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Tom Sietsema Says Bloomingdale’s Spark Offers D.C. a Rare Taste of the Caribbean

What the critics are saying this week

Bone marrow at Spark at Engine Co. 12.
Photo: Deb Lindsey/ Deb Lindsey Photography
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Spark at Engine Co. 12

Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema visits Bloomingdale’s reimagined Old Engine 12 restaurant, which was taken over by events expert Jenna Mack at the start of the year. There he discovers “rib-sticking Caribbean delights” inspired by chef Peter Prime’s native Trinidad. While it’s a “crazy-loud” space, it’s also an “enormously satisfying” addition to the neighborhood — and a “rare taste” of the Caribbean in the District. Hits he notes include Prime’s thyme-flavored beef patties swaddled in puff pastry; “fantastic” scored red snapper; glossy chicken; and “juicy” jerk wings with accompanying mango mustard to slow its burn. A “fun” ending that snaps and crackles is the Urban Legend: banana fritters with Pop Rocks candy and Coke-and-rum syrup. One of his only gripes is about the brown paper boats used to serve Prime’s food, which “deserves better packaging.”


DC Magazine food writer Nevin Martell heads to restaurateur Rose Previte’s new “playground of exotic tastes” and sets the scene upon entering the hotspot hidden down an alleyway: Afro fusion, jazz and Middle Eastern melodies are complemented by a rush of heat from the open, oak-powered stone hearth “that commands center stage.” He notes the “vibrant eclecticism” in its decor done by restaurateur Rose Previte, with glass globe fixtures, honeycomb wooden paneling, and a living wall. The menu, a tribute to Previte’s Lebanese heritage, as well as Caucasian, North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, is designed to be shared and mixed, and he suggests starting with spreads. Dip the “light and sturdy” just-baked flatbread that keeps coming with Syrian muhammara (“rich” with walnuts and “darkly sweet” thanks to a dose of pomegranate molasses) and “tangy” Lebanese labneh that “gets a lift” from mint.

Order at least one kebab, he instructs, or one of the seafood specialties, like head-on sardines covered in herbaceous chermoula sauce that “offsets the intense brininess.” The spatchcock chicken, one of the large-scale meat dishes, is brined in turmeric to “add a golden glow to the crispy skin.” He recommends asking for all seven condiments available, like whipped garlic toum, at the beginning in order to add extra flavors throughout the meal.

La Ferme

Sietsema also visits the longstanding country-French inn in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and decides it’s an attention grabber more than ever. The decibel levels for easy conversation are outstanding in the dining room, he notes, and other ambiance compliments include its lace curtains, a fieldstone hearth, and a present piano player — a long-standing fixture who fields requests. The best seats in the house are two perches for two on the balcony overlooking the main dining room. For food, seafood is a must (he likes the “butter-kissed” trout amandine), but he’s not into most of the meat selections. Go-to dishes include onion soup, coquille St. Jacques, chateaubriand for two, oysters fricassee, and rich lobster bisque. Warm crusty bread acts as a great mop for many dishes, he adds. Creme brulee is “easy to finish” — sweet, soft, served with an almond tuile.

Isabella Eatery

Ethnic Dining Guide author Tyler Cowen visits the Tysons Corner food hall five times and concludes he’s surprised by “how fun” the set-up is (though its branches of Arroz, Requin, Graffiato, Yona, and Pepina Cantina in general don’t compare to their home bases). He suggests hitting two or three of them and ordering small dishes along the way and ending with chocolate ice cream. There are nice spaces to sit and chat, he notes, and the layout vaguely reminds him of Singapore. While he enjoys pretty much everything he’s sampled, the pastas in Graffiato have been among his favorite. The catch: It’s not that cheap, he says.

American Prime

Northern Virginia Magazine dining editor and restaurant critic Stefanie Gans heads to Tysons Corner’s new-ish steakhouse, calling it “unremarkable” against the crowded backdrop of the area’s existing power spots. “It’s not a foodie destination. It seems to exist to serve the moneyed of McLean,” she writes. American Prime is home of the private club, IX (pronounced “nine”), which entails a fob and initiation fee, with dishes designed for regulars and high-roller spirits like Hennessy Richard (a half-ounce costing about $250). She describes the main dining room as a “rather bare and unadorned space” with sharp-edged wooden booths and white tablecloths. After trying overly salty duck prosciutto, she suggests skipping the charcuterie, and the 21-day, dry-aged New York strip is a “joyless” steak. The star of the menu is the prime rib, she says.

FROM THE BLOGS: Rick Eats DC had a “wistful” experience at Rose’s Luxury, while Bitches Who Brunch try out Dupont’s new City Tap House.


1346 Florida Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 Visit Website

Spark at Engine 12

1626 N Capitol St NW, , Washington DC 20002