Much like last year, Borderstan saw its fair share of winners at the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s annual awards gala, known as the RAMMYs. With the vibrant theme “Restaurants in Bloom,” many finalists, awardees, and gala-goers alike showed up in garlands, boutonnieres and floral prints. It was in this festive atmosphere that our neighborhood was honored multiple times over.
The burgeoning 14th Street Corridor and its rapid transformation into a revitalized restaurant destination was a running theme throughout some of the acceptance speeches, most notably from the team from Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene winner Bar Pilar, who commented “when we first were doing the build-out for Bar Pilar, we had pimps come into the restaurant and ask, ‘what are you doing?’ And we’d say ‘building a restaurant.’ And they’d ask, ‘For who?’ Now we know.”
Neighborhood RAMMY Winners
The following Borderstan restaurants were winners last night:
- Upscale Casual Restaurant – Estadio
- Casual Restaurant – C.F. Folks
- Neighborhood Gathering Place – Nellie’s Sports Bar
- Hottest Bar Scene – Bar Pilar
Borderstan also saw its fair share of nominees. Joining Estadio in the Upscale Casual category were fellow 14th Street neighbors Birch and Barley and Cork; and C.F. Folks had to squeeze past Bar Pilar for its Casual Restaurant award. Additional nominations also went to Dupont Circle newcomers Boqueria and DGS Delicatessen, and Estadio’s manager, Justin Guthrie.
Taking home the big prizes last night were Blue Duck Tavern for Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year, Mintwood Place for Best New Restaurant, and Fabio Trabocchi for Chef of the Year. Congrats to all the winners!
The working dad whose turn it is to cook but whose time is at a premium. The dater who wants to impress her prospective girlfriend but who can’t peel garlic. The roommates who have already burned through their favorite cookbooks and are yearning for something different. What do these people have in common? They’re the target audience for local start-up Scratch DC.
When it comes to making dinner, everyone, from the culinary neophyte to the gastronomic elite, wants the comfort of a well-made and self-made meal. Unfortunately, this desire occasionally goes hand-in-hand with a temporary lack of creativity, talent or perhaps most importantly, time. Scratch DC seeks to fill that void by cutting out the most onerous parts of home cooking: decision making, shopping and prep work. For around $30, Scratch delivers a meal kit for two right to your door. Add-ons include chocolate fondue dessert, and roses and candles; a beer and wine license is also being pursued.
On the day our sample box came, the situation could not have been more perfect for Scratch’s ideal consumer. I had just returned from a two-week long work trip, and my fiancée and I were headed out on a week-long vacation the next day, leaving our fridge options limited. Around 6 pm, our meal arrived: a shoebox-like container with individually packed ingredients.
Each component came in its own condiment cup or Ziploc bag, pre-cut and mixed. Also inside was a long recipe card with step-by-step instructions that were straightforward, idiot-proof and still a little tongue-in-cheek (sample: To the bowl, add your container of cheesy goodness [goat cheese, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt, pepper] [marked with smiley]. Mix that sexiness up).
What We Had
Our meal was a spinach and goat cheese ravioli in a Portabella-Parmesan wine sauce, an entrée that seemed the right balance between readily accessible and foodie-friendly, with the added bonus of being asked to hand-make the ravioli yourselves (an ideal date situation if we’ve ever seen one). To that end, in place of pasta, Scratch had substituted wonton wrappers, which, as the recipe card put it, were “a little foodie secret.”
There was a lot to like about the set-up. For one, Scratch made no assumptions about what our kitchen would be stocked with: the box came with small containers of olive oil and salt and pepper. Its ingredient sourcing was solid, and at the least reflected a conscientiousness about their clientele. The meal also achieved the enviable success of having the final product seem much more impressive relative to the actual skill level and time needed to execute it.
For the budget conscious among us, the portion was more than ample for the two of us, a boon considering its price point. And, again perhaps most importantly, the dish itself was delicious: for cheese hounds like us, the thick more-parmesan-than-not sauce hit all the right spots and the added touch of bacon was a nice blast of salt (but was by no means a necessary ingredient, a plus for my pescetarian fiancée).
So if you find yourself caught in a dinner bind, Scratch DC is highly recommended.
Full Disclosure: I received a complementary package from ScratchDC.
As much as any major city, food crazes have a habit of coming and going in DC in quick succession. PX, The Gibson and The Columbia Room, among others, ushered in a wave of craft cocktail programs and speakeasies.
From their home, any Borderstan resident can probably walk to four or five mid-price-range restaurants with exposed brick or a converted post-industrial decor.
For some trends, the jury’s still out: craft ice, anybody? But there’s no doubt that at least two of these concepts have taken root in this city, and have demonstrated incredible staying power: cupcakes and frozen yogurt.
