Long Overdue (and longwinded) DC Trip Report: Sushi Taro, Elisir, The Source, Ashby, Trummer's, Woodberry, and more.
Thanks to all the Hounds who helped out with this seemingly ancient trip - a Kings Stanley Cup, a move across the country, and a new job have been time consuming. Below are the texts with pictures available in the blog. I hope to come back soon - likely late 2013.
The Why: Steve Plotnicki loves it. RJ Cooper loves it. When palates you trust recommend a spot as “best in the city” or “best in the country” it is hard to ignore, particularly when the price is 1/3 or 1/4 the MASA and Urasawa level and you land a seat at the 4-person Omakase room directly in front of Chef Nobu Yamazaki. Admitting here that being from Ohio I am certainly not an expert on sushi this was a situation where I was willing to trust those wiser than me that the food would “blow me away,” especially for the price, and although I knew I’d have little precedent by which to judge what I’d experience I was happy to sit back and learn.
The Food: $120 Omakase, $12 Cocktail. (yes, the Omakase price is not a typo – and I was there for nearly 3 and a half hours)
Umeshu: A greeting from the chef featuring house-made plum wine derived from green plum, rock sugar, and sochu aged for one year. Sweet, intense – this was my kind of wine.
OH-I Ocha: Recommended by the chef as something that would be great for sipping throughout the meal this blend of Gyokuro, Jun, Zen Green Tea Liqueur, Green Tea, and Matcha Powder was slightly bitter but entirely refreshing – a great palate cleanser between courses as I watched the theater of the kitchen.
Sesame seed paste and kuzu root starch “tofu,” Santa Barbara Uni, Fresh Wasabi, pickled soy bean, sansho pepper: Made daily in house and served only on the omakase due to the labor intense process involved this “signature” dish was superb, balanced, and featuring just enough heat to make the uni pop while the “tofu” was sweet and toothsome…an outstanding dish; one of many to come.
House Made Soba topped with yamaimo, Roasted Sea Weed, Soy Sauce: Just barely able to see the noodle station in the proper kitchen from my seat at the sushi bar Chef Nobu gathered the soba and proceeded to shred the creamy sticky yam over top as he described the province of the ingredient at length. Truly sticky, pleasantly sweet, and bathed in house soy I liken this dish to a noodle pudding and actually found it even better than the prior dish.
Live Flounder: Three ‘rolls’ with the just killed flounder wrapped around Japanese cucumber, yellow chive, and shaved bonito served with ponzu-plum sauce and crisp flounder skin. Silky meets crunchy and all with the intensity of a thick slice of bonito balanced by the sauce.
Slow cooked Whelk, Steamed Portuguese Octopus, Celtuse pickled in Miso paste, Egg Custard with Shrimp, King crab leg with Edamame paste, Snapper roe and Warabi in Gelatin, Grilled Tofu in the style of Unagi, Gingko nuts with Fish paste and Rice cracker, and Steamed fermented green plum: A beautiful plate composed by a second sushi-san while Chef Yamazaki greeted a Japanese couple (regulars) who would occupy the opposite end of the bar simply suffice it to say that this dish was complicated yet outstanding, each bite offering something entirely new; the whelk, tofu, and egg custard particularly impressive.
Hamo Shabu Shabu: One of the benefits of dining in the presence of regulars was that Chef had sourced some truly esoteric ingredients for that night’s meal and having never tasted Purple Conger Eel before I was educated on the delicate fish from Kyoto while the small bones were delicately cut and after adding the Hamo to a broth with wakame seaweed and bamboo shoots I can honestly say I’ve never tasted anything quite like it – light yet unctuous, almost sweet and very tender.
At this point I was told it was time for the Sashimi course and unveiling a stack of trays featuring Santa Barbara Uni, Canadian Wild Salmon Roe, Top Neck Clam in Soy, Sweet Shrimp, Arctic Char, Wild King Salmon, Japanese Yellowtail, Amberjack from Hawaii, Oh-Toro, Ultra-Lean Red Tuna, Japanese Fresh Bonito, Sea Conger Eel, Octopus, Madagascar Sake Steamed Prawns, Omelette, Saba cured with Salt, Flying Fish, Needlefish, Tokyo Spotted Kohada, Baby Snapper, Yellow Grouper, Japanese Ocean Perch, Kinmedai Alfonsino Snapper, Papuan Black Snapper, Live Scallop, Pen Shell Clam, and Jumbo Oyster I was asked what I’d like…a question that I’m sure left me wide eyed as I stammered “whatever you think is best.”
Served with House Soy, House Soy with Grated Ginger, and fresh grated wasabi:
Kinmedai and Papuan
Needlefish with mint
Sweet Shrimp, Live Scallop, Cured Tuna intestine
Bonito with Yuzu: Transitioning from the sashimi course to more composed courses I learned here of the seasonal variation in Bonito fat content and told that this was early season and thus very lean I was shocked to find the dish quite unlike what I’d expected – nothing like dashi or the flakes but instead intense and slightly mineral, perfectly complemented by the yuzu.
Soft Shelled Crab in Squid Ink Tempura with Tempura Wild Ramp: The dish of the night and potentially the best dish of the entire trip this was without a doubt the best tempura I’ve tasted and with the crab killed, breaded, and friend before my eyes it was also the freshest and sweetest.
Golden Eye Snapper Jaw with Japanese Turnip and Zest of Yuzu: Apparently sourced as a whole fish specifically for the couple to my right I was informed that the steaming broth before me was from the same fish as the sashimi I’d just enjoyed and while the raw fish was good this fatty soup was even better, a total umami bomb with the yuzu and turnip serving to balance but not overwhelm.
Wild Live Abalone and Australian Wagyu, Fleur de Sel from Okinawa: Served raw alongside a Hot Rock there is really nothing I can say about this dish that will do justice to the quality of each ingredient – the abalone opened and dissected before our very eyes and the wagyu beautifully marbled – a few seconds each on the stone, a pinch of salt…simple and spectacular
Whole Firefly Squid from Sea of Japan, Fiddlehead Fern, Broccolini, Fava Beans, Vinegar Jelly, Mustard Sauce, Edible Orchid: Having tasted firefly squid at Roberta’s in the past and expecting something tender and briny this was the only course of the evening that seemed even remotely unbalanced to me and taking into account my aversion to mustard this was probably more an conflict of taste than one of quality or skill as the heat of the mustard and acid of the vinegar simply overwhelmed the cephalopod and vegetation.
Golden Eye Snapper Milt in Rice Vinegar: Having mentioned the Golden Eye Snapper already my co-diners declined the milt course and having never tasted milt prior I decided to take the plunge; a quick burst of saline sweetness and then nothing – far more harmless than some would suggest and something I’d eat again though not something I’d actively seek out.
Sushi Course: Again offered my pick of the lot and again deferring to the chef who instructed me to lightly brush soy sauce on each bite all I again sat back and watched the knife work as each pristine piece of fish was presented over superlative rice – a succession of 8 different fishes that only ended when I asked Chef Yamazaki to stop for fear of seeming a glutton as I’d already outlasted my dining companions by at least three courses and a handful of nigiri.
Sake Steamed Live Prawn
Sea Conger Eel with dried Sansho
Uni with Coarse Japanese Sea Salt
Sakura Salt Ice: With the dessert menu presented I requested a tofu pudding dish but unwilling to let his recommendation for a rare seasonal special go unheeded Chef Yamazaki first set before me a small bowl of this lightly salted cherry blossom ice cream. Rich, light, savory moreso than sweet, and perfumed exactly like its namesake flower I can’t say this was the best textured ice cream I’ve ever tasted but all things being equal it was definitely one of the most unique; like the hamo and the milt I really have no standard to which I can compare.
Soy Milk “Annin Tofu” – Vanilla Almond Infused Tofu Pudding with Goji Berry: Served with a soy infused dark caramel plus crunchy crushed almonds and a Goji berry this dessert was every bit as good as it reads and with flavors reminiscent of a salted caramel custard or budino I cannot think of a better sweet course I’ve had in a Japanese restaurant, each bite a slightly different balance of the ingredients and the goji berry intensely sour – like a reset button to the palate as I was instructed to enjoy it last.
Grape and Strawberry Gelatin Block: The last bite (or two) of the meal this lightly sweetened gelatin block with fresh fruits was a simple and refreshing finish to nearly 200 minute experience.
The Verdict: Entering the restaurant with no knowledge of the cost of the menu (it varies day by day) but some knowledge of the ingredient costs of the food I’d just enjoyed I anticipated a $200-300 bill to arrive at the end of the evening and as such my jaw nearly hit the counter when I saw a pre-tax/tip bill of $132 staring back at me – while certainly not an insubstantial amount a veritable steal given the quality of the food, face time with the chef, and overall experience. Without doubt the best sushi I have ever had and also one of the most educational dining experiences of my life I can only judge the night in the context of my limited experience but with that said Sushi Taro certainly did “blow me away” and I cannot fathom returning to DC without rushing back.
Dear Uhockey-about three yeasrs late to the amazing experience that you had. Just wanted you to know that you inspired me to look up all the terms you used (the Japanese ones, that is.) Other people might be ashamed to admit they "don't know', but as a Midwestern girl transplant(early on) to a Cali chef, I just wasn't exposed to those things growing up.Ignorance ISN'T bliss, and I'm trying to be wise while I still have breath in me. Thank you for giving me a jumping off point. Laura
Thanks for all your thoughts and feedback. it was great meeting you at the Fiola lunch.
I was really glad we ordered both risottos. They could be the highlight of any meal, and based on these two I am comfortable with calling him a Master.
