Tail Up Goat

Spring Break staycation is a great time to try some restaurants on a Tuesday night that I’d never have been able to get reservations at on a weekend. Tail Up Goat is one of these. I knew it couldn’t be as good as everyone claimed, but this might be my only chance to try it. Earlier in the day, I was telling my cycling instructor and cycling class friends that nothing bothers me more than overpriced food. I’ll pay big money for good food. I’ll pay little money for small food. But I hate leaving a restaurant hungry and poor. I was worried that it was going to be one of those times.

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Although their beer selection isn’t stunning, they immediately impressed me just because they carried a Belgian kriek. You don’t even need to wonder if I ordered it or not, because duh. Husband ordered a Belgian dark strong (not from Belgium, but still pretty good).

Normally, I’d do all the picking at a share-plates restaurant, but since it was my husband’s birthday dinner, I was feeling generous. To my surprise, the thing he wanted most was the $14 Spanakopita focaccia. I mean, we just paid $4 for bread last Friday and spent the rest of the night making fun of Chloe for it. But okay…. The other two dishes we settled on together because we’ve morphed into one person at this point. We asked for the casarecce pasta with sherry-braised pork, as well as the lamb ribs. “We’ll just turn it into a three-course meal,” said our server. They must do this a lot.

Now, there’s $4 bread from Chloe, and then there’s $14 bread from Tail Up Goat. It’s not worth reposting the picture of Chloe’s bread. Let’s just say it was five tiny melba toast-sized pieces of regular grilled bread with a mouse-sized bowl of olive oil. C’mon Chloe, I know you didn’t expel the olive oil from the olives yourselves while we waited, why that bread gotta be four whole dollars? Now, this is what $14 gets you at Tail Up Goat:

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Things to notice immediately:

  1. I don’t even see any bread on there. I promise it was there.
  2. This is enormous!
  3. There is no shortage of toppings. More on those in a second

When people talk about “manna from Heaven,” I’m pretty sure that this is the bread they’re thinking of. The green stuff was kale, but you’d never know it for how delicate and wilted it was. There was feta, but this wasn’t no store-bought feta. It was creamy and melty, with only a slight hint of salt. The whole thing was dusted with those pine nut crumbs, which were so deliciously crunchy I would have been happy if they’d just brought me a bowl of that. And finally, it was finished off with a sweetness…honey? Maple? We’ll never know. But it worked. Oh yeah, and there was focaccia bread under all that. It was soft and a little oily like it’s supposed to be. On the downside, we feared that the rest of the meal couldn’t possibly live up to this.

We had a good amount of downtime to talk and imbibe before the pasta arrived. I was happy to see a sane amount of pasta with just as beautiful of a presentation as the bread:

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Once again, this dish wasn’t just your grandma’s bowl of spaghetti with pork. There was a nice crunch of breadcrumbs on top, plus a tang from orange zest. The pasta was a nice al dente and the pork was soft and savory. I’m afraid that it didn’t outdo the bread but it was still worthy of being ordered.

I don’t know what I was expecting from the lamb ribs. At this point I thought it could go either way. A picture is once again worth a thousand words here:

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I have nothing on this plate for scale, but my immediate thought when this arrived was “I’m not going to be walking away hungry.”

It would be wrong to say that the meat fell off the bones. These ribs were so cooked that the bones fell off the bones. They were crispy on the outside, with melty fat and a molasses-y sweet glaze. There were small pieces of dried fruits and nuts scattered underneath, bathing in glaze and meat juice. I hate potatoes, but the potatoes on this plate were spicy and crispy. Barely visible in the picture are the onion zoodles marinating in yogurt and za’atar, which were also beyond delicious.

Not wanting the party to stop, we got the bitter chocolate pudding. It looks like this:

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That thing on top is not ice cream, it’s a sad meringue. Quick rant: I’m pretty sure meringue exists for the sole purpose of challenging bakers to make it. Does anybody actually like it or go out of their way to eat it? It looks pretty, I guess. But it tastes like crap always and adds nothing of value to my dessert. End rant. Aside from the meringue, this was a solid but not fantastic dessert. I like dark chocolate and pistachios. Who doesn’t? But…it’s pudding. I think Tail Up Goat could have done better than this. Even they know they could, that’s why they added a meringue to make it artificially beautiful.

Price: $100 per person, including lots of alcohol.

Bottom line: Despite a fairly disappointing dessert, I was overall extremely impressed, happy, and full after finally eating here. The service was wonderful, the cooking was excellent, and the prices were high but fair. Tail Up Goat has restored my faith in expensive restaurants.

Lapis Bistro

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It’s a shame that I didn’t want to embarrass myself taking a picture of the interior of Lapis. This place is gorgeous, decorated with refurbished furniture, Persian rugs, and modern maps of Kabul. We were seated downstairs, which boasted a bar on one side and a full-service coffee counter on the other. My in-laws were noticeably absent, but I could just hear my mother-in-law’s voice echoing in my head: “I LOVE THIS PLACE!”

Both the drink menu and food menu are large and tasty-looking. My husband got a Founder’s porter. I had the Lapis Manhattan. They said it would taste like cardamom, but….ehhh. It was good, though, and I was looking forward to the two home-preserved maraschino cherries at the bottom. In case you were wondering, yes, I was that kid who ate my PB&J’s in the round so that I could savor the crustless sandwich innards last. Who am I kidding; I still do this. So. Maraschino cherries. Remember that. This would come back to haunt me.

