We don’t usually write about a restaurant the same night we eat there, but there are a couple of circumstances that come together to make tonight an exception.  For one thing, this wasn’t our first rodeo…we’ve eaten at Tallula before and had a great meal every time.  More important, though, is the fact that one of the recommendations we’re about to make has a distinct expiration date: this Sunday.

Along with its fellow Neighborhood Restaurant Group establishments, Tallula is celebrating the Olympics.  Each of the six properties has adopted a country, and they are offering special food and beverage options that reflect that country’s cuisine.  Get your “Olympic Passport” stamped at all six restaurants, and you earn a $50 NRG gift card for use at any of the six.  You’ll also be entered into a drawing for three grand prizes during an outdoor celebration at Evening Star Cafe on Sunday.  If you’re just getting started, you may have a tough time hitting all six in time to make the drawing (though it can certainly still be done!).

Of all the Olympic menu items, there was one in particular that caught our eye (okay, two if you count the poutine at ChurchKey).  We’re suckers for a good pierogi, those Eastern European pockets of dough stuffed with delicious, hearty fare like potatoes.  When we saw that Chef Barry Koslow and his crew at Tallula were taking them on, we knew where we’d be heading.

After the jump, I risk alienating my Russian-American family members with a startling confession. (more…)

In a neighborhood flattened by foot traffic, a new restaurant with an accessible menu is always going to be a welcome addition. At the Columbia Firehouse, the latest installment from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (who also brought Rustico and Tallulah to grateful NoVA neighborhoods), delivering elevated but recognizable food in a friendly setting is what they do best.

IMG_8971This decree was apparent when Mike and I arrived to meet my parents who were not only seated but already enjoying a steaming bowl of mussels they spotted on the menu and just couldn’t wait to try. Their instincts were spot on: the juicy, briny mussels were served with a generous helping of thick cut bacon, arugula, and oven-dried tomatoes, a dish that pushes you long past any “just one taste” intentions. The broth was rich, complex, and buttery; the kind that makes you ask for extra bread to mop up all the flavor. Be careful of this bread by the way. It looks innocent but with a crust bathed in salt and butter, it’s far too easy to suddenly inhale it. In no time Mike and I were licking stray broth from our fingertips and thinking bashfully about opening the menu for our actual orders. 

We were helped along by our criminally adorable waitress Erim, who guided us with cheer. We swayed between the cornmeal crusted oysters and blue-crab hush puppies before deciding on the ‘pups.  Arriving piping hot with a crispy golden crust, the hush puppies were rich on the inside and complemented nicely by a dollop of savory pepper mustard. IMG_8974

The slow-roasted Amish chicken “is actually Amish,” Erim assured my father in her uncannily Bart Simpson-like voice, “from a farm in Pennsylvania.” In just the few weeks since the restaurant opened, the chicken quickly rose to most popular dish status.  This is not a meal for a shrinking appetite. The portion is generous, served with a leg, thigh, and a breast, alongside a healthy side of cornbread stuffing and andouille sausage: a citified country comfort meal.

I couldn’t resist another order of mussels, this time going for a kettle with tasso ham, red-pepper flakes, garlic, and lager. With ingredients like that, how could it be wrong? Although the broth was a touch thinner (my fault: I asked the kitchen to scale back on butter this time) the flavors still came alive with a rich, deep zest. 

More food and dessert after the jump! (more…)

I don’t think we could have hand-picked a better night to try Evening Star Cafe for the first time than Monday. The img_7536air was warm with a cool breeze, the Del Ray residents and their dogs were in full neighborly force on the sidewalk and there was a two-seater actually available on the patio when we arrived. We’d put our dinner fate in the hands of the Twitterverse that afternoon when trying to settle on a Del Ray dinner location, and it was paying off in spades. 

The Evening Star Cafe has been a low key Del Ray favorite since 1997, praised for its wholesome American dishes and relaxed atmosphere. It’s no mystery why: Evening Star Cafe is part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, a restuarant organization that has cracked the code on homey places where everyone can feel like a regular. Their roster also includes Tallula, Vermillion, Buzz Bakery, and Rustico.

Food experiences and a top contender for the world’s best comfort dish after the jump. (more…)