Contents : B Too | 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
“Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J. R. R. Tolkien
Belgian food as avant-garde cuisine ? It’s entirely possible and Chef Bart Vandaele’s B Too is proof. The former “Top Chef “contestant’s restaurant along the revitalized 14th Street corridor is Belgian 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 in fact it’s the size and weight of a book and includes an equally impressive number of red and white wines.
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’re that good and are accompanied by the requisite mayonnaise. The high standard was easily maintained with the rest of the food we enjoyed :
― B Too Kaas Creaties, or cheese plate
― B Too 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, or 10oz filet with frites and salad
― Macaroni en Kaas, or baked mac and cheese with breadcrumbs
― Wafel van Kreeft, or waffle topped with lobster meat, tomato and arugula
Service, both at the bar and at the front of the house, was excellent. Save room for coffee, too, especially if you’re a Pedro Almodóvar fan. B Too’s coffee and espresso service features Illy’s limited edition cups with graphic designs from the Oscar-winning Spanish director’s films.
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. The Cuban restaurant and rum bar, which also has locations in Atlantic City and Philadelphia, can be found in the city’s revitalized Chinatown neighborhood and is a great destination for dinner and happy hour.
On a particularly dreary day, my bestie and I stopped by, just prior to the happy hour crowd’s arrivals, 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, a dish so delicious we ordered a couple of them
― Yuca fries, crispy and accompanied by Cilantro-caper allioli
We also enjoyed the restaurant’s signature grilled pineapple mojitos (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.
I wrote previously that Le Chat Noir, a wonderful little French restaurant in the Tenley Town neighborhood served some of the best Gallic cuisine in the city. Their frites, for example, are fantastic and are responsible for numerous return visits over the course of just a few weeks. Having said that, the owners might want to keep an eye on Woodley Park’s District Kitchen, which 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. Recently, friends and I stopped by and enjoyed the following :
― caprese salad with marinated basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella
― dry aged steak burger, served on a brioche bun with lettuce, tomatoes and DK fries
― gazpacho with shrimp
― grilled salmon with basil-lemon risotto
― lump crab and grilled corn with avocado dressing on grilled country bread
― 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.
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 famous 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 has been a sea change with some very interesting and noteworthy dining establishments and bars 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. What differentiates it from so many other places is the impeccable attention its staff pays to recommending cheese and chocolate pairings with its impressive list of domestic and imported wines. And what is most impressive about this is the friendly, pragmatic, and knowledgeable way they accomplish this. The menu features what they call “Flights,” i.e., samples of wines, cheeses and chocolates. On my first visit, for example, 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 were followed by pieces of 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 and, luckily, doesn’t have walls of television screens all turned to different channels with the volume cranked up so high you cannot carry on a decent conversation. Eno has easily won me over and become one of favorite places in the city.
Even in this digital age and the efficiency of online shopping, there is nothing that even remotely approaches the slight rush of walking into an actual bookstore and the tactile sensations which characterize browsing through very real–i.e., paper–pages. Add an excellent restaurant, a helpful and knowledgeable 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.
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. One can spend hours browsing through the books and periodicals; or, grab a beer or 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. There is great outdoor seating, too, and the people-watching is second to none.
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.
Now, I’m not an engineer but I have a vague understanding of how NASA is able to send the space shuttle into orbit. I’m not a mechanic either but I think I understand the basic principles behind the combustible engine. I was completed dumbfounded, however, by the possibility of serving crab meat in a delicate pastry shell without the shell itself ever becoming soggy. Somehow, the restaurant achieved this little feat. The meat was fresh and seasoned to perfection. 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.
Friends and I had the pleasure of dining at Lavagna, located 2 blocks 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. My half portion of rigatoni with fresh pesto, for example, was less than $ 10.00. We began with the charcuterie board which featured blue, goat and gouda cheeses; crostini; house-cured meats; house-pickled vegetables; house preserves; and olives. The Tasso ham in particular was excellent and our waiter happily obliged when we also requested focaccia bread on the side. The sampling of food was more than enough for the four of us, and 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. My friends loved the amount of spice in the dish.
