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Weekend in DC, Dec. 6-8, 2002

Suzanne F

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I will be in DC the weekend of December 6 (Friday) through 8, with Paul (hubby). Anyone care to get together for drinks or a meal?

Any recommendations of new places to try? To give you an idea, we used to live in DC, get back on occasion, love Nora, Asia Nora, Jaleo, Obelisk; he's been to Kinkead's, I've been to Ann Cashion's other place (something with Grill in the name?), and we still have fond memories of Tucson Cantina, Cantina d'Italia, Le Lion d'Or, Bread Shop Café (where I Ricci is now), and Annie's Paramount Steak House.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I went ahead on my own and made a couple of reservations: Dinner Thursday 12/5 at Vidalia, and lunch Friday 12/6 at Ortanique. If we really like Vidalia, we may end up at Bistro Bis on Sunday, before leaving. (Is that in that hotel where that Irish place used to be?) Should I try Red Sage again? I found the food there so busy before. And is Johnny's Half Shell still open? Might want to go back if it is.

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My wife was in DC recently for a friend's birthday dinner at Bistro Bis. She said it was the best meal she's had in DC. Not bad considering she has been to a number of the big names, e.g. Equinox, Red Sage, Kinkead's.

It's in the Hotel George.

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

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I've had good meals at Bis - nothing fancy, just very well-prepared hearty food in a relaxing modern room.

I went to Johnny's Half Shell the other night for drinks with some friends. All I had was a dozen oysters, so can't comment on food preparation, but those oysters were fresh and delicious. Nice casual atmosphere, a little noisy sitting in the booths.

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Thanks for the comments and help. I'm partly set, with:

Thursday dinner, Vidalia

Friday lunch, Ortanique (in honor of Malawry, even though she won't be there yet)

Saturday dinner, Taberna del Alabardero (because Liza's report was so positive)

I figure Friday night we'll see how we feel after the lunch, and Saturday lunch go to either Eastern Market or the Market Inn. Sunday is still open -- depends on which train we take home -- maybe Bis.

I just hope it doesn't snow! I remember what happens then. :wacko:

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Just got back. Had a marvelous time, and some excellent meals. Will post soon on them.

One thing, though: Malawry, Ortanique has some very, very good food; in fact, the best item we had was a sandwich of roasted red peppers, blue cheese, and the most delicious wild mushrooms (no meat). I think you'll feel comfortable there.

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I am glad that you liked Ortanique. I think their dining room is fun with its overdramatic draped fabrics, and I'd probably hit their bar occasionally if I had an office job nearby. (I loved the vodka infusions they kept handy: olives in one, bing cherries in another, etc.)

I look forward to your writeup, especially on Vidalia where I have not dined in some time...I wonder how they are holding up.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay, here's the full (very long) report:

Report on Eating in DC, December 5th through 8th, 2002

The original idea had been that since Paul had appointments in DC from 12/3 to 12/6, and then again on the 9th and 10th, I would join him Friday night and stay until late Sunday afternoon. But unrelated to the blizzard, some his meetings got canceled or changed. So I went down Thursday, and we came back to NYC together on Sunday.

The train ride down in the snow was great. No delays, and while it might have been a bit nervous-making for the train drivers, for me it was beautiful to look out at the blizzard. Junkyards are especially well-transformed by snow. Even the nuked cheeseburger in the café car didn’t seem so bad – although maybe that was because of the shot of Absolut that preceded it. But hey, free refills on Green Mountain coffee, and real half-and-half!

I had made a bunch of reservations via Open Table before leaving. Most places would have been walking distance from the hotel if not for the snow.

Thursday night was at Vidalia. The room looks almost like a generic Mediterranean restaurant, but it’s Southern-inflected. Needless to say, many items included onions of some type or other, in some form or other. With the bread basket (small brioche-type rolls, onion/herb focaccia, and a custardy cornbread with whole kernels) came a red onion marmalade. Very nice to nibble on with our cocktails: a “Ben Baker” – lemon-infused sour mash bourbon with lemon juice, sugar, and a twist; and an Apple Martini – sour apple schnapps, citrus vodka, and a tiny splash of lemon-lime soda. Usually I hate non-Martini Martinis, but this was delicious. As was the other.

Amuse: Roasted apple and pumpkin soup – a purée well-flavored with cream and butter.

Apps: 1) Virginia Oysters with a salad of fennel, red pepper, and onion, on smoked shiitakes with a fennel emulsion;

2) Pan roasted squid, stuffed with a shrimp and tasso forcemeat, on soft grits with a shrimp cream and country ham. With the apps, a half-bottle of 1999 Champalou Vouvray.

The shiitakes really worked well with the oysters, and the squid was just about caramelized from the roasting.

Mains: 1) Smoked duck breast with wild rice, andouille (although I think it was actually more tasso), duck confit, and a coriander jus (with a touch of cream); 2) Sautéed rockfish with sautéed spinach; salsify; lobster flan on scallop galette, and quince vinaigrette. Half-bottle of 1999 Seghesio San Giovese.

These folks know how to smoke without overpowering the flavor of the ingredient. Not very much wild rice; mostly proteins – spicy but well-balanced. The rockfish was very fresh; flan actually was based on lobster AND shrimp, and the scallop slices underneath were so sweet. The quince vinaigrette had a good sweet-tart contrast.

I prevailed upon Paul to not have a sweet dessert, but cheese instead. Ordered the 3-cheese plate, although the waiter (lots of fun to chat with) was going to give us 4: Perail (French, sheep; which I had loved at Artisanal); Ibores (Spanish, goat); Mahón (Spanish, cow); and instead of the Keen’s Cheddar from Somerset, which they were out of, some well-aged Mimolette (France; cow) – supposedly DeGaulle’s favorite. Garnishes were quince paste (of course), apricot chutney, roasted almonds, and house-made onion crackers. With these we had an almond-flavored grappa, and an Acqua di Cedro – a citrus-fruit unknown to me. Both were spectacular.

Friday lunch: Ortanique, with a colleague. Paul and Martha had a meeting to go to later, so only I had a cocktail: a very strong mojito, made with extra lime juice as requested. The garlic bread was quite buttery, a bit salty, and had some kind of herb (mint? cilantro?) mixed in.

Martha had a sautéed grouper, which looked lovely, but which we didn’t taste. Paul and I shared: crab cakes, a mango salad, and a special sandwich of roasted peppers and wild mushrooms on baguette. The crab cakes (an app) were 2 cylinders, about 1 ½ “ in diameter and about 1” high, first lightly sautéed then finished in the oven. LOTS of crab; served with a mango/papaya salsa, tamarind sauce, and a crisp of some tropical root veg. The salad had nice greens, julienne of mango and hearts of palm, candied pecans, and a sweet/tart non-oily passion fruit vinaigrette. The sandwich included hen of the woods, shiitakes, black trumpets, and hedgehog mushrooms, along with the red peppers and some blue cheese. It came with a baby spinach salad with a little tomato and carrot.

The three of us shared a slab of rum cake, very moist, very rummy, which we could not finish.

Friday night: Zaytinya: We hadn’t made plans for that night beforehand, but we decided to see “Much Ado” at the Shakespeare Theatre. So we needed to eat a little something before the show. Walking around in the afternoon, I came upon Zaytinya, and figured I should check up on what Steve Klc was doing. And a few meze seemed like just the thing.

While waiting for Paul, I had a “Visne-tini” – Turkish sour cherry juice and Ketel One. Once seated, he had some retsina. We shared:

- grey mullet roe – thin slices of very salty, strong-flavored compressed roe; were we not supposed to eat the wax coating?

