Tuesday, March 30, 2010

D.C.'s bright side

As much as I semi-deservedly whine about D.C., it does contain (1) some of my favorite people, and soon will contain more,* and (2) some really good restaurants. (And to be honest, between late nights at work, freezing early spring rain, and the Evacuation-Causing Crane Incident, the past week or so hasn't been so great in N.Y. anyway.) So:
Friday: minibar reservations for the second seating with Adam, Deanna (the recent birthday girl), and Merritt (finally getting to meet her!). Despite an hour delay on the Amtrak, I still managed to beat Adam to Cafe Atlantico. Deanna and Merritt had found each other at the bar and had ordered drinks. I was semi-cranky because of the delay, but a sip of Deanna's foamy cocktail + Deanna herself helped. Because I've blogged/photographed minibar before, I'll only note the new/improved dishes. The Pisco sour: a layer of hot, a layer of cold, a whipper for each. Reminiscent of the g&t at el bulli (which was all hot), interesting and very tasty.

The olive oil bon bon has been replaced with the "Ferrero Rocher," a take on the classic gold foil-wrapped chocolate-hazelnut treat. Same technique, with gold mixed into the outer shell. Very close to the original in flavor, with the texture twist of a fragile shell and a nutty inside that was liquid/hazelnut bits. Delicious, but perhaps better suited to later in the meal? And the olive oil bon bon was so amazing, I miss it.

The "blue cheese and almond" was a thin, melt-in-your-mouth, nutty shell holding a light (well, as much as blue cheese can be) blue cheese . . . mousse, is maybe the best description? With crunchy almond bits on top. The shell was the same technique as the pine nut shells we ate at el bulli, but the addition of the blue cheese took an interesting technique and made it a tasty little amuse. minibar beats el bulli again.

The tomato crisp with anchovy 'caviar' was the next bite. I don't really remember much about this one except the vibrant, slightly tart tomato-y flavor of the crisp. Similar in dehydrated intensity to the beet tumbleweed. Very fragile.

Next came a string of dishes we'd had before, including the cotton candy eel, dragon's breath popcorn, and guacamole. Generally very similar to past experiences, but the guacamole was actually improved from its past (delicious) incarnation. Slightly spicier than before, and fewer frito crumbles over the top.

The organic carrots with coconut were one of the highlights of the night. The "carrots" were spherified -- if that's the right word, when they were carrot shaped -- but they exploded into liquid carroty sweetness. The perfect carrot flavor (which, according to Ryan, was apparently harder to accomplish than one would think), like the best carrot juice ever on steroids. The perfect little shapes added to the impressiveness of the dish. I may be totally making this up, but I think the liquid inside was actually thickened (or frozen? I should pay better attention) so that it can be piped into shape, and then dropped into the solution to spherify (another vague recollection, but the chemicals that normally go into the liquid and the bath respectively were switched). It reliquifies upon heating. Anyway, totally delicious with the coconut flavor.

The charcoal salmon toro with black garlic was another amazing dish, but despite a bit of lime caviar on top, this was less a technical dish than a really really great main course. I would happily eat a full-sized portion, and could see it on a menu outside of minibar. Garlic is always great, black garlic a visually interesting and slightly different change of pace. Loved it.

The 'tzatziki' was another new one that I enjoyed, although not as much as the previous two. Obviously, it's a very springy, pretty dish. The Greek yogurt ball in the middle was dropped into liquid nitrogen, so it's actually frozen and cracks apart when hit with a spoon. The flowers -- which looked like bizarro zucchini blossoms on the tiniest little vegetable sphere imaginable -- were actually cucumber blossoms. Which I didn't even realize blossom! The flavors were reminiscent, of course, of a traditional tzatziki, which I love, so win.

We'd had the parmesan 'egg' before, but for the record, all my eggs should be made of spherified cheese. That is all.
Tigernut horchata with cigala. I think maybe we had this before? But I'm not sure. Didn't really stand out.

The Thai dessert was a repeat, but having been one of my favorites two summers ago, it was actually slightly worse -- too sour. The mango box is a fruity crystallized shell with a foamy inside, yummy.

Although the s'mores are supposed to include bacon, the meat-free version was a pretty tasty take on one of my favorite nostalgic snacks. (I miss my Cambridge fireplace and its s'more-making usefulness.)

I'm having a hard time remembering the fizzy ball -- I think sort of like pop rocks-y cotton candy.

Saturday. I'd wanted to try Obelisk since my 2L summer, so we'd made reservations with Jay and Melissa, and happily they could squeeze in Beth when a last-minute interview brought her to town. (Beth + Caleb = 2 additional wins for D.C.). It's ridiculously hard to find. Three doors down from the restaurant -- unmarked except for a small obelisk symbol by the door and a small menu at the foot of the stoop -- a building prominently bearing the alleged street number of Obelisk bears plaques for two human rights organizations, a therapist's office, and a bridal shop. Two phone calls to the restaurant later, we found it and were conveniently seated by the window. The perfect vantage point to spot Jay and Melissa walk right past on their way to the bridal/rights/therapy building. Another phone call (to them) later, we were all settled in the cozy restaurant, which seems like someone's slightly spartan, filled with tables and no couch, but nonetheless charming living room.

