Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema gives founder Jason Maddens’ new Ashburn restaurant 2.5 stars (“good/excellent”) for food that “would look at home at Washington’s dressier American restaurants — 701 in Penn Quarter comes to mind.” He applauds the Clarity alum’s creative spin on vegetables, via pickled and tempura’d cauliflower atop raita with golden raisin and apricot mostarda, as well as “spaghetti & meatballs” that’s actually spaghetti squash with “meatballs” made from mashed lentils and quinoa. Maddens’ use of texture “in interesting ways” across Ahso’s menu is evidence of his time spent working under the late Michel Richard, Sietsema notes. Entree hits include diver scallops atop beet “risotto” with a celery seed-mustard vinaigrette, and the fried chicken leg-part of a Southern-style duo. Charm also exists in its desserts list, with a “tender and warm” apple skillet cake with maple caramel sauce, as well as cheesecake whipped up with ricotta that’s “lighter and fluffier” than one would expect. Some slip-ups that are easy fixes include a little too much salt in the white bean ragout and overly sweet cocktails.
A Rake’s Progress
Sietsema also checks out the latest addition to the Line hotel, marking the debut Washington restaurant of Baltimore chef Spike Gjerde and what the critic hails as “one of the most ambitious restaurants” of 2018 and “a keeper” from start to finish. His first compliment is for how the leftovers (what is left of them) are packaged: in compostable butcher paper and black twine. Game, cooked in an open kitchen using an oak-fired hearth fitted with a smoker and a spit, is the theme. But first, there’s small plates to choose from, like rockfish chowder accompanied by a toast rack. One miss is savoy cabbage that “tastes like soap,” says Sietsema’s seat mate (he agrees). Entrees that are introduced at the table, then brought back to the kitchen to be carved, include the chicken (dry-brined with oregano, garlic and fish pepper) alongside buttery whipped potatoes and creamed greens that are “simple pleasures.” And a lamb shoulder comes with a “clever” plate-mate of tender dumplings, green with fresh mint. The still-in-progress desserts list includes an “adorable” miniature Smith Island cake flanked with ramekins of apple balls, whipped cream, and apple sherbet. The cocktail list, created by beverage director Corey Polyoka, sticks to a buy-local philosophy and plays up lots of rum, rye and bourbon in its drinks.
Ethnic Dining Guide author Tyler Cowen visits the combination Chinese-Korean restaurant, where everything is “quite good,” calling out the rice, brisket, and egg bowl as “one of the better dishes” in town. Prices are reasonable at Chiko, he notes, and the small space fills up early and runs on limited reservations. “Unlike most lower-priced places in DC, it genuinely seems to be well run,” he writes. He can’t help but think it’s a little overrated, though. “Most of the dishes are on the ‘quite good by suburban standards for Asian’ level, which is a) on its own quite good, and b) a miracle of sorts for SE Washington, DC. But for those of us from said suburbs, we might be just a little bit less impressed.”