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Tom Sietsema Likes EatBar's Food, But Thinks It's Too Loud

Plus, reviews of Ottoman Taverna, Helen's, Palette 22, and various food trucks


For his full review in the Washington Post, Tom Sietsema tries Neighborhood Restaurant Group's revived EatBar on Barrracks Row. He awards two stars to the meat-centric bar helmed by Nate Anda. The critic likes almost all the food except for the lemon and oregano wings that he deems too sour.  Sietsema writes:

"Charcuterie plates are as pervasive as beards on bartenders. Anda’s selections collect some of his greatest hits, foremost a creamy pork liver terrine redolent of nutmeg and other warm baking spices. A meat board is richer still with the addition of finocchiona, or fennel-spiced pork sausage. The grazing is elevated by the bread, a carryover from Partisan in Penn Quarter: Italian tigelle that looks like an English muffin, only flatter and bearing a stamp from the grill."

Unsurprisingly, Sietsema takes issue with the music volume at EatBar. But he also begrudgingly admits it's central to the theme considering there's a full wall decorated with old cassette tapes. [WaPo]

For his First Bite column in the Washington Post, Sietsema tries Turkish restaurant Ottoman Taverna in Mount Vernon Triangle. He writes:

"In the open kitchen is Istanbul native Ilhan Erkek, who comes to Washington from the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Fla. The chef, 32, also channels Turkey with a glossy boat of roasted eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions, and with doner kebab, shaved lamb and beef that gets a lift from a marinade of yogurt, onion juice, garlic and oregano. The latter is made festive and filling with a rice pilaf tinted red with tomato paste and sliced onions sprinkled with sumac and parsley."

The critic also offers readers a hot tip: the iskembe corbasi (a tripe and vinegar soup) is one of the chef's best dishes but isn’t on the menu. Diners should call in advance for Erkek to prepare it. [WaPo]

Tim Carman tries several food trucks for his $20 Diner column. Some of his favorites like El Sol, Donburi, and Maki Shop have brick-and-mortar restaurants. Although he's a little confused by the the Thai and Cuban flavors at Pan Canteen, he still likes the beef stir-fry and the horchata. He calls Bel-Feast, which specializes in Russian blini, the most original. He also offers potential truck customers this overarching advice:

"Here’s a truism about food trucks: The best of them will make you wait, not because they’re heartless sadists but because they have limited manpower and space... If you want a made-to-order sandwich with fresh ingredients, go to the Dirty South Deli truck, where you will patiently stand among the faithful. One mouthful of DSD’s Tess Finnegan — an inspired bite in which cold, chili-marinated tofu plays the foil to wedges of roasted radish, lengths of asparagus and a finger-lime aioli — and you understand that good things do come to those who wait." [WaPo]

Laura Hayes dines at Helen’s on Rockville Pike for the First Bite column in Bethesda Magazine. Veteran caterer Helen Wasserman opened the restaurant last month following a series of construction delays. Hayes finds starters like sirloin beef slides and cheese-filled wontons a little heavy for the cloth napkin atmosphere, but the entrees makes more sense. She writes:

"Both beginnings feel like bar food—an odd juxtaposition with my cloth napkin, crisp sauvignon blanc and smooth jazz soundtrack. The entrées are more of a match. Take grilled lamb chops with pickled eggplant and herbed yogurt for example, or a Maryland jumbo lump crab cake with shrimp sauce, farro and green beans. The crab cake satisfies with faultless seasoning and an obvious lack of fillers." [Bethesda]

Hayes also goes to Palette 22 in Shirlington for the same column in Arlington Magazine. She advises diners to order in waves at this art-themed small plates restaurant that serves international fare ranging from Vietnamese to Mexican. She also notes there is no octopus in her Japanese takoyaki nor egg on the bacon and eggs flat bread. She writes:

"Palette 22’s concept is enticing. (Who doesn’t love street food with art as a backdrop?) But its over-arching problem may be that the dishes are dialed down while today’s diners have come to expect more authentic preparations. The Peking duck-and-moo shu pancakes, for example, arrive already assembled, and they could stand more tang from hoisin and more bite from raw scallions. Only the Tacos Vampiros with rib eye, Poblano rajas, avocado, chipotle salsa and Cotija cheese bring the advertised heat. Tacos are the way to play it." [Arlington]

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