The rest of the lunch I was less thrilled with. Even the vitello tonnato, which I adored previously, was a bit flavorless. As for the bread, olive oil and sea salt crescent rolls tasted more like a visit from the Pillsbury dough boy gone wrong.
The Gist: http://www.woodberrykitchen.com/
The Why: En route from Washington DC to Philadelphia I had one night in Baltimore, a Monday with the Orioles in town and time for both an early dinner as well as late dessert bookending a visit to Camden – the former an easy decision based on what I’d read about Spike Gjerde’s environmentally conscious, locally sourced, and impressively in-house focused Woodberry Kitchen.
Clearly a trend setter rather than one simply following the “farm to table” trend of the day Gjerde’s immense restaurant acts not only as a place to feed the customer, but also as a champion of brining, pickling, canning, curing, and cooking rustically – often with a wood fired oven using everything from carrot tops to the bones of the beasts with little to nothing going to waste. Rustic and restrained, housed in an old warehouse district with defunct factories converted to galleries and green living spaces the entire area seemed to fit the ethos of Woodberry Kitchen and perhaps unjustly I entered the space with very high expectations after wandering the area for approximately an hour before the restaurant opened its doors.
The Reservation: Opentable, one guest at 5:00pm – a necessity despite the large space as the restaurant would fill by 5:30pm with walk-ins being quoted at 45-60 minute wait even on “Meatless Monday.”
The Setting: Having mentioned the location in an old manufacturing area outside center city by a good five miles the restaurant itself is an interesting two-story space with an outdoor patio and an interior centered around the large open kitchen heavy with wood, concrete, and brick – a situation that admittedly formed a bit of an echo-plex as the room filled but not so loud that it was unpleasant. Having arrived at the restaurant’s opening, however, what I did find unpleasant was the seat I was provided – a small two-top in the loft where the hostess sat me facing a cold brick wall, though I guess I could look sideways down onto the floor of the main room…
The Service: Worse than the seat I was given would be the service that came along with it – a space largely ignored by everyone save for my server, Randy, who was admittedly pleasant enough but otherwise occupied by his other tables thus frequently leaving my water glass unfilled until I eventually switched to the other side of the table so that I could flag down assistance when necessary. Adding on substantial delays from the kitchen including a glaring error where they completely forgot to prepare my main course the phrase “trainwreck” (or worse) seemed quite appropriate leading me to do something I rarely find appropriate – asking to speak to the manager, a pleasant and apologetic young man who seemed well trained in the art of service-recovery.
The food: One non-alcoholic cocktail, complimentary bread service, three appetizers, one main course, one side, two desserts, and coffee.
Strawberries ‘n’ Cream – Strawberry, milk, rhubarb bitters: At $5 and featuring all local ingredients with the bitters made in house this was so good I ordered two; the flavor quite like Strawberry Rhubarb jam with a creamy finish (a la mode, perhaps?)
Bread Service: A changing rotation depending on whatever pastry chef Billington feels like baking that day the meal started out well with Ciabatta, Wheat Berry, and Yeasted Cornbread served in a little wooden box, still warm, with Trickling Spring butter. Dense with a great toothsomeness to it I particularly enjoyed the wheat berry option while the ciabatta was great for sopping up sauces. The cornbread? It was decent, but not even close to the version you pay for…
Warm Skillet Cornbread with Trickling Spring Butter, Cybee Honey: At $5 this is the steal of the menu for anyone who loves cornbread – each bite loaded with smoky notes and grounded in the sweet cornmeal base with whole kernels of corn lightly tinged with what I believe to be bacon grease. Lovely on its own but better with the honey this is apparently always on the menu and should always be ordered.
Rettland Farm Chicken Liver Spread with Warm Pullman Toasts, Prune, Red Lantern Jam: Say you take the intense sweetness of house dried plums and blend it with the subtle heat of sweet red peppers and serve it with ‘foie blond’ so creamy and light on mineral notes that you’re shocked that it isn’t duck or goose and then tell me you’re going to serve it alongside a pile of buttered toasts for a mere $10 in a portion easily large enough for two – if you can say those things then I say we can be pals.
Tilghman Island Crab Pot with Lump Crab, House Quark, Fish Pepper, Sherry, Toast: In case you’re not noticing the bread theme yet suffice it to say that the team at Woodberry Kitchen likes to bake and in this case toasting the daily breads and placing them alongside housemade crackers and a cast-iron pot of bubbling crab fondue with a splash of dry sherry and house-fermented fish sauce proved to be the best dish of the night. $14, ample, and not at all subtle this was precisely the sort of dish I expected from Gjerde (even if I did manage to scald my hard palate in my overzealousness.)
Wood Roasted Asparagus, Pecan Cream, ‘ewe’s dream’: After a nearly one hour delay this side dish arrived and although the manager opted to remove the $8 from my bill I’d have gladly paid double that for perfectly cooked asparagus topped with funky cheese and subtle cream – the entirety of the dish tasting like it had just emerged from a smoker and a great point/counterpoint to my main course.
Slow Cooked Anson Mills Gold Rice with Slow Poached Whitmore Egg, Turnips and their Tops, Scallions, Pickled Fish Pepper: At $18 (also taken off my bill for the substantial delay) this was the most expensive dish from the “Meatless Monday” special menu and although billed as ‘sort of like congee’ the dish was decidedly nothing like congee – the rice too firm, the egg overcooked and barely runny, and only the butter cooked turnips and scallions really providing any flavor. Admittedly entirely forgotten by the kitchen until I brought this to Randy’s kitchen my only explanation for the poor quality was that it was rushed, but all things being equal this dish plate was an unmitigated disaster and most of it went back downstairs untouched.
Finca Nueva Armenia from Guatemala: From Counter Culture and a mere $4 for a French Press this aromatic and cocoa accented brew arrived with a timer so that I could press it myself after a minute and provided with a free refill by the manager when he came to my table after the side/main issue the quality of the coffee at Woodberry Tavern, much like the majority of the food, far outshines its pricetag.
Carrot Cake with Quark Icing, Pecan Brittle, Carrot Top Ice Cream: Not ordered but offered by the house presumably because I inquired about the ice cream I received no bill for this $8 dish and with a base slightly caramelized, the cake itself moist and dense, and the icing far more funky and interesting than your standard cream cheese it was a welcomed addition to the meal. Regarding the ice cream – yeah – not at all named after the ‘comedian,’ this harkens to my comment about nothing going to waste, the greens from the carrots turned into a creamy vegetal treat that tasted clean and fresh, particularly when paired with the cake.
CMP: My proper dessert of the evening and a restaurant signature this $11 Sundae was not your standard boring vanilla sundae but instead a restrained sweet meets savory juxtaposition of malt Ice Cream, wet peanuts, and house made chocolate sauce plus marshmallow fluff covered by a crystal sugar shell. Reminiscent of my favorite childhood dessert, the Reese's Pieces Sundae at Friendly’s, but clearly all grown up this was the sort of food that stirred good memories and a very necessary pick-me-up after the main course debacle.
The Verdict: With the pre-tax/tip bill reduced to a mere $54 the GM presented the bill himself to my table and again apologized for the seating and service issues noting that he too did not understand why a solo diner would be placed so far from the action and assuring me that such a thing would not happen to anyone again ‘under his watch’ and with the bill paid I was greeted once more at the door where I was gifted a $50 Gift Card should I ever choose to return – something that everything about the food and concept of Woodberry Kitchen suggests I should do the next time I’m near Baltimore (assuming the experience is ‘under his watch.’)
re: dining with doc
I dine on my own dollar and generally do not post on meals that are comped for whatever reason (know the chef, know the restaurateur, etc.) Those posts are in the blog, but not shared on the boards because I can't be sure others would receive the same treatment. On this particular trip that included Rogue24 and Wit&Wisdom.
The Gist: http://www.fioladc.com/
The Why: Fabio Trabocchi is sort of a big deal in the Washington culinary landscape and having never had the opportunity to experience his cuisine at Maestro I was excited to hear about the soon-to-open Fiola on my first visit to Washington DC and placed it on the short list for my return visit. Hailing from Le Marche and focused on a style of food not exactly Roman or Tuscan but instead a sort of amalgam of myriad Italian styles and heavily seafood focused I was admittedly a bit torn at first as to whether I should attend for lunch or the more expansive dinner so that I could try more things but this conundrum remedied itself when a fellow gourmand – or three – reached out and invited me and invited me in for lunch, one of them a friend of Fabio who requested a few items from the dinner menu be added to the lunch.
The Reservation: As above, a table for four was booked by a friend of the chef for noon.
The Setting: Located on prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue the restaurant is upscale and bright even when the weather is less than ideal. Solid wooden tables appearing with patterns featuring the rings of trees and a large bar seat at least a hundred while high ceilings and textured walls from stone to glass to wood and florals give the space a warm and rustic feel that continues to the stoneware plating. Clearly conducive to echoes given the materials involved it should be noted that Fiola is not a ‘quiet’ restaurant, but taking into account the Batali and White restaurants of New York Fiola certainly is not loud.
The Service: While I will note that the restaurant was incredibly busy even at a Monday lunch the service still seemed off, our primary server Sigel seemingly unable to read a guest as he prattled on and on about each dish even as we tried to order. Certainly not expecting ‘special’ treatment despite one of my co-diners being known to the restaurant I also did not expect a restaurant of this caliber (rated amongst the top 10 in the city) to leave water glasses unfilled, leave dirty plates around for extended periods of time, or to not replace silverware between courses.
