Category Archives: Restaurants

Taberna del Alabardero — Lunch on 12 August 2019

Taberna del Alabardero

Taberna del Alabardero

It’s a True Fact© that Taberna del Alabardero, a couple of blocks from the White House, is Washington’s best Spanish restaurant. As its website notes it’s “the most authentic Spanish restaurant outside Spain since 1989”.

The restaurant is part of Grupo Lezama, which has operated in Spain since 1974, when it opened the original Taberna del Alabardero next to the Royal Palace in Madrid. The Madrid restaurant continues to thrive.

My meal at the Washington outpost was a delight, from start to finish.

Ensaladilla de Cangrejo con Espuma de Mahonesa de Zanahoria y Brotes de Guisantes

Ensaladilla de Cangrejo con Espuma de Mahonesa de Zanahoria y Brotes de Guisantes

I didn’t even try to approximate the pronunciation of the names of the dishes on the menu. This starter was described as a crab and potato salad with carrot mayonnaise foam and pea shoots. Interesting dish, but I tasted only a hint of crab.

Chipirones a la Parrila con Cebolla Confitada al Oporto, Alioli de Tintade Calamar y Patas Crujientes

Chipirones a la Parrila con Cebolla Confitada al Oporto, Alioli de Tintade Calamar y Patas Crujientes

This was a brilliantly-plated work of art. It was so beautifully done that I was reluctant to disturb its symmetry, but, somehow, I managed to cut into the grilled squid and take a bite. And another. And another….

The menu described it as grilled baby squids with oporto caramelized onion, squid ink allioli (the Spanish version of the French garlic sauce aioli), and crisp potatoes. Before my waiter served the dish, the “grilled baby squids” part of the description had me expecting tiny pieces, but the squid sections were huge—the largest I’ve ever seen.

Tierras de Chocolate con Yogurt, Frutos Rojos, Pistachos y Sorbete de Mango

Tierras de Chocolate con Yogurt, Frutos Rojos, Pistachos y Sorbete de Mango

Loved the dessert, too. Chocolate crumbs with yogurt, berries, pistachios, and a mango sorbet. The berries were a mix with one or two berries of each type, which made eating this dessert something of a happy treasure hunt.

Service throughout was impeccable and friendly.


About Those Grilled “Baby” Squids

As I noted above, what the menu described as “grilled baby squids” were, in fact,  gigantic. I thought the meaning of the Spanish phrase had been incorrectly translated until something happened shortly after I left Taberna del Alabardero.

I was walking home, past the branch of the Potomac River that flows down the middle of 17th Street, when I saw this:


It was the enraged mother squid (technically, the “Queen Squid”) attacking one of the restaurant’s supply ships. I’d always thought the “The Giant Squid of the Potomac” was a myth or an urban legend, but here I was, seeing it with my own eyes. As the Giant Squid dragged the vessel beneath the waves, I quickly snapped the above photograph. There was no time for a second shot, as the squid, the ship, and the unfortunate crew were swept over the 17th Street Falls and deeper into the river, which flows under the White House and out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Thank goodness I was able to get a clear photograph as proof of what I saw!

(I’m available for media interviews, with reasonable compensation.)

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PassionFish Bethesda — Lunch on 9 August 2019

PassionFish

PassionFish

It’s that time of the year again, when restaurateurs counter the industry’s traditional late-summer slump by offering special deals to attract diners. Between late July and mid-September, you can find a Restaurant Week promotion in almost every American city where “going out for a good meal” implies something a little more exciting than having dinner at Burger King.

Washington, DC, and its suburbs have three overlapping Restaurant Week programs: one based in Bethesda, featuring restaurants in suburban Maryland, one in Alexandria, Virginia, and one covering the entire metropolitan area. It’s not unusual for some restaurants to extend their Restaurant Week specials for a second week, or even longer, which means that in August, I tend to dine very well, at a relatively low cost.

First stop for me this summer: PassionFish Bethesda.

Lobster and Carrot Ginger Bisque

Lobster and Carrot Ginger Bisque

I’ve gotten into the habit of almost always beginning RW at one of the Passion Food Hospitality group’s restaurants, like PassionFish Bethesda, District Commons, or the now-closed and much-missed Acadiana, and I’ve never had any regrets.

This time, I started with a Lobster and Carrot Ginger Bisque, with lobster (duh), carrots, and peas.

Red Thai Curry and Golden Pineapple

Red Thai Curry and Golden Pineapple

The Red Thai Curry, with a hint of Kaffir lime, had just the right heat for my Western tastes, and the golden pineapple was a nice complement. Served with shrimp over jasmine rice.

Chocolate Mousse Crunch

Chocolate Mousse Crunch

A wonderful dessert, but I kept thinking that it looked like it belonged with another meal. It was a very “European” dessert following an Asian main, resulting in a slight culture clash. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this Chocolate Mousse Crunch with strawberry coulis.


