Tom Sietsema heads to La Puerta Verde for a First Bite, deciding it brings “true Mexican spirit” to Ivy City.
Chef Carlos Camacho has a 20-year cooking resume that includes Great American Restaurants in Northern Virginia and the Chef Geoff’s empire. But this is the first time he gets to whip up fare from his native Mexico, notes the critic.
At Mindful Restaurants Group’s latest restaurant, Camacho’s making corn tortillas by hand and whole grilled fish (typically striped bass) served with roasted chile sauce.
“A cheat sheet might start with guacamole made from lightly grilled avocados, hence the hint of smoke in the mash, and fried cod tacos, steamy fish paired with cool mango slaw. This is, for the most part, food that wakes you up. The chile relleno stuffed with roasted corn and Oaxacan cheese sits on a pool of roasted tomato sauce, biting with serrano, while grilled skirt steak swells with flavor thanks to its marinade of beer, mustard and garlic.”
Sietsema suggests ordering food a few plates at a time, as “dishes dart from the kitchen” and “cooking of this caliber deserves leisurely appreciation.”
The colorful dining room, covered in Talavera tiles and woven rugs, “gives you a sense of place the moment you walk in the door.” [WaPo]
Sticking to the same Northeast neighborhood, Sietsema also gives The Tavern at Ivy City Smokehouse a try this week. The grading: two stars (good).
Right out of the gate, he gives props to the smoked fish and chicken wings, which have a skin that benefits from both smoking and grilling. Smoke is the main theme at the second-floor tavern, which sits above the smokehouse and a retail seafood shop.
“The restaurant, which began serving a full menu last April, was the first in a wave of new eating and drinking spots in a part of town previously known for its abandoned warehouses and homeless shelter. Now ... the neighborhood is attracting the kind of attention Shaw did a few years ago ... The owners are as committed to hiring staff from nearby as to serving carefully sourced seafood.”
The kitchen is “generous” when it comes to portions, particularly the big Caesar salad, fish and chips, and tacos (which are hard to handle, but Sietsema doesn’t mind).
“Easier to eat, and just as satisfying” are grilled skewered shrimp on fluffy cilantro rice. Meanwhile, the crab cakes do a good job sans filler. Meats are also a must; Sietsema points out smoke-infused pork ribs with a stinging barbecue sauce and a buttermilk-fried chicken sandwich that is “worth the mess.”
Desserts are not super necessary; he calls the house-made cheesecake “forgettable.”
While enthusiasm from staff is great, service skills are lacking a bit. But hospitality skills can be learned, so go with an open mind, Sietsema says. [WaPo]
Meanwhile, The Washington Post’s Tim Carman goes to Federalist Pig in Adams Morgan, pitmaster Rob Sonderman’s new barbecue joint.
“Federalist Pig is that rare D.C. barbecue emporium that favors quality over quantity. The place serves smoked meats till they’re gone, even if they’re gone by 8 p.m., the dinner hour for many in this hard-working town. It’s an approach that acknowledges the limitations of low-and-slow barbecue, with its inherent scarcity.”
Federalist Pig is a “different animal” from Sonderman’s last pit stop, DCity Smokehouse, in that he is now playing up the “spicier side” of his personality: brisket sports two different grinds of black pepper, chicken wings and spareribs feature chili powders, and even pickle chips have a kick.
The problem, Carman notes, is a disconnect between what you see and what you smell and taste: “Meats regularly lack the deep smoky flavor that their sultry, almost cinematic glamour would suggest.”
He says the chopped pork, prepared from a whole bone-in shoulder and topped with pigskin croutons, may be the closest thing this town has to North Carolina-style whole-hog barbecue. And the spareribs, glazed with sugar and apple cider vinegar, are “superior” to the brisket.
He calls out two sandwiches, the Club and the Jive Turkey, “for their ability to surround the smoked meats with enough decadent flavors to make ordering turkey not an act of defiance.” [WaPo]
Ethnic Dining Guide’s Tyler Cowen goes to Eden Center’s Little Sheep Hot Pot, which he finds has a “broader selection than most hot pot places” with vegetables that are “clearly above average.” Go for the spiciest hot pot broth, he instructs. “The service is also a bit uneven, though friendly. Overall this is a plus for the area.” [Ethnic Dining Guide]