh lemon juice, Old Forest bourbon and then topped off with fresh nutmeg.  Each of the flavors revealed themselves with almost precision timing as I sipped, and the aroma of the nutmeg was well suited to the crisp Fall air.

Slate Wine Bar, Washington DC. © David-Kevin Bryant

Located at the corner of 22nd and P Streets, close to Dupont Circle, is Soho Tea and Coffee, an independent coffee-house and more importantly, a business which contributes to the vibe of P Street, a place with a noteworthy list of great restaurants to its credit.  The small establishment is packed with very good food and drink and the perfect refuge from a busy day.  It’s not uncommon to walk in and see a number of people working on their laptops or casually reading books and newspapers.  There is always a variety of music playing and at the right volume level, too.  When hanging out there with friends, you don’t have to scream to be heard.  They also feature hot and cold coffee beverages, pastries, and sandwiches.  The sausage and egg breakfast sandwiches are made to order and the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.  Can’t recommend the place enough.

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© David-Kevin Bryant

The Dutch-based clothing company SuitSupply opened a men’s store in Georgetown near the Four Seasons Hotel.  The clothing is smart, minimalist, impeccably tailored with imported fabrics, and it’s priced at a fraction of what you would find at higher-end stores.  Suits can be easily found for as little $ 600 and look as if they just arrived from Paris or Milan.  The store stocks an impressive collection of sweaters and ties, too.  The store’s manager is excellent and an endless source of assistance.

Suit Supply-02


In the Glover Park neighborhood, you’ll find Surfside, one of the best restaurant additions to Wisconsin Avenue in years.  Specializing in Southern California / Baha cuisine, their menu features grilled meats and fish, freshly prepared vegetables and side dishes, in a 2 story industrial building.  You can order a seemingly endless combination of the items in a burrito, quesadilla, salad or platter of tacos.  Their guacamole is prepared daily and the jalapeno / pineapple salsa is a knockout.


Another restaurant with a bottomless brunch is Zengo, located on 7th Street, NW.  With Asian and Latin-inspired dishes, the restaurant delivers flavorful, aromatic food in a cool but not overly trendy setting.  The brunch features small plates and some highly recommended items :

― Achiote-hoisin pork arepas (corn masa, avocado, crema fresca;)
― Angry Zengo roll, or tuna with wasabi tobiko, avocado, cucumber, sesame chipotle rouille;
― lobster chipotle grits with bacon, scallion, tomato;
― Peking duck chilaquiles, or fried egg, pickled onion, guajillo salsa, cotija, crema, corn tortilla; and
― Thai chicken empanadas, with chile poblano, oaxaca cheese, mango salsa.


Zorba’s Cafe, located north of Dupont Circle, is the city’s quintessential Greek restaurant.  Affordable, charming and featuring outdoor seating, Zorba’s features authentic cuisine that is delicious and flavorful.

© David-Kevin Bryant

On a particularly gorgeous day, we stopped in early evening and started off with a couple of glasses of very good Greek wine and :

― Greek olives
Hommos.  Chick peas blended with tahini, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil.  Served with pita bread.
― Kalamarakia.  Fresh calamari, served with fresh lemons and house-made marinara sauce.
Tzatziki.  Traditional dip of thick yogurt, shredded cucumber and garlic.  Served with pita bread.


“If you go back to the Greeks and Romans, they talk about all three―wine, food, and art―as a way of enhancing life.” ― Robert Mondavi

© David-Kevin Bryant

We then enjoyed the following, both of which we cannot recommend enough :

Vegetarian Plate.  An assortment platter with spanakópitta, fasolia, falafel, pita bread, served with Greek salad, two dolmathakia, with a side of hommus & tzatziki.

― Yero Plate.  Sliced blend of marinated beef and lamb, topped with tzatziki, served on Greek pita bread with fries.

© David-Kevin Bryant

 

 

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