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Tom Sietsema Dubs Bandolero 'One of the Grimmest Restaurants to Open in Years' (Updated!)

Today, Tom Sietsema drops this weekend's review of Mike Isabella's latest small plates endeavor, the Mexican-themed Bandolero. And oh boy. While the Washington Post critic seems happy with the food and awards the restaurant a solid two stars, he absolutely rips into the Day of the Dead decor — suggesting diners bring blinders to shield them from "one of the grimmest restaurants to open in years." And then, of course, there's the decibel level. Here are five choice lines:

1) "A dropped black ceiling, cemetery fencing, dangling chains in the bar, skulls resting on shelves and eerie red sconces suggest the Addams Family's dining room."

2) "I'm used to being blasted by music in this age of concrete-paved dining rooms, but Bandolero ups the volume to a degree that veers between annoying and obnoxious, escalating to potentially harmful."

3) "This is the part of the critique where I'm apt to repeat the servers' spiel about how the menu is designed for sharing and blah, blah, blah, but honestly, I can't quote anyone exactly because all I remember in three visits is my trying to read lips. You know, because NO ONE CAN HEAR HERE?"

4) "Desserts are bad, which is good, because you don't want to stick around Bandolero any longer than necessary."

5) " any wannabe regular, I can only hope the restaurant starts home delivery."

But does this mean Bandolero is the subject of that blind item tweet about a not-so-top chef that Sietsema wrote just after publishing his First Bite take on the Georgetown restaurant? Well, eight minutes after tweeting a link to today's review, Sietsema followed up with a tweet that reads: "That beloved dining destination helmed by a famous chef? It doesn't have much to crow about right now. (And yes, that's a clue.)"

But hey, as for the food, Sietsema really digs the taquito, many of the taco options, sopes, a mushroom and cheese enchilada and pork meatballs that he compares favorably to those at Oyamel. Drinks, too, earn praise amid the griping over the ambiance that Sietsema weaves throughout the review, which concludes with the not-so-gentle suggestion of a dining room revamp.

And for the curious out there, here's a look inside the Bandolero dining room.

UPDATE: Through a rep, Isabella sends Eater the following statement in response to the review: "There are two reasons why I go out to eat - to get good food and good service. Beyond that, who cares? I've never seen decor and lighting be such a large part of a restaurant review, and Bandolero isn't even close to the noise level at Graffiato. Tom said he liked my food, drink and service at Bandolero, so why is he bashing my decor so much?"

· Bandolero Review [WaPo]
· Inside the Cemetery Gates of Mike Isabella's Bandolero [-EDC-]
· All Previous Bandolero Coverage [-EDC-]

Bandolero [Photo: R. Lopez]


3241 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007