DC Trip Report: Gibson, Estadio, Jaleo, Cafe Atlantico, Zaytinya, Proof, Passenger Bar, Columbia Room, Poste (brunch), Acadiana, Maine Ave Fish Market
NYC hound in town for a few days to see family and the sights. We ate quite well. Drank less well. But had a lot of fun. Here's the report!
Started at the Gibson in the patio on a Wednesday evening just after 6pm. Two gelato based drinks were enjoyed. I had the The Virgil: Cruzan Black Strap, Dolin Rouge, Kubler Absinthe, Mint, Bitter Truth Lemon Bitters, Angostura, Vanilla Gelato. My husband had the Odd Duck: Hayman's, mango gomme, Basalm Fir tincture, Fever tree lemon soda. Both were good. Not the best but I had never had but I appreciated the creativity, wonderful service, and sitting in the backyard.
After the bugs began to feast on me, we moved into to the bar where I enjoyed a drink whose name escapes me, but contained mezcal, lime, agave, and absinthe. Well balanced and very enjoyable. My husband had something with both a peaty scotch and a bit of gin if I recall correctly -- not the safest combination but the drink was enjoyable. We also had an old fashioned made with their signature Hellfire bitters, that paired well with their maddeningly addictive chickpea fries. It was decent until the copious amounts of ice began to melt, making it quite watery. A problem we encountered at a lot of DC bars. Too many drinks being made with crappy, small ice in this town. The drinks served up at the Gibson were fine, though.
Next stop was Estadio since we were craving tapas after seeing No Reservations' Madrid episode. We were seated after a short wait and my husband's sangria was quite nice. We tried all the pintxos, which were pretty good. The gilda, arichoke/sardine, chorizo/manchego, and jamon wrapped fig, the latter two being my favorites of the four. The gilda was a little 'off' from what I'd had in San Sebastian, I think they use a different kind of boqueron at Estadio. But their croquettas were the best part of the meal. What really sold me was how they were served with items that really made a perfect bite. Jamon with pickled cucumber or mushroom with roasted red peppers and arugula. The grilled octopus was fine as was the mixed meat plate. I've had better but they were solid for what they there (and frankly, I'm from NYC and nothing touches the terrines Daniel Boulud makes...also we'd been to Publican in Chicago this June who makes an awesome charcuterie board). Service was fine, they did try to give us some spinach we hadn't ordered...twice.
The next day after a long morning and half the afternoon of sightseeing/monuments, we trudged over to Penn Quarter for a very late lunch. I'd been meaning to go to Rasika but it was past 2:30pm already so we ended up at Jaleo. The pan con tomate here was amazing. The complimentary bread was only OK. I wanted another order of pan con tomate as soon as I had a single piece. (Restaurant grilled bread is something I can never hope to duplicate at home!) Our asparagus with romesco sauce was also excellent. Perfectly cooked asparagus with a sprinkle of salt and tasty sauce. The mushroom omelet didn't fare quite as well, it seemed underseasoned and didn't really gel. Also enjoyed the jamon iberico (it was cut just a little too paper thin for me). Less so the patatas bravas. The sauce seemed a bit off to me (not spicy enough? not creamy enough? too much acid?) and what I'd tried in Spain last summer. Not sure I'd go back unless I were to try some of the 'out there' dishes.
For dinner, we attended a fabulous seminar put on by the Museum of the American Cocktail and met some family members for dinner at Cafe Atlantico (they'd reserved a few weeks back). Drinks were tasty but on the sugary side. The tuna ceviche was tasty but I've had so much ceviche over the years it's all kind of blended together now. My husband's watermelon salad was excellent and I loved the grilled melons and contrast with cheese and pistachios. The sea beans didn't really add much. I enjoyed my "organized" caesar salad, especially the juicy quail legs, but eating the "salad sushi" was a little annoying after a while. Too large for one bit, but awkward to cut into. Great to look at and talk about, though. For my main, the lamb loin was seasoned properly, well cooked, but not all that exciting. And the spring vegetables seemed a little much (feels too late to be eating so many peas IMO and it was too much of the same by the end) and too safe. My husband's fish was better and much more interesting: with lots of lime, passionfruit seeds, and fruit going on. Refreshing. Perhaps Andres is at his best with doing dishes with a lot of fruit and acid going on? Overall, the best part was probably our desserts: rum cake and coconut two ways. The coconut two ways was a lovely surprise, particularly the panna cotta set into the bowl with a layer of jelly directly on top. Not too sweet, and very creamy and refreshing. It was a fun dinner overall, not sure I'd rush back, except to try some of the Latina Dim Sum on Sundays.