The handwritten menu (charming!) offers three choices for three courses. We made our selections, gave our dietary restrictions, and attempted to restrain ourselves from eating too many of the olives and addictive crunchydelicious bread sticks. (So hungry.) The antipasti misti started arriving, mostly family style. The burrata was amazing. Soft, creamy, delicious on its own (with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of black pepper), delicious with bread, still delicious when I ate most of Jay's abandoned plate with some of the roasted peppers from the roasted pepper and anchovy plate. The peppers and anchovies were intended to be our substitute for the pork brought for the carnivores. Not sure how good it was, but I don't think that it all got eaten. The salad was basically a really good Cesar salad.

The cod croquettes were good, but not a standout -- pretty much like any decent bacalao croquettes. The eggplant salad, however, was one of the highlights of the antipasti.

Our first bottle of wine was a bottle of 2005 Ageno, La Stoppa, which came from the menu's section of whites made like reds. One review I later read describes it as an "orange" wine -- it's sherry-like color and character come from the skins' being left in the wine for awhile, as is done with red wines. So interesting that even Melissa was tempted to take a sip. Dry and light and totally worth trying. We followed that one with concurrent bottles of red and white: a 2003 Movia Velika, and a Massa Vecchia Rosso. Both were got, but not as memorable as the first one.

Between the five of us, we got all the primi and secondi. Adam ordered the rapini ravioli with anchovy butter, and I got the spaghetti alla chittara with fava beans and guanciale sans guanciale. My spaghetti was close to being an excellent pasta dish, I think -- the fava beans were nice, but the dish was undersalted. I expect this was a failure to adjust properly for guanciale omission, so more forgivable, and still enjoyed it. The ravioli was also very good, although I didn't love the anchovy butter flavor. Although it's a nice change to get saltiness from something that isn't pork-based, I rarely love anchovies. The gnocchi with goat ragu got good reviews from the carnivores.

Only one pescatarian-friendly main: snapper with chick peas and green sauce. However, it was good enough that I didn't really mind having an entire dish to myself. I've never had green chickpeas before, but I'm a fan -- more flavorful than the common beige version. The green sauce was really nice and fresh, herbaceous (which is a word I actually kind of hate but which is appropriate, I guess). Anyway, really good, in that simple but delicious way that Komi does so well. The quail with morel mushrooms and culotte with artichokes, olives, and potatoes both looked good, and Melissa seemed to particularly enjoy the quail. The culotte with artichokes, olives and potatoes looked good, but I don't remember if either Jay or Melissa said anything in particular about it.

The cheese course included robiola di capra, piave vecchio, and taleggio with fig jam. Jay, who had earlier told the waitress that he's a fromagophobe, got a radicchio that looked, on first glance, like a squid tentacle, but he seemed happy and the unsolicited substitution was a nice touch.

We agreed that the proper way to deal with the dessert choices was to order one of the toffee ice cream --everyone wanted to try it, and felt a bit lame ordering ice cream for dessert -- two each of the pineapple crostada with vanilla ice cream and chocolate hazelnut cake, and share. Both the crostada and the chocolate cake were good (with the cake getting the edge), but the toffee ice cream was actually the surprise winner, in my opinion.

Despite the warnings from reviews -- and from the exiting couple we passed on our way in -- we left full but not excessively so. (I suspect most people are not champion eaters. Lame.) It was a lovely evening, great company, friendly, accomodating service, delicious food, and a surprisingly good value given the amount of food and wine.
Sunday. Brunch at Birch & Barley. I asked the waiter for a rec between the donuts and the sticky bun. He recommended the donuts, as they're fried to order and the sticky buns are baked hourly, so I ordered the, but he then brought us a complimentary sticky bun so I could try both. The lemon-poppy seed donut was my favorite -- a tart lemon glaze on a still-warm donut. The sticky bun was also good, but not as gooey as I would have liked. I got an excellent seafood pasta, Adam ordered a light, tasty omelette (accompanied by a hash brown that fell on the I-like-it side of the fried potato spectrum). The cheddar grits were good, with some sort of dried herb I couldn't identify, but not as cheesy as I like my grits (and oatmeal -- not as weird as it sounds). My blood orange mimosa washed it all down quite well. A perfect brunch -- hitting all the sweet, savory, and alcoholic notes of a good brunch -- to end a delicious weekend.

*The sentence originally said "or soon will," which Adam and Elisabeth complained implied that DC might not currently contain such people, implicitly insulting them. Although the grammatical critique is technically correct, apparently DC also currently contains some seriously whiny favorite people. :P


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