Friday, September 28, 2007

Veritas Wine Bar in Dupont

I had the pleasure of stopping by Veritas, a new wine bar in Dupont, this week. The location is on the corner of Connecticut and Florida Streets, just around the corner from The Russia House. It's almost like entering a bit of a hideaway as the space is right at street level and just a little hidden. When you walk in you feel like you are transported a bit, with the very dim lighting, prevalence of candlelight on each table and swirling wine glasses all about. The decor is minimalist, and there are virtually no wall adornments which yields a very noisy sound level, despite the small size of the space. The bar seats about 8 and there are around 10 tables, which each seat 4. The wine list is nice, albeit somewhat expensive with the least-expensive by-the-glass offering coming in at $9. There is also a cheese and charcuterie menu to compliment the libations. We ordered a bottle of José Pariente Verdejo from Rueda, Spain, 2006. The nose was of citrus and the wine was refreshing and very clean on the palate. We also did the 3 cheeses for $11, and chose a Gouda, Humboldt Fog Bleu and a Manchego. The Gouda was especially creamy and nutty, and each actually worked with the wine as the acidity cut the richness of the cheese quite nicely. Others had the Melville Estate Syrah from Santa Rita Hills, California, 2005. The wine was slightly tannic yet still smooth on the finish and rich and fruity in flavor. A really nice selection. Veritas is great for exploring regions and grape varities and offers several flight options and a decent by-the-glass selections. The vibe is hip and fun. Just have to work on that noise level. Pop by when you can though - it's a great way to start or end an evening for sure.

2031 Florida Avenue in NW DC

Monday, September 24, 2007

Our Daily Bread

The Belgian chain recently opened its DC outpost on M street in Georgetown, across the street from the Four Seasons Hotel, taking over the space of the long-suffering Au Pied Bistro. There are plenty of items on the menu, including omelets made with real butter, muffins and yogurt parfaits for breakfast and salads, quiche and soups for lunch and dinner, with cakes and pastries for after (or instead of). This is what La Madeleine wishes it could be. There are two floors that have the famous communal tables with waiter service, as well as a counter with polite and courteous staff that can tell the baked goods apart, and even make some recommendations. The restaurant also features a garden court which makes it pretty perfect for breakfast in this weather.

I'd advise newcomers to order the Bakers' Basket, which has slices of the signature breads, both sweet and savory. Every table has spreads, pralines and jams. To make it a more complete breakfast, order a side of prosciutto or smoked salmon - easily split between two people. Once you figure out your favorite bread (the one featuring sunflower seeds and an oatmeal crust is mine), branch out to the other menu items. An interesting (albeit a bit too precious) detail is that coffee is served in saucers. Spreads can be bought in the pantry section of the restaurant.

I was there this morning for a pit stop before my commute and conducted my croissant test - it passed muster with flying colors (with high marks for crust, flakiness, smell and color) for pennies more than La Madeleine. A great addition to M street.

Le Pain Quotidien - Bakery and Communal Table

2815 M Street, NW Washington DC 20007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Belga Cafe in Eastern Market

I recently popped by Belga Cafe in Eastern Market for drinks and snacks before a Nats game. If you haven't been, it's a really cozy spot with a cute little patio out front, really friendly servers and bartenders, a nice albeit rich menu, and a great Belgian beer list. The weather was just perfect, a little dim for not-so-late in the evening, but that beautiful cool and crisp that is the beginning of fall. The lighting is dim and the general ambiance quite pleasing and comfortable, much like a good, authentic European bistro. We sat at the bar for ease of service, and because with such an extensive beer and drink menu it's a joy to watch what others order and explore with your own choices a bit. I stuck to my typical, at least as of late, Pinot Grigio. My friend, however, tried several selections on the beer menu, including an Orval Trappist ale and a De Koninck. Both were fairly rich and full of flavor, and really tasty. We split Lauwe Asperge Salade, or baked asparagus with frisee salad, slices of salmon “mi cuit” with coriander-butter. Wow, what a gorgeous combination, with the crisp greens and asparagus with the rich and melt-in-your-mouth salmon and the strong essence of butter throughout. Yummo. I also had the Vegetarian Plate which features pan seared salsify with nutmeg roasted market vegetables with balsamic and herbs’ oil caramelized belgian endives sprinkled with sherry-vinegar grilled asparagus. I don't generally each potatoes or starches of most kinds, and without those items I thought the plate was a bit small, but it was tasty nonetheless. The vegetables were roasted nicely until still slightly firm but infused with the oil and vinegar flavors quite nicely. My friend had Hoeve Kippetje Uit Brabant, or breast of chicken with braised Belgian endives and roasted fingerling potatoes. The chicken was crispy yet still moist on the inside, especially the dark piece of meat, and the endives tasted as though they had soaked overnight in butter. Certainly not light fare, but quite tasty and a great match for beer and wine for sure. A great spot for a pre- or post-game drink and snack for sure.

Belga Cafe
514 8th Street in SE DC

Tapas with a Twist

I've come to realize that the only reasons I ever go up to Tenleytown are going to Café Olé, the Container Store, or a fortunate combination of both.