The next day before a jaunt through the Spy Museum we had a quick lunch at Zaytinya. Walked in as a party of 3 and were sat right away. I wasn't expecting much at this point but I think of the three Andres restaurants we tried, I liked Zaytinya the most. Delicious, crispy petite falafel in a nutty, creamy tahini sauce. It's just falafel, I thought, how good could it be? I was proven wrong--they were great! Sauteed, moist shrimp with a creamy dill sauce and touch of bright lemon were much more delicate than I'd anticipated. Crispy eggplant, lightly battered, hot on the outside, creamy on the inside, with a nice garlicky yogurt sauce were fantastic. I also liked the Arayes: grilled ground lamb and tahini, stugged into a pita, which was also then grilled, and arrived piping hot. Bold, wonderful flavors contrasting against the crisp pita outside. The only one that was merely good was the adana kebab, which was a bit bland in the center of the chunks of meat. I'd go back to this place in a heartbeat, as I really enjoyed the flavors and textures and sauces. Three of us shared 6 plates and left satisfied for a good price.
Later on that evening we had an early dinner at Proof. Overall, the menu of cocktails didn't excite me. The drinks here we tried were not good. We only had two and I have no idea who was behind the stick, but I basically left most of mine untouched. I had the Yarmouth: cachaca and manzanilla sherry with elderflower liqueur, grapefruit bitters and Hitachino Nest's herbal spirit (hops, coriander and citrus). The ingredients never really came together in the way I'd hoped and it was too herbal and unbalanced for me. My husband's Post colonial was a little better (rum, dubonnet rouge, Chartreuse, Peychaud's) but nothing special and I think maybe the Chartreuse proportion was out of whack. Disappointing. Additionally, a lot of the housemade drinks seemed to contain honey syrup, which we both find cloying sometimes in cocktails. Again, since we sat at the table, we had limited interaction with the bartender, and had no idea who was behind the stick that Friday night. Maybe we just chose the two that were weakest. The food however, was really good.
The mixed terrine plate was very and I liked trying three different types. I believe we had the duck liver (thick and heavy in a good way), chicken (fine and pretty standard classical terrine), and my favorite, the pho terrine, served with a smear of hoisin. The pho terrine was made out of beef and the spices you usually find in pho (star anise, cinnamon, clove, etc). Subtle, creative, and really well executed. My seared foie gras with brioche and poached apples was excellent. Well cooked, well seasoned, and brioche with foie? Can't go wrong there.The tempura of mushrooms and beans was fine as was the gazpacho. The tempura green beans didn't really do much for me but the combination of the mushroom with the tempura batter was much more interesting. For mains, I had the day boat scallops with heirloom tomato salad and wild mushroom bread pudding. The scallops were cooked nicely and barely cooked in the center but still had that nice crust on them. The heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes were excellent, almost textbook in terms of acid, sweetness, and texture. And gorgeous to behold, yellows, greens, oranges, and reds. My husband's duck confit was very good as well and paired nicely with the jicama and grapefruit salad. He essentially cleaned the entire plate, nearly licking it clean, with no room left for dessert. We'd definitely dine at Proof again, perhaps picking from the wine list. The only thing that was odd was the server who felt the need to explain half the menu to us (is that a DC thing?) and also said, "if you have any questions, feel free to ask your server." (Hey lady...that's you. You're our server, right?)
Hoping to grab better drinks elsewhere, we decamped to the Passenger while waiting for our reservation at the Columbia Room in back. Tried a Rhum Ti punch which was fine (maybe needed more lime) but had far too many ice cubes so it got watery fast. My gin, lemon, absinthe drink was not good at all and I didn't finish it as it was too heavy on the absinthe, so the taste of the gin was lost over time. My husband also ordered a mescal, sherry, lime drink, also served on the rocks, that was mostly sherry with a bit of mescal to finish. It was a good idea but I think might need some refinement or work. It also had far too many small ice cubes and turned to water very quickly. Since my husband got the drinks, I didn't see the bartenders work but I suspect they were freepouring.
The Columbia Room, however, was fantastic. Started something unnamed. I believe the base spirit was cognac served with Lapsang Souchong Tea (a smoky Chinese tea with Fujian province), Benedictine, prosecco, orange twist, in a champagne glass. Delicious, not too sweet, not too boozy, not too dry. Next was the Knickerbocker a la señor: dry sherry, fig and orange granita, vanilla, crushed ice. Paired with orange fig blue cheese and raddichio salad with caramel caviar. Delicious and the cocktail and food played very well together, especially the fresh fig against the sherry, fig, and vanilla elements in the cocktail. My husband then asked for their version of the Mai Tai which they serve with Appleton Reserve, housemade orgeat, orange, and perhaps another element or two. It was also excellent -- far too many Mai Tais are just booze delivery devices or fruitier than jello. This was a quirky but balanced Mai Tai. Great service. Good ice. Great technique. Great bartenders who were entertaining. Guests all enjoying fabulous drinks. I'd be here all the time if I lived in DC (and be much much poorer I'm sure). Thank you, Derek!