The food and drink: Four Pasta, Two Risotto, Two Proteins, and Three Desserts plus complimentary bread service.
Croissant Rolls with olive oil and sea salt: To the best of my knowledge there is nothing traditionally Italian about these rolls but be that as it may be every bite of every roll was excellent – possibly the best single option bread service I’ve ever experienced at a restaurant. Slightly buttery with a crisp shell and fluffy interior crumb the olive oil was not really necessary, but with slight fruity notes overlying a grassy base and plenty of crunch added by the sea salt I ate more than a couple of these and probably would have had more if the servers had been more attentive.
Cavatelli – Sardinian Ricotta Gnocchi + Guanciale + Tomatoes: Our first pasta of the afternoon was, in my opinion, the weakest of the group in terms of texture but the boldest in flavor as the gnocchi themselves were a bit overcooked leading to a slightly rubbery body. A rustic presentation rife with both sweetness and acid held in check by the briny pork and caramelized onions this dish was more than enough in terms of portion – a good dish to share, though I’d have been hard pressed to eat a whole plate at the exclusion of other better executed options.
Fiola Lobster Ravioli: Probably Trabocchi’s most famous dish and commanding a $34 premium (generally only on the dinner menu) it would be hard to mess up a dish consisting of lobster and mascarpone stuffed pasta drowning in buttery sauce with a whole split lobster tail at its side but given the substantial hype about this dish I guess I expected to be ‘blown away,’ while I was instead simply impressed by fresh and sweet lobster paired with butter, something that any number of restaurants can do equally well at a similar cost – certainly not a ‘bad’ dish, but not exactly what I picture as a ‘signature’ either.
Cacio & Pepe – Spaghetti Chitarra + Cacio Cheese + Black Pepper Roman Style: Perfectly al dente Hand-cut spaghetti, creamy cheese with a fruity nose, a bit of olive oil, salt, and black pepper – simple, delicious, and for a dish so easy to prepare but so difficult to perfect this was as good as I’ve tasted.
Potato Gnocchi of Venetian Style Cod + Calamari + Scallops: The highlight of the meal for me and another special request from the dinner menu this dish featured two of my very favorite things combined into one – salt cod brandade dumplings. Rich and rife with notes of olive oil and chives each tender dumpling was lightly touched with red pepper while the addition of tender calamari and sweet scallops served only to gild the proverbial lily. A highlight of the meal and one of my favorite dishes of 2012 it was the one dish I regretted having to share.
Tuscan Vitello Tonnato with Baby Artichoke Salad: Raved by some as a must order but myself not a fan of veal’s taste or texture this simply was not my style. Decidedly tender and smothered in a fishy sauce reminiscent of mayonnaise just as it should be I tasted a bite and that was enough, though I did quite like the tender artichokes resting atop the pile.
Venetian Squid Ink Risotto and Scallops: Superlative scallops with a bit of butter foam and rice as black as night, creamy yet subtly toothsome, and imbued with mascarpone this was without a shadow of a doubt the best risotto I’ve ever had, or at least one of two…
Braised Veal Cheeks + Risotto Milanese “Ossobuco Style”: Yes, as much as I favor seafood over beef it would be hard for me to choose which risotto I most preferred at Fiola that afternoon – this option absolutely teaming with saffron, garlic, and notes of white wine while supple beef cheeks in a hearty beef gravy rested atop the rice. Buttery as opposed to creamy but equally well textured it should go without saying that if risotto is on the menu at Fiola it must be ordered.
Arctic Char + Porcini Crema + Barbera + Rosemary: With skin more fatty than crisp and flesh tender but rather uninspired this was not a dish I’d have selected if I were dining on my own and much like the Vitello a bite or two went a long way, though I will admit I sopped up more than a little of the rich and aromatic mushroom sauce with a roll and would have gladly enjoyed the “crema” as a soup.
La Zuppa Inglese – Trifle of Strawberry + Granita of Lemon and Basil: Light and almost flavorless aside from the lemon cream I rather liked the use of textures here but would have certainly preferred a bit more sweet, sour, or something to make it pop.
Fiola Tart: A bit more my speed than the Zuppa this dense cake featured a rich chocolate cookie crust topped with caramel ganache, hazelnut paste that I’m rather certain was blended with fig, and oatmeal streusel all lending to a flavor profile that was at once fruity, nutty, and entirely sweet. Interesting to be sure but the sort of dish where a bite was enough to suffice my curiosity this would have made a better mignardise than a proper dessert.
Bomboloni and Affogato: Sure the concept of coffee and donuts has been done more than once but featuring sugary donuts with a crisp exterior and light crump alongside Stracciatella Gelato and Espresso this was a nice example and the best if a rather weak showing of sweets.
The Verdict: With tax and tip for a group of four we ended up spending nearly $75/pp for lunch and although the room and property clearly command a premium I couldn’t help but feel that all-in-all the meal should have been better, particularly the dessert, the service and the secondi – though I admit that I personally would not have ordered either the Vitello, the Char, or the Zuppa if left to my own devices. A nice spot in a city where there is a lot of Italian but none across-the-board good I’d gladly return for the pasta and the risotto while saving the antipasti and secondi for Elisir or elsewhere.
Virtue Feed and Grain:
The Gist: http://virtuefeedandgrain.com/
The Why: Cathal Armstrong runs it. RJ Cooper recommended it. I’d already had breakfast at Blue Duck Tavern, Brunch at Birch & Barley, and just witnessed Steven Strausburg hit his first career home run – that and the Kings/Coyotes were on and I needed a place to watch the game somewhere between DC and dinner at Trummer’s on Main. Open 11:30 to close and a ‘no problem’ when I called to inquire about the game – seems like plenty of reason to me, even before taking into account the history of the building and the Irish “pub grub” approach of the menu.
The Reservation: I hear they are a good idea, but arriving after brunch but before dinner to a limited afternoon menu I had the place largely to myself, though keep in mind that parking in Old Town Alexandria is most certainly at a premium.
The Setting and Service: Reading the history of the building during intermissions I was amazed at the amount of thought put into Virtue – an old feed house nearly completely renovated with recycled materials and maintaining a rustic feel with exposed brick and wood abound. Two levels with the bar and kitchen downstairs and large windows plus doors leading to an open patio the space feels quite old and true to the area though everything comes with a degree of polish; a beautiful reinvention to say the least.
Moving next to the service – there really is not enough that I can say about the team at Virtue on that particular day; having already eaten plenty and with more to come my order was small and steering away from alcohol my bill was low yet throughout the entirety of my nearly 3 hour visit I was well taken care of by both the bartenders and the servers – water and coffee refilled without question, dishes cleared rapidly, and plenty of chat about the game.
The Food and Beverage: Water, Coffee, One Plate, One Dessert.
Ceremony Coffee: The same coffee served at Eve – the same coffee I purchased a couple pounds of two days prior – a really great roast that I drank far too much of throughout the duration of the game; a bottomless cup to be certain.
Fried Shrooms with Aioli: High quality local mushrooms deep fried in a dainty batter with herbal aioli – perhaps not the best choice with coffee, but with the light marinade and crunchy sea salt these were still quite awesome and the aioli was a perfect condiment; enhancing instead of marring the earthiness of the mushrooms.
Bread Pudding, Raisins, Irish whiskey Sauce: If there is a better way to spend $8 in Alexandria I’d love to know about it because for me this was about as good as it gets; a dense soda bread absolutely soaked in rich vanilla custard and baked to a golden brown on the exterior while the inside was nearly molten. Rich and sweet without being cloying as the raisins added just a bit of fructose what truly put this dish over the edge, however, was the sauce – boozy and almost bitter on the tongue but smoothing out on the palate and proving a perfect foil to the bread pudding (while the small sidecar of extra sauce went quite nicely in the coffee.)
The Verdict: The Kings lost the game – their only loss of the series – and yet I left Virtue Feed and Grain about as happy as I could be under such circumstances. A great space from a chef that can only be summed up as a true champion of his community I really cannot say enough about how I’ve been treated at each of Armstrong’s establishments and I can say without hesitation that my next trip to DC will feature a proper meal at Virtue – I owe it to them (and myself.)
Trummer's on Main:
The Gist: http://trummersonmain.com/
The Why: Staying with family in Clifton while visiting DC posed only one problem; the logistics of driving into the nation’s capital each day – a small problem to a tourist, but more so to the locals who have to deal with the traffic on a daily basis. Wanting to thank my uncle for the hospitality but with an eye on quality and convenience I was surprised to hear about Trummer’s, a restaurant mere miles from his home housed in a historic setting with a Thomas Keller trained chef.
The Reservation: Opentable, reservations for two on a Sunday Night.
The Setting: Built in 1869 as the Clifton Hotel and nestled in the small town of Clifton (and its multi-million dollar mansions) Trummer’s on Main is historic to say the least. A former house to presidents and diplomats the three story space has been substantially renovated with time and visiting on a late spring day the space was bathed with light, no space moreso than the large glass-encased dining room looking out on a waterfall, trees, and outdoor garden. Spacious and historic (ask for a tour, they’ll happily oblige) but a bit warmer than I’d have preferred the restaurant seats at least two-hundred while the bar, copious wine cellar, and private rooms are all decorated in light woods, oil paintings, and heavy textures.
The Service: With the dining room packed for the bargain “Sunday Supper” service was friendly enough, though our primary server – a young woman named Joy – was clearly assigned too many tables thus rendering dish presentations perfunctory at best while back servers kept water filled and dirty plates off the table.
