Tag Archives: 2019 Summer Restaurant Week

America Eats Tavern — Lunch on 23 August 2019

Restaurant Week is now very old news, so I’m skipping over a few RW meals here and cutting right to my final lunch of the season. On a rainy Friday, I went over to Georgetown to try America Eats Tavern, the most recently opened José Andrés restaurant in DC.

Andrés, credited with introducing the US to tapas, is Washington’s best-known and best-loved chef. He’s trying something different this time: America Eats Tavern serves recreations of classic American dishes, based on recipes dating from as far back as the 18th century. Upscale comfort food.

Skillet Cornbread

Skillet Cornbread

This starter of skillet cornbread, with fresh corn, smoked butter, and sorghum syrup, was a wonderful introduction to the restaurant’s culinary aspirations. The cornbread was about the size of a salad plate, so I had half of it boxed for home consumption by my non-existent cat. Cats like baked goods, right?

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork

Over the past few years, homemade pulled pork has become one of my winter mainstays. Except for the messy jobs of shredding and defatting the meat, the crockpot does most of the work overnight, so it’s relatively easy to make.

At America Eats Tavern, the pork was dry-rubbed and smoked. The pickles were house-made, of course, and suitably crunchy.

Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich

Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwich

This just didn’t work for me. I like my ice cream slightly melted—I used to prep ice cream by giving it a quick trip to the microwave before eating—and this shortbread-like lemon sugar cookie and the strawberry ice cream were both hard frozen, because it was meant to be eaten as a finger-food “sandwich”.


A Little More about José Andrés

I’ve cut-and-pasted this blurb directly from the restaurant’s website. Although it doesn’t even begin to convey the range and achievements of Mr Andrés, it will give you some idea of why he has so many passionate admirers.

“Named as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in both 2012 and 2018, and “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, television personality, humanitarian and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. Andrés’ restaurant group includes 31 restaurants, ranging in a variety of culinary experiences from food trucks to his multi-location vegetable-focused fast casual, Beefsteak, and world-class tasting menus like Michelin starred minibar by José Andrés. Andrés is the only chef globally that has both a two-star Michelin restaurant and four Bib Gourmands. As a naturalized citizen, originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. Together with World Central Kitchen and #ChefsForPuertoRico, Andrés has served over 3.5 million meals in Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, reaching communities in need across all 78 municipalities through 23 kitchens. Andrés has earned numerous awards including the 2015 National Humanities Medal, one of 12 distinguished recipients of the award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

Café du Parc — Lunch on 17 August 2019

If you’re a regular reader here, you may have noticed a recurring thread running through some of my more recent posts.

Probably because my own surroundings are far from sumptuous these days, I’ve become downright obsessed with the charmed lives of Gerald and Sarah Murphy, close friends of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and partial models for the main characters in Tender Is the Night. I even have a wrist band with WWGaSMD? etched into the leather to remind me to ask myself “What Would Gerald and Sarah Murphy Do?” before I make any major decisions.

So. This day’s lunch was part of my pursuit of Murphyesque elegance.

Entry Hall

You can enter the Willard Hotel’s Café du Parc directly from Pennsylvania Avenue, but I prefer taking a slow walk through the interior of the beautiful Beaux-Arts building. The Willard can trace its origin back to six small houses that served as a hotel on this site more than 200 years ago. After repeated cycles of decline and rebirth, the hotel was restored to its current magnificent state during the 1980s and 90s.

Abraham Lincoln stayed here before his inauguration, and six US Vice-Presidents have lived in the Willard during their terms in office. This is where Julia Ward Howe wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in 1861, and where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the “I Have a Dream” speech 102 years later.

The entrance to Café du Parc is just off the lobby.

I decided to lunch on the café’s patio instead of inside the café proper. I chose a table bordering the Pennsylvania Avenue sidewalk and, following the old gamblers’ admonition about keeping your back to a wall, I chose a chair facing west. The White House is a six-minute walk in that direction, and I didn’t want to be surprised by some rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching towards the Trump Hotel to be born. Safety First.

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

It seemed a little silly to order French Onion Soup in August, but I like what I like, and there are few things that I like more than that classic combination of caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, beef broth, bread, and a dash of sherry.

My Apilco Lion’s Head soup bowl runneth over with goodness.

Salmon

Salmon

Chicken or fish? Fish or chicken?

Or, as the  Café du Parc menu put it, “Poitrine de Poulet Rôti au Jus or Pan-Seared Atlantic Salmon”?

Chicken and fish dishes are default main courses on many an RW menu, because they’re cheap, fast, and easy. * Add Salade Niçoise to those choices, and you have the day’s three main options at Café du Parc. A little disappointing—The restaurant is usually more innovative in its offerings.

I had the salmon, with pesto mashed potato, heirloom carrots, and a tomato beurre blanc sauce. It may not have been a life-changing original, but it was damn good.

Dessert

Dessert

The menu called this “Pot De Crème au Chocolat au Grand Marnier” and describes it as “Baked Valrhona Guanaja 70% Chocolate Custard With Grand Marnier Liquor, Crème Diplomate Orange Confit, Buttery Langue De Chat Cookie”. I

I couldn’t put it better myself. /s

It was one of my favourite desserts of the week.


* “Cheap, fast, and easy”, btw, was my nickname in college. I guess they called me that because I ate in a lot of fast food joints back in those days.