The next day we had lunch out in the suburbs and returned to DC in the afternoon. For dinner, we wound up at Acadiana, which was a last minute reservation and I'm glad we ended up there. The charbroiled oysters with garlic butter, parmesan romano cheese, warm french bread were everything I'd hoped they would be. Loved using the bread to soak up the buttery juices of the oysters. We also tried the trio of deviled eggs, which were good but not as good as the oysters. For my main, I had the BBQ shrimp, served in broth with bread, and the heads still on. A bit spicy, salty, and flavorful, I thought they were quite good, but just a little too salty to eat on their own. Perhaps better with grits? My husband had the gumbo, which was tasty and comforting, but not mind-blowingly good. It would definitely be the thing on a cooler night, though. Sadly, we were too full for dessert, so couldn't try the beignets this time around.
After dinner, we popped into PS7's where I'd heard a lot about their cocktail list. Gina, their mixologist, wasn't behind the bar that night. And the drinks we had weren't good either. I watched as the bartender sometimes freepoured, sometimes used a jigger, shook drinks in a shaker for 3-4 seconds tops, do a poor job of stirring, and didn't bother to taste any of the drinks going out. My husband's Happy Together (mezcal, chocolate bitters, orange) was fine but served in a short glass with too many ice cubes. Watery, again, in just a few minutes. I liked my Rickey Ricardo but it was a bit watery as well -- couldn't tell if it was the recipe or the bartender's doing but it didn't look like there was a lot of gin to begin with in the drink (I watched him freepour into the glass). My Sun and Sand was far too sweet, especially with the root beer crust, the vanilla was overpowering (I think it needed some acid component), and I just couldn't finish it. Minus points too for the TV set to The Apprentice (ugh) and the bar being right by the bright, frosted glass, sliding kitchen doors (ugh) and the tub of popcorn left without the lid on all night (no wonder it was stale).
The next morning we ended up at Poste for brunch. Didn't experience any service issues like others have mentioned. Good coffee, decent bread basket. We wanted to try the Pitmaster Maria (bloody mary but with tequila and BBQ sauce) but they were out of BBQ sauce! Boo. My husband's French toast was soft, sweet, rich and crispy on the edges, perhaps could have been a little creamier, but that's nit-picking since I love brioche french toast (right now I think Jane or City Bakery in NYC has the best I've ever tried). We loved the Benton's bacon but IMO it's too smoky and salty a bacon to serve on its own, so it was hard to finish all three pieces in his side order. I had the infamous eggs hussarde. I liked the combination of the roasted tomato, poached egg, bacon bits, and crispy potato skin, but ultimately this dish seems a bit flawed as the point of using a bread or muffin as the base under a poached egg is so that the bread can sop up the runny egg. The potato skin? Doesn't work that way and you end up leaving half the egg on the plate. Also the knives given were just a little too weak to stand up to the potato skins, which are difficult to cut. It was a nice brunch, in a light-filled room, convenient to the Portrait Gallery, etc. but not the best brunch I've had, but good to know there's a hotel where you can easily access Benton's bacon in the hotel restaurant!
Dinner after the Air and Space museum was 3 dozen blue crabs (for about $36) from the Maine Ave Fish Market, steamed and brought to a relative's home with some corn on the cob. The crabs were delicious! Now I know why people miss that sort of thing when they leave the area.
Next time I'd love to hit up Eve/PX, Komi, Rasika, more cheap eats/ethnic, and definitely the Columbia Room again. Thanks DC!
405 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001
633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
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Fish Market Restaurant
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Hmmmm....I have to be honest, I've never once conisdered getting cocktails instead of wine at Proof and I'm a cocktail kind of person. FYI, should you back to Jaleo again, get the Jose Andreas gin & tonic, which is, for my money, one of the very best cocktails in town and (you'll like this) is served with one enormous ice globe. Check out the margarita with the salt "air" at Oyamel, also.
For me, The Gibson doesn't live up to the hype and I like Passenger better. IMHO, from my totally informal survey, I feel like they do better with straight up cocktails than long drinks on ice.
But...one last thing - you're really going to judge the charcuterie of all of DC and compare it to the best charcuterie you've ever had elsewhere based on one trip to...Estadio? That's just odd for me. Did someone tell you they have the best charcuterie in the city, or something? Also, just in case you didn't know, Estadio and Proof are under the same ownership - those croquettes were at Proof first!
