Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Prix Fixe at 701

The Saturday before Thanksgiving, my usual dinner invitation fell through. In a panic and expecting a friend from Mexico who was looking forward to a traditional meal with dressing and Turkey, I kept clicking around Open Table looking for a reasonably priced menu that included the proper poultry.

I was happy to start our day at 701 - owned and operated by the same people that own Rasika, Aredo, and Bombay Club, I felt comfortable experimenting for the Holiday. Centrally located and easy to get to on the Metro, 701 has a full bar, a vodka bar, and live music every evening - with a 3 piece Jazz Band Fridays and Saturdays. We had a table facing the fountains and the layout of the dining room allows you to enjoy the music as well as the conversation. The servers are knowledgeable and courteous, and happily recommend selections from their wine list by the glass. I had an excellent Cote du Rhone which I sipped throughout my meal.

The Thanksgiving menu - a variation on their pre and post theater prix fixe included hot and cold appetizers (marinated mushrooms for my guest, and a lovely mushroom and walnut soup with pancetta and quail egg for me), entrees for every protein whim (we both had the turkey, which was moist and not overwhelmed by fixings, daintily arranged on the sides) and dessert (a perfect creme brulee for her, pumpkin cheesecake for me). The portions were generous without going overboard and featured the balance and freshness of modern American cooking.

This meal put me on good stead for other visits to 701, and for the other 2 invites we received after I had made my reservation. I happily had lacquered duck and braised chicken, all cooked separately.

701 Pennsylvania Restaurant
Navy Memorial
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC
701 Pennsylvania Avenue on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Happy in the Bar

I had a friend visiting from Montreal and I wanted to treat her to an impecable American by-way-of- Europe meal. I tried to book a table at Central but, as on most weekends, it was fully booked. I don't mind eating late, but I thought the 10.00 PM reservation suggested was not something my friend could handle.

"Perhaps you can join us for dessert," the hostess said.

I got us a table at Brasserie Beck and we had a lovely meal of fresh oysters, a stater made of a garlic baguette, poached egg and fricasse of mushrooms (reminiscent of Austrian cooking, except for the poached egg), and duck and steak entrees. The beer somelier gave us some refreshing suggestions from the beer menu. After such a heavy meal (and an early start), we opted for skipping dessert.

We walked around downtown with no particular destination in mind when we found ourselves in front of Central. The place was packed, but I figured it was worth asking if we could get a table for dessert and drinks in the lounge area. In a few minutes we had a table facing the entrance, where I spent the next hour admiring the reflection of the beautiful food pictures projected next to the bar.

The wine list has several selections by the glass (the other places, other grapes is particularly interesting), but as we were in a celebratory mood, we had cocktails. The seasonal offerings feature an apple cocktail (the color of apple pie, not neon green) and a cosmopolitan that takes an overdone drink and breathes in new life. For dessert, we split a Kit Kat: hazelnut creme sandwiched between flaky layers encassed by chocolate. The citrus notes in the cocktails balanced the richness of the dessert. The portion is perfect for sharing, but I won't judge anyone who goes for the whole thing.

Central - Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My Kingdom for a Cup

Patisserie Poupon is a wonderful place to stop for a traditional French breakfast: Croissants or Pain Au Chocolat, Fresh Orange Juice (the oranges are cut and squeezed right there in the coffee bar) and a Café Crème - an espresso coffee mixed with an equal amount of warmed, not steamed, milk.

The best parts of a quick breakfast at Patisserie Poupon (order a warm quiche of the day if you want to feel like you are having brunch) are the coffee cups themselves. I've always disliked plastic lids on paper cups - even if they are convenient, they leave an aftertaste and also prevent the coffee drinker from enjoying the full aroma. If you decide to stay at one of their tables (patio seating is also avaliable), the coffee bar will put your drinks in the most lovely limoges breakfast coffee cups in Georgetown. Aesthetics aside, they also allow the Café Crème to keep its minimal froth while you taste both the milk and coffee.

Fresh salads are available, as well as pre-made sandwiches. Many of their cakes are also available downhill at Dean & Deluca, but they are better as take-aways since they are kept cold. The Marzipan animals make good hostess gifts and can also save homemade baked goods from a total lack of decorating prowess.

Patisserie Poupon
1645 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 342-3248
Patisserie Poupon on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Original

When most people think about Peruvian food in DC, their mind goes to the wonderful pollerias that populate the area. While Super Pollo and El Pollo Rico are great places to sample authentic roasted chicken and yuca, their offerings are but a sliver of Peruvian cuisine. Recent openings in Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle have menus that offer the staples of fine Peruvian cooking: Causa, Lomo Saltado, Aji de Gallina, and Ceviche.

If you want to make the leap from roasted chicken, El Chalan on Eye Street is the standard-bearer. This is an unpretentious restaurant located below street level - their new sign should help those of us who kept walking past it. Though usually packed for lunch (OAS and World Bank Staff patronize it), securing a table for dinner is never a problem.

Start your meal with pisco sours. Pisco is a liquor distilled from grapes and the cocktail (a mixture of lime, sugar and sour mix or an egg white, dusted with cinnamon) packs a punch, but the flavors and scents in the glass will put you in good stead. The ceviche is not cheap, but the portion is quite generous. Another appetizer that must not be missed is the causa limenia, a seasoned mashed potato terrine stuffed with tuna, egg, or avocado. A lot of dishes mix seafood and potatoes quite successfully and though aji has some heat, the food is, for the most part, not spicy.

Lomo Saltado (much better than anything you've had at Lauriol Plaza under the same name) is a dish comprised of strips of beef, sauteed potatoes, tomatoes and onions. The potatoes manage to remain light on the palate. Aji de Gallina is a chicken stew in a spicy, nutty cheese sauce that showcases the flavors and textures of Peruvian cuisine like nothing else on the menu.

The dessert menu at El Chalan is quite limited - flan and alfajores on most nights. Treat yourself to a second pisco sour instead.

El Chalan
1924 Eye Street, NW Washington, DC
El Chalan on Urbanspoon