The Food and Drink: $38 3-course Prix Fixe, Complimentary Bread and Butter, Mignardises, and “$5 Bucket List” wine.
Domaines Fabre Château de la Clapiere Rosé 2011: One of the main draws of the Sunday menu at Trummer’s is the “Bucket List,” a collection of wines that were opened on either Friday or Saturday but not used up on the tasting menu or a la carte and thus offered at $5 a glass on Sunday. Fruity, spicy, and pleasantly dry I really liked this wine on first taste while my uncle sampled through three reds while we dined.
White Roll with Local Sweet Butter: A sort of crunchy white roll that I’m rather certain was fortified with potato giving it a fluffy moist crumb the single bread option at Trummer’s was quite addictive and the bread server remained busy throughout the evening as it seemed every table requested seconds (or in our case thirds and fourths)
Scallop Tempura with Spaghetti Squash, Cilantro, Ponzu Butter: Considering the price and setting the portions at Trummer’s were quite impressive, my first course featuring a U-8 Scallop in light batter over a curl of shredded spaghetti squash, cubes of summer squash, and sweet ponzu butter. Clearly pan seared before a short visit to the fryer the scallop was nicely flavored and its natural sweetness was enhanced by the ponzu while the pair or squashes helped add balance.
Oven Roasted and Honey Glazed Pork Shoulder with Plum Wine Pineapple, Bay Leaf Crumble, Sweet Potato: Ample in portion but even more so in flavor the story of this dish began with the quality of the pork, easily cut with a fork and melting in the mouth, and continued along to the accoutrements; a composition of flavors both sweet and savory that harkened something tropical without overwhelming the pig in the least. Generally not overly fond of bay leaf I was particularly impressed by the crumble in this case, a amalgam of the aromatic leaf and crushed pistachio.
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Ice Cream, Rhum Raisins, Coconut: Another balance of sweet and savory I’d suggest that if this is on the menu at Trummer’s it should be ordered. Dense and rife with carrots while boozy raisins were tempered by semi-sweet ice cream this is precisely the sort of dessert I love while my uncle went so far as to call it the best carrot cake he had ever tasted.
Coconut Marshmallows: Free, and in terms of taste the very essence of coconut, though a bit more sticky and dense than I’d prefer.
The Verdict: An absolute bargain in a rather impressive setting I was admittedly surprised by my meal at Trummer’s on Main and although I would not place it on the “destination” list with places like Ashby Inn, VOLT Table 21, or The Inn at Little Washington for persons living in the DC area I certainly would not hesitate to return for a full a la carte or tasting experience in the future.
The Gist: http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/restauran...
The Why: While many seem to enjoy criticizing Wolfgang Puck and his multitude of restaurant concepts I personally have never had a bad meal at one of his restaurants; a memorable family trip to Spago before the renovation and an exemplary dinner at CUT Beverly Hills before catching a plane being the highlights. With the NHL playoffs on my mind, a downtown festival I wanted to check out, and the Newseum on my ‘to-visit’ list The Source seemed like an obvious choice – particularly for the Saturday Dim-Sum brunch where I was assured by a quick phone call that they’d be more than happy to turn on the hockey game at the bar if I desired.
The Reservation: I made one, though I probably did not need one – arriving around 1:30pm and lingering until nearly 4:00 the restaurant was never more than half full.
The Service and Setting: With a lot of glass, fitting the layout of the Newseum perfectly, lush leather seating, and polished tile floors the restaurant has a very modern feel to it without being cold – the upstairs a bit more posh and the bar/lounge downstairs a bit more sleek. Opting to sit at the bar in order to watch the game while I dined I was taken great care of by the bartender as I watched him make any number of elaborate cocktails and was even offered a quick tour of the double decker wine wall and private dining room during an intermission. Having mentioned the quality of the bartender I will simply say that the rest of the service that afternoon was a bit of a disaster – servers bringing the same plates twice on two occasions and once bringing an egg that had clearly sat too long as what was once poached became luke-warm and rubbery; mistakes that led to me receiving 11 dishes as opposed to 8 when accounting for duplicates.
The food: 8 dishes for $42; coffee which was refilled frequently and comped by the bartender for tepid egg.
Barbecued Lamb Samosas with Yukon Gold Potato and Toasted Cumin: With dishes arriving as they were prepared in the kitchen I can’t say this intense dish would have been my choice to serve first given its heft of flavor, but given the crispy golden shell and rich lamb tempered by lightly salted potatoes these were actually quite good, the lightly minted chutney proving a great match for the smoky sweetness of the barbeque, though a little certainly went a long way.
Pork Belly Pot Sticker with Black Vinegar and Chili Oil: Another heavy hitter in the flavor department (and one of the two dishes where I inexplicably received a second order by mistake) these were excellent – the wrapper thin and nicely textured, the pork belly fatty but not overly so, and the sauce spicy without being overwhelming.
Maryland Crab Cake Benedict with Old Bay Hollandaise: Not at all Asian but instead fitting the ‘brunch’ theme, this was a dish that read well and tasted great but as I mentioned above the first service proved to be quite overcooked and tepid thus resulting in a Crab Cake English muffin the first time around and later a proper benedict with sweet lump crab pairing as nicely as you’d guess with the rich and briny hollandaise.
Crystal Chive Dumplings with Kurobuta Pork and King Crab: The fail of the afternoon for me not only because the wrapper was a bit too gummy but also because the crab and chive were largely undetected beneath the richness of the pork. Admittedly not one to quibble about quality pork, I’d already had a much better dish (twice) in the pot stickers and had hoped for something a little more interesting here.
Singapore Style Tripe with Chinese Sausage Bread Crumbs: Far better than the above this was tender tripe cut into noodles and teaming with spices ranging from cumin and mustard to clove and pepper while the beefy breadcrumbs provided a nice textural contrast. Small portion, great flavor.
Turnip Cakes with Szechuan Sweet Soy: Where other dishes were quite nicely portioned this one was a belly bomb largely because of the heft of the cakes but also because of the oil involved. Crispy on the outside and smooth within the flavor here was nice as the ginger and soy worked in harmony, but a little went a long way – definitely a dish best shared.
Duck Bao Buns: The other ‘mistake’ course in that two plates arrived instead of one I was happy to indulge here as the pillowy bao, crispy skinned duck, and lightly pickled vegetables were all excellent.
Bao Bun Napoleon with 5 Spice Cream and Fresh Berries: Having already indulged in a number of sweets that day and still with some leftover I opted for a single dessert and almost instantly wished I’d ordered more when this item arrived featuring a stack of three crisply fried bao buns stacked high with light pastry cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Lightly sweet, beautifully textured, and quite unlike any interpretation of the Napoleon/Mille-Feuille I’d seen prior or since this is a must-order.
The Verdict: Unable to comment on the quality of the food or service in the main dining room I can’t say that I particularly agree with the restaurant consistently being named amongst DC’s five best, but perhaps there is a bit more polish to dinner service. While there were certainly missteps during my visit to The Source there were also some truly innovative and delicious dishes that I’d return for, particularly as a casual lunch/brunch at the bar while watching the game.
Society Fair and Buzz Bakery:
An early morning and an easy Saturday drive into the city allowed for a twofer in Alexandria before entering DC to visit the National Zoo – the first a brief shopping jaunt to Cathal Armstrong’s Society Fair and the second to oft raved Buzz Bakery and in my typical fashion these would be the first of five stops on a Saturday culminating with an epic meal at Rogue 24.
Beginning first with Society Fair, it would be hard to say any chef has contributed more to the Alexandria food culture than Armstrong and having already visited Restaurant Eve on my previous trip plus plans to stop by Virtue Feed and Grain to catch the Kings game the following day it only seemed natural to stop by SF for provisions – specifically Eve’s signature blend by Ceremony plus a second bag of Sumatra Mandheling; one of the most robust and creamy beans I’ve ever had the opportunity to brew at home in my French Press.
Moving past the coffees – a collection that includes both local roasters and those stretching from coast to coast – the selection at Society Fair additionally contains any number of provisions ranging from jams and jellies to charcuterie and wine plus sodas from Fentimans, juices from Purity organic, and a wide selection of baked goods, sandwiches, and salads served throughout the day. Priced as one would expect for high quality artisan goods and with a staff both knowledgeable and friendly it goes without saying that I had to try something – eventually settling on a $3.25 Butter Croissant rife with Kerrygold Butter that rivaled the best I’ve had stateside in both texture and flavor; the exterior particularly marvelous and literally exploding into flakes to the tooth.
Admittedly a bit limited compared to the Dean & Delucas of the world Society Fair is a great spot to pick up provisions and artisan goods without dealing with the hassles of entering DC proper - the sort of place every suburb wishes they had.
With brunch plans at Birch & Barley the following day I’d already read up a bit about pastry chef Tiffany Macisaac before I even realized that she was the brains behind Buzz Bakery and with strong reviews plus a convenient location I decided to visit Buzz after Society Fair for some more pre-Zoo carbs and caffeine.
Bright and cheery, pastels and cartoons aplenty I will first note that Buzz is a lot of fun – a place where families and their children go to spend the morning – and as such there wasn’t a seat available when I arrived just after 9:00 while the line stretched approximately fifteen deep. Featuring both kitchen composed items and baked goods continually emerging from the kitchen to replete the supply I notably had plenty of time to make my decisions and chatting with some folks in line I was told the cookies were the best, but decided to expend my calories elsewhere along with a cup of Illy to go.
