Category Archives: American

District 2 (out of 10?)

No, that headline is unfair; I would give Glover Park’s* District 2 Bar & Grille a five out of ten, maybe a 6, or some otherwise average rating, partly due to my high expectations after having drinks there a month or so ago.  The bar area is fun, the staff is superfriendly, the place looks great — but the food is only okay.

* We discussed on our way from car to restaurant what neighborhood we were in, technically; I think we decided Cleveland Park, but the D2 website says Glover Park.  Living on the edge.  Not that it matters.

Actually, the superfriendly staff can be a little too aggressive; our server checked in with us seemingly every thirty seconds, including to ask how the food “looked” — a fair question I guess, since it had been served about ten seconds earlier and we had only a chance to look, not taste.  Anyway, better too attentive than not enough, I suppose.  And it tasted about how it looked: just okay.

District 2 has a short but sweet beer list — Goose Island IPA is always a winner.  I liked my mac & cheese ($9) with chili ($2 to add to the mac), but neither piece was especially exciting individually; together, still not the best ever or anything, but the dark beany chili swimming in its gooey pasta pool, some of each in every bite, hit the spot. Fish tacos weren’t as good: bland fish, too much mediocre coleslaw, and the tortilla-to-filling ratio leaned too far to the left.  Below-average not-crispy or particularly flavorful fries. House salad looked okay, nothing out of the ordinary (I didn’t get a bite of that).

I thought District 2 might be a superior alternative to Cactus Cantina and 2 Amy’s across the street, but I’m higher on CC and lower on D2 based on recent visits.  Not that we live near enough to patronize any of them very often.  I’m more likely to hit D2 for happy hour at the bar.

Best part of our meal was watching, from the comfort of our booth, a large SUV attempt to parallel park between two cars in a space that was barely large enough; the SUV played some serious bumper pool, twice rocking the compact behind it back a couple of inches.  That’s what bumpers are for, and I don’t think any damage was done, but since it wasn’t our car, it was fun to watch.  If it had been our car, Mrs. Me would have been out there in a nanosecond.

Churchkey

Metro thinks we’re still in August, so I may as well finish catching up from summer. My July visit to Churchkey (1337 14th Street NW) is kind of a blur. It was a hot day, and my brain melted as the afternoon dragged on. Probably Churchkey’s beers didn’t help, but I remember enough to know we really enjoyed the experience.  Their website is basically a placeholder and their facebook page has only marginally more info, but thanks to their sister restaurant Birch & Barley (which is downstairs, Churchkey is up), I can look up what we ate and drank.

We liked DC Brau’s “The Corruption”. But they change their menu so often, whatever else we had has been lost to the sands (hops?) of time. Some kind of cask ale from Heavy Seas was consumed, I’m pretty sure.  Also something slightly naughty-sounding, like the Corruption but different.  And a bunch of us had Lagunitas‘ Little Sumpin’ Wild with dinner, loved it. Anyway, all good, and the guys behind the bar were all superfriendly and full of explanation about the overwhelming selection — not as many beers as the Brickskeller, but they’re all in stock, and they’re all really good, so an overall big win for Churchkey.  I also like how you can order either 4oz or a full glass of anything, and prices are not unreasonable.  If I lived closer to Logan Circle, I would spend far too much time at Churchkey.

Oh, the food: solid, but nothing special. The mac & cheese sticks were okay, fries were pretty good, I’ve forgotten what else we had.  Nothing bad, indeed a fine array of drinking-accompaniment snacks, but not as excellent or excellent-value as the beer. Friends who have been to Birch & Barley like the food there; I think there is minimal upstairs-downstairs overlap foodwise.

Recent Returns: Woodside Deli

The Woodside Deli website is strange: despite their longstanding location just south of the Beltway, across from Snider’s — is that Forest Glen, or Silver Spring or Woodside, or All of the Above, or…whatever.  Despite that location, the website focuses nearly exclusively on the Rockville catering arm of the company, and lists the deli menu for “historical value” only, as though the original restaurant no longer exists.  The actual hard copy menu, which does in fact exist, has a different design but all the same items, and prices don’t seem far off. No mention online of the restaurant address, hours, etc.  Which makes me think this isn’t the right website…but if there’s another one, I can’t find it, and this is the one linked to by Yelp and its ilk. So my first unsolicited recommendation (aren’t they all?) is to upgrade the website.

