Friday, February 15, 2008

A House Divided

Conventional wisdom dictates that one should hold off trying new restaurants immediately after they open. Kinks will invariably have to be ironed out and the staffs needs time to get used to the flow of the kitchen and with each other. Café Tropé is on my way home, and since it opened in late December I figured it was time to check it out.

I made reservations through Open Table and requested an accessible table. We were a party of 4, and when I got there I was informed that I was the first to check in and was directed to the Bar. I am not a fan of the policy of only seating complete parties (which makes no sense if you have a reservation, as opposed to being a walk-in. If restaurants do have said policy, they should let patrons know in advance. Miscommunication ensued, and I wound up waiting without need - the rest of my party was there, hidden in the back room. That being said, when we needed the back door the manager was very helpful, apologized for the wait and the misunderstanding, and sent over a bottle of Cava. Our waiter was friendly but brand-new. The service is not bad, just extremely frazzled. I hope they hit their stride soon, because the food is wonderful. The menu is French Caribbean, but it is more fusion than straight from the islands.

Tapas originated as bar food, and as such are not meant to be full meals. As with mezze, they are meant to be shared on a communal table, and a good reference are the portions served at Jaleo in Penn Quarter and Bethesda. The portions at Café Tropé are bigger than conventional tapas, and are served in very dramatic flatware. The problem with this is that it does not allow for easy sharing, and are more conducive to eating one small plate per person per course. Not dissuaded by the lack of table space, we tried a cross section of the menu, and I encourage anyone going there for the first time to do the same. I did not even look at the wine list, but the mojitos were flavorful if not remarkable.

We stared with a spicy pork salad, which came with greens (spinach and lamb lettuce), carrots and jicama, dressed with a lime infused vinaigrette. The pork portion was not big, but it was perfectly cooked and had a dollop of salsa for heat. From the vegetarian section, we chose the butternut squash with cinnamon cream. It had a wonderful color and texture, and I suspect the soup offering will become broth-based by summer. From the poultry section, we went with the Jamaican jerk chicken lollipops. The chicken was well cooked and seasoned, and was easy to split amongst all of us. The hash - vidalia onions and cabbage potatoes - elevated the dish by providing contrasting textures.

For a second round we ordered the rack of lamb with onion mint pistou, the adobo spiced duck, the crab cake and stuffed Bengal-style stuffed lobster tail. The meats were all well cooked and beautifully presented. The crab cake paired wonderfully with diced avocado and roasted corn salsa. The lobster was either a very small Maine lobster or a rather large Caribbean one, but it held its own with the spices and the chayote, a cousin to squash and cucumbers that is not often seen here but is a staple in Mexican and Central American cooking.

I wanted to try the sweet potato creme brulée for dessert, but they had run out of it for the evening. We had a lava cake with some fresh ice cream, which was pleasant but not particularly original.

I will give it a few months and try again.

Café Tropé
2121 P Street, NW
Washington DC 20037

No comments: