Restaurant Reviews


image courtesy of Mango and Tomato

It is a warm spring night. I’m kneading bread dough in a gorgeous white and blue-tiled bakery with three charming Frenchmen. I squeeze the pliant dough with my fingers while pushing it together with the heels of both palms, then flip and slap it back down onto the floured workspace. I am gently teased about my “technique” which is a little bit backward from the norm and occasionally results in flecks of dough arcing through the air. I am a rank amateur.  Thirty minutes later, we nibble macaroons (pistachio and coconut are the best) and oozy millefeuilles while bread bakes in the oven.

Cubicle-dweller daydream? Not quite.  I’m in the windowed kitchen of Paul, the new French bakery by the Navy Memorial Archives. In what may have been my favorite food event to date, several DC area food bloggers were invited to a bread baking lesson in the kitchen just days before the bakery opened.

I have long lamented the lack of the perfect bakery in DC. A  space with an eye toward atmosphere and quality goods. Somewhere the bread is made on site, filling the air with dancing visions of golden crusts and yeasty middles. Where you can stroll in armed with a Kindle and need nothing more but a strong cup of coffee and warm baguette to spend precious spare time in the most delicious leisure possible. Have I finally found it?

Details on Paul after the jump. (more…)

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By the time you read this post, Roti Mediterranean Grill will be open for breakfast.  If  you hurry, you might still beat the rush to be one of the first to try a sandwich wrapped in laffa or tucked into a house-baked pita pocket.  Even if you’re not enough of an early bird to check out their breakfast offerings, you may want to check out Roti in NoMa sooner rather than later.

Why?  Roti is offering up spit-roasted meats and freshly made toppings that will make up for all those mediocre gyros and kebabs you’ve settled for in the past.  They’re even baking their own pita bread on site.  And they’re delivering all these big sit-down style flavors at carryout prices.

There was a time when the area north of Union Station on First Street, NE, was an expanse of vacant lots and dilapidated buildings.  These days, with multiple federal offices and other large employers moving into the area, there are new dining options opening every week.  Even so, Roti Mediterranean Grill is poised to stand out among its neighbors.

So what’s Roti all about?  Imagine Chipotle with the flavors of the eastern Mediterranean.  Got it?  Now check out that picture to the right.  Pretty close, right?  On the surface, Roti’s quick-service, choose-your-own-adventure style is similar to that of the ubiquitous burrito place.  But their flavors are miles apart.

Check out some of what Roti will be offering when they open today after the jump. (more…)

When we heard that Chef Jamie Leeds was selling CommonWealth Gastropub in Columbia Heights to focus on an expansion of her original Hank’s Oyster Bar, our thoughts turned to the only one of her restaurants unaffected by the news: the second Hank’s in Alexandria.  While there are some restaurants we haven’t written about because we don’t have many nice things to say, our silence regarding Hank’s is more a reflection on its role as a solid go-to for oysters, seafood and even brunch in Old Town.  We rarely plan our visits, so we don’t tend to have a camera with us when we stop in for a bite.

Now you know we love good oysters.  You’ve heard us tell the tales of Oyster Riots passed, and we shared our love of the oyster happy hour at Johnny’s Half Shell years ago.  So you can understand at least part of the reason we’re happy to keep coming back to Hank’s.  But the menu, with its daily specials and its emphasis on classic preparations of fish and seafood, has offered us plenty of reasons to visit beyond a few briny morsels every now and then.

A few of our favorite things from the sea after the jump.

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Maybe Jean-Georges Vongerichten was looking for a challenge.  That’s pretty much the only reason we could come up with to explain why a man who has more than a dozen restaurant concepts within his portfolio chose to use the word “steakhouse” in the name of his Washington venture.  Nothing else makes sense.

The fact that he even considered opening a restaurant in Washington shows that he knew we’ve evolved beyond the days when haute French and red-meat-by-the-pound were the only options for high end dining.  Even so, we’ve got more than our fair share of places where steak is featured front and center.  It could hardly come as a surprise that potential diners would assume a place called “J&G Steakhouse” was just part of the crowd.