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 at the front door, to our waiter, to the manager, was excellent. The restaurant easily earns 4 out of 4 stars. We were so impressed with the dining experience, we returned for brunch a couple of weeks later and again, the food was delicious, affordable, and our waiter was fantastic. We enjoyed bottomless mimosas and strawberry bellinis and all the dishes we ordered received high marks :
― Eggs Florentine with poached eggs, foccacia, spinach, Mornae sauce, potatoes
― Goat cheese pepper preserve omelet with potatoes
― House applewood bacon
― House Italian sausage patties
― Italian sausage gravy with foccacia biscuit, scrambled eggs
― Smoked gouda arugula omelet with tomato, basil creme fraiche
― Veggie frittata with mushrooms, kale, red peppers, onions, potatoes
The brunch menu also features mascarpone pancakes, i.e., buttermilk pancakes, honey Nutella mascarpone, and fruits. Rather than ordering it as a main dish, we ordered it for dessert and the 7 of us shared it. Hands down, it’s a home-run, 4-star plate.
“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” ― Ruth Reichl
This is what unbridled joy looks like …
My bestie, Ellie, a lover of affable company, fine wine and great food, took me to celebrate my birthday and managed to accomplish the seemingly impossible. She surprised me with dinner at the restaurant, Lupo Verde, located at the intersection of T and 14th Streets, NW, near the revitalized U Street corridor, all on a day when Washington enjoyed a brief sliver of sunshine after more than 2 weeks of gray skies and rain. 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 that avoids the trappings of trying too hard to be cool, 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 from the Amalfi coast
― 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 then layered with a whipped mixture of mascarpone cheese, sugar and then sprinkled with cocoa, the dessert even appeals to those lacking a sweet tooth. Most served in restaurants is lackluster at best, 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 you can locate. At the top of your list should be imported, Italian ladyfingers. This should not be perceived as food snobbery. The Italian version of the cookie, you see, is baked twice. Why ? By baking the delectable and delicate cookie twice, it ensures that as you layer your dish with the mascarpone, they will soften…and not become soggy.
For those of you who live and work in the Washington area, finding the imported version is a breeze with the opening of the 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.
A new exhibition opened this past Fall at Washington, DC’s 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.
Washington, DC is the home, of course, to the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution, a series of museums and galleries devoted to various subjects and areas of study, and forming the physical boundaries of the National Mall. The Smithsonian is a great source of pride for the capital city and no 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.
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 be able to find elsewhere.
The work of New York artist Jill O’Bryan, for example is featured at the museum’s entrance. Beautiful and thought-provoking, her sculpture, “one billion breaths in a lifetime,” will be on display until 17 April 2016.
What happens when the subtle beauty of the Impressionist Movement mixes with the symbolism of thoughts, music and words ? It’s a question for the artistic ages and more importantly, its answers were showcased magnificently in Neo-Impressionism and the Dream of Realities : Painting, Poetry, Music, an exhibition featured at The Phillips. More than 70 works, created from 1888 to 1895 from such artists as Camille Pissarro, Georges Seurat and Paul Signac, were on display.
“To establish the Dream of realities…to strive for the pursuit of the Intangible and meditate—in silence—to inscribe the mysterious Meaning.” ― Henry van de Velde, 1890
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, including a spatula, 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.
Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” nailed it–and added further to its legitimacy as the ultimate culinary challenge in the reality television genre–when it 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, has continued to win accolades. His Range, which opened Wisconsin Avenue in the District, is further proof that Bryan’s talents are nothing short of extraordinary. I met friends there for Sunday brunch and my first impression of the restaurant was “wow.” The entrance and interior is sleek and exquisitely designed; the lighting, subdued and warm.
We decided to order a few 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
― iron skilled cornbread, bacon marmalade
What struck us first was the beautiful presentation of the appetizers. The cheeses, for example, were perfectly spaced apart on the board and looked as much like art as it did delicious food. The waiter patiently explained their origins and taste. 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. The shocker, however, were the brussels sprouts, a vegetable that is admittedly an acquired taste. Range’s were served hot in a small skillet with crispy onions and they were excellent. It’s also important to note that a fourth person could have easily joined us for the meal. The amount of appetizers was bountiful without being obscene. We also ordered the following, although I challenged the waiter to bring me what he would order if were dining there. The French toast was his choice :
― bacon, egg and cheese, served with croissant, goats cheese and nueske’s bacon
― crispy French toast, with wild berries, smoked cream cheese, maple syrup
― 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 probably the best I have eaten. The smoked cream cheese and wild berries were sweet enough to render syrup almost completely unnecessary. And the lamb hash, which I sampled for more than just one bite, was delicious. Hands down, this was one of the best meals I have eaten in the U.S. In addition, the service was impeccable. The manager was courteous and stopped by frequently to check on us. Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable. No detail in Range has gone unnoticed and its apparent that 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.