To wit: Georgetown Cupcake’s lines still regularly stretched around the block; and the ever present expansion of yogurt-serving shops SweetGreen, Fro Zen Yo and Pinkberry.
Cupcakes and Yogurt
It’s into these markets that YOCAKE boldly steps in. Located on the very southern edge of the Borderstan neighborhood, YOCAKE is the second location of a Bethesda-based brand that sells both cupcakes and frozen yogurt. It’s not a new model by any means (see: the TangySweet/Red Velvet Cupcakery mashup on P Street, or cupcake sales at Mr. Yogato), but unlike other previous attempts, it’s one brand behind both.
Sitting on the second floor of a townhouse, the look is polished and clean and quasi-futuristic, with its use of purples and silver and glass. In many ways, it’s quite a juxtaposition from its neighbors on the block: bars/lounges like Mighty Pint and Ozio, kabob houses and the strip club Camelot.
The array of cupcakes is impressive: solid favorites like red velvet or triple chocolate are interspersed with lavender lemon, almond and pear and peaches and cream. The cupcake recipes from the brother-sister team that own YOCAKE are derived from their mother’s French culinary training, though we’re told that “they’ve been sweetened a little” to match the American palate.
And then there’s the piece d’resistance: the eponymous YOCAKE itself, a serving that features a cupcake topped by frozen yogurt. On this trip, we didn’t have a chance to taste it, but the thought itself sounds quite decadent.
Located at 1829 M Street, YOCAKE is now open for business.
I’ve eaten at quite a number of seders, and shabbat and sukkot dinners in my lifetime, and so there’s a special place in my heart for good latkes or braised brisket, or even the taste of charoset.
I’ve also eaten quite a number of meals from Todd Gray and Equinox in my lifetime, and whether it’s a celebration of mid-Atlantic seafood or a ricotta agnolotti in a parmesan truffle butter sauce, there’s a soulfulness that emanates from each bite.
“The New Jewish Table” Cookbook
So what if I told you that you could have the tradition and flavors and culture of Jewish cuisine, but with the seasonality, refinement and elegance that only comes from a brilliant James-Beard-award-winning chef? That’s what jumps out from every page of “The New Jewish Table,” the new cookbook from Chef Todd Gray and wife Ellen Kassoff Gray.
From a pure design perspective, the cookbook is brilliant: the fonts are crisp and handsome, the pictures beautiful and the layout intuitive and friendly. If you didn’t cook from it, you could easily feature it out as a coffee table book. Dishes are organized not only by season — a nod to the Grays’ commitment to seasonal foods — but the book also notes each recipe’s kosher status, so as to warn home cooks about mixing dairy and meat.
The recipes themselves are to die for, and range from modern re-conceptions of old family recipes (the cover is Not Exactly Aunt Lil’s Matzo Ball Soup, for example), to plates straight from the Equinox kitchen (such as the Mac and Cheese).
Our Adventures with the Book
Our fondness for this cookbook is great, both aesthetically and gastronomically. In the span of a few days, we had our own adventure testing out the aforementioned mac and cheese recipe (see below), and had the chance to sample some more dishes at a loving seder thrown at Equinox by the Grays, where they featured three dishes straight out of their Passover menu and cookbook.
All four samplings showed what is best about Chef Gray’s food: bright, crisp flavors that accentuate fresh ingredients, and a deep soulfulness that reflects the chef’s care and precision.
- A roasted beet salad with golden raisins and pistachios conquers even my companion’s beet-ambivalent heart, with warm, sweet bites.
- The beef brisket in red wine sauce on a golden potato mousseline is the best brisket either of us have ever had the pleasure of eating, by a large margin. It perfectly marries tender meat with the cut’s natural oily fat into melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
- A flourless chocolate cake is buoyed by salted caramel ice cream, and reminds you that a dish can temper decadence while still ramping up flavor.
- And the mac and cheese? Let’s just say we gladly made the full six- to eight-person portion, and its three-cheese-and-bechamel base was more than enough to remind ourselves why Equinox holds such a place in our heart.
If you add one cookbook to your shelf this year, give this one some strong consideration. You won’t be disappointed.
- “The New Jewish Table”
- by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray
- St. Martin’s Press
Full Disclousure: I received a copy of the book at no charge to review it for my personal food-blog.
As one of the food writers in our stable of contributors here at Borderstan, I’m usually piping up with the two-paragraph paean to some Washingtonian Top 100 restaurant, or the recently discovered hole-in-the-wall. My experience is in our city’s culinary scene and our neighborhood’s eateries. But just for this week, here’s a something a little bit different: a little story about my recent engagement, if you’ll indulge me.
