For Tim Carman’s latest edition of $20 Diner in the The Washington Post, he heads to Melt Gourmet Cheeseburgers in Leesburg, Va.
Its modest location — 30 miles outside of Washington in a shopping mall — doesn’t help its case. But all his cynicism “melted away the moment I walked into the place,” which Carman says is always packed and smells of grilled beef and charred onions. As for the eponymous star of the show:
“My cheeseburger was textbook. The thick, one-inch patty was seared and coated with cheese that clung like a wet suit. The interior, pink and inviting, oozed juices all over the wax-paper-covered waiter tray that ferried my burger to the table as if it were being presented to royalty.”
The burger was a “tad underseasoned” and the “only issue” he had with the Paris burger and “its ripe, runny Brie” was he didn’t have room to finish it. The husband-and-wife team running the joint are “old pros” (a classically trained chef and veteran front-of-the-house manager), and they offer 15 different burgers plus daily specials.
The lump crab burger’s flesh is fresh, clean and sweet, and the Greek lamb burger went well with the tart, house-made tzatziki. Other hits: the veggie burger, with “cool muffled bursts of sweet and smoky peppers”, the ahi tuna burger, and malts and shakes are “smooth, rich and creamy,” made with Blue Bunny ice cream. Pro tip: Go for the fries over the rings.
The only miss on the menu was an (over) grilled chicken club “burger”: “a mash-up of two sandwiches that did neither any favors.” [The Washington Post]
Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema checks out Dupont Circle’s romantic Iron Gate, which just started letting patrons order from an a la carte menu, a tasting menu or a family-style plan. Guests can eat wherever they want: the bar, patio or rear dining room.
“The new format at Iron Gate is liberating. No longer is the crackle limited to the fires,” he reports.
Chef Tony Chittum’s new $90 six-course, Italian-centric tasting menu is best enjoyed “in the cozy dining room with its burgundy banquettes, open kitchen and live fire,” Sietsema instructs. The evening “unfolds like a good novel” from there:
“Smoked polenta tortellini segues to cod in a circle of saffron mussels and moves to crimson hanger steak: bison served as a garland with beets that are alternately roasted, pickled and raw. Everything about the repast — the flatbread we can’t stop inhaling, the wines washed back with interesting backstories, the chocolate budino that ends the meal on a sigh — makes you want to revisit it.”
On another visit, Sietsema opted to eat about a dozen small plates in the brick courtyard separating the front bar, though the standout hummus “would be good anywhere,” he notes. Some other highlights: risotto flush with toasted hazelnuts, fried rosemary and cremini mushrooms, “smoky from their time in a wood oven,” and “every bit as delicious” was the house-made cotechino, which comes with a “sly heat” from crushed red pepper flakes.
The squid stuffed with feta on “a pool of too-sweet mustard cream” was a “small slip,” but being able to dine al fresco in February — with a backdrop of herb pots and Michael Jackson music — made up for it. [The Washington Post]
Sietsema thinks the new Ari’s Diner in Ivy City fills a breakfast void in the neighborhood, and “anyone looking for a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes or steak and eggs” should go ASAP.
Owner Ari Gejdenson of Mindful Restaurant Group (Acqua al 2, Ghibellina) picked green for upholstery and accents because it’s the “color of freedom,” and a welcome shade “in these trying times.”
The diner’s single-page, all-day menu includes a handful of omelets, Belgian waffles, Greek salad and sandwiches. Find “respectable” hamburgers and crab cakes, with skinny, hand-cut french fries or greens tossed with a lemony dressing. Drinks accommodate “every mood” and include milkshakes (classic or boozy), Compass coffee, DC Brau beer and a modest sparkling wine.
There are a few “easy fixes” he suggests, like less oil in the diced potatoes, more salt, and hot sauce to “wake up” an omelet stuffed with spinach, tomato and feta cheese.
One knockout order is the tender house-baked biscuits with peppery sausage gravy and sunny scrambled eggs. [The Washington Post]
Tyler Cowen heads to Kao Sarn Thai in Eden Center, a mom and pop that’s “one of the very best Thai places around.” Ask for the Southeast Asian fare “spicy,” he instructs. Two “especially good” dishes are the Yum Woo Sen bean thread salad and the Kao Soi Curry Noodle Soup. The new restaurant is “a big sign that Eden Center is making a significant comeback,” he says. [Ethnic Dining Guide]
DC Dining gives Rasika a lengthy review, with commentary surrounding the wine, cocktails, and fare. In short, Don Rockwell finds it’s still “a good Modern Indian venue that’s one of the best choices in Penn Quarter.” [DC Dining]
FROM THE BLOGS: Been There, Eaten That thinks Rose’s Luxury is in “full bloom” while Bitches Who Brunch check out Cheesetique in Ballston. Meanwhile, Hungry Lobbyist checks out Convivial’s brunch and Brightest Young Things gives the new Honeysuckle a try.