Walking outside where the sun was bright and the day was already warm I took a seat outdoors at a nearby restaurant yet to open for the morning and with photos taken and fork in hand began to work through my options; the first two still warm from the oven in the form of a Brioche Cinnamon Roll and a Triple Chocolate Bread Pudding. Difficult to decide where to begin but with the roll weighing a few ounces while the bread pudding had mass similar to a brick I started with the cinnamon roll and found each swirled layer rife with butter and cinnamon while the frosting was lightly applied – a good thing in that it added sweetness without overwhelming and although the crumb could have been lighter overall the flavors were excellent.
Moving next to the bread pudding, if a picture is worth a thousand words then I guess all one needs to do is look at the picture to know just how rich it was – thick chocolate brioche melded together with chocolate custard and topped with cocoa frosting. High in quality, both in terms of ingredients and texture, I cannot even pretend there was anything subtle or nuanced about this bread pudding – just a whole lot of cocoa that demanded coffee, milk, or (ideally) someone to share with.
For the last item of the morning, a Red Velvet Cupcake was sampled with part saved for later as I was rather cocoa overloaded at this point and going the opposite route of many cupcakeries I really appreciated the judicious use of frosting on Buzz’s version – a light and airy cream cheese adding a little bit of tang to the cake without overwhelming it or making it overly sweet. Moist and aromatic without being heavy or too spongy the cake itself also held its own, and at $3.00 proved a veritable bargain compared to the smaller, overpriced, and overrated versions with a two-hour wait at Georgetown Cupcake.
Old Ebbitt Grill:
The Gist: http://www.ebbitt.com/main/home.cfm?S...
The Why: I was told that you go to The Old Ebbitt Grill for the history, not for the food, and considering my proclivity for the later I’d passed on Old Ebbitt during my first visit to Washington DC and had considered skipping it again until a ridiculous storm of wind and rain plus lunch plans in the area changed my mind. In other words, it was warm, dry, and convenient.
The Reservation: None made, and arriving only ten minutes after they opened the doors none was needed.
The Setting: Near to the Whitehouse and a favorite of presidents of both the distant and recent past as well as tourists (and even some locals) The Old Ebbitt is antique, Victorian, and impressively well maintained. A large space with multiple rooms, bars, art, and heavy tables with plush seating the space is certainly dated but at the same time very comfortable, a space of a bygone era with character to spare.
The Service: In a word, fantastic. Greeted at the door and ushered in with my umbrella kept near the hostess stand to dry I was led to a large 4-top in the center of the room where I was greeted by a young lady named Jessica who not only offered menus, water, coffee, and excellent service throughout my stay but also the local paper and some memorabilia/post cards about the restaurant (plus her own personal anecdotes about the pains of being a Redskins fan for many years.)
The Food and Drink – Coffee, Pastry, Main Course.
Bottomless Coffee: Pretty standard stuff here; served piping hot with warm milk and five types of sweetener the cup never reached less than half full.
Blueberry Muffin with Butter: House made and served warm with whipped butter this muffin was actually far better than I’d have hoped with the top delicate, light, and slightly caramelized while the base was dense with a fluffy and buttery crumb. While more blueberries at center would have been ideal, there were certainly enough at the periphery.
The Breakfast Club: Told that this was the “only thing worth ordering” at Old Ebbitt by a friend I have to say this sandwich of ham and bacon stuffed French toast definitely lived up to the hype as the sweet meets savory blend not only shined in the flavor department, but also in terms of texture with the custard soaked bread and crispy bacon in great balance while a sidecar of pure Vermont maple syrup and fresh fruit added enough sweetness without overwhelming the savory.
The Verdict: Touristy or not and dated or not I really enjoyed my breakfast at Old Ebbitt and would happily return. Excellent service and a great space to sit and relax (or to let the weather pass) I’ll admit my sampling of the food was limited but also note that what I had was quite good while the opportunity to wander the space and explore the rooms was by itself worth the price of admission.
co co sala:
The Gist: http://www.cocosala.com/
The Why: I was walking back to my car en route from Elisir and I’d heard good things, the weather was warm and the sidewalk had seating – who needs more reason that that for coffee and dessert?
The setting and service: Loud as hell inside, calm but far too close to the cars and smokers outside, and service so incompetent that you have to repeat your order twice…and yet Rene still failed to serve me the 5-course dessert experience (includes a cheese plate and intermezzo.)
The food and drink: $6 Coffee, and $22 3-course dessert experience.
Latin American French Press – Described only as “Latin American” but apparently a blend by Ceremony this was a good two cups of coffee, the roast medium and smooth with a thick body and a bit of fig flavor with undertones of chocolate.
Churros with Dulce de Leche and Chocolate: A pair of hot cinnamon churros with a 75%/25% shot of molten caramel and chocolate this was served as an amuse bouche and with the donuts crisp on the exterior and soft within it would be hard to find any fault in it aside from, perhaps, the fact that there was far more of the sauce than necessary; a good problem easily remedied by a teaspoon to scoop out what was left.
A Sticky Situation: My selected dessert, a decision made after much debate, would prove to be an excellent one despite an obvious delay in delivery that had the ice cream half melted on arrival. Featuring piping hot sticky toffee pudding cake with a chocolate tuille and crème fraiche at one side and ginger caramel ice cream resting atop cocoa nib crumble on the other, both drizzled with brown butter toffee sauce this “cake and ice cream” plate was definitely sweet but avoided the being overly so through the use of the bitter chocolate and hefty ginger notes; an unexpected twist that worked beautifully. Never one to complain about something being too sweet and generally a fan of sticky toffee pudding I have to say that although non-traditional this was really quite impressive.
Raspberry Chocolate Lollipop and Lemon Chocolate Ganache: Two mignardises, the first quite pleasant and well balanced while the later simply did not fit my palate, I can’t say these plus the two churros justified the $10 upcharge versus ordering the Toffee Pudding a la carte…not at all, actually.
The Verdict: Confirming the rumors, Chef Tiptur’s take on traditional desserts ranging from France to England to Mexico and beyond is an interesting spot, but with the interior deafening and the outside sporting a bit more traffic than I’d prefer I can’t say I’d rush back – a sentiment I hold for the comparatively priced and overly loud Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Chicago. Its good, but there is better dessert to be had with far less ‘scene.’
The Gist: http://elisirrestaurant.com/
The Why: I missed Enzo Fargione at Teatro Goldoni during my previous visit – a tasting room that some called the best in DC – and with my Italian tooth not sated at Bibiana that afternoon plus an open dinner dance card and only a few likely candidates on my list Elisir seemed a perfect fit with the open kitchen, expansive dining room, and small plates vs. tasting menu all ideal for a solo diner.
The Service and Setting: I’ll start off by saying that my reservation was made late on the day of the meal, but happy to take the earliest seating in a restaurant that only started to fill around 8:00pm the first seat offered, behind a pole (interestingly featuring a video stream of the pass,) was still terrible – especially for the first guest to arrive during dinner service.
Moving next to the service, with my new seat directly in front of Chef Fargione and the chef coming out to say hello more than once during the meal things definitely improved as time went on – my primary server Luke competent and friendly while the ancillary servers were still seemingly undergoing monitoring and training, something I’ve never experienced in fine dining in the past.
Add in the fact that I ordered a non-alcoholic beverage and was instead delivered (and charged for) a cocktail, a pompous professor at the table next to me insisting that he should be able to order ‘off menu’ veal picatta because there was both a veal dish and a chicken picatta dish available…lets just say the ‘experience’ factor was definitely less than ideal.
The Food: One $14 cocktail, Chef’s Tasting $95, 2 Supplemental dishes $17/ea, complimentary bread and olive oil, amuses, mignardises.
Kristi says It’s Yummy: Having ordered a Strawberry-Rhubarb cooler apparently all my server heard was Rhubarb and served me this concoction of Rhubarb and Riesling Reduction, Strawberry Infused Vodka, Lemon Juice, and Rhubarb Foam. Tasting more boozy than I’d have expected from a non-alcoholic drink but good none the less I drank it without realizing the error and in the end incurred an $8 up-charge; not a big deal, but one of many service gaffs inappropriate to the price and quality of the cuisine.
Deconstructed Buffala Mozzarella, Kalamata Olive Cracker, Arugula Pesto, Red Pepper Gelee: The first nightly amuse, a very well balanced couple of bites with a great vegetal crunch and subtle creaminess.
Chick Pea Soup with Shrimp and Fried Spinach: Another beautiful amuse, well grounded and nutty with textural contrast added by the snappy shrimp and crispy spinach.
Bread and Olive Oil Tasting: A great concept; amongst the best I’ve seen anywhere for such a low price ($5 a la carte, or included with tasting) Elisir’s bread program and paired olive oils feature Ligurian Olive Oil with Celery Sea Salt, Tuscan Olive Oil with Chianti Sea Salt, and Sicilian Olive Oil with Basil Sea Salt plus Focaccia, White, Raisin Walnut, Black Olive, Grissini, Garlic and Anchovy Breads with which to experiment. Each baked in house and the Black Olive amongst the best I’ve ever tasted I particularly loved the ability to taste the different oils as they related to the particular salts – the Sicilian oil particularly robust and the Chianti salt worthy of a second round.
Sweet Roasted Baby Onions: The first proper course of the tasting and the one which gave me the most pause on ordering would actually prove quite impressive, a tower of sorts with the onions tossed in Grappa vinegar before roasting and layers of licorice in between sitting atop a stone ground mustard base. A bold shock to the palate to say the least and even more poignant with the addition of a briny Caper Corn Chip, Shaved Smoked Bottarga, California Caviar and Chives this was one of those dishes where ‘more is more’ actually worked, the flavor indescribably savory yet full of nuance with the licorice actually serving to balance the other hefty flavors quite well.