Which is not to say Borderstan and food don’t both make a lot of appearances throughout this story. In fact, our meet-cute tale is full of familiar locations and bites. It was the day I finished moving my last box into my first U Street home that I met Jess, at a Dupont backyard barbecue. A list of our first and best dates reads like a neighborhood guide: Bar Pilar, the now-closed Cajun Experience, Posto. Ours is very much a Borderstan love story; heck, both of us even worked for Borderstan.com.
So it’s a little funny that the key restaurant for this particular part of our story is one we ultimately never ate at: DGS Delicatessen. Our engagement wasn’t a surprise; both of us think that an engagement should be a mutual decision, I’d already asked her parents for permission, and we’d gone together to pick out her ring (under the “well only one of us has to wear this on our hand forever” logic).
The one caveat I held for myself however was this: how I pop the question is totally up to me. So the only way to keep it a secret was to cloak it with something plausible, like say, lunch at a new restaurant. How about that new Jewish deli on Connecticut?
In reality, a few factors had coincidentally fallen into place: the ring was going to be ready on President’s Day, when not only she was off of work, but so were a few co-conspirators. What’s more, my company treats President’s Day as a floating holiday and I had just taken on a huge project at work, so it only made sense that I would have to go into work that day.
Jess knew this last part, so it didn’t necessarily raise any red flags when I told her I would be up by Dupont Circle for an off-site meeting and would be free to grab a quick lunch near our house.
We met just north of the circle to avoid suspicion, though I almost gave it away a few times: being a little too overeager to get rid of her tissue (she was fighting a cold) or to hold her hand, and nearly putting the ring in my inner jacket pocket (which would have given it away when we hugged).
As we cut through the circle, I thought about the near-decade I’ve spent in this city, how much I’ve loved this spot in particular, and how eerily empty and quiet the circle was, except for the sounds of a strumming guitarist on the far side. And then, the faint strums of a ukulele on a C major chord…
I had recruited two friends to help me out in this endeavor. One was secretly snapping pictures of the occasion, while the other sat behind a newspaper, hat and hood pulled over, with iPod speakers on his lap. It’s from there that the song was coming from, competing and losing slightly to the erstwhile musician in the distance. Still, it’s enough that when I turned to her and said, “Hey, do you hear that?” she could still pick it up. It’s our song. She smiled, and I asked her to dance.
There are a lot of things that must run through someone’s mind when they realize that this is it, this is the moment that they’ve been imagining for a while. “I’ll be telling this story to so many people in the coming years.”
“Oh, so this is how you planned to do it. I’m so happy right now.” It’s a flood of emotions that cause you to think and say about a million things. In Jess’s case, all she could say was: “Wait, did you steal my passport, too?” She had misplaced it that morning, and apparently thought I’d orchestrated something that required photo identification. Now, it’s my turn to smile. “No. That one’s on you.”
The quip had thrown me off my prepared speech. You’re sort of in your own bubble when you propose, with everything else blocked out besides you and your soon-to-be-betrothed, right up until the moment that she says yes. Then something will pop that blissful ignorance. Like a bystander sitting on one of the benches, who said, “Well I’ve never seen that before.” It doesn’t ruin it though.
The moment had been carefully planned, and our friends knew just when to jump out with champagne flutes and cigars they’d brought to celebrate. The one thing I didn’t account for was the audience, and nothing made me appreciate Borderstan more than them.
There were the two photographers who joked, “We didn’t know if we should be taking pictures too.” There were the two early-20-somethings who actually asked us, “Hey, can we Instagram this?” And then there was the fountain itself, the spot I’ve loved so much, now with just another reason to love it that much more.
Funnily enough, we never did end up getting lunch at DGS Deli. Guess that’ll just have to be our rehearsal dinner then.
I love Borderstan, but lately I’ve found myself enjoying meals just outside its borders. And as a former GW student, no neighborhood brings back fonder memories than Foggy Bottom and the West End.
So when I found out that Rasika, it of the perpetual critical acclaim and the fast-going reservations, was opening a new restaurant just blocks from where I used to live, I was pretty psyched. Unfortunately, the same reservation problem kept me from going until this past Restaurant Week, when a group of friends scored a dinner reservation.
West End Decor
If the downtown location is a thoroughly modern restaurant with traditional Indian themes, then the West End version (1190 New Hampshire Avenue NW) is what happens when you turn that on its head entirely. Rasika West End’s interior decor is almost outrageously avant-garde, and leaves you wondering which aspect is the most surprising.
Is it the geometric ceiling that juts and curves like a cavern constructed from dodecahedrons? Is it the color scheme that draws from hot pink and orange and teal? Is it the way the design fits into its building’s unique space, with a bar that extends into a Flatiron-Building-style point to a nook designed to look a library? Or is it the decorative choices, like the full cover booths shaped like onion domes or the giant hanging silver sculpture of a hand that looks strongly like the shocker? Perhaps, it’s the fact that despite all of these points, the whole space does seem to blend together well.
