It would be easy to make jokes about lobbyists eating at Kensington’s K Town Bistro (3784 Howard) but those jokes would not be funny, not least because I don’t think many lobbyists are in the habit of dining in Kensington, plus it is K Town not K Street. And if it were a terrible restaurant, the strikeout headlines would write themselves. I love headlines that write themselves — but this one just won’t. K is for kookie? Kooky? No and no. I’ll just have to move on.
In any case, K Town isn’t terrible — in fact, overall it is quite good, straddling a line between fancy restaurant and eclectic bistro, and certainly is more elegant than any Wheaton restaurant. The service is excellent, not surprising since owner Gonzalo Barba has been running high end restaurants (including at the Watergate Hotel) for decades. Gonzalo himself was working the room like a pro all evening, helping deliver and clear dishes, explaining and rectifying occasional glitches, definitely a strong presence. The art on the walls is…interesting (some is for sale), and the orange-yellow pastel walls themselves seem salvaged from dear departed Suporn Thai (but they aren’t really) (I assume…). I don’t mean that as a criticism; the sum is greater than the parts here.
The kitchen’s plating demonstrates artistry and lots of planning: almost all the dishes look great. The physical dishes themselves are interesting, often mismatched in ways that work — dinner plates don’t necessarily seem to match salad plates, or soup bowls, or glasses, but it all comes together. Only the French onion soup isn’t visually inviting: for some reason the chef chooses to merely float a cheesy crouton within the confines of the bowl’s rim, not even close to spilling over the top, which is how the best examples of the genre get their delicious (and attractive) blistered crust. Still, the soup was reportedly good, as was the lobster bisque, which I can vouch for myself and, as advertised, tasted of lobster and sherry.
Fried oysters with saffron aioli atop avocado mousse is not a combination I ever would have come up with, but I really liked it; the fry job was solid, the bivalves were crisp and briny, and the aioli and avocado were delicious. Unexpected, but it works — seems to be a theme at K Town.
What else was good? Most everything we tried: gnocchi in a surprisingly liquid sauce; rich, fork-tender braised short ribs with a small tower of cheesy zucchini that I devoured in about three seconds (but also some gummy, bland risotto); and a cute single serving beef Wellington that I didn’t taste so can’t really comment except that it disappeared quickly and the golden-brown pastry looked perfect.
We don’t usually have dessert but did this time: vanilla ice cream was creamy but nothing special; creme brulee was also creamy, rich, crunchy on top, very good. There were a couple of snafus with the wine: they hadn’t updated their list so what we thought would be a 2009 malbec turned out to be a 2010, and then after an offer of a bit of sauternes to go with the (excellent) fois gras, it turned out they were in fact out of sauternes* — the replacement muscat was (reportedly) fine but, well, not sauternes.
* This reminds me of Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch (one of their best ever), in which many cheese options are not available — in fact, the shop harbors no cheese at all — but the Camembert is at one point offered and subsequently the offer is retracted: “oh…the cat’s eaten it.” I, too, delight in all manifestations of the Terpsichorean muse.
We liked the service and ambience and, mostly, the food, and we will certainly return in the future to explore more of the menu; I don’t know if I would call this a “special occasion” restaurant, and the atmosphere is different from, say, Mrs. K’s or the Black Market Bistro, just to name a couple of other local, relatively-fine-dining establishments in the same price range (K Town appetizers $7-15, entrees $20-30) and probably it depends on personal taste where one might choose to dine. It could be a special occasion restaurant, and at least it is nice to have a good, relatively upscale “American” food place to go in the Wheaton-Kensington area.