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Sietsema Says Boulangerie Christophe Falls Flat

What the critics are saying this week

Little Coco’s
[Little Coco’s]

The Washington Post’s Tim Carman reviews Little Coco’s in Petworth this week, saying the 80-plus seat, two-story “playful trattoria” has “bigger ambitions than it first lets on.”

“Start with [chef Adam] Harvey himself, a Montgomery County native whose kitchen prepares everything in-house, ‘other than the cheese,’ he likes to quip. This includes pastas, breads and a pork-shoulder porchetta slow-cooked in a sous-vide water bath. Then turn to co-owner [Gordon] Banks, the spirits specialist, who has cobbled together an impressive collection of amari, those bittersweet Italian liqueurs, including a line of vintage bottles from the mid-20th century. If these delights sound beyond the $20 Diner’s standard budget, they are. I won’t apologize for it. Life calls for occasional splurges.”

Harvey’s “Achilles’ heel” with Italian cooking is going for complexity over simplicity, notes Carman (“perhaps a result of his years working under Bryan Voltaggio at Volt”). In the cacio e pepe, for instance, ­lemon-parsley bread crumbs atop peppery pasta add a certain acidity and crunch that “hijack the dish and take it places I don’t care to go.”

There are sweet spots on the menu, however. One is the tuna carpaccio, which Carman compares to the late Michel Richard’s signature sashimi mosaic at Citronelle. And the pizza dough, a crisp-and-chewy base, is a “fine canvas” for the pizzas (“when the kitchen doesn’t underbake [it],” that is).

Meanwhile, the fried pizza, a crispy coil of dough stuffed with Margherita fillings, and the tiramisu chocolate globe “hog all the attention at Little Coco’s, in part because their presentations fulfill our constant craving for plates that we can showboat on social media.” But neither is easy to execute with any consistency, he says.

Instead, Carman prefers the squid ink spaghetti with lump crab and ’nduja bread crumbs, or butter-poached chicken breast on Parmesan polenta with amaro truffle cream, “which strut their inventiveness in ways that serve the dish, not necessarily a diner’s Instagram account.” [WaPo]

The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema visited the new Boulangerie Christophe in Georgetown and decides it’s “miss” — though its flaws aren’t immediately evident.

The two-story bakery boasts a “roll call of French delights” — such as croissants and eclairs — and the upstairs seating area “beckons” with a fireplace and chandeliers. The staff is “eager to please” and details like thick cotton napkins and comfy chairs “make nice impressions.”

Among the sole hits are the soup, a garlic-fueled puree of Mediterranean rockfish, and a “respectable” salmon tartare.

“Almost everything else is a disappointment, and I base this conclusion on three attempts to find more to like. The breads are mediocre, foremost the pale baguettes with cottony centers (and no audible crackle when broken apart). The tarts look pretty, but the fruit on top hides serious flaws in the goopy fillings and bendy crusts. Christophe’s pale sandwiches look as though they should be in a vending machine rather than in a glass display. One day’s ham and cheese croissant was so flat, it appeared as though it had a run-in with a bulldozer on its way from case to plate.”

Also find “dense” mille-feuille and “underbaked” pissaladiere (“a waste of anchovies and caramelized onions”). D.C. is still lacking when it comes to its roster of good bakeries, Sietsema asserts. [WaPo]

Sietsema thinks that Fish by José Andrés, the chef’s 11th area dining room, has the “best” seafood in the area with “a shore-to-shore collection of best-ofs from across the country.”

The seafood bar at the MGM National Resort restaurant is the “gem store of your fish fantasies,” with stone crabs from Florida, king crab from Alaska, middleneck clams from Virginia, and abalone from California.

Go for the oysters, he says, which can be had raw, grilled, barbecued, fried (with a “pitch-perfect rémoulade”) or dressed like a gin and tonic. A favorite cocktail of his is the Tractor Pull, featuring bourbon with orange marmalade, Luxardo Maraschino and elderflower vinegar.

Eye candy is also everywhere, with nets repurposed as fanciful lights, walls that mimic faux scales, and boat-shaped communal tables.

“No matter where you cast your net, you’re likely to pull up a prize. The crusty crab cakes are as they should be, rich with local jumbo lump crab and barely held together with bread crumbs (from Fish’s leftover Parker House rolls, grace notes to the tuna tartare). Thick and meaty rockfish, smoky from the charcoal grill, shows up inside a ring of pureed herbs, with mustardy halved potatoes. My favorite way to eat lobster here is as a sandwich. Make that a glossy brioche bun cradling sweet seafood and mayonnaise espuma, or foam. Impossibly thin shoestring potatoes are impossible not to finish.”