The overwhelming concern when you go to a second version of a restaurant you love is how much it replicates the parts you liked, and how much it can differentiate itself. Admittedly, Restaurant Week is the absolute worst time to evaluate something on this metric, since the menu is often scaled down to what can be turned around quickly. But Rasika has always done a good job of providing a solid offering even for Restaurant Week, and its West End twin was no different.
Palak Chaat and Black Cod
Invariably, when anyone talks about Rasika, the two dishes that are brought up most frequently are the palak chaat and the black cod. Both represent exactly what Rasika does best: takes Indian flavors and concepts and updates them with modern touches, bringing forth brilliant mixes of salt, sweet and spice.
The palak chaat’s crispy spinach is a play of textures, balancing its notes of crunch and spicy with the natural sugars of dates and tamarinds and yogurt sauce. For the cod, it’s the light hints of star anise and honey that perk up a fleshy piece of fish.
There are quite a few other hits as well. Chunks of crispy cauliflower bezule are accented sharply with piquant punches from mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chilies; the chicken tikka makhani is a beautiful blend of tomato, garlic and ginger flavors, held together by a sauce that everyone keeps dipping their naan into; and there is a surprising appreciation for the vegetable thali trio: bowls of paneer mattar, navrattan korma and dal makhani that seep through basmati rice.
Rasika West End just got named, along with its predecessor, as one of Washingtonian‘s Top 100 Restaurants. It’s an honor that is much deserved.
By now, it’s a common dinner conversation amongst Washingtonians, well worn by any of us who call ourselves food lovers in this city: your personal breathless recounting of “that time I went to Toki Underground, and just how long it took me to get the seat, but how cool the interior design was, and the drinks were awesome, and the ramen was absolutely to die for, and ZOMG let me tell you about it one more time.”
Much like Dupont’s Little Serow, Toki’s ubiquitous hype (see: newly acquired spot on Washingtonian Top 100, recent visits by celebrities as varied as Ferran Adria and Neil Patrick Harris) mixed with its no-reservation policy and small seat count results in wait times that are in enumerated in the hours, not minutes.
And still we all, desperate to have some of that magical broth and noodles that taste like they’re spun out of angel hair, will trek out to H Street for this pilgrimage.
Could I Interest You in Taan?
But what if I told you that there was a noodle bar, within walking distance of Borderstan, that not only rivals the venerable Toki with its ramen bowls, but also features more seats and includes an upstairs space where you can sit and wait for your table? Could I interest you in Taan Noodles?
What’s curious about Taan is that the restaurant’s 18th and Columbia sits (1817 Columbia Road NW) within a city block of another recent noodle bar opening: Sakuramen. Unlike this traditional Japanese neighbor, Taan fits in decor-wise with current restaurant trends, namely rustic and refurbished farmhouse. To wit, all of the restaurant’s decorations from the antique cash register and red doors on the wall behind the bar to the mason jars and crates on wooden shelves hammered into the exposed brick come from an estate in West Virginia.
Seating consists of an eight-seat bar to the left of the restaurant with a series of two-top and four-top high tables in the front and right side of the restaurant. In the rear of the restaurant is a set of stairs to a second floor landing, the aforementioned overflow space where you can wait. It looks like a nice casual lounge, like the upstairs of a cozy independent bookstore.
On this trip, our group varies our options: my vegetarian girlfriend obviously goes for the vegetarian ramen, while I go with the Maze-Men, which can best be described as “throw everything in the bowl” soup. The former is a beet-based soup, with tomato, charred corn, purple potato, baby carrots, shichimi, basil oil, beet pickles, and a yuzu creme fraiche. The beet flavor is forward on this dish, so non-beet lovers should beware. Still, I don’t want to sell it short: the vegetables were solid, the tomato and corn particularly surprising and refreshing, and the whole bowl a very flavorful veggie option for a dish traditionally based on meat.
Mine, like I said, was an everything-but-the-sink dish: pork belly, duck confit, chicken confit, pickled cucumber, tomato, charred corn, scallions, woodear mushrooms, mustard greens, chilies, nori and egg yolk. Curiously, the one thing it does not come with is broth; instead, it’s intentionally given a small amount that wets the whole thing, but makes it a little less than a soup.
Still, there are many brilliant things to love about this dish: the deliciously seared pork belly, the brilliant nuggets of charred corn, the mustard greens that make me want to eat just them forever. In fact, it’s these components that are the basis of the Triple Stock Ramen, the dish that our dining companions had loved so much the previous time they went that they convinced us to go. If the Triple Stock’s pork belly, corn, and greens are as delicious as the ones I had, then it’ll likely become my go-to option on future trips.