Café Olé is not a big place, but it doesn't feel cramped. It offers outdoor seating (though you need to make sure the weather is worth it, otherwise all that it has to offer is a panoramic view of the traffic on Wisconsin Avenue and some interesting light fixtures). The staff is corteous and accomodating and the servers are always quick with suggestions that feel more like actual favorites than a way to push the pricier items on the menu. The full wine list is available by the glass and the Sangria by the pitcher tastes homemade - tang that doesn't sacrifice the body and texture that doesn't overwhelm.

The one mezze I always order is the Shepherd's Pie Ole - a beef stew topped with mashed potatoes and cheddar cheese that has a taste of clove/cinammon/apples that I have yet to figure out. I was there last week with friends who had never been, so I ordered the cold and hot samplers and asked for seconds of what they liked best: the Tagine of Lamb (presented warm and over a bed of Israeli Couscous and Risotto, and rounded the order off with some Tel Aviv Nachos (with Hummus and Smoked Salmon in lieu of chesse-product).

I have yet to try the entrées (quite a feat considering I've been going to this restaurant for almost 2 years), perhaps because the kabobs remind me of food you can get elsewhere. The desert offerings - a lone pastry case perched in front of the kitchen has yet to tempt me. We opted for skipping dessert and taking the birthday girl to Love Café instead - portion wise, cupcakes are mezze for the pastry set.

Café Olé
4000 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
Cafe Ole on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Hour at Vapiano

Just a heads up that Vapiano tweaked its happy hour menu slightly, and house wines (Pinot Grigio and Merlot) are now $3.50 a glass. Still a deal for sure, but not quite as sweet as $2.50 a pop. The food menu remains unchanged. A great evening can be made of the free tasting at Vidalia, which runs on weekdays from 5 to 7pm, and then wine and snacks at nearby Vapiano in Dupont. As an fyi, Vapiano Ballston is also open, and they expect to open a location in Dulles, VA in November and in the Chinatown neighborhood in DC in March 2008.

Vapiano Dupont
1800 M Street in NW DC

Friday, September 7, 2007

Breakfast at Breadline

Lunch breaks are meant to be precisely that - interruptions, respites, thirty minutes alone with your senses, good company, and hopefully some sunshine. This is precisely why I avoid Breadline for lunch - the sandwich shop of choice for the World Bank and a myriad of office buildings, has a rush that closely resembles a mob. I'd confront the crowds and quick-draw for a table only on Spicy Peanut soup day. The bread - especially the challah and olive loaf - was certainly worth the trip, but I would buy it during off-hours and make a quick getaway.

At a friend's suggestion, I stopped over for breakfast yesterday to find it completely transformed. The back room was dim, there was ample seating outside, the army of sandwich makers were slicing and dicing in unison - even the woman at the register smiled broadly. Though the beautifully thick French toast beckoned, I ordered a croissant and a mini Cherry pastry along with some Colombian drip coffee (a full coffee bar is available) and went outside.

As one would expect of the place with the best baguettes in DC, the croissant was perfect: salty, flaky, fresh made. The cherry pastry had a good balance of dough to filling, and withstood several bites without falling apart. The view of the World Bank and people-watching on Pennsylvania will entertain you even in the absence of a morning newspaper. Beat the rush and stay a while.

1751 Pennsylvania Ave. NW,
Washington, DC 20006
Breadline on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 1, 2007

New Spot in Dupont - Plum Blossom

Earlier this week my friend and I had finished up happy hour in Dupont and were headed out for dinner. We didn't want to do the wait at Lauriol Plaza and so were headed further up 18th Street. We noticed a new spot, Plum Blossom, which bills itself as a sushi restaurant, wine bar and cafe. There were only a few people at the small bar in rear of the small space when we walked in, and as it turns out it was the owner and the bar and wait staff. The venue is narrow with high ceilings and warm, taupe colored walls with few adornments. The light fixtures and furnishings are minimalist and sparse. They didn't seem to have done any marketing about the opening at the beginning of this week which seemed strange, but I imagine there are items in the works. We ordered a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, as the wine list hasn't been put together and formalized as of yet. The menu is actually really nice - Asian-style appetizers and mains and a small sushi and sashimi selection as well. We decided to just snack and went for Tahini Chicken, which is shredded chicken seasoned with tahini, garlic and fresh herbs and served in lettuce cups. It was quite tasty and very rich as well. Other options that looked appealing include Vietnamese BBQ Beef, or seasoned, sliced sirloin with Fuji apple salad an orange-ginger dipping sauce; Calamari Ceviche, which is grilled calamari with red onions, sweet peppers and lemon basil vinaigrette served atop mixed greens; the Duet sushi roll which is sweet salmon, scallion threads, lemon mayo and cream cheese; Pomegranate Chicken, or Beijing style roasted chicken marinated in pomegranate juice, sake and honey and served with wasabi mashed potatoes and sesame spinach; and Miso Honey Lamb Chops which are marinated in miso, honey and fresh herbs and served with wasabi mashed potatoes, stir fried vegetables and sake butter sauce. I think Plum Blossom probably needs a little time to get folks properly trained and to figure out the wine list, but I think the potential for this place to be a great go-to spot when in the neighborhood is quite promising.

Plum Blossom
1915 18th Street in NW DC