Whatever the rationale for the name, it relegated the restaurant to a lower tier of our “to-do” list for more than a year.  But any regular reader of our Restaurant Week recommendation posts knows that we like to seek out high-value opportunities when making our RW reservations, and this time around J&G Steakhouse seemed to offer the best bang for the buck.  At the very least, it would give us a chance to see what the newest steakhouse on the block brings to the table.

The anti-steakhouse experience after the jump. (more…)

Work travel strikes again but at least this time I ended up in one of my favorite cities – San Francisco! Here are notes from the travel scratchpad. I took photos when appropriate; client dinners don’t always lend themselves to foodie habits. If you’re planning a trip there yourself, check out our past reviews in San Francisco.

Boulevard
Landing in San Francisco late in the evening, I was flying solo for dinner.  I wandered from my hotel but was not lost. Boulevard was calling my name and I knew I could find a warm seat at the bar. The brasserie feel of the restaurant put me at ease immediately, as did the fact that it was so crowded at 9pm on a Tuesday night. I scraped my chair up to the bar and immediately landed on my dinner for the evening: pan-roasted California squab with homemade gnocchi, white truffles from Oregon, and roasted brussel sprouts. I was in heaven. The squab was rich and moist – slightly crispy on the outside but still the deep red I was hoping to see in the center. The soft, plump pillows of gnocchi melted on my tongue and the slight tang of the sprouts brought my palate back down to Earth. The by-the-glass wine list was a little pricey but a well-made bourbon cocktail soothed me into the rest of the evening. Their Michelin star is well-deserved.

Boulevard on Urbanspoon

Barbacco Eno Trattoria

courtesy of A Food Lover's Life

Ask someone to come up with trademarks of the Bay Area and you’re likely to get similar answers: great food and technology. (It’s no shock that OpenTable is based there.) Barbacco has found the perfect way to blend both: the drink menu is on an iPad. Brilliant. But the restaurant is more than a tricked out lunch joint. The food was spot on: brussel sprouts lightly fried in duck fat might just spur a religious experience while the farro risotto melds a lesser known grain with a round, full-bodied flavor and the risotto texture I expect. Well done all around.
Barbacco on Urbanspoon

A Top Chef restaurant, another Michelin starred spot, late night burritos, and the top of my Next Time! Wishlist after the jump.

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You know the drill: we open every write-up about a taqueria talking about what a tough time we’ve had finding good Mexican food in the DC area.  Since we started, we’ve received a couple of good recommendations, and we’ve been fortunate enough to find a few winners on our own.  At this point, I may be willing to concede that we were looking in the wrong places to begin with.

From now until April 1st, we know exactly where to look for by-the-book tacos in an unexpected setting: Tacos Impala.  This pop-up taco stand has taken up residency in the Philadelphia Water Ice Company’s digs at 1204 H Street, NE, and they’ll be turning out the tortillas for another two months.  If you miss out, you have only yourself to blame.

Everything about this classic street food is handmade fresh on a daily basis, from the corn tortillas to the chopped radish, onion and cilantro that make up the only available toppings.  Even the two sauce options – a green, tomatillo-based salsa verde and the milder red ‘Sauce Impala’ using guajillos – are made from scratch.  They make ingredient runs to the Florida Market six days a week.  And they show a deft hand when it comes to spicing the meats and beans that fill those homemade tortillas.

The story on what brings these tasty tacos to H Street after the jump. (more…)

Curse you, Ted.

You’ve turned the normal order of things upside down with your diner-like offer of “breakfast any time.”  How are we to know when to go to work and when to go home if we can stop in for bacon and eggs at any hour of the day?

And sweetening the deal with homemade versions of classic breakfast pastries?  That’s just unfair.  Are you trying to keep us from ever looking at your lunch and dinner menus?

It certainly seemed that way when I stopped in to Ted’s Bulletin the other day.  It was lunchtime, sure, but that didn’t stop me from zeroing in on the breakfast menu.  I couldn’t help it – I grew up in New Jersey, and there it’s your God-given right to order an omelet and a side of disco fries* at any hour of the day.  Besides – it didn’t seem right to order a burger with a “pop tart” on the side, and I’d heard far too many rave reviews of the frosted treats to not try one myself.

A taste of Ted’s breakfast menu – whenever you choose to order it – after the jump. (more…)

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