On the other hand, the apparent fact that they are focusing on the catering at the expense of the restaurant kind of came through in our meal this time.  We have liked Woodside in the past, and our recent visit wasn’t bad, but the food wasn’t particularly good either: uninspired salads, big but bland sandwiches, corned beef hash that clearly came from a can. The pancakes are decently fluffy, though, and HUGE, like the greasy-but-good potato latkes and also every other item we’ve ever ordered or seen ordered there. If you’re sick of the small plate trend gripping greater DC, Woodside could be the antidote. Hard to avoid leftovers at Woodside — but do we really want them?

Service can be good or indifferent, depending who you get. The best part of brunch was the people-watching. Most Wheaton restaurants, especially the Thai and Chinese places, have a diverse ethnic clientele.  But Woodside Deli’s customers seem more diverse, in terms of not only ethnicity, but also age, and economic status (judging by attire, personal sanitation, dental work), than any other restaurant I’ve been in lately.  That’s intended as an observation, not a judgment, and if (like me) you don’t mind eating at a table next to the occasional person dressed like she earned her brunch money by turning tricks the night before, and on the other side a kid throwing his utensils all over the place…well, if you like this sort of cross-section of America and you like leftovers, but you prefer a local dive to a generic national chain, then you’ll dig Woodside Deli the most.

Bethesda Redwood

Not quite the same ring as California Redwood, but pretty good in its own right. Redwood (7121 Bethesda Lane) is huge, and has loads of outdoor seating, which is nice on a sunny but not too disgustingly humid summer day, especially when you get there for happy hour before the besotted masses.  This happy hour is made for you and me? Actually, Redwood may be too swank for Woody Guthrie’s taste.

I had been to Redwood only once before, not long after it opened, when the drinks were good but expensive and the delivery was sloooowwwwww.  The drinks are still good, and strong too — the bartender knows his way around a mojito, at least — and at happy hour prices ($5) a relative bargain.  Delivery was friendly and prompt, though they didn’t get busy until we were leaving so it wasn’t much of a test.

Several appetizers also get the HH price treatment; a big dish of addictive fries for $4 is a particular winner. Potstickers are also pretty good though they’re really more like stuffed wontons, or what some Chinese restaurants have called crab rangoons; these have ground pork instead of crab.  Not bad.  If I could leave Metro Center early more often to meet Mrs. Me at Redwood for an early-side happy hour mojito and fries, I would be a happier (though I suppose less healthy) camper.

Chadwicks’ Nachos

Mrs. Me and I like the nachos at the Friendship Heights Chadwicks (5247 Wisconsin): a big portion for $8.95 with fresh jalapenos, lots of sour cream, guacamole and chili, melted cheese (helloooo Hard Times Cafe), and the chips are almost always crisp.  Sometimes the toppings overwhelm the chips, but the ratio is usually right, and the flavors and freshness are much above-average for nachos around here. We recently ate some for the first time in quite a while, followed by the usual happy food coma.

Not all Chadwickian food is great but the burgers are solid and they have decent beer selection and good happy hour deals.  Also, if you sit at a table (as opposed to the bar like we usually do) they give you crayons to color on the paper tablecloth, fun for all ages!

Counterintuitively, Chadwicks does not apostrophize its name; apparently there are multiple iterations of Chadwick, as opposed to one Chadwick who possesses the restaurant(s). Maybe I am overthinking it. And while the official Chadwicks website is technically for only the Georgetown and Alexandria locations, the information is essentially the same for the Friendship Heights location (aside from contact info and address/directions, of course!) — the FH restaurant is no longer owned by the GTown/NoVa Chadwicks folks, at least I think that’s true, although I have not found a good rundown of what happened. There will be a Venn Diagram later and perhaps a flow chart…

Semisweet Vidalia

Despite not being a country music fan, I found myself working at a country music radio station in the 1990s, and even though I was on the news and sports side, the music has a way of seeping into your subconscious.  One of the songs of that era that I actually kind of liked — mostly because I am a sucker for a bad pun — country music lyrics are of course rife with bad puns, so you’d think I’d be more into it — was Sammy Kershaw’s “Vidalia”, whose chorus goes “Girl, won’t you tell me why/Sweet Vidalia you always gotta make me cry.”

