Tom Sietsema is tough on Bluejacket and its restaurant The Arsenal this week (he also gets a dig in at the property's sister restaurant, Birch & Barley). Though impressed with the beer operation, the food warrants less excitement.
Lunch is the most dispiriting meal. The sunlight pouring through the windows on a winter afternoon is sharp contrast to the uninspired work of the kitchen crew. A big bowl of what sounds enticing in the reading — curried chicken soup with udon noodles and a soft egg — doesn't add up to much in the mouth. Arsenal's grilled cheese sandwich is mostly thick slices of bread, with a veneer of barely warm, unmelted Taleggio and some sweetness from apple butter. The vapid potato chips alongside won't satisfy; one taste is enough to demonstrate that homemade isn't always better. Arsenal's porchetta sandwich is even more of a curiosity. The thin and fatty shaved meat suggests turkey rather than pork. What you taste is mostly condiment (pepper relish) and bread (cottony baguette).
The review results in 1.5 stars for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group hotspot. [WaPo]
For First Bite, Sietsema pays an early visit to Muze, the revamped restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental. "The name is fresh; the look isn't. The setting remains a big, boring, pale yellow dining room, with theater-length white curtains framing its enormous windows. Muze has sweep and light in its favor, but not flair." [WaPo]
Tim Carman tries to get past the cutesy name of Pho Nom Nom in Rockville, and focus on the soup at hand.
Sylvie and I even thought the pho managed to rise above the ordinary, its clear, medium-bodied broth ferrying a sweet cinnamon and star anise aroma, which helped chip away at the ice in my bones. We then proceeded to play a game of chicken with add-ons: She introduced me to hanh dam, or vinegared onions, which instantly created a stone wall of pungency. The broth's other flavors wandered quickly past this vinegary wall like tourists looking for something more interesting to see. I then introduced Sylvie to the pleasures of melted fat spooned sparingly into the broth, which amplifies the beefiness while basically muting everything else. [WaPo]
Braised pork cheeks are fall-apart good, as is the creamy, buttery polenta, but the jus carries as much depth as a nominee, not an award-winner—and at $25, it should make us cry at the podium. Of the season pumpkin ravioli—the gourd receiving even more play than Jennifer Lawrence—fails to spark when tucked inside the doughy squares. The flavor is all pumpkin, and as any pumpkin spice latte fan knows, the allure of the drink is the combination of seasonings. Here, the pumpkin stands alone in a brown butter sauce too simple to elevate the dish. [NVM]
Bethesda Magazine's Carole Sugarman has a preview of Pizza Pass. "Even though the food isn't fabulous, I like the basic concept, especially for families and little kids—who proliferated the place the night I was there. The personable staff set a congenial tone, and the décor is definitely a couple of notches above a pizza joint." [BM]
Don Rockwell takes a trip to Hogo, where he has some killer conch fritters. "What put them over the top was the ingenious lemon remoulade dipping sauce, the lemon being a perfect counter-taste to the fritters. These were a wonderful surprise, especially considering that Hogo is primarily a drinking bar. Tom Brown has a winning combination with this menu coupled with rum-based drinks, and I hope he stays with it." [DR]