Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick Review

So it's been a REALLY long time since I've posted on this food blog, but some people this restaurant week continued to insist that I do a few again, so I'm going to see if I can come to some happy medium about the amount of time this takes. Since I've last posted, I've obviously been to MANY restaurants, including among them and I don't remember enough about the intricacies of each meal to really write about them, so I'm going to go down some of the Washingtonian list places I've been to in that time and just give a short recommendation:

Komi (Dupont): Worthy of the #1 ranking. The ambience, the service, the wine, the presentation are all amazing. You have to be willing to trust the Chef and taste a bunch of things you wouldn't otherwise be willing to taste. This place is SUPER expensive, but extremely good. Be adventurous and give it a try. I definitely didn't like everything on the tasting menu, but I liked enough that it was so worth my parents' money (part of my Dad's signing bonus for a friend I referred). The roasted pig main course was one of the best things I've ever had. I really promised myself I would write a full one on this one, and I may still try. Perhaps I should have to go back, is someone paying?

The Source (Capitol Hill): Avoid this place for anything but appetizers. It is far overrated at #3. I know it's Wolfgang Puck, but pay for the name. The atmosphere is okay, the bathroom wasn't even that clean though. The appetizers were really good (the crispy pork appetizer was amazing, the pork belly dumpling is overrated). The entrees were not worth what we paid for them and neither were the desserts. It was a $70 lunch with no alcohol and worth $25 or $30.

Rasika (Penn Quarter): Another one I would have blogged if I were doing it. I cannot say enough about this place. It is a really cool atmosphere, convenient to the Verizon Center and really tough to get a reservation (restaurant week, forget about it). Indian food that made my Indian friends gush, a hefty portion of it and at prices that, while not cheap, will not break your bank account either. The best Indian place in town BY FAR. Worthy of it's #9 ranking.

Corduroy (Penn Quarter): I haven't been in years and haven't even been to Power's new(ish) facility. That said, I remember this place being excellent and one of my favorites. It's about time it made it to the top 20.

Sushi Taro (Dupont): Very good and basically next door to Komi. It would probably cost you more than Komi to eat enough food to actually make you full. We went there and had to go to the yogurt place next door to fill up. The food was delicious. Their Wagyu beef might have been some of the best sushi I've ever had. Their fatty tuna was incredible as well and the atmosphere was great. Possibly worth it's #24 ranking, but...after spending $70 without alcohol, I wouldn't expect to need frozen yogurt and still need to eat 2 hours later!

PassionFish (Reston): Worth the drive and the price and the #30 ranking. It is one of the better fish places in the DC area and in a part of the area that needs more good restaurants. If you're out in Reston, it's a good place to go. The decor is so-so and the clientelle can make a little bit of noise (hey, it's Reston), but it's a good place.

Tosca (Farragut): One of the best restaurant weeks out there. They offer full menu and they don't skimp on anything. The pasta is really good and the food there in general is quite good. If you've never been there, it is one of THE places to go for Restaurant Week.

Black Market Bistro (Garrett Park/North Bethesda): Great place, might be a little overpriced, but the atmosphere is one of the best in town. It seems very off the beaten path, but it's not that far away at all. It's in an old historic building and it's so quaint, quiet and private. The food was fantastic. I don't eat mussels, but they looked to be one of the best mussels dishes I've seen. It was very good and good desserts too. Also, try BlackSalt if I haven't written about it. It's a good place along MacArthur Blvd. that is definitely worth the price. I think it might be the freshest fish I've had in DC (which sadly doesn't say THAT much).

Cava (Gaithersburg/Eastern Market): This place is worth the price. It's not very expensive and in my opinion, the mezzes are better than you'll get at the consistently overrated, but super-trendy Zaytinya. The sandwiches for lunch, I can do with or without.

Eventide (Clarendon): Costs way more than it's worth. The atmosphere is cool and the location is convenient, but it's really hard to get a reservation and they don't seem to make all of their own desserts.

Kinkead's (Farragut): Good, but costs WAY more than it's worth and far too difficult to get a dinner table. They claim to be the best fish in town and they aren't bad, but they are definitely overrated. They do a decent restaurant week though. If you're going to check it out (and it's a power place, so you may want to go, just to say you did) go during restaurant week.