So even though I’m a Walla Walla* onion guy at heart, I always think nice thoughts of Vidalias. And when a group of us finally dined at Vidalia (1990 M Street, in the District) the other night, I hoped it would live up to its stellar reputation.  In some ways it did, and in some ways it didn’t. Should I just be glad it didn’t make me cry?

* the onion so sweet they named it repeat….sorry.

The dining room is underground and quite elegant and refined, but very beige, and for some reason Mrs. Me didn’t like the ceiling, which seemed normal enough to me.  It all looks very nice, and everyone is friendly and professional, but our service wasn’t smooth at all, though it did improve as the evening went on. For example, we were asked for drink orders before we’d had a chance to read the options; then we were left hanging for 35 (thirty-five) (not exaggerating) minutes before our server returned to see what we had decided.  35 is too many minutes by about 25-30 minutes. This was especially painful because we were hungry and apparently official Vidalia procedure is to not bring out the bread basket until the drink orders have been taken.

Wait aside, the bread basket was wonderful, boasting several nice choices including moist cornbread and buttery, flaky rolls. The rest of the food also was mostly as good as expected. Like: six huge juicy shrimp swimming in creamy, delicious grits. I loved the sweet-salty-savory balance of fried sweetbreads atop a waffle with cream sauce and syrup.  An amuse-bouche of (I think) roasted mushroom soup with sunflower seeds was excellent.  And judging from my fantastic mint julep, a perfect trifecta of mint-sweet-bourbon, the bartender is a scholar and a gentleman and a mighty fine mixologist or mixateer or whatever the trendy name is these days.

Those were the highlights. Mrs. Me liked her onion soup though it wasn’t what she was expecting, I think the onions were more subtle than at other places (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  I tried it and thought it was very good, especially the duck dumplings floating atop the soup. We got a side dish of mac and cheese, a reputed star of Vidalia’s menu, and while the ham-studded cheesy-noodly melange was tasty enough, it wasn’t transcendent or anything, and despite a decently large portion I’m not sure it was worth $9.50.

Frogmore stew (shrimp, rockfish, crab, sausage) was fine but isn’t actually stew-y; we were all expecting our server to come back and pour some broth in the bowl…no such luck. Potato-flake-covered-flounder was good, pork chop was good, salad was good — nothing was even remotely bad or even mediocre, but at these prices, we were hoping for superiority across the board.  Our group of four agreed that the value just isn’t there, between the prices  (pretty much every entree is over $30) and the uneven pacing and (for us) the location, so doubt we will be back anytime soon.  Only four or five tables were occupied the entire time we were there, so maybe we aren’t the only ones in that boat.

Unless I develop a sudden craving for shrimp, grits, and juleps.  Stranger things have happened.

Dickson Wine Bar (DC)

We are not really hip enough for Dickson (903 U Street) but we hit it anyway before a recent 9:30 Club show.  Pleasantly surprised by the food, pretty good flatbread overall — excellent toppings (e.g. mushroom, arugula/prosciutto) and okay bread, kind of chewy and dry for my taste.  Small but unusual beer and wine selection, everything some degree of organic or “biodynamic.” Excellent pork banh mi, non-traditional in its rich barbecued pork and barely any pickled veggies or pate, but delicious anyway and that’s what matters.  Good and large salads. Excellent service, though I gather this may vary depending on how busy they are.  Overall a place I would visit more if I visited that neighborhood more.

Nest Revisited

I loved Nest on my first visit in 2009 (previous review here) but hadn’t been back until now, it is so nice to sit on their front patio in nice weather on a less-traveled section of Bethesda Avenue. We ordered completely different dishes this time. Good drink list, especially beers on tap — I enjoyed my Dale’s Pale Ale. Mrs. Me went against type with a “Spiked Arnold Palmer” and liked that too.