- Kibbeh “fritters” – made of ground lamb, pine nuts, currants, and bulgur wheat, served with some labneh (dripped yogurt)

- Octopus, stewed in red wine

- Beets with almond skordalia – very thin slices of boiled (?) baby beets, but very tasty

- A very chunky fava bean “purée” with capers, onion, lemon, and oil

All with pita-type bread, fresh from the oven.

For dessert (how could we NOT have dessert???) we had Ravani, a semolina cake with yogurt sorbet, fruit, nuts, and sauces; and “Turkish Coffee Chocolate,” a chocolate cake with molten center and I forget what all else. Both were very busy plates, but everything on them worked together. We especially liked that we could order our Turkish coffees “semi-sweet” as we prefer them.

Saturday lunch: Casa Bianca: We just needed a little something to tide us over, so we had Sopa de Pollo and fresh tamarind drinks at a little Mexican/Peruvian/Salvadorean place. Just hit the spot. Good tortilla chips and salsa, too.

Saturday night: Taberna del Alabardero: Liza had posted a glowing review, so I had to try it. Turned out it was the last night of their annual Zarzuela festival – the musical theater performance, not the seafood dish. With a 5-course prix fixe and live performance (2 singers, pianist, and a dancer). We started with La Gitana Manzanilla and Lustau Papirusa. The first course was on the order of a set of amuses: a shot of warm beet purée; a cube of sautéed foie gras with prune; a triangle of breaded, fried cheese, and a barquette of tuna tartare. The salad was a “Baby Mesclun salad with walnuts and Port glazed Pears.” Third: a fabulous warm “Fall Mushroom Terrine with Morell (sic) sauce. Mains: Grilled Grouper with Lobster emulsion sauce – very meaty piece of fish, well-flavored sauce; “Certified Angus Hanger Steak with black Truffle purée” – slices of tender, strongly beefy meat, with a sauce including lots and lots of chopped black truffles, wonderfully aromatic. With the beef came some very buttery potato purée filling a crisp cylinder of crisp pastry. With those we had a Torres Gran Coronas Mas La Plana Estate (Penedés) Gran Reserva 1990. Desserts were a banana sponge cake with caramel rum sauce and vanilla ice cream, and “A world of chocolate” – Chocolate mousse on a cake base, coated with dark ganache; white chocolate mousse; chocolate pot de crème, and a garnish of chocolate espresso beans, cocoa powder, and cocoa nibs. The mignardises were candied almonds, tiny meringues, cinnamon langues de chat, candied lemon zest, and some sort of chocolate crunch.

The chef there now is fairly new, a guy named Enrique Sánchez. Youngish. Even if our meal was completely different from Liza’s, we were still very happy. (And the zarzuela performance was, well, quite stirring.)

Sunday lunch: Bistro Bis: Before getting back on the train, we stopped at Jeffrey and Sallie Buben’s place near Union Station. Another excellent meal; it seemed sad that there were so few other diners.

Bread basket: sugared short biscuits with dried cherries; pain d’épice made with honey and (black?) walnuts; and slices of baguette.

Apps: 1) Charcuterie plate with 2 kinds of dry sausages, ham (Bayonne?), garnish with mâche, good olive oil, cracked black pepper, and croutons; 2) Soupe de poisson “Marseillaise” – a purée of fish, tomatoes, (olives? Capers?) with shellfish stock, topped with a gruyère-covered crouton.

Mains: 1) Scallops provençale – seared scallops with tomato-basic ratatouille, an eggplant tian (so smooth and tasty!), and olivada; 2) Sautéed trout with spinach, braised pearl onions, a creamy sauce with capers, and topped with lardons and frisée.

Wines, by the glass: 2 of Albariño, Lagar de Cevera, Rias Baixas 2001; 2 of Rhône Blend, Perrin Réserve, Côtes de Rhône, 2001.

With dessert – an Apricot Savarin with poached (?) apricots, apricot ice cream, apricot coulis, vanilla whipped cream, and a tuille – I had a glass of Jurançon Bru-Bache. Delectable.

It was a great trip.

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