At the Bethesda Metro Station

It was good to see the waters flowing again at the entrance to the Bethesda Metro Station. In its earlier years, Metro put a lot of effort into making some of the approaches to station entrances architecturally interesting. That’s no longer a priority, unfortunately.

Bistrot du Coin — Lunch on 13 July 2019

Still catching up with old news here….

My Bastille Day celebration continued. I stuck a Tricolour flag in a tab on my knapsack and donned my souvenir baseball cap from the Château de Chenonceau. With those essential signifiers in place, I headed out for lunch, humming a medley of “La Vie en rose“, “Non, je ne regrette rien“, and “La Marseillaise“, occasionally complementing it by singing my kinda loose interpretation of the lyrics.

Another day, another bistro.

Signifiers, used in the hope that strangers might think I was French. It didn't work.

Signifiers, used in the hope that strangers might think I was French. It didn’t work.

Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle

According to Google Maps, it takes about10 minutes to walk from my condo to a certain little French restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, assuming you don’t stop along the way. But Dupont Circle, aka le cercle de Dupont, looked so lush and green that I couldn’t resist the temptation to spend a few minutes resting on one of the benches, enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

I’ve lived a bit more than a block away from the Circle for almost half my life, and I’ve had more than a few life-changing conversations in the Circle itself. The Washington I moved to years ago is long gone, and much of the city is almost unrecognizable today, but Dupont Circle is a constant.

Bistrot du Coin

Bistrot du Coin

In a previous incarnation, Bistrot du Coin was a vegetarian-friendly, hippy-ish restaurant/bar that often hosted performances by local musicians. It was called Food for Thought, and it was one of my frequent DC hangouts. Now it’s a popular bistro, serving all the popular bistro standards. Conveniently, the site’s evolution mirrors my own changing tastes.

Casserole de Lapin à la Moutarde

Casserole de Lapin à la Moutarde

Lunch was rabbit stew with carrots, onions, and mushrooms, in light creamy mustard sauce. It was served with “Croes pasta”, and I have no idea what that means.

A very good meal.

Lately I’ve found that many American restaurant serving sizes are just too big for me. The thought of leaving half of this fine stew uneaten was unthinkable, if you can have an unthinkable thought. I took it home, where it made a delightful dinner. My Presbyterian Morrison ancestors would have approved.

Postscript: And with lunch, my Bastille Day celebration came to a close, one day early. When 14 July, the actual Bastille Day, arrived, I was too tired to celebrate and not hungry enough to go out to eat. I blame the late-night leftover Casserole de Lapin à la Moutarde, and maybe the two glasses of Chardonnay I drank with it.


*Or “another bistrot”. Both spellings are correct.

Bistro Bis — Lunch on 12 July 2019

After an hour or so at the “Infinite Space” installation at ARTECHOUSE, I headed over to Capitol Hill for a late lunch.

Bistro Bis

Bistro Bis

Bistro Bis is a 10-minute walk from the Senate Office Buildings north of the Capitol, which should tell you pretty much all you need to know about its clientele. The interior is beautifully done, with multiple dining areas on two levels. It’s a charmer.

Bistro Bis Interior (Image from Bistro Bis website)

Bistro Bis Interior (Image from Bistro Bis website)

Duck Confit

Duck Confit

I’d talked to a friend a few days earlier, and the conversation turned to duck confit, as my conversations so often do. It occurred to me then that since I’d titled my current life-improvement project as the “Bastille Day Revival”, and since dining well was a key part of the Revival agenda, there’d be no better way to start it than by ordering that classic French dish. And where could I find one of the best versions of duck confit in Washington? Well, it wasn’t simply chance that brought me back to Bistro Bis.

The duck was served on a bed of wilted spinach and beans, with baby shallots and a good gastrique. Excellent as ever. I could live on this.

Pommes Frites

Pommes Frites

I chose Pommes Frites, with spicy harissa and rosemary aïoli dipping sauces, for my side dish.

This meal made me happy. Thanks to ARTECHOUSE and Bistro Bis, the Bastille Day Revival was off to a great start.

After The Flood—An Update

It’s been a while. Anybody still out there?

Regular postings will resume in the next few days. What follows here is a brief rundown on why I’ve been hors de combat since Memorial Day. It isn’t very pretty, and you may just want to skip this entry and wait for the new posts.


Summer of 2019 has not been anything close to the most wonderful summer of my life. In fact, I’d probably rank it near the bottom three, only slightly higher than the summer I spent in a Bulgarian prison (mistaken identity), the summer I got lost on the Appalachian trail and had to survive on berries and mushrooms for six weeks, or the summer when that Abercrombie and Fitch model kept calling me and emailing me and stalking me until I finally got the restraining order. (Actually, that one was rather fun.)