Liberty Tavern (Clarendon): If I haven't written about it before, it's worth it if you get the right things. The pizzas are totally worth the price of admission. Also, some of the most creative drinks you'll find in town.

Present (Falls Church): It isn't Four Sisters, which is nearby, but don't overlook it. There are some things that they do better and they are about equal in price and easier to get a table.

Spice Xing (Rockville): Yes! I like this place and it's the second best Indian place I've been to in the area (and I've been to many). It's pretty inexpensive for what it is and easy to just stumble upon when you're in Rockville.

Okay, that pretty much wraps up most of the places I haven't written about that are listed there (which makes it easier for me to remember them). I'll try to update a little bit more with some real ones.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oval Room

Oval Room
800 Connecticut Ave. NW
Type of Cuisine: Traditional Continental
Neighborhood: Midtown
Nearest Metro: Farragut West

Well, everyone knows it's Restaurant Week season again. I think after so much time in doing Restaurant Week so heavily, I've figured out what places do a good job for it and what places aren't quite as good. Having been no stranger to recommending restaurants that I enjoy for restaurant week or visiting them again myself, I think that restaurants should put their best foot(d) forward for Restaurant Week. Some of these places that I went this year put out many items from their normal menu and some did not quite go that route. That said, most of the places I went this year did post items that if not on the menu, were carefully planned by the executive chef to provide a good view of the actual menu.

This was the case with the Oval Room. Normally I would shy away from the DC power restaurants like Oval Room, Zola, Williard and Caucus Room, but I was intrigued by Washingtonian Magazine's ranking this restaurant at #9 on its list due to relatively new Chef Tony Conte's designs (he's been there like 2 years or something). If it's ranked that highly, it couldn't be a restaurant purely based on who eats there and not on what the food was like. So a friend of mine and I met there for a very nice, very crowded and little bit rushed lunch. I couldn't have made a better decision since they had the same menu available for lunch and dinner with only a few small adjustments (I can only assume the same portions too since they were HUGE). One thing to note was the "sweet" theme of everything. All of the items on their menu had a sweet flavoring to them which was quite good on some dishes.


Appetizers: They put out a wonderful set of five available appetizers.

Me: Mozzerella with sweet chili dressing

Friend: Roasted Beets with fruit


Me: Flat iron steak in a red wine sauce with Salsify (a root vegetable)

Friend: Salmon (not sure how it was cooked, but it was served in a bowl over what I think was grits)


Me: Peanut butter cheesecake and boisonberry parfait.

Friend: Dark chocolate brownie

Peanut Butter Cheesecake Parfait: Okay, this was the best part of the meal. It was such a unique combination. The "cheesecake" was extremely smooth and creamy while not super sweet. The peanut butter flavoring was definitely there so that you have to like peanut butter to like the dessert, but it was still relatively subtle and didn't overpower the dessert. The hint of chocolate crust was delightful. The strongest taste to the dessert was actually the boisonberry (sp?). There was a little too much berry in it, but the taste actually melded quite well with the peanut butter, a combination I wouldn't expect.

Roasted beets: Unfortunately I don't remember entirely what it was served with, but the roasted beets were fantastic. There were three different kinds of beets in different shades of red, yellow and orange. Each of them had a sweetness to them that mixed well with the tartness of the beet. It was a textural delight as well.

Mozzerella with Sweet Chili: This had another nice tang to it. The mozzerella was of fantastic quality. It was fresh and a little sweet itself. It was cut into bite sized pieces. I would have wished for a little bit more spice to the sauce, but otherwise, it was delicious.

Flat Iron Steak: Although I was eating at such a nice restaurant, I was still pleasantly surprised by the quality of the flat iron steak. It was much more tender than I am used to from a flat iron steak. I thought it was a bit pretentious that they didn't give me a steak knife to cut it, but I was wrong. The sauce, again had a little bit of sweetness to it, which was a bit overpowering, but the tenderness of the meat and the way it was cooked (perfectly rare) was incredible. Although, the salsify, which I had never heard of before, was the best thing on the plate, and may have challenged the dessert. It was a stalky root vegetable that had the look of asparagus and the consistency of a beet. It seemed to absorb the sauce better than the steak did.

