Sunday, November 29, 2009

Downtown Surprises

A few days before Thanksgiving, Lindsey and I were invited to check out BlackFinn, which bills itself as an American Saloon and opened its DC outpost a few months ago. Though I am normally weary of chains, their 16th street location was very convenient, and I am always on the lookout for good happy hour spots.

BlackFinn holds true to Saloon traditions - it serves drinks over a counter, and is laid out as a series of rooms. Most of the space is dedicated to the dining room, with booths, flat-screen TVs, and smaller wooden tables. The flair is kept at minimum, and though the bar was packed and there was a large holiday gathering in the back room, we could engage each other in conversation without having to shout (have you ever tried doing that at Old Ebbitt?). The menu is also American fare, with some unexpected twists.

We started our meal with the Seared Ahi Tuna and the Pork Shanks. The Tuna was the first surprise of the evening: sushi grade fish with a garlic and black pepper crust. The cut was thicker than sashimi style, but the it melted in your mouth, with a seaweed salad to contrast in both color and texture. We also tried the Pork Shanks, tender and juicy, which Lindsey proclaimed to be a great midpoint between mini Turkey legs and big chicken wings, tastier than either and as easy to maneuver and eat. I'd be surprised if more restaurants don't start adding them to their menus.

For our second courses we had Black Finn's signature dish - Prime Rib of Beef. We had a 10 oz (boneless), and could definitively appreciate the work behind the rock salt and roasted garlic taste: a full day marinade, topped with grated horseradish. The meat is probably kept away from a direct flame, so what you get is the salt, not the smoke. This may also be why the dish is colder than one would normally expect. Meat doesn't have to sizzle, and it is certainly an enjoyable preparation, with its side of jus and mashed potatoes. We also tried the night's special, which featured a lump crabcake. The kitchen has been tinkering with its crabcake recipe and we both hope they stick to this one. The large crabcake came out sitting on a bed of leeks and mashed potatoes (and perhaps celeriac), a wonderful and balanced combination of butter, salt, and the slight crunch of the perfectly-cooked leeks. I eat crabcakes every chance I get and this has to be amongst the best in the city - no easy feat for a new comer. Blackfinn has several wines by the glass. I had a glass of California Claret, a fruity and light red wine that paired well with both entrees.

As a third couset, we had their two best-selling desserts: a hot brownie Sundae and the Apple Crisp. The Sundae is pretty straightforward: diagonal cuts of house-made brownies, served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream in the center. It is homey and non-fuzzy, but pales in comparison to the Apple crisp (granted, maybe we were just in the mood for Apples, this being autumn). This dessert feels and tastes seasonal, with large apple wedges and that elusive crunchy crust.

Pleasant surprises, just around the corner from the White House. We'll have to go back for the ice cream sliders. And more crabcakes.

Blackfinn on Urbanspoon
BlackFinn American Saloon
1620 I Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006

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