So, if you want the deliciousness of Toki without the wait, are jonesing for some takeout ramen or if you simply want a fun new place to head to on the fringes of our beautiful Borderstan, head up to Taan.
When Borderstan heard that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor moved into the neighborhood, Kim Vu predicted that she would love it. In fact, he even predicted some of her favorite spots — all in jest, of course.
However, Vu’s predictions were not that far off. On February 2, The Washington Post published an article on Sotomayor and her affinity for her new U Street neighborhood.
The article details Sotomayor as being a frequent customer at a “green eatery” chicken place, Tacos El Chilango and at the Greek Spot. She bumps into her neighbors while taking out her recycling and contributes to building potlucks.
Sotomayor told The Washington Post‘s Supreme Court correspondent last month that U Street reminds her of New York, the article reports.
“U Street is the East Village,” said Sotomayor to The Washington Post. “The East Village has been developing in the last 10 or 15 years, and I’ve often said if I was going to buy an apartment now, it probably would be in the East Village. So what did I do? I came to Washington and established a home in the East Village.”
Among some of Vu’s predictions for the Justice’s favorite neighborhood sports were Veritas, Bar Pilar, Shake Shack, Churchkey and Estadio.
If there’s a prototypical picture of 1950s Washington and its dealings, it goes something like this: a group of huddling men in a corner booth; an austere room where the cigar smoke rises up the wood paneling to dim lights; handshake deals and all manners of spycraft happening over tumblers of whiskey and fingers of bourbon.
These days, as our city starts elbowing its way into the upper echelon of epicurean cities, bars and restaurants like these are increasingly falling by the wayside; old standbys like Kinkead’s shutter while 14th Street flourishes with the next round of craft cocktails, small plates or exposed brick/refurbished barn wood decor.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these things. But that’s why the Mayflower Hotel’s refurbished bar intrigues me so much: it’s like a high-speed collision between the old and the new.
Take the decor: the old Town and Country, the bar that Edgar replaces within the Mayflower Hotel, was a monument to the days of its replacement’s namesake and frequent patron, former FBI director/Leonardo DiCaprio title role, J. Edgar Hoover. The re-design and re-branding has jettisoned with the old while keeping some of the prettiest design elements intact.
To wit, the feel remains generally the same: here, on one side of the bar, are black leather riveted booths below dark wood paneling and in front of you is a back-lit bar ensconced in art-deco style mirrored columns framed in polished silver. To your side, a wall of emerald brick tile frames the doorway; in some ways, it feels like a cleaned up 1920s cigar lounge. Still, it’s the cleaned up parts that bring some modern nuance: from the exposed brick on the restaurant side, to the light gray granite tile that decks the bar, to the globe lighting that hangs overhead.
The menu is generally what one expects, except for perhaps the steak offerings. A slate of sandwiches and burgers and salads is flanked by an interesting list of small plates, flatbreads and charcuterie, another nod to the new and trendy. On this trip, my four companions and I ordered two plates to share and a round of cocktails.
The cocktails are on the sweeter side but are, nonetheless, enjoyable. My pom-blackberry balsamic bourbon tastes exactly like what it sounds like: bourbon with a splash of tart and sweet. A play on a Tom Collins injects the traditional lemon-gin combo with some cucumber, basil, and Chambord, producing a grenadine-like flavor finish.
Our dishes are similarly straightforward fun bar bites: a set of crispy artichokes with a hint of lemon, paired with a parsley aioli dipping sauce; and cheddar potato croquettes filled with Benton’s smoked bacon and placed atop a chive aioli. Like many of the other small plates, it’s optimally designed for a post-work grub grab: drink here, dip here, eat this.
So, for a little blast from the past and a little bit modern luxury, pop by Edgar at 1127 Connecticut Ave NW.
“You’re gonna pee your pants when you find out.” That’s what my friend G said across the dinner table when she found out what my girlfriend Texas had planned for my birthday. “Like, it’s perfect for you.”
My mind raced. What could possibly make me that excited? A meet-and-greet with Ryan Zimmerman? A shopping spree at a suit or board game store? Literal urination from the fear brought on by a skydiving package? No, something even more appropriate for my epicurean lifestyle: a food adventure at three of DC’s finest restaurants that serve the most interesting offal dishes. And headlining the day? A lunch at the West End’s Blue Duck Tavern.
The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema recently teased that Blue Duck had taken a great leap forward with a new chef at the helm, a level of praise that augured a great experience. For one, I already knew how attractive the dining area would be. Located inside the Park Hyatt Hotel, the restaurant’s decor blends a handsome rustic Americana with a sleek modern tinge: the large colonial midnight blue doors flanked by steel and plate glass windows; rows of mason jars of vegetables on sleek honey brown shelves; the modern chair-and-table sets that would still fit in perfectly at any Virginia country bed and breakfast.