I'd been told that some of the top cocktails in town were at Proof, which is why it was disappointing.
At the Passenger, it was hard to tell what was going to be served up vs on the rocks. We were just going by the chalkboard and seeing what looked good. It was pretty crowded as well.
For Estadio I was judging Estadio's charcuterie versus what I'd had elsewhere, i.e. Bar Boulud & DBGB in NYC (that's why I mentioned Daniel Boulud) and Publican in Chicago. Not trying to judge the city as a whole. Estadio's was solid but I'd had better, and then I named where I'd had better in the country. I did like the plate at Proof. Is there somewhere you're recommend?
Thanks for the tips about Jaleo and Oyamel.
I second this rec. Plus I think Central has some tasty cocktails (although you seem like far more of an expert on cocktails than me).
I also agree that Proof is a place you go for wine not necessarily cocktails. It has one of the best wine lists in the city.
I'm sad to hear you didn't like PS7, since it's one of my favorite restaurants in town and I love their cocktails. I hope you were just there on an off night. I've been to the lounge both when Gina has been there and she hasn't and I've always felt I was in capable hands. Did you try at food or just cocktails?
777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001
Sorry about Proof - that sucks. When I go there I like to order tons of the 2oz pours - kind of a create your own wine pairing with each dish sort of thing. I'm in love with that place.
At the Passenger, it's really supposed to be a one on one thing between you and the bartender and they will take the time to do this even when the place is a sea of vintage leather and torn denim (and jerks complaining about the 5 minuntes it took to get a beer). I've never ordered off any menu - you really just tell them what you want. Example: I said, I want something up, whisky or bourbon with maybe some cirtus or something *different* and I got a lion's tail that I truly loved.
So, about the Columbia Room - what's the story here? It's connected to the Passenger, or what? Next door? I'm over there all the time since I live by there and I don't recall having seen signage or anything. To woodleyparkhound - I think all the cocktails at Passenger are about $9 - easier on the wallet than the ever-present DC $15 cocktail.
As far as charcuterie - Againn does theirs in-house, and I've heard excellent things about Restaurant Eve, although I haven't had it personally. It does not look like Estadio employs a charcuterie chef, and I know those two places do.
By the way, if you like beer, next time you're around check out Birch & Barley, or if you just want drinks and snacks - Churchkey. World class beer selection - really - and an amazing pastry chef.
The Passenger sounds do-able, but from the CR's website ... "The Columbia Room offers a progressive tasting of cocktails and Champagnes for $54 per person (inclusive of tax and tip). After being welcomed with a glass of Champagne, Derek Brown will craft two cocktails for you with a small plate from our kitchen." Sounds wonderful, but $54 for cocktails only is a special occasion thing for me. Someday I'll get there... Kathryn, how would you compare the Columbia Room with PDT or Death and Co.? PDT is a huge favorite of mine.
Charcuterie: the best I've had so far would be the unfortunately named, but utterly delicious "potted meat" from Againn and the "faux gras terrine" from Central.
I second Raids on the great beer list at Churchkey, but for me the limited bar snacks I've had there were not so special.
For next time Kathryn, you might want to keep in mind the best deal in town, the "Lickety-Split Lunch" at Restaurant Eve. I'm glad Rasika and Komi are on your list for your next trip; DC dining doesn't get better than that.
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Atmosphere-wise, the Columbia Room is nicer than either PDT or Death & Co because the bartenders simply aren't as busy. There were many empty seats after the earlier parties had already left; they don't start taking walk-in parties until midnight, IIRC. So it felt like we had the place nearly to ourselves during our 2nd and 3rd drinks and the bartenders were able to stop and chat for long periods of time--and relax!
In contrast, NYC cocktail lounges nearly always have a waiting list and when people vacate seats, the next party gets called in, and the bartenders tend to have much shorter conversations with you.
We were only there one night so it didn't seem as creative as PDT or Death & Co but both of those spots have menus whereas the Columbia Room doesn't. I'm sure if we were able to pick Derek's brain on consecutive nights, we'd get much more variety.
Thank you so much for your long, thoughtful and detailed post - it made for very interesting reading. Somehow, until I read this I had never heard of the Columbia Room. The Passenger has been on my list of places I want to check out, but the Columbia Room had escaped my attention until now. It sounds wonderful. I can't wait until I feel rich enough to try it!
Thanks so much, Kathryn, for this report and for your invaluable posts on the Manhattan Board (especially the "survey" posts), which any NYC visitor should print out and consult regularly!