Lunch Service: I found the server to be very in tune with the needs of the lunch crowd. A lot of this is probably due to the location and reputation of the restaurant. We got there a little bit before our reservation and had to wait a little, but we still sat down before our 1:30 time. The server, while a little bit businesslike was nonetheless very helpful and attentive. She did know to leave us alone when needed, but was very efficient and quick with the check. She managed to allow us a relatively quick meal (probably just over an hour) without ever feeling rushed. That is quite a talent which I will attribute largely to the restaurant and probably less to the server.


Salmon: Didn't hear too much about it. I had a taste of it and the salmon was quite well prepared, but I think that the sauce was a little bit too sweet for the flavor of the salmon. I think it was better if you just had the salmon plain. Despite that, it was a very good piece of salmon cooked to the perfect temperature and texture. I think the lack of commentary could have hurt this piece a little bit.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere is probably something that most people love. I call it bland because, while I thought it was exactly what it should be and what was intended, I don't know if I love it. Make no mistakes, Oval Room is a DC power establishment. While your meal may not be rushed, the room is quite rushed. It is oval shaped, to make you think of the office a few blocks away. It is infused with busy, fast-moving Washington insiders and packed to the brim. Diners can relax in the plush red, leather chairs, probably like most of the clientele have in their office so they can feel like they haven't left. It had surprisingly good acoustics for how crowded it was. I was able to hear my friend across the table pretty well. I would say that if you like comfortable but crowded, busy and undoubtedly pretentious, you would enjoy Oval Room.

Dark Chocolate Brownie: This was definitely the loser among the food. It was good, but it was nothing special and definitely compared negatively to the peanut butter cheesecake parfait. It was still sweet, but seemed a lot like a Corner Bakery brownie only a little lighter (not that there is anything wrong with a Corner Bakery brownie). For some reason I'm not expecting light when I go for a chocolate brownie.


Menu Planning: The menu itself I enjoyed. It was not pretentious, everything made sense (if I had known what Salsify was, but it was no creative name, that's just the name of the vegetable). The planning of the restaurant week menu and likely the whole menu has a strong tendency towards the sweet. All six dishes on the table were sweet and I really wanted something more savory or spicy to go along with it. I thought that it was poorly planned. Other than that, there was nothing terribly bitter about the place. I suppose that consistency is what makes this a top 10 restaurant.


Quality: ***1/2 I thought that it was very consistent and bordering at some times on very good. There was nothing at Oval Room that truly wowed me with the potential exception of my dessert. It is definitely still a power restaurant, but likely the best of the power restaurants by leaps and bounds. The Chef does a wonderful job, I just wish he'd vary his menu a little bit more.

Value: $$ Okay so it's a place that is frequented by lobbyists, GS-15s, SESs and expense account lunches. It's not the most affordable place to go, but it's not as expensive as I thought it would be. Afterall, they did do restaurant week and not too many of the really expensive places do.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I apologize, I have not been keeping up to date with my blogging. In the spirit of the new Restaurant Week season, I believe I need to put a placeholder in here for Vermillion in Alexandria. I went there last Restaurant Week (summer of 2008) and it was truly fantastic.

I remember that I ended up deviating from the Restaurant Week menu and was tempted by an heirloom tomato and goat cheese salad (which was spectacular even despite my dislike of goat cheese). I went for a chicken breast served in a mustard sauce with brussel sprouts and ham mixed in with it. Unfortunately, I don't remember my dessert or anything else that other people at the table got. Suffice it to say that almost all of the food was fantastic! Unfortunately, the summer menu is not online right now so I cannot refresh my memory. They did have an infusion of ham into many dishes on their summer menu if I recall, so it's not a very good place for those of you who keep kosher.

I do remember both the atmosphere (very pleasant, old fashioned, yet interesting looking, considerable space for seating and acoustics where you can hear those at your table and not too many others) as well as the service (which was some of the best service I've received in the Washington, DC area). I also noted that such service was the norm at Vermillion. I believe that my server may have been a particularly good one, but it was noticeably fantastic throughout the whole restaurant. Sometimes you can just tell.

