Sunday, August 05, 2007

DC Dining

Last weekend we took off on Friday and headed up to DC to eat and wander. Our first stop landed us at Mount Vernon. We wanted to eat lunch early because we had early dinner reservations. The Mount Vernon Inn (the sit down restaurant at the entrance to the historic site) is an interesting place with one foot in the 18th century and one foot in the 1950’s. It reminds me more of the Colonial Revival era than anything else. I knew we were going to have a big meal in the evening so I stuck with a bowl of Peanut and Chestnut Soup. The Inn produced a very tasty version with whole peanuts as garnish. My hubby ordered a mug of the Potato Leek Soup and Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes. He really liked the soup because of the potato chunks in it. The meatloaf was typical and the mashed potatoes were real. After taking a gander in the gift shop we headed up to Ballston to check in at the hotel, rest up, and change clothes for the evening.

On Friday night we had reservations at Dino. (Yes, we have liked this place so much we seem to be making it a routine stop.) But we were a little early and decided to have a cocktail before dinner. And since DC has gone non-smoking all the bars are fair game. Yippee! We headed into Bardeo, a wine bar just a few doors down from Dino. Bardeo is also connected to Ardeo, the restaurant, and probably an eating place we need to check out in the future. The wine bar offered several specialty cocktails, including one with watermelon infused vodka and one with mixed berry infused tequila. The infusions were house made and the berries were handpicked. We opted for the Sherry Sidecar. An interesting concoction containing Belle de Brillet (I have waxed rhapsodic about this pear cognac in the past) and a house made sour mix. We were able to distinguish each of the flavors and while I would not order this frequently, it did satisfy our quest for something different and unusual.

As always Dino was great. I continue to be a fan of the little plates, appetizers, and half orders that many restaurants in DC now offer. This gives me an opportunity to try a number of yummy items. We began with an order of imported olives – the large green ones were the tastiest. And on this occasion I ordered a cold and a warm starter as appetizer and entrée: Carpaccio di Manzo (raw beef – all natural NY strip, arugula, capers, grana, olio) and Crespelle con Pollo e Carciofi (Tuscan crepe – chicken, artichoke, roasted tomato, smoked mozzarella, pesto, and tomato sauce). My spouse had the Calamari Fritti (fried squid with a spicy roasted red pepper sauce) and Fusili a la Ragu d’Agnello (lamb ragu with pork and veal on house made pasta). I basically sighed every time I put a bite of my meal in my mouth. The Carpaccio balanced nicely with the capers, cheese, and oil. The smoked mozzarella put the Tuscan crepe over the top. And hubby loved the lamb ragu. Unfortunately, the squid was not up to snuff. The rings were a bit rubbery and the tentacles (which are usually the best tasting) he did not like at all. To wash down the meal we ordered a 2005 Nebbiolo and while the wine was decently made, it did not pair well with my meal. I am woefully inept with Italian wines and need to learn more about them. If any of you have recommendations on classes or websites or books, etc., let me know. The wine, however, did go well with the lamb ragu.
For dessert I ordered the Tris Ciccolato – molten chocolate cake. Unfortunately, this was a heavy dessert and I would have been better off in foregoing this temptation. I did let everything digest while sipping Drambuie. My husband was smart and had the Sorbetti trio and the Nardini Cedro Lemon grappa.

The next morning we headed to the Smithsonian and wandered around the National Art Gallery for most of the day. We walked up to Café Berlin for lunch and had pounded and breaded pork with roasted potatoes and a salad. And a ½ liter of wheat beer. Café Berlin was set up for lots of outside dining, but, alas, it was way too hot and we headed inside to enjoy the cool air. In the afternoon the East Wing showed Charlie Chaplin’s A King in New York in their theatre. A nice way to relax and rest our feet at the end of the day.

For dinner on this night we went to Oyamel. The Cocina Mexicana has garnered a ton of great press. We were looking forward to eating and hoping that the hype was accurate. The interior featured Day of the Dead art work as well as brightly painted carved wood animals. From the ceiling hung large iron mobiles featuring butterflies. Most of the menu at Oyamel featured small tapas-like plates with a large Cerviche selection as well as a yummy-looking taco selection. We were overwhelmed. So we ordered a cocktail (an Oyamel margarita for me and Tamerind Tea for my husband) and the Guacamole (made at table side) and furthered perused our dinner options. The drinks were quite good. My margarita contained the peppery-licorice bite from good tequila balanced with Cointreau and lime juice. The Tamerind Tea contained Stoli O and passion fruit tea, with tamarind concentrate, simple syrup and fresh lime juice. Unusual, but extremely refreshing on a sweltering evening. And, of course, the Guacamole was superb. This was probably the most popular item on the menu and quite fun since our server mixed up the ingredients in front of our eyes. Almost every table ordered it. We spent some more time pouring over the menu and decided to order the Gruet Rose sparkling from New Mexico for dinner proper. We began with three small dishes to share – Camarone al Epazote (Shrimp sautéed with tequila, shallots and scallions, served with epazote herb oil and chipotle peppers in adobo tomato sauce), Arrachera con salsa de chile guajillo, piña y cacahuates (Grilled skirt steak in a sauce of smoky guajillo chili, tomato and onion, with thinly sliced pineapple and crushed peanuts), and Frijoles refritos con queso (Slow-cooked refried beans with melted Chihuahua cheese inside, served with light Mexican cream and micro cilantro served with fresh tortillas). We kept our menus so we could order tacos later. I really liked the black beans, especially with the tortilla chips that came with our Guacamole. I also enjoyed the shrimp that was action-packed with flavor. The skirt steak was good, but did not have that wow factor. Since we had basically exclaimed “Wow!” with every other dish, it was a bit of a letdown. After these dishes, we were heading towards being full and my husband really wanted to order dessert. He ordered the Café de Olla. (A Mexican custard of milk chocolate and Chiapas coffee, with a gelatin of Kahlua liqueur and spiced syrup of brown piloncillo sugar. Sprinkled with crumbled cookies and almonds and served with a scoop of star anise ice cream.) I had a cup of the Chocolate Caliente (Mexican hot chocolate with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla beans, cloves and very hot milk). Unfortunately, my supposedly steaming cup of chocolate arrived lukewarm and while the flavor was good, the lukewarm temperature disappointed.

We headed home on Sunday to rest up for the upcoming week.

Both Oyamel and Dino utilize the Open Table reservation service.

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