Torcione di Fegato D’Oca E Fantasia Di Nocciole: Apparently a bit of a signature dish and deservingly so this supplemental course entitled “Fantasy of goose liver torchon” featured a dense torchon of Foie Gras custard studded with cocoa nibs, hazelnuts, and sundried tomatoes paired with a salty hazelnut tuille, balsamic gelato, cremona mostarda, basil oil, corn tendrils, green apple gelee, and sweet red wine caramel sauce. Sweet – almost enough so to be a dessert course – yet balanced and well composed this was another excellent example of Enzo’s ability to make something consisting of many discrepant parts work in harmony – it reminded me of Gagnaire; a good thing indeed.
Goose Liver Custard Brule: Back to the tasting this second serving of foie gras was much less dramatic than the one prior and yet possibly even more delicious as the creamy custard with a crackling top was rife with the liver’s characteristic flavor yet subtly sweet and only lightly accompanied by fried parsley and crunchy port soaked pears. Served with an entirely unnecessary spoon the best way to eat this one for me was by scooping up each bite with the black truffle tuille…and then licking the ramekin clean (or wiping it spotless with a bit of focaccia for those trying to keep it classy.)
Uovo D’Oca Bazzotto Nel Nido Di Funghi Croccanti Al Porto: Another supplemental signature and another overwhelming success this dish featured a “poached duck egg in a nest of tempura fried hen of the wood mushrooms with a port wine reduction, crispy pancetta, black truffles and crispy sage, preserved truffle shavings.” For those who know me it’s pretty obvious that this dish had no chance to fail and while the two preceding courses were good this was one of those dishes that had me debating a return to Elisir the following day. If this dish doesn’t end up on my end-of-the-year top ten I’d be shocked.
Tomato Cavatelli – Tomato Pasta, Capers, Crispy Sage Leaves, Castellino Olives: Moving on to the pasta courses I have to say I really disliked everything about this dish – the salinity, the texture, and especially the overall lack of tomato taste all entirely underwhelming. Sure I’d like to think that the fact that my mind had been blown by the three previous dishes had something to do with it, but in reality this was just poorly conceived – the sort of dish a protein may have helped to level out, or at least a dish where leaving off the capers might have tempered the imbalance towards brine.
Gnocchi Patate Con Aragosta Affumicata Piselli Porcini E Crema Di Tima All ‘Aglio Arrosto: In the great tradition of ‘if you can’t make good gnocchi at least pair it with superlative ingredients these overcooked potato dumplings arrived with smoked Maine lobster, English peas, and porcini mushrooms in a roasted garlic and thyme infused mascarpone cream. With each ingredient delicious and well prepared this was a good dish that could have been great if only the pasta would have been up to snuff.
Soft Shell Crab: Bouncing back strong from a couple of less inspiring dishes I won’t say that this soft shell was as impressive as the one at Taro the night before, but first boiled in garlic and thyme before being wrapped in pancetta and tempura fried the crustacean itself was light and sweet while the pork added its characteristic savory herbal notes that were well grounded by a fava bean emulsion and earthy reduction of veal, beets, and black pepper.
Roasted Squab – Borolo Braised, Pecorino Potatoes, Broccoli Emulsion, Olive Oil, Black Pepper: For the last of the night’s savories a half squab, dense and moist with a nearly peking-duck crackle to the skin, was served over dense cheesy potatoes. A fan of broccoli but not particularly this emulsion and not really detecting the Barolo aside from a touch of sweetness I can’t say it was a perfect dish, but the protein itself certainly was.
White Chocolate Covered Orange Sorbet Lollipop, Caramel, Pistachio, Chocolate: Transitioning to the sweets this pre-dessert can be best summarized as a “Push-Up” from my childhood all grown up. Dense and creamy with the pistachios adding a nice bit of texture and gone in a couple of bites the caramel was also quite memorable – a bit of salt really bringing out the flavor from the nuts.
Canolo Cigar: Cleverly presented and more importantly an excellent rendition of the classic canoli the proper dessert of the evening featured a freshly made shell filled a la minute with mascarpone cream and dipped in crushed pistachios with a spun sugar plume next to another dollop of the cream resting atop a cocoa nib tuille. Small in size but substantial in flavor this was a great way to finish – a worthy signature from the pastry team.
Passionfruit Chocolate Truffle, Coconut Meringue, Green Apple Gelee: I forgot to take a picture of these and I honestly don’t remember eating them, though they are in my notes.
The Verdict: Still relatively new during my visit Elisir is a tough restaurant for me to evaluate based on a single visit largely because the highs were so high while the lows were so very low. A superb setting to say the very least and very interesting to the sort of person who enjoys watching the kitchen at work the service most certainly did not live up to what is expected at this price point and while the first half of the evening presented dish after dish of stunning cuisine the pastas were actually quite poor while the later savories were good but not overly so. Taken as a complete meal my thought is that Elisir is probably best enjoyed as an a la carte experience, particularly as Chef Enzo’s signature dishes seem to be constitutively present on the menu; the bread service followed by the torchon and egg dish +/- a glass of champagne would have been perfect.
Blue Duck Tavern:
The Gist: http://www.blueducktavern.com
The Why: Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to visit all the restaurants that need to be visited during a short vacation and under those circumstances, particularly when planning around a baseball game (Steven Strausburg’s first home run as it would turn out,) brunch with new friends, dinner with your uncle, and a Kings playoff game one has to make sacrifices…or wake up bright and early for a morning run, drive to DC, and 6:30am visit to the only Molteni range in town and a recently updated breakfast menu offering far more than the standard boring hotel breakfast.
The Reservation: 6:30am – none needed – though I admittedly did contact the restaurant in advance with a very specific request; one accommodated without question – and with a big smile from the chef when I arrived.
The service/setting: Yes, it is in a hotel, but featuring dark woods and a wide open kitchen and pantry where the morning buffet is laid out the space at Blue Duck is anything but generic. Clean lined and warm with plenty of light from floor-to-ceiling windows and with both indoor and outdoor options the restaurant feels rustic and modern at once without feeling forced at all.
Moving next to the service and bearing in mind both the location and clientele at The Hyatt my guess is that the servers are trained to be attentive without being personable, a fine attribute for the well-heeled hotel guests on both sides of me but a bit ‘cold’ to the solo gourmand more interested in the cuisine than ‘the market.’ Taking into account the menu prices, partially influenced by the environs and in part by the sourcing to be sure I guess I would have simply preferred a bit of a smile or some cheer rather than the solemn ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ solemnity from my server Sharihan and her team.
The food and drink: Coffee, one appetizer, one main course, two small complimentary pastries, and a special request to go.
Coffee: $5 but replenished before it ever neared empty this aromatic medium roast from Counter Culture was quite good, a bit of cocoa and a lot of fig notes plus a rich mouth-feel thanks to the French Press.
Pastries: Part of the $32 breakfast spread (or “$10 for 3” on the Pastries and Bread menu) but delivered to my table along with a quartet of preserves by one of the runners along with my coffee at no extra charge I did not see any other table receive these so I’m uncertain whether it was a comp or a mistake but either way the warm Blueberry Muffin and Banana Bran Muffin were both quite good; small enough to be eaten in a couple of bites, dense with fruit, and rife with butter – the banana particularly impressive and rich.
Wood Fired Sticky Bun: $8 for two and approximately 3-4 bites each these are the best sticky buns I’ve ever tasted by a rather substantial margin. Light like a beignet but with a golden exterior rendered just a bit crunchy by the smoky maple glaze and nuts...seriously, just order them.
Fried Chicken and Waffles with Steens Pure Cane Syrup: $15 and served on a stainless steel platter this was another excellent dish with both the chicken and the waffles crispy on the exterior and perfectly cooked within – each teaming with buttermilk notes and a great take on the southern sweet meets savory classic. Served with Steens but also with Blis Bourbon Aged Maple syrup available I requested a bit of each and would personally recommend the Blis as it really brought out the brine on the bird while the sugary sweetness of Steen’s personally made me desire-full of some hot sauce.
Apple Pie: $9. Having already mentioned my call ahead request I’ll just admit my gluttony right here and say there was no way I was leaving Blue Duck without trying their famous apple pie and although I guess I did technically ‘leave’ the restaurant before consuming the dessert I was glad the team was willing to assemble one from scratch for me at 7am, bake it, and pack it up in a thermal foil box to help it retain heat – a task it achieved admirably for nearly 2 hours until I sat down on a grassy hill in Logan Circle to enjoy. Featuring a flaky butter crust, tender chunks of granny smith apples, ample cinnamon and brown sugar, plus a drizzle of apricot glaze this pie is every bit as good as the rumors and taken with a to-go cup of the coffee on the sunny hill a near picture perfect scene.
The Verdict: Professional, classy, and featuring high quality locally sourced ingredients in a truly beautiful space it would be hard to find any fault in Blue Duck Tavern save for service that was a bit less warm than the room or food would seemingly command. Certainly not a ‘cheap’ breakfast but undeniably a place where you get what you pay for I wouldn’t consider it an everyday indulgence but I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone considering it and will very likely include it on my list of spots to revisit for lunch, dinner, or perhaps just a dessert (or two) during my next visit to the capital.