This restaurant was good enough that I am putting in this place holder and recommendation until I am able to visit again and put out a real one. It makes my top 10 list for the Washington, DC area, although I am going off of memory at this point.

Quality: ****1/2
Value: $$$1/2

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Il Mulino

Il Mulino

1110 Vermont Ave., NW

Washington, DC

Nearest Metro: McPherson Square

Unfortunately my Wednesday restaurant week dinner got cancelled and my Thursday lunch was postponed. On top of that, the place I was going turned out not to have restaurant week. So we had to "settle" for a reservation at Il Mulino on Friday. I didn't try to get reservations at Il Mulino because we were eating at a normal time. When our lunch got pushed to 1:45, there it was with an open table, so I took it. Il Mulino understands restaurant week (in fact, they have the deals through the month of August). They put out a very good menu and they serve their guests to their standards. I went with one friend from work and we, surprisingly took the same menu items. For the record, their other appetizers were a mesclun salad, a soup and a calamari; and the other entrees were a grilled salmon, a spaghetti primavera (vegetarian dish which the waiter said was excellent) and another vegetarian pasta that was pretty much a marinara sauce.

Menus (same for both of us):

Appetizer: Proscuitto and melon - served with honey dew melon, blackberries and raspberries.

Entree: Sliced steak in a slight red wine reduction (London Broil) served with garlic potato cubes.

Dessert: A trio of flourless chocolate cake, tiramisu and "italian cheesecake."


Management: I have to put this in there because they did a fantastic job with Restaurant Week. They put out a good menu for a $20 restaurant week lunch. They didn't hold anything back and they even included three FULL dessert portions for two people. I was impressed and pleased with that. I like a restaurant that tries, especially after my last experience at Cafe Promenade.

Proscuitto and Melon: Wow! The prosciutto was very good. It was as good as anything I can get from Italian store. That said, it was no better (although it's difficult to imagine prosciutto much better than i get in the Italian store anywhere in DC). The melon, however, was nothing short of the best honeydew I've ever put into my mouth. As a disclaimer, I didn't start liking most melon until a couple of years ago (I still don't like watermelon too much), but this melon was perfectly sweet and moist and complemented the subtle saltiness of the thinly sliced prosciutto. The presentation of this dish was also very nice with the ham prominently displayed around the sides of a glass dish with the melon inside of it. As the piece d' resistance to this item, Il Mulino saw it fit to put blackberry and raspberry in with the melon. These fruits, two of my favorite are clearly more expensive than melon and showed a clear departure from Cafe Promenade in their desire to go the extra mile and put in a little more for their customers.

Dessert Platter: I think I need to laud this dessert platter as a whole even though I think it's only a restaurant week thing. The platter had a full serving of three desserts (for two people), the tiramisu, chocolate flourless cake and the Italian cheesecake. I will applaud Il Mulino on putting this sampler out and knowing what the customer really wants. The chocolate cake was so good that I decided to order another one to take home. I'm not sure what to say beyond watch out, it actually made my cheeks sweat. The Italian cheesecake was extremely unique. It was unlike other cheesecakes, it was much softer with somewhat of a flan consistency, but the taste of a good cheesecake. The crust was very soft and it wasn't what I was expecting. It was, however, really good when mixed with the amaretto cream that it came with. The tiramisu didn't impress me but a lot of that is because I'm not the hugest fan of it and it's very difficult to differentiate. It wasn't super soggy which I would consider a good thing, but the flavour didn't excite me that much.

Atmosphere: Il Mulino is a relatively crowded restaurant, but the set up is such that it is easy to hear in general. There was a large party next to us and I had no trouble hearing my fellow foodie. The decor is simple, yet elegant with a nice combination of dark reds and whites that you can find in a lot of Italian restaurants. There was some mystique about it. Maybe it comes from the restaurant's Long Island Italian roots.

Sliced steak: I really enjoyed my steak, but my friend didn't seem to appreciate it as much. They were both cooked the same way, so it was just a matter of preference. I'm not used to a London Broil inside of a restaurant but I thought that it was very flavorful but perhaps a tad overcooked. The red wine sauce was very good though. I think that the marinade may have saved the meat a little bit. I think it may have been a little dry otherwise. I thought that the square potato fries were very good. They were lightly fried and had plenty of garlic.