For dessert, go with the pineapple upside-down cake.

The five-seat Maryland Fry Bar sits in the center and offers “most exclusive real estate” for fish lovers, with a la carte or two preset menus. The kitchen near the fry bar is where Fish “tries out new ideas,” and his plan is to order the Old Bay aioli-stuffed fried mussels on his next visit.

Spring and summer should only make Fish more alluring: “A monster wine cask is expected to dispense hard cider on the patio, which will also see the arrival of a crab shack.” [WaPo]

After putting Owen’s Ordinary under the microscope, Bethesda Magazine’s David Hagedorn concludes, “If you love, or even like, beer, [this] is the place for you.” Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s months-old spot serves American fare alongside 50 brews on draft, half from Maryland, and 150 canned and bottled offerings, one-third of which hail from Maryland breweries. “The beer selection is so impressive, in fact, that it may inspire you to overlook the food.”

The style of the 114-seat spot is steampunk, mixing Victorian romantic elements with industrial ones. NRG’s beer director, Greg Engert, supplies a “wealth of information” (down to the temperature) at which various drafts are stored that’s “helpful for choosing flights, as is advice from the well-versed staff.”

While the beer offerings are “remarkable,” the food from chef Anthony Piscioneri puts the “ordinary” in the name, Hagedorn says.

“Order anything with Red Apron in the description, referring to NRG-owned Red Apron butcher shops (the Red Apron half-beef, half-pork half-smoke is “nicely spiced, its whole-grain mustard and turnip kraut accompaniments perfect foils for the sausage’s richness,” and the charcuterie plate pairs well with beer. Other fine starters include plump cornmeal-crusted fried oysters with celery root remoulade and chipotle mayo, as well as fried chicken wings.”

The 8-ounce Angus cheeseburger is “decent,” as is a “Big Mac-ish” double stack, but fries could be crispier. The cheese and zesty pepperoni flatbread “is a winner,” as is the fish-and-chips entree.

Meanwhile, a coffee-rubbed brisket dish “looks and tastes like hospital food,” while the braised pork shank lacks flavor (though its bed of farro, cubed root vegetables and roasted Brussels sprouts is delicious). Arctic char is nicely cooked, “but gets no help from lifeless spiraled zucchini noodles and scant smoked tomato sauce.” Service can be spotty, as “one course might arrive at the table before a previous one is cleared,” Hagedorn says.

In short, “the best plan of attack at Owen’s is to sit at the bar, order a flight, and stick to the basics food-wise. Then, have a beer.” [Bethesda Magazine]

Arlington Magazine’s Rina Rapuano gives Alta Strada in Mosaic District a try and decides chef Michael Schlow’s latest spot in the area is “off to a rocky start.” Schlow recently lured chef Matt Adler and pastry chef Alex Levin from Osteria Morini in Navy Yard.

“The culinary dream team is slowly putting its stamp on the Alta Strada Mosaic menu, though Adler says they are mainly where they want to be, aside from seasonal tweaks like switching out heavier dishes such as short ribs for a lighter steak entree. He adds that the Mosaic District runs an outstanding farmers market that he plans to draw from when spring produce season ramps up and local stone fruits, melons and tomatoes are in plentiful supply.”

The eggplant Parmesan was a disappointing (“the vegetable is completely lost under its thick fried casing,” she explains). And while the tomato sauce was authentic and flavorful, the frico chips (a baked, cheesy crisp) exhibited a sharpness that overpowered the dish.

The A.S. House Margherita pizza “lacked that really fresh tomato taste” she associates with a classic Margherita, and there wasn’t enough cheese for Rapuano. The shrimp linguine with crushed cherry tomatoes was too acidic (an “overdose of lemon juice didn’t mix well with the tomato sauce”), but the shrimp were “sweet, succulent and perfectly cooked.” Levin’s almond cream tartlet, “flanked by a scoop of velvety vanilla gelato, was worth the sacrifice.”

Meanwhile, she reports service is “gracious and competent, the design feels both comfortable yet chic, and the bar program is tight” (she’d “quite happily” spend an afternoon drinking Negronis while waiting for a table).

In short, she suggests holding off on a visit; “with less than a month under its belt, Alta Strada Mosaic is still finding its way. The talent is there, the service is warm and the space is gorgeous, so I have full faith that the ship will be righted soon.” [Arlington Magazine]

Little Coco's

3907 14th Street Northwest, , DC 20011 (202) 853-9889 Visit Website

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