Birch & Barley:
The Gist: http://birchandbarley.com/
The Why: A beer-centric gastropub with one of the best brunches in the city according to many, Birch & Barley opened just prior to my first visit to DC and although I’d wanted to go then our schedule precluded a visit; a situation I resolved to fix in the early stages of planning this trip. Planning in advance and fortuitously meeting a DC dining buddy (who, even more ironically, had lived in my future home of Phoenix prior) an 11am meet-up was planned well before I left Ohio and having already visited Tiffany MacIsaac’s Buzz Bakery the day prior I anticipated the meal all the more.
The Reservation: Make one – the place is long and narrow, really quite loud, and filled to capacity for brunch within thirty minutes of opening.
The Setting and Service: We were given the option of a seat in the main dining area or a seat at the chef’s counter; a no brainer when dining alone but deferring to my friend and his fiancé I was glad that they too preferred the counter – not only for the show, but also because the noise from the kitchen was actually low when compared to that of a clientele arriving largely for beer, booze, and fun plus overhead music both prone to bouncing off the exposed brick walls and granite surfaces.
With regard to service it goes without saying that a the chef’s counter generally serves up an excellent experience and despite the fact that the restaurant was absolutely jammed packed our primary server Carolyn as well as the staff in the kitchen did a great job; recommendations made and orders taken quickly, coffee refilled without question, and both food and beers (for my friends) served with ample descriptions regardless of whether Carolyn, one of her assistants, or the chefs delivered it.
The food and drink: Coffee for me, a few craft brews for my friends, two appetizers, three mains.
Coffee: The standard house blend from Illy – not my favorite, but always good enough and provided with ample refills throughout the meal.
Warm Brioche Sticky Bun: My second sticky bun of the morning and although not quite as superlative as the one at Blue Duck Tavern this was a pretty stunning example itself as the crusty brioche was eggy and dense with a core of cream cheese and a dense lacquer of brown sugar caramel and toasted pecans. A heavy opener and intensely sweet this is definitely best shared – if only to leave room for other things.
Freshly Fried Donuts: Served as a trio and a must after tasting Tiffany’s pastries at Buzz the daily selection on this particular Sunday was Toffee-Bacon, Lemon-Poppy, and a Bittersweet Chocolate doughnut hole. Featuring the same smooth brioche used in the sticky bun and each lightly fried but lacking any semblance of oiliness there were some excellent donuts, particularly the lemon-poppy seed version which featured a semi-sweet glaze with notes of lemon rather than over the top citrus.
Fried Chicken and Waffles: I’d already had Chicken and Waffles that morning at Blue Duck Tavern and I’d planned to order it again until Scott stepped up and took the honors thus allowing me to mix it up. While perhaps not as elegant as those at Blue Duck and opting to heavily focus on the savory rather than the sweet this take on the southern classic was no less delicious than those at Blue Duck with the waffle crisp on the edges and pillowy soft within while buttered pecans and maple tinged pan jus proved ample condiments to the crispy double fried bird.
Wild Mushroom Omelet with Fontina, Veal Neck Sausage, and Polenta Hash: Ordered by the lady of our group I don’t recall tasting this dish (and my notes offer no further help,) though I may be mistaken – either way, I don’t recall there being any complaints.
Gran Marnier French Toast with Local Strawberries, Candied Almonds, Mascarpone, Bacon: My selection, and a great one at that, these hefty slices of brioche were precisely what I want from French Toast as the exterior was golden while the inside was custard and each bite was as interesting as the last by way of the condiments, particularly the early season strawberries and brandy spiked maple syrup.
The Verdict: While not a beer drinker by any means I was quite happy to visit Birch & Barley and would certainly return for brunch or dinner if I lived locally as the menu appears quite seasonal and the ‘bang for the buck’ is undeniable given the quality of the ingredients, their preparation, and the service. Certainly not a restaurant for a leisurely brunch or a romantic dinner I’d place Birch & Barley on the same level as many of the nation’s best Gastropubs both in terms of the food and the scene – and if they offered the dessert menu during brunch they’d likely trump the lot of them.
The Gist: http://www.bibianadc.com/
The Why: Having been to Rasika and having considered the Oval Room (based on ulteriorepicure’s report from days later I should have gone – though much of what he received was dinner-only fare despite going at lunch) it seemed the Knightsbridge restaurant group knew what they were doing and I knew I’d be in the area around Bibiana at lunch, plus I enjoy Italian.
Service: Mentioned here only because it was so bad, during the duration of my 80 minute lunch only 2 other tables were sat and despite this, Thea managed to let my water glass run empty twice, delays between appetizer and main course was nearly 30 minutes during which I was never checked on, and I literally had to flag her down to get more bread because she was standing within earshot gossiping about the weekend’s plans with a coworker.
The Food: 2 Appetizers, 1 Main, 1 Dessert. Bread service complimentary.
Black Olive Semolina, Rosemary Onion Focaccia, and White Bread with Olive Oil: Baked in house and served warm this was definitely a highlight of the meal at Bibiana – each bread quite good and the Rosemary Onion Focaccia as good as any bread I’ve had in a restaurant in some time – the exterior chewy and the interior featuring a soft/pillowy crumb laden with hefty notes of rosemary and light onions. Leaving the white for the birds a second basket eventually arrived and the olive oil was a lightly grassy blend with good but not particularly wowing flavor.
Baccala – Breaded Baccala, Red Chili Emulsion, Citrus: With the Brandade fritters at 2Amys the day before underwhelming these were actually worse; dry and lifeless fishsticks served with a sauce reminiscent of battery acid given the overpowering citrus and heat. Without the sauce the fish was bad. With the sauce everything was bad. Thea never asked how I liked the plate despite one of the nuggets returning to the kitchen untouched.
Zampino – Breaded Pork Trotter in “Pizzaiola” with 45 minute Hen Egg: At $11 this one was actually quite excellent and perhaps the deal of the menu as the trotter was golden crisp on the exterior and a savory bomb of porcine meat and melted collagen within. Paired with a bright and bold tomato sauce and a sous-vide egg smoothing and melding the otherwise poignant flavors this one went back to the kitchen spotless thanks to the help of the black olive semolina bread.
Spaghetti Al Nero Di Seppia – Black spaghetti, Louisiana jumbo lump crab, 'aglio, olio e peperoncino': A dish done over and over but here done quite nicely the squid ink spaghetti was light, springy, and al dente while the sweet crab was plentiful – nicely accented with herbs and a bit of pepper. Light on olive oil with just enough to prevent any clumping each noodle came loose from the tangle nicely while retaining plenty of flavor; a pasta much lighter than the norm.
Budino – Creamy Vanilla-Ricotta Custard, Carrot Tuile, Pineapple Sauce, Toasted Pistachio, Beet Gelato: Pretty, yes. Tasty, mostly. A budino, in name only. Featuring two small custard cones – no more than a bite each – with crispy carrot crackers and pineapple aplenty the most compelling part of this plate was actually the smoky pistachios and beet gelato, an earthy duo that worked nicely to balance out an otherwise uninspiring plate. Call me crazy, but when I order budino I want a thick pudding cup – not a two bite panna cotta.
The Verdict: While certainly not a great meal, neither in terms of food or service, the room and location of Bibiana are quite nice but given the cost associated I’d find it hard to justify a repeat when Elisir, Fiola, and Tosca are all better in terms of food and (all save for Elisir) service.
The Gist: http://ardeobardeo.com/
The Why: Another Knightsbridge property, but this one conveniently located near the National Zoo where I’d be spending the bulk of my morning, I was a bit hesitant to visit Ardeo based on my experience at Bibiana but with a boozy brunch drawing raves from a few friends in-the-know I figured I would give it a chance – the promise of free parking behind the building was another draw. So was Foie Gras and French Toast.
The Reservation: Opentable. Arriving at 11:00am I was fine, but there was quite the crowd when I left at 12:45 so perhaps making one is a good idea.
The Service and Setting: Open and airy with “Ardeo” at the right and “Bardeo” at the left there were only 2 seated tables when I arrived and opting for one near the window I had a full view of the room; mostly nondescript with a well-stocked bar at center and comfortable wood tables surrounding. Greeted by my server, a friendly young man named Chris whose only ‘flaw’ was pushing the bottomless mimosas with a bit too much zeal, and perusing the menu despite knowing exactly what I was going to order service was efficient and friendly – water refilled consistently and fresh French Presses brought to the table thrice at no extra charge. While I can’t speak too much to the atmosphere aside from what I witnessed I’ll just say that based on the two tables seated next to me that Ardeo may not be the best place for a leisurely family brunch; particularly when the drinks start flowing it can become very loud.
The food: Coffee (freely refilled,) complimentary bread basket, one appetizer, one main, one dessert.
French Press Coffee: Roasted by Illy and delivered by French Press for $4 with infinite refills and sweetener of choice; A+ in my book.
Chocolate Chip Scones and Cherry Walnut Bread: A bread basket for breakfast/brunch is one way to win my affection and with miniature chocolate chip scones with big chunks of sugar and chocolate juxtaposing pockets of butter plus rich fruit and nut bread still warm from the oven the version at Ardeo was impressive at baseline and even better with a touch of butter and raspberry preserves (available on request.)
Salt Cured Foie Gras with Fig Mustard and Brioche: $14 from the charcuterie section – the most expensive item on that day’s brunch menu – this plate still proved a tremendous deal in featuring approximately three ounces of creamy foie terrine tinged with salt and pepper alongside a sizeable quenelle of macerated reduced fig plus warm brioche. Spreadable and unctuous, brioche replenished with a simple request, and nicely complimented by the fig spread there was nothing fancy about this dish, just top quality ingredients prepared and presented at a great price.