Service: I think that the problem may have been our server. He didn't have any more tables than the other servers, but he seemed a bit overwhelmed. He was extremely friendly and managed to keep our drink glasses full with the help of others but he wasn't as attentive as I would have liked. It took us quite a while to pay our checks and he was often back in the kitchen. That said he didn't detract from the meal, he just didn't make it special. I saw other servers that seemed far more attentive walking around, so I think it was only him.

You know, I can't really say that I found anything particularly bitter about Il Mulino. The experience was quite good. We were even able to find parking without incident. The parking lot next door charged us too much though.

Quality: ****. I think you are likely to get some of the best Italian appetizers and desserts in town. I would still recommend Filomena for pasta and perhaps a couple of places for meat as well, but I think that for those of you non-kosher diners, you'd probably enjoy the calimari or a number of other items on their appetizer menu and the chocolate flourless cake is to die for (or from).

Value: $$$. I think that Il Mulino is the type of restaurant that likes to treat their customers right. They are going to give you a lot for your money. That said, I can never fully justify spending THAT much on Italian food as it's all somewhat easy to make if you buy the right ingredients and there are a lot of similar places. That said, they know where to get those ingredients. Il Mulino is quite expensive though as you will not likely get out of dinner there paying less than $60 a person without wine.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cafe Promenade

Cafe Promenade
1127 Connecticut Ave, NW
Inside the Mayflower Hotel
Nearest Metro: Farragut North (across the street)

My first restaurant week endeavor this year was to Cafe Promenade. I was particularly excited about this trip. I've been trying to get R-week reservations there for three iterations and I finally got them. Boy was I disappointed. Some places realize that Restaurant Week is a time to show off their stuff for potential future customers during regular times. I have found several restaurants I have re-visited numerous times from Restaurant Week (Willow, Taberna, Oya to name a few, but certainly not all). Cafe Promenade seemed to be of the other school. Shepherd in as many guests as possible, serve them food that is not on your normal menu, but at least your chef approved the recipe and try to sell drinks and make money. Just try to get through it. I've heard good things, but I was pretty turned off, I will not go back any time soon.
Menus - Restaurant Week

Me/Friend - Beat salad with argula and an olive oil dressing
Friend - Clam Chowder

Me/Friend - Mahi Mahi with mango, spinach and fingerling potatoes
Friend - Petite Filet with red wine reduction

Me - White chocolate mousse in a chocolate shell with fresh seasonal berries
Friend - Fruit Tart
Friend - Creme Brulee

Atmosphere - The atmosphere in Cafe Promenade was very classy and nice. It was a very open restaurant which for those of us in the center of the place took away a lot of the mystique, but at the same time, you were able to feel like you were there in the middle of a big event like in Hello Dolly. You thought an elegant dance floor could just pop up from the ground. It was also pretty cool being in the Mayflower Hotel (the modern day Watergate with all the scandals). The atmosphere and location are fantastic. The room being so large with high ceilings made it very easy to hear those next to you and even though it was crowded, the tables were spread apart pretty well.

Beet Salad - The beet salad was actually delightful. It didn't start out that impressive, I would have called it pretty bland and boring. It was beets with pine nuts and argula in an olive oil. The strange thing was that the more I ate (and I ate the whole thing), the better it got with every bite. By the time I finished the last beet, it was all of a sudden quite delicious. I think I give a lot of credit to the consistent aftertaste.

Filet - In the one bite of the filet that I had, it was delicious. The sauce marinated the steak very well. I am really only a huge fan of two types of steaks. There's the steak that the meat speaks for itself (like at a steakhouse) and then there's the steak where the preparation transcends. The two don't usually mix. You get the solid "man's steak." where you take the steak rare (hurray for the Chicago Chophouse) or you get the medium rare steak with the really good sauce. This was the medium rare steak with the really good sauce. It kept the steak moist and the sauce mixed in with the steak where it just tasted good, not like good steak, just good. The chef did a good job with this one.

