Despite the recent addition of a well-regarded D.C. chef, Tom Sietsema still has issues with Barcelona Wine Bar. Particularly the tapas. The restaurant earns 1.5 stars.
Fried calamari is stiff enough to suggest starch was applied in the kitchen. Chicken liver pâté isn't especially Spanish or particularly good; the spread, topped with clarified butter, leaves a slick of flat richness on the tongue. Even a notion as basic as chopped beets and crumbled cheese falls flat. If there's a dressing on the salad, it eluded me. Glazed duck drumettes, anyone? Decline the offer unless you dig fowl so sweet it edges into the realm of dessert. Caponata is also more sweet than sour. Worse, the eggplant dish manages to taste as if it came out of a can.
Meanwhile, larger plates from chef John Critchley fare better, including stuffed pig and lamb fideos. [WaPo]
Sietsema also previews the second location of Bryan Voltaggio's Aggio (this one's in Baltimore). There are differences from the original (like blue crab arancini) but the restaurant still is familiar.
Spanish octopus simmered in court bouillon picks up a nice char from the plancha, a process that leaves the octopod (served with its suction cups) both crunchy and soft. Raisins pureed with rice wine vinegar and then smoked lend sweet intrigue to the presentation. Ricotta gnocchi, one of seven pastas at Aggio, continues the brand's winning streak with noodles of all shapes. A sauce teased from caramelized tomato paste, chili flakes and pancetta drapes the tender white pillows. [WaPo]
Ann Limpert gives two stars to the new Macon Bistro & Larder. Appetizers are strong; large plates less so. And desserts are terrific.
Mason jars might be as tired as martini glasses were after the late '90s, but they're vehicles for two delicious sweets: a praline-laced coffee sundae and a tart blackberry cobbler with spoonfuls of house-made crème fraîche. Best of all is a slab of coconut cake crowned with sesame ice cream. Its homey decadence isn't surprising when you find out the source of the recipe: Naturally, it's Brown's grandmother.
Northern Virginia Magazine reviews the new Don Lencho in Manassas. Dishes get kick from ingredients like fermented pineapple, and a tasting menu is only $19.95.
There's tacoanzo, a platter of five traditional tacos picked by the kitchen. There's the classic al pastor, pork shoulder mingling with grilled pineapple in double-layered charred corn tortillas. Breaded fish strips pair with pickled cabbage and a smoky-sweet sauce in another taco; there's also a lovely braised lamb, cushy beef tongue and a well-seasoned carne asada...One night our group used the tacos as starters, but that's not the only way to begin a meal. Uchepos, sweet corn tamales, trumps cornbread pudding. It's cakey and fritter-like, sweet but savory with anise, and creamy—I wish I could buy these as easily as a Twinkie. [NoVa Mag]
Arlington Magazine has published a review of Liberty Tavern from the late food critic Walter Nicholls. The new chef there is aiming for slightly lighter fare than before.
For meat-eaters, the starter of tender lamb ribs, dry-rubbed, smoked, steamed and finished in a fryer, is a must. (When a buddy said, mid-munch, "This is my new favorite food," I nodded in agreement.) Still, those awesome ribs took second place once I tried the classic and simple papperdelle, which tosses broad noodles with crispy roasted cauliflower, parmesan and toasted pine nuts, all of which are then united in silky richness with a soft-cooked egg. Even the half-portions of "macaroni" (a colloquialism that belies the sophistication of the chef's pasta dishes) are large enough to share. [AM]
Don Rockwell heads to Pupatella in Arlington. If the chef's in the kitchen, it's the place to be, he says. "You're back, Pupatella, #1. Best Pizza in the DC area." [DR]