Found: good eats in DC! (Ten Penh, Dino, Blue Duck Tavern)
Just back from a few days in DC and some good eats. I'm from SF and NY, and consider myself fairly knowledgable (and particular) about good dining. We stayed in Dupont Circle and wandered all over the city on foot, and chose our restaurants based on recommendations from Chowhound and from a girl we met in a shop in Georgetown.
Went to Ten Penh our first night. Interior is pretty, though looks a little worn. Started with an amuse bouche of a curried cream of mushroom soup, warm and delicous, though I couldn't say I could eat a whole bowl of it. We ordered the lumpia and the BBQ braised short ribs to start. The ribs were delicious - very tender from the braising, but the outside was crusty from a quick fry, and the sauce was sweet and tangy. It's served with a refreshing, lightly pickled cucumber salad on the side. The lumpia came with 3 dipping sauces, and were tasty, though on second thought we could have skipped another fried dish. The highlight was the smoked lobster, which was first smoked, then cut into managable pieces and quicky cooked in lime in a hot wok. It was served over sauteed vegatables and fried spinach. What a delicious way to prepare lobster! We enjoyed a great meal and excellent service at Ten Penh.
Our second night, we ventured up to Cleveland Park for dinner at Dino. The interior is comfortable and romantic. The wine list has everything categorized by flavors, handy if you aren't too familiar with a lot of wines, but you know what you typically like in terms of taste. We shared the burrata, which is shipped in from Campania every Sunday and Thursday, so lucky for us it had just been in Italy less than 24 hours before it hit our table. If you've never had burrata, it's the most delicious, freshest mozzarella you could ever taste. Absolutely amazing! We also shared the Antipasti della Casa, a lovely selection of cured meats, marinated veggies, cheese and olives. Everything was great, although the prosciutto was a little, um, "earthy" in flavor, not what we are used to with prosciutto. For our entree, we shared the Pappardelle ai Cinghiale - wide, fresh pasta with wild boar sauce. Delicious, rich comfort food. We topped off the meal with a wonderful, wintery pumpkin bread pudding. It was like a warm, moist, dense muffin topped with light sweet whipped cream, and was simple and tastey. Service was friendly and helpful, and not overbearing. Overall, another wonderful dining experience.
For our last night in DC, a girl we met in a Georgetown shop recommended Blue Duck Tavern. I'd read the reviews, and knew what to expect from the kitchen. She also made other recommendations, so we had some choices. On our walk that evening from Georgetown to Dupont Circle, we walked by a gorgeous restaurant and walked in to check it out, and low and behold, it was Blue Duck. We were immediately impressed by the amazingly beautiful space (I heard it was recently remodeled), and decided to come back for dinner. They were booked until 9:30, but we could dine in the lounge (they serve a reduced menu of some of their most popular dishes) . We lucked out when we came back at 7, and someone cancelled their reservation, so we sat in the dining room after all. We started with the cauliflower soup and the beet salad. The soup, poured over carmelized onions and a few slices of chorizo, was creamy and rich, very tasty. The beet salad was fresh and refreshing, with endive, tangy goat cheese and pumpkin seeds. For entrees, we ordered the bratwursts, which were the most tender, moist brats we'd ever tasted. We also had the roasted duck, which was extremely tender and perfectly salted. We had the arugula salad and the sunchokes for sides. The arugula salad was lightly dressed in lemon oil and salt, yummy, but difficult to eat (the leaves were awkward to pick up and get into your mouth with any grace). The sunchokes were roasted in olive oil, I think, and while delicious and sweet, were a little greasy. Overall, we the service to be attentive, and the food amazingly prepared and presented, and we walked home stuffed. The interior is beautiful - elegent, darkly lit and romantic, with a huge open kitchen. Some people don't like that all the food is served in separate dishes, but we enjoyed it, as it made it easy to share everything.
Overall, a wonderful trip to DC, and 3 amazing dinners. I would recommend these to any visitors and locals.
We just returned from Blue Duck tonight for my birthday dinner. The cocktails were quite good, as were the shortribs and the sunchoke side dish. The chicken, beef marrow appetizer and steak were good, not great. The fries were not as good as we'd heard. Pineapple dessert (can't exactly explain it) was weird; mint chocolate chip ice cream was generously portioned but average. A little too much chocolate chips (is there such a thing?).
All in all we felt the place was overpriced, a little dark and swank for the rustic menu/presentation, and the service was massively slow. Good, not great.