The Washington Post’s Tim Carman checks out Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana for this week’s edition of $20 Diner and dives right into the description of his steak and Caesar salad:
“The steak is carne asada, a beer-marinated slab of skirt steak grilled to a lip-smacking shade of ruby-red and served with sauteed cactus paddles and a blistered jalapeño. The salad is a stack of romaine leaves lightly coated with a jalapeño-spiked dressing, a sharp reminder that the Caesar originated in Tijuana, where border-hopping Americans used to tie one on during the dark, dry days of Prohibition. The croutons, incidentally, are toasted from house-made torta bread.”
The new El Sol sister on 14th Street “pushes the smoky handcrafted spirits of Oaxaca” with more than 65 mezcals at the ready. But they are “just one” of the warm-up acts: Expect “hearty” house-made tortilla chips with dipping sauces that “span the heat and color spectra.”
Its Mexico City stew (posole rojo) “could animate the dead” with its twin use of guajillo pepper and chile de arbol.
As for the tacos, “you can’t go wrong” when ordering almost any protein. The Baja California fish taco features crispy beer-battered mahi-mahi, while cueritos tacos are “pure silk, the pork skin braised in the same copper pot of lard (scented with citrus juices, garlic and herbs) used for the carnitas.” One of the signature tacos is found among the antojito snacks: tacos de canasta is a trio of steamed tacos, at “once lush in the center and crispy around the edges.”
Also, the tuna ceviche “finds a satisfying balance between fruit and spice, while the queso fundido is a “buttery, nutty and, well, delightfully stringy experience.” [WaPo]
The Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema heads to The Smith in Penn Quarter for a First Bite and is immediately impressed by the service, with waiters bringing around free flasks of house-filtered bubbly and flat water to tables right away.
In short, The Smith (the fourth for the New York brand and first in D.C.) is “an expansive, jarringly loud dining room with a something-for-everyone menu.”
The bar is a “Candy Land for grown-ups” with a chalkboard menu categorizing drinks under one-word headings, including “bubbly,” “boozy” and “spicy.” The Touch of Evil “packs a punch” and a recommended accompaniment is the crisp flatbread with sliced potatoes, crumbled bacon and soft leeks.
As for the food, the menu is built around crowd-pleasers, such as chicken potpie, short ribs and shrimp pasta.
“But the kitchen sees to it that those and other entrees come with something that sets them apart from the pack: a flat cheese biscuit to cover the potpie, a chile-lime crema to ignite the beef and crumbled garlic bread to dust the seafood pasta, tinted black with squid ink. Crab tots, a draw among the opening acts, are basically one-bite crab cakes, each perched on a swipe of Alabama white sauce. Rich.”
For the desserts, he says “bravo for the s’mores, campfire classics staged in little glass jars, but boo to the lemon tart with its yellow layer of what could double as rubber.” [WaPo]
Sietsema also heads to Himitsu in Petworth and gives the modern Japanese restaurant a three-star review (excellent), “whose captivating food and beguiling service make up for the fact that it doesn’t take reservations, lacks a phone and can seat two dozen diners, max.”
Behind the brand are chef Kevin Tien and beverage director (and Barmini grad) Carlie Steiner, who have created “a case study in contemporary dining,” Sietsema says.
You’ll “admire the attention Steiner devotes to beverages,” he says, with sherry, classic cocktails, local beers, and booze-free drinks all at the ready.
He goes on to describe some of the hits from Tien, whose resume includes cooking at the four-starred Pineapple and Pearls:
“A bowl of deep-fried Brussels sprouts, flagged as vegan, is a dish everyone can rally around. Halves are tossed in a sweet chili sauce along with rice that’s toasted and ground by hand and a window box of fresh herbs: spearmint, cilantro and Thai basil, among other bright accents. The Japanese egg custard called chawanmushi tastes newly exciting with ginger in its flavoring and garnishes of sea urchin and glistening salmon roe. Each silken spoonful delivers something warm, something cool and a gentle pop as the beads of caviar break in the mouth.”
He compares the sweet shrimp to barbecue potato chips made by the ocean. Meanwhile, meatless versions of hot plates are aplenty. And a big hit since opening is the salt and pepper tofu. While the food “tastes like a celebration,” it’s priced “for workday consumption”: The hot and cold plates (basically entrees) average $17.
In Japanese, Himitsu means “secret.” “The lines out the door at opening time, Saturday in particular, suggest the word is out.” [WaPo]
DC Modern Luxury’s Nevin Martell gives Sfoglina a review, where Fabio Trabocchi successfully delivers “another” Italian masterpiece.
The fourth restaurant in his expanding empire (which includes Fiola, Fiola Mare and Casa Luca) features 70 seats and the “best in the house” are those at the counter overlooking the open kitchen, “where cooks wearing driver black caps diligently work,” writes Martell.
The dining room “exudes a casual Mediterranean sensibility,” with vintage Italian album covers and “striking” handblown glass chandeliers. Cocktail hits include the Negroni (which “starts with a touch of sweet and settles on the tongue with a hint of bitter”) and the “svelte” Van Ness Manhattan, balanced with orange bitters.
“There are a handful of appetizers, designed to be lighter and flavorful, including a tumble of prosciutto ribbons with candied persimmons hiding in the gentle pink-and-white folds. Thin strips of red pepper stewed with orange zest and plenty of basil are a simple pleasure. My favorite? A small ball of buffalo-milk mozzarella speckled with olive salt sitting in tonnato sauce boasting a briny boost from preserved tuna, anchovies and capers. The soft cheese practically melts on the tongue, leaving just a whisper of flavor.”
The half dozen pastas “live up to their marquee billing” and a “rewarding” rigatoni is “the kind of dish that sticks to your ribs and warms your heart.” And a “standout seasonal selection” is the ricotta-stuffed scarpinocc, tossed with brown butter and a “slightly sharp” barilotto cheese, which is “balanced by the sweetness of sauteed pears.”
On the non-noodle front, you’ll “only need a butter knife” to slice through the slow-cooked wagyu short rib. [DC Modern Luxury]
Tyler Cowen, who admits he’s living in his “own strange ethnic bubble,” has never heard of &pizza before and gives it a try. (“In fact I don’t think I have had fast food pizza since I was a kid,” he adds.) He ordered a pizza Margherita and water for $10. To his surprise, “it was ready in two minutes” and to his “bigger surprise, it was really, really good.” It was so good, he says he finished off the whole oblong-shaped pizza: “I thought I would just snack on a piece, but I ended up eating the whole pie. It was just the right size.” [Ethnic Dining Guide]