Best yet, if you’re lucky enough to sit in the few tables in the center of the restaurant, you get the pleasure of dinner theater in the form of the open kitchen. There’s virtually no separation between you and two island prep counters and the kitchen itself, as if the chefs are doing a choreographed dance for you.
When you get to see that happen at a restaurant in such a thoughtful way, it adds to the experience. That’s what makes Blue Duck one of my favorite dining rooms: it’s high class but reserved, homey but elegant, involving but calm.
But perhaps even better is the restaurant’s commitment to the quality of its purveyors, putting the names of each farm where they get their artisanal foodstuffs right on the menu. The kind of kitchen that cares that much about its relationships with its farmers will get the sort of quality ingredients that make a great dish perfect. And oh, how they made things perfect. On this offal tour, we ordered a triumvirate of offal dishes: wood oven roasted bone marrow, seared foie gras, and glazed sweetbreads.
Each of them presented their own unique combination of amazing flavors and playful textures. The bone marrow was a beautiful blend of viscous, juicy fattiness that spread deliciously over crusty toast. The foie’s richness blended seamlessly with mushrooms and a 63-degree egg to create a full-bodied hit of velvety cream that crackled over frisee and truffle butter bread.
And the sweetbreads were milky-rich and moist, a rich and dense centerpiece to a veritable painter’s palette of flavors: the mild bitterness of fried cauliflower, the sweet of a red grape confit, the sour of purple mustard. Even our non-offal dish was fantastic: a beautiful chilled lobster salad with frisee, avocado and blood orange in a honey citrus vinaigrette.
Perfect for a classy brunch, a power lunch, and a date night. And with beautiful food to boot. If you have to venture outside the Borderstan area for the perfect meal, Blue Duck Tavern is an amazing choice.
Autumn and I have a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, it’s the season of my birthday, and more importantly, delicious root vegetables. On the other hand, it’s also getting freaking cold outside. Lucky for us, there are plenty of ways we can mitigate the latter by utilizing the former. In the form of awesome, warm-you-to-your-core soups.
One of my favorite soups to keep away the cold comes courtesy of the brilliant Patrick O’Connell at the Inn at Little Washington, and the first time I ever tasted it, I immediately tracked down the recipe. It’s a little bit sweet, a lot soulful and definitely will be one of the best soups you’ll ever have.
Liquid Autumn Soup
Makes 2 quarts, or 6-8 servings
- 1 stick butter
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup peeled, cored, and chopped Granny Smith apple
- 1 cup peeled and chopped rutabaga
- 1 cup peeled, seeded, and chopped butternut squash
- 1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
- 1 cup peeled and chopped sweet potato
- 1 quart chicken stock
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- Melt the butter in a saucepan/pot, add the fruits/vegetables to cook. Stir occasionally until onions are translucent.
- Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes until tender.
- Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and puree.
- Strain through a fine mesh sieve and return to saucepan/pot. Add cream, maple syrup, salt, and cayenne, and bring to simmer again.
- Serve and be warm!
At this point, Borderstan could probably run a weekly article with the headline, “Hilton Brothers Open New Bar in Borderstan” and we would still be right more often than we’d be wrong. And you can hardly blame them. They’ve perfected the combination of a slightly upscale, dim bar space with a rooftop/patio, hip decor, and a limited menu into a recipe for printing money. Marvin, at this point the grand old dame of the empire, is a U Street staple. Blackbyrd went through one iteration as a seafood restaurant, and will reinvent itself as a pho/banh mi restaurant in 2013. Even relatively low-key 18th Street Lounge remains a powerful enough draw that a taxiful of twentysomethings once had our group of friends roll down our windows at a stoplight to see if we were going to “The Lounge.”
It’s enough to get a little bit of Hilton Brothers fatigue. Still, wanting a quick bite and drink before an event later in the night and with a need to stay on U Street, it seemed like almost too ideal a time to try out The Satellite Room, the newest addition to the Hilton collection.
If you didn’t know The Satellite Room existed, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. Tucked away on 9th St north of V St, its location is both disadvantageous and fortuitous. On the one hand, it’ll likely be the watering hole of choice for pre- and post-concert crowds from next-door neighbor 9:30 Club; on the other, my friends CC and Katie both had trouble finding the bar, obscured as it is, and they were actually looking for it.
Find it though, and you’re in for a delightfully fun space. Like its Hilton brethren, it embraces its milieu, in this case a stripped-down warehouse from the looks of it, based on the exposed concrete walls and unfinished floor. Still, a fresh coat of paint and a sizable collection of pop art does a lot to make the space shine. Light bulbs hang over a row of small booths on the right side of the space opposite the main bar, a black-and-white tiletop with a giant script neon “Satellite” sign on the wall above it. Bar seating sits in the front window, while more tables sit in the back. Capping it off is a large covered patio behind the main bar.