Crab and queso dip seemed too runny at first but some stirring revealed a fine balance of fresh lump crab and gooey cheese, well done. Fried pita triangles were a nice vehicle I thought, but Mrs. Me thought they were a little greasy and heavy — she’s right, but I never let that kind of thing stop me.  Thin-crust pizzas are above-average though not quite Ella’s/Paradiso quality, could maybe be baked a bit hotter or longer. I tried the soft-shell crab special and it was only okay, nicely presented atop rice, corn and watermelon (pretty colors) and the flavors were good, nothing really wrong with it, the batter was a little soft maybe, and I suppose it is a bit early for crab season out here.  Overall, Nest is an excellent neighborhood bistro (with good happy hour specials, too) that appears to be attracting lots of diners, and I’m happy for their success, they are above average by Bethesda standards for ambience, quality, and even value. Quality website too.

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

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Lamb Jam Cam? (by Emma Jane Hogbin/Creative Commons)

Great time at the DC American Lamb Jam yesterday, held in a ballroom at the Ritz Carlton: 19 local restaurants serving tastes of locally (regionally?) grown lamb prepared nineteen different awesome ways, with plenty of Washington State red wine flowing (plus a few beers). The organizers did a great job, the crowd was big enough to feel the buzz and seem well-populated, yet there was plenty of room to move and little if any waiting for most tastes or pours.

We all got to vote for best dish, plus there were some official judges giving various awards, but we didn’t stay to find out who won and I don’t see that results have been posted anywhere online yet (UPDATE: results! Courtesy of EatMore DrinkMore). Our group consensus favorites were the lamb shank from Jackson 20 & The Grille at Morrison House, and the Hunkar Begendi — i.e. another lamb shank — from Zaytinya, both incredibly, delicately tender and flavorful, the difference mainly a rosemary lamb demiglace beneath the former and an eggplant puree beneath the latter. I also particularly loved Bibiana’s lamb shoulder confit, an enormous (by “just a taste” standards) and tender portion, served with a delicious lamb ravioli atop a charred eggplant paste. The youngest among us went baaaaananas for Weekend Bistro’s (beware Flash on website) braised lamb shoulder with horseradish grits and butter bean ragu, and we all agreed that was also a great choice.

Really, every one of the 19 offerings was at least very good; some were truly sublime.  Among the five of us, we tasted nearly all 19. The lamb was highest quality — the folks from Wagshal’s were there, too, giving some butchery demos.  Fun! I have literally no complaints about the event; if I did have a complaint, it would be that the portions in some cases were too large, I was only able to try about half of the dishes, I just ran out of room.  A tower of Georgetown Cupcakes out in the hallway also disappeared quickly (I didn’t go there). About twenty Washington State wineries were pouring several different wines apiece, a bit overwhelming really and I tried only a couple, both very good and of course well-paired with all the lamb.

The only trouble was, it was just so much bacchanalia that we were hard-pressed to stay awake driving home (at 5PM!). Partially the volume and richness of the food got us in the end, and partially I’m sure it was simply having counted all those sheep lambs…

One In Vermilion (Four, Actually)

Virginia again? How do we keep ending up in the Commonwealth? Okay, it isn’t that often, and they do have some fine restaurants, some different experiences than one finds in Wheaton, and we enjoyed a recent visit to Vermilion (1120 King Street, Alexandria). Good food was a given, and we liked the ambience too, especially the exposed brickwork upstairs, but the wonderful service really put the place over the top for us. Everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful, especially in the downstairs bar area, where we waited for our table and then returned after dinner to linger over cocktails. I am not supercritical when it comes to service, but it can make an otherwise okay meal good (or disastrous), and in this case it made a good meal great.

Vermillion is big on local products, sustainability, etc., and the food quality is excellent, starting with the bread basket, which included a couple of choices, best was what seemed like a hybrid classic dinner roll/buttermilk biscuit, sweet and soft and hot and happy. One of the better breads I’ve had at any restaurant. We each were next bestowed an amuse bouche, a delicious bite of beef tartare atop…something, I don’t remember, but it was very good, we all wished there were more.  Unlike Queen Victoria, we were indeed amused.

Ol’ Vicky also famously said “I will be good” and that was true on this night, too. Main dishes lived up to expectations but I wouldn’t say exceeded them.  Pork loin and belly was nicely sliced and arrayed amidst a melange of feta, pine nuts, peas; good but not great.  The “pekin duck” across from me disappeared quickly, I think that was the overall winner.  Charcuterie and mushroom ravioli were, like the pork, about the expected level of quality.  Overall, a fine meal made excellent by the service (and by the company!). Also, the bartender and bar staff really know their stuff: highly recommended.