Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema awards Top Chef alumnus Mike Isabella three stars (excellent) for his latest venture, Marriott Marquis inhabitant Arroz, which marries Moroccan and Spanish flavors. The space and staff are charming, and chef Michael Rafidi “cooks with such assurance and exuberance, I’d make a standing date with Arroz every week if a hundred other restaurants weren’t vying for my attention.” Familiar dishes get a fresh spin here, like an elegant chilled bar of foie gras, garnished with sesame praline; lamb ribs with chermoula, North Africa’s answer to Italy’s salsa verde; and fried cauliflower and pig tail. The bombas, rice-based entrees designed for sharing, are all pleasing though Sietsema notes the suckling pig is his favorite. Meanwhile, all of the cocktails knock it out of the park, he thinks. [WaPo]
Northern Virginia Magazine restaurant critic Stefanie Gans says fast-casual Hen Penny in Reston “fares better” than Hen Quarter, its “unmemorable” older sibling. “A fried drumstick and thigh were examples of simplicity done right: a savory, salt-and-pepper-forward spice blend; a crunchy coating; crazy juicy meat.” And pretty cheap, too: $7 with a side. [NoVa Mag]
Sietsema also checks out newcomer Mola, which sits in the former Radius Pizza space in Mount Pleasant. The revamped interior benefits from the carpentry skills of co-owner Karlos Leopold, who built the smooth white oak tables, the benches, and a portion of the bar. Sietsema is a fan of the Spanish cooking, for the most part. Some highlights: crumbled spiced lamb scattered on pureed chickpeas, and fried goat cheese “lashed with honey and sprinkled with beet chips,” while a grill of mixed lamb parts over peas, artichokes, fava beans and fresh mint is a “memorable spring fling.” [WaPo]
FROM THE BLOGS: Rick Eats DC ranks his top 20 favorite D.C. spots, while Hungry Lobbyist visits the Ritz’s new brunch, and Chicken + Whiskey gets a first look from BYT.