Where Satellite Room follows its more recent Hilton contemporaries is in its menu; namely that it has one. The bar serves a neat mix of diner staples and light Mexican fare; to wit, a nontrivial section of the menu is dedicated to make-your-own tacos and one of the notable sides is elote, sweet Mexican corn with Mexican cheese. Still, the majority of the menu would fit right at home in a Johnny Rocket’s.
Take our own meal for example. CC and I both went with alcoholic milkshakes, selecting two of the ten options available, all named after characters from classic TV. CC went simple, picking the Vincent Vega, vanilla with Bulleit bourbon, while I went with the Latka Gravas, an espresso hazelnut with Hennessey VS. Both were delicious, sweet but dangerously enjoyable, with the bourbon providing a strong kick, but no typical bourbon burn, while the Latka was a straight shot of blended coffee bean (though a little light on any kick or sweetness that the other shake had).
The few bites we had to eat were also enjoyable. A patty melt is satisfying with the added surprise of marble rye, a straightforward and meaty dish. Its side of thin-cut fries is similarly tasty.
Overall, a solid place to grab a drink or a bite before you head to a show. I know I’ll be back to try the other eight milkshakes I missed.
Unless you’ve been off gallivanting around the world, you, dear Borderstan reader, know that 14th Street is about to experience a veritable onslaught of new restaurants in the coming months. We popped into Drafting Table, the first of this wave, to see if it stacks up to its new neighbors.
If you knew that Drafting Table took over the old ACKC space on the corner of 14th and Q NW, you will recognize some of the pieces: the ramp leading down from the front door, the bar to the restaurant’s right side, the generally open layout. But gone is the red and gold color scheme with fanciful embellishments. That has been replaced with a much more modern charcoal gray and slate and honey brown that is displayed everywhere, from the aforementioned 15-seat bar, to the bright wood paneling that charmingly lines part of the walls, to dark brick tile flooring.
Seating follows the open layout: to one side are three communal bar tables, a 14-seat one with numbered-cube light fixtures above it, the others six/seven-seat tables lying perpendicular. The rest of the space takes its cue from the restaurant’s namesake, with the eponymous drafting tables making up the rest of the tables.
In all, the space is nothing if not cool. The aforementioned cubed light fixtures are balanced out with gaslight incandescent bulbs that provide an orange flow to the dim space. Framed blueprints (reminiscent of Meridian Pint’s downstairs) hang on the walls, as do black and white portraits, while two flat screens play playoff baseball at the bar. There’s a sizable buzz, and you can’t escape the feeling that this place fits in very well with what it aims to be: a neighborhood hangout place. Borderstan food editrix Alejandra described it as nice for a first date, nice place to sit and wait for friends. Stole the words out of mouth.
The food offerings fit in very nicely with the gastropub description. Or at the very least, fancied-up diner. On this trip, we go for the server’s recommendation and the most-interesting-thing-on-the-menu, the kaya toast. It’s apparently a Singaporean/Malaysian thing, which makes it an odd blend at first glance given the rest of the dishes. The snack, toast sandwiches of coconut jam meant to be dipped in fried eggs and soy sauce, was very reminiscent of a breakfast of French toast and eggs. Sweet and salty and fun.
Our fried chicken and pickles, and draftsman burger entrees were much of the same. The former eschews the traditional, battering its chicken much like you would fish and chips, encasing it in a solid crisp rather than say melding it directly onto the skin. The portion is also surprisingly generous: a leg, a thigh and a breast. The draftsman burger (a blended patty of beef and beer braised brisket, crispy blue cheese, apricot chutney, bacon-onion jam) and fries was well-cooked, juicy, and punched with decent flavor, with no one ingredient overwhelming any of the others. With the brisket intermixed, the whole patty had a much more grounded, gamey, earthy flavor to it, augmented by the tang of chutney and the onions.
For dessert, the homemade snickers pie is enjoyable, sweet without being overly heavy.
Overall, Drafting Table projects very much like what it’s ostensibly aiming for: a nice place for friends to hang out, a relaxed spot for the game or a first date, a reliable restaurant for a late night brew and bite.
Author’s Note: At Borderstan.com you’ll always get food news from writers who actually eat in our neighborhood. They know where to find the newest rooftop bars, the brunch with unlimited Mimosas, and the best vegetarian options in the city. That’s why we’re giving you a chance to get to know the writers who bring you the best eats Borderstan has to offer. So, grab your fork and take a seat at our table.
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Kim Vu is a food writer for Borderstan.