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. The interior is small with some of the tables placed too closely together. I would recommend, therefore, sitting at the pub tables in the bar section, or outside, especially in the Fall when the weather in Washington is at its best. We started with the bottomless mimosas which were good and made with fresh orange juice. A friend ordered fried pickles–a first for me, although if you fry most things they will undoubtedly be good. These were fantastic. 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 (chip style). Like the fried pickles, they had the right amount of crispness on the outside and yet were hot and tender inside. They were so good in fact, the table next to us placed an order after listening to us rave about them.
― The Lobster Ruben had generous amounts of meat and the sauerkraut was very good.
― Egg white omelette with turkey sausage, mozzarella, peppers and jalapeno was very good and had more flavor than most of the egg white dishes I’ve had recently.
It was accompanied by an all-you-can-eat fruit bar, the best of which was the pineapple and melon. As far as the desserts, we ordered both the chocolate croissant and the apple tart, both of which we were assured, had been made fresh that very morning. The croissant was a tremendous let down, however, as it only had a few small pieces of chocolate on the outside–and none inside. To its credit, the restaurant quickly and easily redeemed itself with the apple tart which was served with sabayon. It was a knockout.
Sette Osteria Restaurant is located at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and R Streets, a couple of blocks north of Dupont Circle. I had heard mixed reviews of the place but was intrigued since its outdoor seating area was always packed on the weekends. Friends and I had decided to have brunch there on an uncharacteristically cool summer day in Washington. 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 (3 eggs, prosciutto, chicken, Swiss cheese)
― Ham omelette (3 eggs, ham, green & red peppers, tomatoes, jalapenos, cheddar cheese)
― Side order of bacon
― Smoked salmon platter
The service, from the hostesses at the front door to our waitress, was very good. I had actually 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 with the following two items being stand-outs : first, both the mimosas and bellinis were excellent and did not have the watered down taste which plagues so many other brunch services; and second, the side order of bacon was huge. The bacon 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.
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 the city’s best when it comes to the ever-increasing list of wine bars, i.e., Slate Wine Bar & Bistro at 2404 Wisconsin Avenue, NW. Blink and you might accidentally walk right past it as their facade is a narrow one. Don’t let that fool you, however. 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.
The interior is deceptively deep with 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. My bestie, Ellie, has tasted mussels all over the city and on visit to Slate just within the past couple of days, she handed them perhaps the highest compliment possible–their platter of steamed mussels with wine sauce was the best she has eaten and the portion was more than generous. As she reveled in her food, 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. And the nutmeg was ground using a microplane. To say it was fantastic would be an understatement. 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. Bartender Alain’s expertise won me over as I enjoyed a couple more and we assured him we would be returning very soon with friends to enjoy happy hour and dinner, too.
Located at the corner of 22nd and P Streets, close to Dupont Circle and near Books for America, is Soho Tea and Coffee, an independent coffee-house and more importantly, a business which contributes to the great vibe of P Street, a place with a noteworthy list of great restaurants to its credit, i.e., Crios, and Urbana, for example. The small establishment is packed with great 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 (Soho provides free WiFi–a must these days for cafes and coffee / tea houses) 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.
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.
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. They also feature a variety of cupcakes delivered daily from their sister establishment on Macomb Street, “Sweet Something,” located in Upper Northwest. There are other establishments in Washington which have garnered a lot of press over their cupcakes but none of them can compete with Surfside’s.
Another restaurant with a Sunday 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 (tuna, wasabi tobiko, avocado, cucumber, sesame chipotle rouille)
― Lobster-Chipotle Grits (bacon, scallion, tomato)
― Peking Duck Chilaquiles (fried egg, pickled onion, guajillo salsa, cotija, crema, corn tortilla)
― Thai Chicken Empanadas (chile poblano, oaxaca cheese, mango salsa)