Woodward Table — Lunch on 15 August 2019

Summer Restaurant Week is long passed, but I never got around to posting all of my notes and now my OCD has kicked in and won’t let me rest until I finish the project. I’ll be posting some much-belated comments over the next few days.

Woodward Table

Woodward Table

I had an unimpressive lunch at Woodward Table years ago, when it first opened. I have no recollection of what I ate, but I do recall that the service was terrible. The servers, who seemed to be involved in some very important business in a back room somewhere, had mastered the art of avoiding eye contact with patrons on those rare occasions when they scurried through the dining area. I briefly considered stringing piano wire between my table and the bar in an attempt to get their attention, but thought better of it. Instead, I just crossed the restaurant off my list.

Last July, Woodward Table announced that it was closing at the end of summer, and I decided I should give it one last try.

That was a mistake.

Mussels

Mussels

The steamed Blue Bay mussels starter sounded good. It came with the traditional grilled bread, and a sauce made with garlic, shallot, leek, fennel, tomato, tarragon, pernod, and creme fraiche. The mussels were tiny, not unlike the muscles I myself had had in fifth grade. (I chuckled quietly at the cleverness of my simile. I do that a lot.) The server had forgotten to give me a spoon to manipulate the mussel shells, but brought one on request.

Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

Note to servers: Shrimp and grits is not finger food.

Eventually, I caught the attention of a server at a nearby table and began frantically miming someone carving a turkey. He got the idea, and brought me the missing knife and fork I needed.

Dessert

Dessert

Dessert was a clever idea. Instead of settling on a single dessert, patrons could order a sampler of nine bite-sized treats. The execution didn’t live up to the concept, though, because many of them tasted the same.


With all of Washington to choose from, I should have eaten elsewhere. Woodward Table was, once again, a disappointment, with forgettable food and poor service.

PS The Woodward Table location has already been optioned. It’s being taken over by The Cheesecake Factory.

Charlie Palmer Steak — Lunch on 14 August 2019

Charlie Palmer Steak

Charlie Palmer Steak

For those arriving late, we’re about halfway through my annual review of summer Restaurant Week in Washington, DC. Every August, I sample a mix of restaurants that I’ve never tried before and places that I’ve especially enjoyed during earlier visits. I usually wind up with a 60/40 split, favouring the newbies.

Charlie Palmer Steak, a sleek and elegant power lunch hotspot on Capitol Hill, falls into the second category. I hadn’t dined there in a couple of years, but I had fond memories of the restaurant’s delectable meals and first-rate service.

Lamb Sugo

Lamb Sugo

It’s pronounced “shu-go”, and it’s a simple pasta sauce. The pasta, in this case, was house-made black pepper Cavatelli, and the protein was Shenandoah Valley Lamb.

I would love to have this as a main sometime. It was that good.

Glazed Beef Short Ribs

Glazed Beef Short Ribs

The glazed beef short ribs, however, were not as wonderful as I remembered them from the last time I had them at Charlie Palmer.  Not bad, by any means, but simultaneously fattier and less tender.

They were served on olive oil crushed potatoes, with lemon, parsley, and horseradish.

Chocolate Pave

Chocolate Pave

Déjà vu. Yesterday at The Occidental, the starter and the dessert were the highlights of the meal, and outshone the beef main course. Same thing here.

The dark chocolate pave with salted caramel and a blackberry sorbet was a knockout.

The Occidental — Lunch on 13 August 2019

The Occidental

The Occidental

That little rectangular patch of gold and navy blue near the center of the picture is one of the entrances to The Occidental, viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue. This might be the most impressive approach to a restaurant in Washington. All it needs is a trumpet fanfare to mark the arrival of diners. Every time I reached a new landing on the stairs, I was tempted to turn and wave graciously—regally—to the crowds of impressionable tourists below.

Most diners use another, more easily accessible entrance at street level a few feet further down Pennsylvania Avenue, but it lacks the grandeur of all those steps. Besides, a regal wave is difficult to pull off when you’re standing at the same level as the people you’re regally waving at, especially if they’re taller than you.

Occidental Interior

Occidental Interior

The walls of The Occidental are covered with pictures from the restaurant’s collection of over 1,500 photos of well-known guests who have dined there. This being Washington, it’s heavy on politicians. One wall displays large photographs of the last few Presidents. I asked to be seated with my back to that wall, since I had no desire to spend my lunchtime looking at Mr Trump.

Frito Misto of Calamari, Shrimp & Bay Scallops

Frito Misto of Calamari, Shrimp, and Bay Scallops

This was one of those lunches where the starter and the dessert were the best part of the meal. There was a lot of tastiness on this little plate, which combined calamari, shrimp, and bay scallops, with zucchini, baby eggplant, pickled peppers, and spicy aioli.

Flat-Iron Steak

Flat-Iron Steak

I’m by no means a vegetarian, but it was the roasted heritage carrots that delighted me most about the main. The flat-iron steak with a Marsala reduction and a streak of cauliflower-burrata puree was just a bit tough.

Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait

Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait

This Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait wasn’t the prettiest dessert of the week, but it was my favourite so far. Dig-Dugging my way through successive layers of white chocolate mousse, chocolate cremeaux, passionfruit gel, and Chantilly cream kept me pleasantly entertained for 15 minutes.

Great room, very good meal.

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.)

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.