What’s the best resto in DC? Why?
Vu: Eola. The last time I went to Eola I was so excited about the meal, I emailed Alejandra [Owens, Food Editor] and asked her if I could write about it the next week. I’ve never had a bad meal there, and while Komi or Minibar might get more press, I love the dining room, the whole experience, and I love the fact they always go out of their way to make the meal a special occasion.
Describe your food writing style; what kind of story are you looking to tell?
Vu: I like talking about the surprising and the strange. If a restaurant is serving weird parts of a pig, or there’s a place no one’s ever heard of doing amazing things, that’s the gospel I want to spread. If something I write can get people out of the Ruth/Chris/Morton’s of the world, and get them going to local, sustainable restaurants that do more than just steak, that’s the dream.
Which food writers/photographers are inspiring you right now? Who do you look to for food news?
Vu: I love Bourdain and Ruth Reichl, the former for his snark and wit, the latter for her storytelling and the way she describes food without relying too heavily on adjectives (a skill I have yet to master).
What is your version of comfort food?
Vu: Nothing says home to me like pho. I also have a not so secret love of McNuggets and tater tots, but pho is my actual comfort food/hangover cure.
What is the cooking tool you can’t live without?
Vu: I just received my first J.A. Henckels knife block last Christmas, and I love my 7″ Santoku knife.
Disclaimer: The following advice is completely tongue-in-cheek. Read accordingly.
If you didn’t pick up last week’s issue of Us Weekly, you might have missed the cover story touting Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor‘s recent two-bedroom condominium purchase, just off the U Street corridor. (Okay, so maybe the story wasn’t in Us Weekly, but it definitely was front page news.)
Are you a fun-employed recent law school graduate who wants to casually bump into Justice Sotomayor to pass her your resume for a clerkship? Are you a SCOTUS superfan who just needs a picture with Her Honor to complete your nonet? Are you Justice Sotomayor herself, and want some tips on what local haunts you just have to try? Never fear, all the above. We have just the guide for you! Here’s where you’ll find the Honorable Judge Sotomayor…
After Work for Happy Hour?
As a lifelong jurist, Justice Sotomayor is obviously a fan of truth (along with justice and the American Way). So where better to casually sip some wine to unwind after a long day of opening arguments than the Dupont Circle wine bar, Veritas? They even carry her favorite wine by the glass, an Australian Shinas Estate Shiraz, also known as “The Guilty.”
Knocking Back a Few Cold Ones?
While you may think that Justice Sotomayor would pass the bar at any number of Borderstan watering holes (the multiple choice answers on this bar exam also include Bar Pilar or Bar Dupont), you’d be surprised to learn she’s more likely to enjoy the wide beer selection at either Churchkey, or if that’s too visible, The Big Hunt. What can I say? She likes craft beer.
Seeing the Ramifications of Universal Healthcare?
While the Justice, herself, will probably not partake, nothing will reassure her of the necessity of her vote for the Affordable Care Act than seeing people take on the 9-pounder at BGR. If you’re wondering, the health-conscious Sotomayor opts for the veggie or the Greek with grilled asparagus while watching customers gorge themselves sick.
Missing the Big Apple?
When Justice Sotomayor gets a little nostalgic for the Big Apple, she’ll need to look no further than Dupont, where she can enjoy New York imports Boqueria and Shake Shack. Pizza? Maybe not New York style, but how about Pizzeria Paradiso, or the favorite of college students, MOlga’s? And bagels? Well… I have nothing for you there.
Just Another One of Us?
Sure, she could try and sneak a table at Estadio, or cut the line at El Centro, using her SCOTUS powers. But seeing her have to stand in line with the rest of us at 5:30 outside Little Serow? Or tapping her foot, waiting for her table number to finally come up at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace? Well that is pure justice, indeed.
Taking in Some Tunes?
While the SCOTUS’s favorite music hall for dance parties is, of course, DC9 (where they all caught the recent Supreme Commander record release), the Honorable Ms. Sotomayor has long been a fan of 9:30 Club, ever since she caught a concert from her favorite band there last March (who else, but the French electronic duo, Justice? Even Supreme Court Justices know how to get down).
Still, she’s likely got a few more shows checked off on her calendar: Yeasayer (in celebration for all her recent votes), Bloc Party (with her left-leaning justices), Our Lady Peace, and Kimbra (even Justice Sotomayor can’t get that stupid Gotye song out of her head).
For the Girls’ Night Out?
Cafe Saint-Ex. Justices Ruth Ginsberg, Elena Kagan and Sotomayor just want to dance. Just stand in a circle around their shoes and their pocketbooks and just dance.
The lesson as always: Supreme Court Justices, they’re just like us! Welcome to Borderstan, Justice Sotomayor.