Bar Elena

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I never checked out Bar Elena’s predecessor on H Street, Boundary Road, mostly because I was overly defensive of their name, which was just a little too close to my beloved Boundary Stone, in such a way that it felt like a knockoff “Michael Kars” purse you might buy in Chinatown. But, you know, in restaurant form.

From the outside, Bar Elena looks cool. It looks like a place I want to hang out. Actually, it kind of looks like an edgy 15 year-old’s bedroom decorating scheme. Sadly, their look is completely at odds with the reality.

Somehow, in DC of all places, we were seated between two tables containing kids. If you’re only just now realizing how infrequently you see kids in DC dining establishments, consider yourself enlightened. You will now notice a distinct lack of children everywhere you go. And you will never fully appreciate it until you go to Bar Elena. I’m not sure what possessed all these parents to bring their children to a place with the word “Bar” in the name. Maybe those funky zigzag curtains and bright interior colors reminded them of kids? I dunno.

So the atmosphere was…weird. But on to the food and, more importantly given the circumstances, the drinks. The draft list is decent and contains some interesting craft beers and a variety of wines. My father-in-law and husband both got sour beers, so I commend them for that. I had a champagne-based cocktail that was beautiful, slightly fruity, and not too sweet.

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On a recommendation, we ordered the stuffed clams as an appetizer.

They were okay. The crumbled bread on top was kind of bland, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this…) I’m not sure bacon blends well with uber-seafoody clams. There were six tiny clams; why did this cost $12?

The entrees picked up, though. I had the root vegetable salad with steak, and around the table we also had the smothered brisket, the special catfish sandwich, and the lobster roll.

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They left no stone unturned on the root veggie front–it even had roasted radishes! The beets and carrots are always a classic pairing, and the steak was cooked well as well as to my medium-rare specification. They didn’t skimp on the steak either, and this ended up being a perfectly-sized entree.

The lobster roll was pretty standard. It was kind of dry, and lobster doesn’t taste like anything as a general principle. It had a nice fennel slaw on top, but didn’t have enough. I think lobster rolls are just not my thing, but even if they were my thing, I think I could have done better than this one. The catfish sandwich was quite good–the fish was crispy on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside, cooked perfectly. The remoulade was scrumptious. The true winner was this ridiculous brisket concoction:

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Damn if this isn’t the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen prepared in a restaurant. But holy crap was it tasty. Bread, chopped brisket, cheese, bread, and more cheese, all drenched in jus. It was beefy and cheesy, and everything melted in your mouth. This “sandwich” (if you want to call it that) is probably worth the ensuing heart attack.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I would come back to Bar Elena under three circumstances: 1) It was someone else’s idea and they, like, really wanted to go; 2) They lowered the price of everything by $5; and 3) Come only after 8:00, aka the kids’ bedtime.

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