Banana-Walnut French Toast with Whipped Cream and Pure Maple Syrup: Certainly not the same bargain as the foie gras but still a nice preparation this was another case of quality ingredients prepared with a skilled hand as the dense banana walnut bread was crunchy and caramelized on the exterior, custard soft within, and when paired with caramelized bananas and whipped cream plus pure maple syrup from Michigan quite delicious even when taking into account the steep $10 price tag.
Pecan pie with bourbon ice cream and crème Fraiche: The only service misstep of the morning occurred when Christ brought me the check without offering me dessert – a mistake quickly corrected when I joked with him that French Toast is an entrée, not a dessert…and a mistake remedied by a warm pie with crunchy pecan praline topping over a gooey base and served up alongside rich ice cream, tangy crème fraiche, and bourbon barrel caramel. Offered at a mere $8 and one of many excellent dessert options this is a must order and if I hadn’t had two more substantial meals on my day’s agenda I’d have probably ordered the carrot cake as well.
The Verdict: Far better than it needs to be given the scope of the restaurant – particularly at brunch – Ardeo/Bardeo proved a very redeeming experience after a subpar meal at Bibiana and although obviously a different experience returned Knightsbridge Restaurant Group to the high standard I’d expected based on my meal at Rasika a few years prior. A nice setting in an area otherwise lacking substantial options on a Saturday afternoon featuring good service and even better food I’d definitely come back, especially if spending a day at The Zoo, even if just for drinks and appetizers or dessert and coffee.
The Gist: http://www.2amyspizza.com/
The Why: Lunch at Ashby Inn was at 11:00am while the Omakase at Sushi Taro was 8:00pm – clearly in need of a snack I decided on an early stop at 2Amy’s, a spot I’d unfortunately missed on my prior trip to the Nation’s Capitol. Having heard rumors of long waits and questionable service I arrived just moments after the doors opened and after asking a few questions went with this “Standard” to quell my VPN curiosity.
The Food: 1 Appetizer, 1 Pizza, 1 Dessert.
Margherita Tomato, mozzarella di bufala, basil, pancetta: Beginning first with the ingredients, all superlative, and moving on to the bright and minimally sweet sauce it would be hard to say that anything at 2Amy’s would be less than impressive just based on these but admitting my personal appreciation for crust it was here that the pie truly wowed – a light rise without too much blistering and yeasty notes throughout; every bit on par with some of the best in the country – likely in my longterm ‘top 10’ for a Margherita based strictly on ingredients, structure, and crust composition.
Salt cod croquettes: A side dish I cannot pass up I was disappointed that the restaurant would not go half-orders each of this and the potato/prosciutto croquettes (particularly as I agreed to pay for a full order of the more expensive salt cod version) and even more disappointed at the low quality of these bites – the cod dry and the breading rather lifeless.
Cannolis: I considered the tiramisu but my server talked me into these “filled on the spot” classics. Served as a pair but only filled on the ends while the center languished without a drop of the creamy ricotta/mascarpone blend I think what struck me most about this presentation was the use of orange zest – the flavor profile reminding me of those orange Hostess cupcakes…oddly a childhood favorite, but probably a good reason to pass on this dessert if you don’t have some odd emotional attachment to such a thing.
The Verdict: A bustling scene with parking (like much of DC) at a premium 2Amy’s should definitely be at the top of any Pizza Lover’s “Go To” list, but trying to function like a full-fledged restaurant unlike a spot like Lucali or Great Lake that just makes a killer pie I think they overstretch a bit. Service is perfunctory, the scene is fine, but clearly the price you pay is based on the ingredients and the technique. My advice – go early, go for the pizza, and go elsewhere for appetizers, drinks and dessert.
The Ashby Inn:
The Gist: http://www.ashbyinn.com/
The Why: RJ Cooper recommended it, along with Sushi Taro and Little Serow, as the spots I should not miss on this trip to DC. Considered by some to be every bit as lovely as another Inn – the one at Little Washington – and featuring a menu that struck me as a unique balance of Southern and French with touches of “down home” and “mg” it seemed like a safe bet and with the location actually quite convenient driving from Columbus to Clifton plus Chef Tarver King more than willing to craft the dinner tasting at lunch I made a reservation…and arrived nearly an hour early to explore the grounds, the hotel, and the ‘town’ surrounding.
The food and Drink: One cocktail, five course dinner tasting (requested at lunch), complimentary bread, palate cleanser, mignardises, and amuse/canapés.
GINger Tonic – Sunset Hills Virginia Gin, Local Honey, Ginger, Fever Tree Tonic: After a 4:00am departure from Ohio and plenty of coffee along the way it didn’t take much convincing to get me to have a drink and with all the beverages hand-made from local ingredients this was excellent – the ginger/honey spices serving to balance the booze while the infused tonic added an overarching herbal tone.
“Snacks” – Puffed Tandori Spice Swordfish Crackers with Greek Yogurt, Tempura Fiddlehead Ferns with Tarragon Aoli, Fermented Lemon Hummus with Mustard Cracker, Breakfast Radishes with Green Tea Salt, Bacon and Cashew Brittle: The meal started with a quintet of bites and running the gamut from sweet to savory and raw to fried each could have stood on its own on a progressive tasting like that at Volt or Rogue. Not particularly a fan of mustard I began with the cracker and moved through each option finding the early season fiddleheads particularly impressive while the swordfish crackers were essentially cracklins’ loaded with umami. As to the brittle – praise it out loud and end up with a doggie bag to go.
Baguette, Bacon Brioche, Sweetened Local Butter with Fleur de Sel: I’m a bread basket connoisseur – for someone who eats no bread during their day-to-day life I’m sure this seems odd but it also makes the basket all the more rewarding when well done…and this was awesome. Paired with butter from “a farm just over there” (as he pointed to a barn across the green) per my server Elijah both selections were warm from the oven…literally it took them 15 minutes to make more when I asked…and with great crunch to the baguette it was the brioche that truly wowed as the smoky bread was literally stuffed with tender belly bacon and just a bit of sweetness. The hog? Also from just down the road – slow roasted and featured elsewhere on the daily menu.
Grilled Asparagus Vichyssoise, Green Lip Mussels, Sour Cream, Peppercorn, Capers, White Soy: Generally not keen on cold soups or capers this dish was well outside my comfort zone and although I cannot say I ‘loved’ it, I certainly did appreciate the chilly balance of earth and sea while the soy and a drizzle of dill oil added tableside brightened everything, lingering on the finish.
Tilefish in Cornmeal Crust, Split Pea, Smoked Radish, Buttermilk, Bacon Crumble, Kale: Presented as a dish “the chef is really proud of” and laid gently over honey roasted turnips this dish was the savory highlight of the afternoon – very “down home” but at the same time entirely well conceptualized as each ingredient created an experience greater than the sum of its parts. Buttery and lean with the only salt coming from the bacon there was plenty of smoke, a bit of sweet, and aromatics abound while the subtle fish was never overwhelmed.
Lamb on a stone, Charred Broccoli, Toasted Pecorino Espuma, Bulgur, Cucumber Aigre Doux: All about showmanship here and a similar presentation to what I experienced during my first trip to Alinea this DIY dish served up raw local lamb and a hearth-stone over Rosemary Seasalt allowing the diner to bathe in aromatics while the lamb cooked. Three ounces, all lean, and recommended to rest on the stone as you count to thirty this was expectedly nice but it was the pecorino espuma that truly captured my attention – as beautiful a use of foam as you’ll ever see.
Meadow Creek Mountaineer Cheese, Fried Coppa, Hickory Oats, Honey Malt Gastrique, Local Greens from Cedar Springs: Reading my palate at this point it would seem there were three composed cheese courses on the menu and chef sent out this soft, raw cow’s milk selection on a charred wooden block. Rarely fussed by composed cheese courses compared to a carte I simply couldn’t help but be impressed this given the ample serving I found particular enjoyment mixing and matching bites.
Hot and Cold Fennel Tea with Lemon Aroma: More show here, a large wooden vessel with dry ice was ladled with lemon balm infused water at tableside and gurgling and bubbling the aroma filled the air while a shotglass – half panna cotta/half liquid – was presented. Smooth, savory, and clean it was a great transitional piece and a bit of fun, as well.
Cocoa Brioche, Salted Butter Ice Cream, Namelaka Mousse, White Chocolate Powder, Dark Chocolate Crumbs: If I have ten better restaurant desserts than this in 2012 I’ll consider it a great year for sweets, though in this case it was not the “sweet” that made an impact so much as the deft use of salt and bitter tones to serve as its balance. Again exquisitely presented and featuring a nearly ganache-dense chocolate bread pudding at its base this was a dish of exploration – each bite a different ratio of temperature and texture, savory and sweet.
Sweet Sesame Meringue, Strawberry Pate a Fruit, “Poke Poke”: Seemingly suspended in air the final bites of the meal were all good, particularly the last – house made spun sugar candy dipped in dark chocolate, the texture almost taffy like.
The Verdict: The location alone of Ashby Inn makes it a destination meal but the food and the setting truly make it a destination. Recommended by my friend, Chef RJ Cooper of Rogue24 there are many who consider The Ashby Inn a ‘poor man’s’ Inn at Little Washington but having experienced both I would disagree in terms of all but (maybe) the setting. Certainly both kitchens are putting out excellent food, but to me the food at The Inn at Little Washington was old and although delicious, a bit ‘fuddy’ while that at Ashby was equally fresh, more dynamic, and served with just a bit of whimsy. Pair such a meal with the lovely patio and serene setting plus service without pretense and I’d say The Ashby Inn is actually a smart man’s Inn at Little Washington – and when you leave there is more money in your wallet.