Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I Did On My Summer Vacation - DC Style

Well, let's just start by saying it really wasn't a summer vacation. But I have spent the last two weeks (thanks to some seriously excellent neighbor friends) away from NYC, hanging with Significant Eater in DC. You see, we had a bit of a flood from a 60's era central air conditioning unit in our bedroom, and it leaked all over our floor. So, some of my vacation was spent dealing with the removal of the old floor and installation of a nice, new one. All is good and who said vacations can't be productive?

Of course, being in DC affords me the opportunity to try some new restaurants, drink a few cocktails made by bartenders whose acquaintance I haven't already made, return to places that I've already been to and liked and sometimes do all of the above.

For instance, the other night Significant Eater and I had a very fine meal at the infant Estadio, the 2nd restaurant from the owner and team at Proof, a well-liked restaurant right near the Verizon Center arena. Here's what the rather charming Estadio looks like from the street...

Arriving early, we were able to grab seats at the bar without any problem at all. When we left, there was a mad scrum for those same seats. A few nights later, a friend and I didn't get there till 8 and it took a much more concerted effort for us to find 2 empty bar stools...but we did.

One of Estadio's high points is that its bar program is run by Adam Bernbach, a well-known DC mixologist who also runs the show at Proof. When Sig Eater and I showed up on that wickedly hot DC eve, Adam offered me a slushito, a semi-frozen cocktail dispensed from one of two machines churning away at the end of the bar...

The one I tried had gin and Campari in it, and if any of your friends have trouble with Campari, the slushito will melt those troubles away. The Reir - a Rickey style tall drink comprised of bourbon and salt-cured orange soda also is a drink to be reckoned first sip strangely medicinal and then finishing all bright and thirst-quenching. The Bamboo, a cocktail of sherry, dry vermouth and bitters (iirc), makes me think that we'll see more high-end cocktail places using wonderful sherries- Death & Co. has been making drinks with sherries for a while, and it's a good trend.

Food wise, everything we ate was pretty damn good. Pintxos of artichoke, boquerone, manchego and bread were delicious; the only thing that could possibly make them better would be if they were slightly smaller so that all of the flavors could be enjoyed in one bite as they are in the chorizo/manchego/quince pintxo. Squid a la plancha was tender and juicy. Jamon croquettes, perfectly fried, come four to an order, so no fighting over the dreaded "extra" one. Patatas bravas were textbook and make me forget all about french fries, since french fries are so often horrid. Roasted mushrooms is a dish that I'm trying to perfect at home; they won't be this good, but I'll keep trying.

A few nights later and whaddya know - that artichoke pintxo was perfectly bite sized, and most everything we ate was executed well. My co-eater Danny wrote about it on a DC food board, as a matter of fact.

One of the cooler things about DC that we don't see much of in NYC is the happy hour. I'm not talking about the happy hour at dive bars, but at places where the food is actually the draw, not the tubs of crappy beer. So we were happy to get back to Johnny's Half Shell, a seafood palace on "The Hill" that has a weeknight happy hour from 4:30 - 7:30. You can't go wrong with the fried oysters, clam chowder or grilled squid...but be careful with the martinis, which clock in at about 8 ounces.

Since Johnny's is co-owned by Ann Cashion, one of DC's first chefs to win national acclaim, SE and I decided to finally try Cashion's Eat Place, which she opened many years ago in Adams Morgan. She hasn't been involved with the restaurant since '07, but it still honors her tradition, as the web site says. Our starters slash appetizers were great, including maybe the best gazpacho we've ever had (umm, except mine?), though the one main we ordered was less than spectacular.

Two Amy's Pizza, which DC pizza lovers rave about, was good on our first visit and less good on my second...DOC notwithstanding. Pete's New Haven Apizza, now a mini-chain, was less good on my first visit and I haven't been back...yet. Pizza Paradiso, P Street location, basically blows, but has a great beer list. Spike's new pizza joint I haven't yet tried, but if it's as bad as his burger joint, then I'm glad I haven't been. So here's a tip - don't go out for pizza expecting anything good - maybe you'll get lucky. After all, pizza is easy, but maybe not as easy as everyone thinks.

P Street is also the home of Pesce, a restaurant that I've eaten at a few times, and which was opened by the late, great Jean-Louis Palladin along with a partner, Roberto Donna almost 20 years ago. It's still run by Jean-Louis' widow Regine, and she's there most every night. Guess what? They do a happy hour - 5 for $5 - a selection of 5 different appetizers along with 5 different wines, each priced gently at $5. How can you go wrong? My calamari was textbook, and the brandade stuffed piquillo peppers with ink sauce, though not a happy hour dish, were delicious...

The one misfire at Pesce was the shrimp with hummus, neither element really being complimented by the other. Why screw up shrimp with hummus? Why screw up hummus with shrimp? Anyway, the welcome is genuine, avoid the shrimp with hummus, and you'll be fine.

On 18th Street in Adams Morgan, Amsterdam Falafel makes Significant Eater and me happy. Good, fried-to-order falafel balls and an amazing array of do-it-yourself condiments, satisfy the urge for not-too-bad-for-you junk food. Here's part of the condiment bar...

Bourbon, our go-to bar on 18th Street, satisfies the urge for...bourbon. You'll lose count if you try to count bourbons, especially after indulging in one of their excellent Manhattan's (make mine rye, please). The Diner (yes, it's called The Diner) is okay, open 24/7, and has $3 good beers some nights, while its sibling Tryst, the coffee/cocktail joint next door is fine for a shot of espresso or a hit of wi-fi...just be sure to wear your ironic hat.

There are times, though, when all that DC politics, heat and humidity needs to be put on the back burner, as it were. And SE and I are very fortunate to have some wonderful friends in the Annapolis area. We had dinner one night at Cantler's, which may be easier to get to by boat. There, the crab cakes are good, the salads are surprisingly good, and the atmosphere is Chesapeake Bay crab house perfect. The next night, Tom's house-smoked baby backs were a hit, along with fresh corn on the cob (Jersey has nothing on Maryland corn, by the way). And for a city boy, a day on the bay ain't bad either.

Amsterdam Falafel - 2425 18th St. NW, DC

Bourbon - 2321 18th St. NW, DC

Cantler's - 458 Forest Beach Road, Annapolis, MD

Cashion's Eat Place - 1819 Columbia Rd. NW, DC

The Diner/Tryst - 2453 18th St. NW, DC

Estadio - 1520 14th St. NW, DC

Johnny's Half Shell - 400 N. Capitol St. NW, DC

Pesce - 2002 P St. NW, DC

Pete's - 1400 Irving St. NW, DC and 4940 Wisconsin Ave. NW, DC

Pizza Paradiso - 2003 P St. NW, DC (2 other locations)

Two Amy's - 3715 Macomb St. NW, DC


  1. So, it seems we have some things in common. I spent the first 17 years of my life ('59-'77)in Manhattan, and lived in DC during the late 80's/early-mid 90's. Your NYC musings are always of interest, and your entry today got me thinking about memorable DC meals -- one of the most enjoyable of which was at Peter Pastan's Obelisk. Some quick web research told me that it's still in business, and that Peter also owns 2Amys. I think he also used to be an owner at Pizza Paradiso, which even back in the day turned out only a passable pie, mostly due to a nice oven. DC wasn't our thing, to say the least, and we now live up in the finger lakes -- but NYC will always be near and dear.

    Later, -SB

  2. @anonymous - as NYC should always be.

  3. Mitch, I gained 6 pounds just reading that.

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