The season had started with such high hopes and great expectations! In late May I returned to Washington from a couple of weeks in gloomy and glorious Budapest,* restored, revitalized, and ready to live a much richer and more, well, elegant life. Think Gerald and Sara Murphy in Paris and on the French Riviera in the 1920s.**

The first warning signs came during an otherwise delightful visit by my Nevada brother and sister-in-law, when my long-standing pulmonary problems started to act up. I knew from experience that this meant I was in the early stages of a two- to four-weeks of low-level morbidity, marked by fatigue, marathon coughing sessions, and general yuckiness. And then The Flood happened.

Here’s where things get serious.

I wasn’t aware of it until later, but the whole mess—illness and injury, loss of autonomy and privacy, property damage and disruption of plans, and general uncertainty—left me seriously depressed and effectively paralyzed, unable to do much more than sleep, play online games, and watch immediately forgettable junk TV.  I stopped returning phone calls and answering email. My big project for the year, improving my cooking skills? Abandoned. I had no desire to be in my post-Flood, chaotically disarranged kitchen, and no interest in exploring new restaurants. I survived on deli take-out and on great quantities of Diet Cherry Pepsi.

It was only just before Bastille Day, six weeks post-Flood, that I (metaphorically) slapped myself in the face and told myself that I couldn’t continue to live the way I’d been living, that the numbness began to diminish. I turned off the TV in the middle of an episode of Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away and made reservations at regular hang-out ARTECHOUSE and at a couple of good restaurants. Not only would I get out of bed and dressed before 2 PM, but I would also actually leave the apartment!

And I did.

So while things here are still ugly—restoration of my condo and of the ~30 other units damaged by The Flood may not even be completed before the end of 2019—it seems life is finally, slowly, back on the upswing.

I’ll be spending the rest of my Unwonderful Summer posting here, dining out, and re-reading Living Well Is the Best Revenge and Tender Is the Night.


*It was my fourth visit to that endlessly fascinating city, my third in 18 months. I’ve told people that entitles me to honourary citizenship, but I may have been misinformed.

**See Living Well Is the Best Revenge.

Filomena — Lunch on 1 May 2019

Filomena

Filomena

This week I took the newly-free shuttle from Dupont Circle to Georgetown for a return visit to an old favourite. Filomena has been around since 1983, and any restaurant that can still fill the house after 36 years must be doing something right. At Filomena, that means serving consistently good food and providing consistently good service at a consistently good price.

And the portions are huge. I have what I euphemistically call a large appetite, but I had to call for take-out containers for the two-thirds of the starter and the main. I couldn’t even think about touching the dessert until 12 hours later.

Calamari

Calamari

At Filomena, the Calamari Fritti is marinated in milk for 24 hours before being and quick-fried and served with spicy Marinara sauce.

Rigatoni

Rigatoni

According to the menu, when Bono, from U2, ate at Filomena, he liked the Rigatoni con Salsicce so much that he ordered seconds. While I’m sure that’s true, I can’t imagine how he—or anyone else—could do it. Perhaps he took a nap between servings.

The sausage is made in-house, with mushrooms, onions, Chianti, and herbs.

Chocolate Truffle

Chocolate Truffle

Insanely rich dessert. Chocolate cake between layers of chocolates-ganache.

So there it is, the opposite of trendy. And I hope they never change a thing.

Lunch at Le Café Descartes at the French Embassy

I’ve roosted in Washington, DC, for most of my life now, and I’m still making wonderful new discoveries about the possibilities for living well in the city. Until a few weeks ago, I was unaware that I could apply for entry to Le Café Descartes at the French embassy. All it took was an email request and a selfie. Last Thursday, I got my response:

Bonjour !
Your Frequent Diner Membership badge will be available in Le Café Descartes Coffee Bar, which is located in Building C of the French Embassy.

Building B

Building C, or maybe B

The embassy isn’t a single building, it’s a complex. Le Café Descartes is in Building C, or maybe B,* and serves lunch to embassy staff and visitors. The café consists of a small outdoor dining area, a coffee bar, a lounge, and a big open room that could probably hold a couple hundred people. To be clear, this is not white-tablecloth haute cuisine, it’s an informal, cafeteria-style lunchroom.

But it’s a lunchroom where tomorrow’s mains will be Escalope de Poulet Viennoise and Haddock Beurre Blanc, followed by Filet de Bronzino and Saucisse de Toulouse on Tuesday. We’re a long way from tater tots and cube steak.

Best of all, one of the choices for Friday was Confit de Canard, my long-time favourite French treat, and a perfect selection for my first Le Café Descartes meal. So late Friday morning, I grabbed my passport for identification, put on my red souvenir cap from the Château de Chenonceau, and headed for the embassy.

Duck Confit

Duck Confit

And there it is. Confit de Canard with Brussels sprouts and endive. The duck leg was on the small size, but I was in heaven. (I knew it was heaven because everyone around me was speaking French, and that’s what they do there. That, and eat French food.)

Blueberry Tart

Blueberry Tart

And a blueberry tart for dessert. Perfect.

I have a feeling I’ll be lunching here a lot.


April Lunches at Le Café Descartes


*The email said it was Building C, but the guard at the security gate said it was Building B.