Fruit Tart: Well done by my friend who got the beet salad, filet and fruit tart for her meal. She definitely did the best of us. I didn't have any of the fruit tart, but the fruit was fresh and so was the tart. She described it to me as follows: "You know how you have a fruit tart and sometimes you choke on the crust because it's so dry. This one is really good, it's pretty moist and it tastes like it was made today." Fresh fruit, pretty good cream and a fresh tart makes me think it was good. It was gone too quickly to try or get another opinion on.

Clam Chowder: The clam chowder received no rave reviews (as I obviously didn't touch it). My friend said it was okay but nothing special. It looked relatively thick but from appearance, it was inferior to Legal Seafood, but costs more. That's a little disappointing considering that Cafe Promenade advertises a Friday Night Seafood Buffet. The clam choweder is also the only item that we had that is actually on the Cafe Promenade normal menu for $7.50.

Mahi Mahi: Okay, this one goes here because of a weird story. I think that the Mahi would have been in the sweet section if the service was better. Because the service was bad, my friend got a bad Mahi and mine was very good. Mine was moist, cooked perfectly and very flaky. The potatoes were inconsistent as some were moist and some were dry. There was the right amount of olive oil and a good infusion of Mango. The spinach was wonderful with a slight hint of garlic. My friends was overcooked and the potatoes were dry (he ate all of the spinach). I had a bite of his and it tasted almost like canned tuna fish as overcooked as it was. He said that the Trader Joe's tuna he had for lunch was better than the Cafe Promenade Mahi. That said, he thought mine was excellent. It gets a bland for the inconsistency.

White Chocolate Mousse: The mousse was pretty subtle. It was good, but white chocolate (not really chocolate for those who don't know) is normally a stronger taste and mousse is supposed to be thicker. This was almost like eating whipped cream with fruit. It was very good whipped cream with fruit but there was basically no white chocolate flavor. It gets a bland because the fruit was fresh raspberries, blueberries and blackberries and it was good. The fruit was the flavor in the actual item, but I was really looking for more out of the mousse.

Creme Brulee - My friend said it was very good, but unless you're absolutely raving about a creme brulee, I'm not going to talk it up too much. Apparently it had a soft top instead of the traditional hard top, but otherwise, it looked pretty standard. Creme Brulee is easy and it's a bit of a cop out dessert for a pastry chef. I can make a creme brulee that's almost as good as most restaurants, so it takes a lot to move up.

Service: You know that it's a problem when you don't see service until this point. The service was downright pitiful, especially for an expensive restaurant. The servers took a while to come to our table. They were relatively rude, especially when we ordered ginger ales and cokes and largely ignored us. You can tell a lot about a place if the server is nice when you don't order drinks. I suspect that my friend's food was overcooked because it sat under a heat lamp, they charged me $5.00 for a ginger ale that they never refilled despite it spending half the meal at the bottom of the glass (they filled the diet coke once because she pulled the server aside and asked). They tried to pull my friend's dessert away when he wasn't finished because he wasn't actively chewing when they were in front of him. They hovered over us while we were eating and while we were talking to make sure to clear our plates, however, they couldn't even walk over to the table to ask how our food was where they would have been informed that the one Mahi Mahi was overcooked. Finally, the part I found most appaling is that the servers at a fine dining establishment were going outside for a smoke break in their full uniform and not airing out before coming back and walking right up to tables. Two different staff that approached the table wreaked of cigarette smoke causing me to cough. The service was bad enough that I almost walked up to the manager to complain, but the manager wasn't in sight. He probably doesn't care about restaurant week patrons to bother to come in. I never leave less than 22% at a fine dining restaurant in DC. I was hesitant to leave 15.

Quality: ** The food was decent, but very inconsistent. I'm guessing that their regular menu is better. I would say that the chef has a good feel for designing items, but poor control over what actually leaves his kitchen. A chef without pride in his work doesn't get rave reviews.

Value: $ You can't get out of Cafe Promenade full for less $80 a person and that is without drinks. It is an expensive restaurant that doesn't give you enough food to make you full without costing a whole lot more and the experience just isn't worth it. For that much money, I'd expect to be treated like Elliot Spitzer with Kristin at the Mayflower Hotel (sorry, I had to try to make the joke). I wouldn't recommend the place to anyone.