Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DC Restaurant Week 2014 - Oyamel

I haven't been a huge fan of Restaurant Week promotions in any city/neighborhood and usually approach them with a huge dose of skepticism or outright repeal. My thinking is that a good restaurant doesn't need to promote a gimmicky menu just to get people in the seats. On top of that you get volume surge that could be above normal operating conditions (good for restaurant, bad for you) that yields less interesting menu choices or worse, a kitchen just churning out the same dishes quickly without pause. To say that I'm down on "Restaurant Weeks" is accurate - but like everything in life, you give things another look when the time is right. This week I'm giving DC the benefit of the doubt and going full force into Restaurant Week to try some new places in town, and hopefully force me to throw up some more reviews. Last night started with Oyamel.

I've heard good things about Oyamel from many people and understood it to be a Chinatown staple by talented restaurateur Jose Andreas featuring Mexican fare, tacos and ceviche. The prix fixe menu ($35.14 for all participating restaurants) is five courses with multiple choices for each course to give you quite a lot of flexibility to choose your own Oyamel adventure. Even with a large amount of food on deck, Kelly and I decided no good Mexican meal can start without a solid heaping of guacamole, chips and salsa. Unfortunately for my appetite and desire to not over-eat, both the salsa (very similar to Rick Bayless salsa) and chips were delicious. They add a nice spice mixture to the crispy fried chips that make them quite addicting. The guacamole was relatively average in taste or special flavors, but you do get the table side treatment that makes the experience a little more fun. I also started the meal with one of their specialty margaritas that included a nice watermelon flavor. Yum.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Casa Luca

No matter the location, I am always interested and challenged to find good Italian restaurants. You would think it was the easiest cuisine to master and impress guests with. Stick with some solid and traditional pasta dishes, add in salads and classic chicken dishes (parmesan, marsala, etc), throw in some simple prepared fish and I think you'd have a winner. The challenge is that few places do this, and fewer do it well. Many newer Italian restaurants I've found have tried to distinguish themselves by adding unique, "modern" or other personalities that take away from the actual quality of food. I admit, I have not been to a plethora of Italian restaurants in Washington, but thus far I give high praise to Casa Luca for successfully pulling off both the traditional menu items and the modern twists that made my dining experience very enjoyable. 

My visit was a few months back but I remember walking into the space and thinking there was a good and welcoming vibe with a well organized layout. Service was very good throughout and attentive from all staff regardless of who was walking by. The menu is also well sized with plenty of options but only a few in each category to help steer your decisions with the main focus on the pastas (e.g. two sea, two land and three "family style" choices). We went with two starters and two pastas, which might not have been the most adventurous or diverse selection but whatever, that's what looked good and if you can't wow me with pasta I'm not likely to return to try other items. 

We passed up the breads/flat breads and "bites to share" sections in favor of a salad ("Cesar Salad" of Burrata) and small pate Crudo of Arctic Char (with salsa romesco and pickled vegetables. ). Both were excellent and I thought the burrata "salad" was delicious and creative.It's on the smaller side but maybe because I had to share and I wanted more. I would like to try the other starter options as well. The two main course pasta dishes were smoked potato gnocchi with a duck ragu and the fusilli cacio e pepe (served with burrata, basil and black pepper). Both pastas were well sized and portioned. Even though the pricing might seem like a stretch for a bowl of pasta I feel the ingredients used and portion size are consistent with good value. As for preferences, I was a huge fan of the fusilli. The burrata was delicious and the pepper was flavorful but not overpowering. I would order that dish again quickly. The gnocchi was good too but the duck ragu definitely stole the show. They should find a way to substitute out the gnocchi for a different pasta perhaps. It's good gnocchi but I find it to be more of a challenging pasta to eat a large amount and can take away from whatever sauce is included. 

The nightcap was a nice small bowl of gelato with some fresh fruit and nuts. I can't remember the flavor but it was green and tasty. I appreciate their dessert menu because the pricing and sizing seem spot on. Not too much (on either) and just enough to leave a nice taste in your mouth. I like Casa Luca and have recommended it many times since my first visit. It has a sophisticated yet approachable vibe with good service and an approachable menu. The pastas we tried were very solid and worthy of a return visit. I wouldn't call Casa a mom and pop home grown Italian experience, but that's what makes it special and good.

Casa Luca on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 19, 2014


Well. It's taken quite a while for me to get back on the food scene writing horse. I could provide a plethora of excuses or justifications, but that's not really important. Some how it's been one year since I moved from my beloved hometown of Chicago (and culinary capital of the national IMO) to our nation's capital of Washington. I still love eating, checking out new restaurants and jotting down my thoughts and opinions, but my lifestyle and timing is quite different than before. I hope to do a better job going forward, but I realize it will not be the same as the Windy City. Also of note is my general attitude that while the DC food scene is changing quickly and drastically, it has a long way to go for consistent, high quality restaurants. My last post on Rose's Luxury remains my favorite experience to date, but my meal at Table was not far behind and the inspiration to breakout the keyboard once again. 

The initial impression is memorable, inviting and fun. The first floor space is narrow and long with a garage door opening and full length open air kitchen along one side (reminiscent of a diner set up). There are wood planks hanging to create a make shift ceiling adorned with creative lighting. The color scheme features pink everywhere (is that seasonal or permanent?) with a full back wall painted solid, and pink accents in server attire, menu and settings. Wood is another theme with clean tables, walls and bar service counter. Since we sat downstairs I am unfamiliar with the upstairs design but would be surprised if different. The menu is robust but approachable without too many options to cause confusion or extended time wasted on decision making. They offer a tasting menu (good idea) with predetermined choices. Otherwise there is a first course section, a second course section and a cheese/charcuterie section. That's it and that's all you need. 

In order to sample a little of every part, we started with the "goose egg" salad that our server recommended and had just arrived at the table next over. It was a play on the classic lyonnaise salad with a sunny side up goose egg, sauteed seasonal mushrooms, frisee salad and served with warm toast. I enjoyed the salad immensely and would suggest it as a staple to any meal at Table. The egg was perfectly cooked so that it was runny enough to be fun but with solid "whites" to eat with the salad and vegetables. The dressing was a perfect compliment and the warm toast with a hint of olive oil made for a great way to clean the plate. The salad comes in the warm sauce pan used to fry the egg and we sent it back clean. We also took the opportunity to sample the cheese and meat selection with two cheeses (kind of forgot which ones but they were fantastic - Taleggio and Fiscalini maybe) and some duck prosciutto. One of the best small charcuterie and cheese boards I've had in a while. The pricing structure encourages volume discounts so don't skimp and be adventurous.

To sample a little surf and air, I opted for the wild bass (with rapini, brussels sprouts, fiddlehead fern and garlic air) while Erin did the squab (pan roasted, morel mushrooms, green peas, sorrel, jus de cuisson). Again, both plates went back empty as the main dishes were quite tasty. I would not have changed anything with my bass as the fish was well cooked, soft and buttery with nice garlic notes. The sprouts were also a highlight while the fern and and rapini added interesting flavor profiles and texture. Some might judge the dish to be rich, but the flavor is great. I'm not a huge pea and mushroom fan so the squab would not have been my choice but the meat was nicely cooked medium retaining the slightly gamey texture and tasty seasonings.

After all of that we saved a hint of room for dessert, which worked out because it appears the desserts are not massive or over the top. To keep it refreshing on a nice spring evening we went with the roasted pineapple, served with a dollop of lychee ice cream, small squirts of jalapeno sauce, vanilla cake and toasted macadamia nuts. Lots going on, but nice combination of flavors in small and succinct package. If you're looking for a more full dessert experience I bet scoops of gelato or the brown butter chess pie would be more up that alley. 

Table definitely ranks up there with a select few very good restaurants I've experienced recently. It has both a neighborhood charm and a fun, romantic, foodie destination. The food is top notch with a quite extensive wine list (but not too cheap). I would highly recommend it and suggest people to check it out. I look forward to returning for other seasonal menus, tasting menus or just good food. 

Table on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Rose's Luxury

I think I found the first restaurant in DC that I am excited about and want a lot of other people to be excited about too. The name is Rose's Luxury and it is located on Barracks Row. It's a small ish restaurant that does not take reservations. I fully support that policy. The menu is small but has more than enough options. It fits the mood and mold of the establishment. There are four sections (cold, warm, pasta and other goods), plus a "family style" section with two large, share-able plates. Each of the other sections offer three, small and share-able choices with more than half available as or made vegetarian. In addition to a nice menu and small but inviting dining space, the staff was tremendous top-to-bottom. From the moment we walked in to put our names down (quoted hour and 45 minutes on a Friday night), the services was friendly, gracious, funny and attentive. They take your phone number to text you when the table is ready but since they were running late we got a phone call with apologies (I think unnecessary but welcome) and free cocktails when we sat down. 


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