We ordered four dishes between us, even knowing that it was probably too much: pakowra, the sambosa trio, the cauliflower, and lamb tikka. The first two starters came out first.

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The pakowra were un-oily, maybe to a fault. They were very falafel-like and kind of dry, but large and filling. The sambosa were quite good, particularly the shrimp, which was a very original flavor and worth the hype. I also really liked the leek one, which was very savory and herbal. The unsung hero of the starter round was the spicy green sauce that accompanied both dishes. Next up: veggie and meat!

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The cauliflower was pleasantly soft and served in rich tomato sauce. It was a large side dish, and probably would have sufficed instead of the two appetizers. It was mildly spicy and very fragrant. Its partner, the lamb tikka, was surprisingly unsauced, under-spiced, but had a strong lamb-y flavor and contained a couple of tender bites. Was this $20 worth of lamb? You tell me. They also served it with a fragrant, cinnamon-spiced rice, some flat bread, pickled onions, and more of that green sauce. Just give me the green sauce.

Around this time, we noticed a young man in his early 20’s having an awkward dinner with his parents in which each person picked at their separate meat platters silently. I sometimes like to imagine what people’s stories are, and my guess is that none of these people understood the idea of small plates. Maybe they’re from some small town somewhere and sharing your restaurant dish is considered a form of socialism? In order to avoid a political confrontation, this family kept their dinners and their opinions separate.

Our server came by to clear our plates and offer us dessert, which we opted for just to say we did. It wasn’t until I came back from the bathroom that I discovered that along with our dinner plates, they had cleared away my Manhattan glass with the cherries still in it. Taking my drink before I’m done is a cardinal sin in my book. Everyone knows that’s why anyone orders a Manhattan! It’s basically just a Shirley Temple for adults. (On an unrelated note, they may want to consider putting larger signs on the bathroom doors. Requesting for a friend).

We had the firnee cardamom custard for dessert. I finally got the cardamom flavor that was lacking in my Manhattan, the pistachios were good, and the texture was somewhere between Greek yogurt and jello. It had the necessary spice, but was ultimately probably not worth the calories.

Price: $35 per person.

Bottom line: I’d come back to Lapis, but mostly for the ambiance, and definitely for coffee only. The food was high-quality and everything except the lamb was worth the price, but there is better Afghan food around. If your parents have ever considered going on the Diane Rehm cruise, make them drive you to Baltimore for The Helmand. If you’re a cheapskate, hit up Maiwand Kabob. But maybe if your conservative, xenophobic Minnesotan parents are in town and you want to give them a mild introduction to ethnic food, you could come here. Make sure their selections trickle down to you, steer them away from the likely-too-spicy green sauce, don’t tell them it’s food from Afghanistan, and they’ll be fine.

[The New] Zenebech!

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The old Zenebech would have made my “always yes” list but it closed about a year ago (RIP) and I thought all was lost. It was only last night, during an outing in AdMo, that I coincidentally noticed the NEW Zenebech in its fancy new location on 18th Street, so we headed there tonight. I was really worried about not getting a table because seating was tight in their old U Street location, so we arrived at around 6 to a nearly empty restaurant.

The inside of the restaurant was definitely a fancy step-up from their U Street hole in the wall. Nice bar with seating, subway tile, exposed brick, and say goodbye to the plastic chairs! This place got classy! The bar also had a decent selection of domestic craft beers on top of their usual Ethiopian bottles. We ordered basically immediately because, like I said, old Zenebech was our jam: one each of the beef and chicken sambusas, the vegetarian platter, and awazay tibs (which we reluctantly ordered with lamb, though we were fearful that it would be chewy).

In the old Zenebech, I would have been constantly tortured as platter after platter arrived for everyone except me. But here, the food arrived incredibly fast. The chicken sambusa was new, I believe, or at least new to me. My husband actually preferred it to the beef. The beef pastry was crispy and well-spiced. There was a new lentil addition to the vegetarian platter, which was milder in flavor than the other, and the lamb tibs was incredibly tender, though not as spicy as I would have liked, and too saucy to be either poured onto the injera or to be dipped into with the extra injera. We mostly ended up eating it with a spoon. My only other complaint is that I could barely walk out of the restaurant because I ate so much.

All in all, new Zenebech totally holds up, and their extremely reasonable prices will continue to make this a perennial favorite. The new AdMo location is no longer walkable for me the way U Street was, but considering how much I ate, perhaps that’s for the best.

The bottom line: Still delicious, will become a cult classic.

Price: Roughly $25 per person

Las Canteras

This post is technically a week late but I have to rave.

Full disclosure: I love Peruvian food. SO. MUCH. And I’d actually been here once before.

Las Canteras is surprisingly un-busy for a place on the main drag in Adams Morgan. It’s kind of low-profile and lacks the rooftop bar that attracts the majority of people barhopping on Friday nights. Inside, it’s intimate, traditional, and slightly romantic. Prices are reasonable.

The short version of the story is that my second visit to Las Canteras did not disappoint. The pisco cocktails were dangerously flavorful and the avocado salad was buttery with sharp onion. My meal, seco de res, was saucy rather than dry, and seasoned well. The aji de gallina my husband ordered was authentic and flavorful, and although I generally like it spicier than it was, I still can’t complain.

For Peruvian, I’m also a big fan of Jose Andres’s China Chilcano, but the two are in different classes. China Chilcano specializes in chifa/Asian fusion, but Las Canteras is the real deal, like something a Peruvian grandmother would cook up. Always worth a visit!

The bottom line: Definitely worth a trip to AdMo!

Price: $30-35 per person

Jack Rose

I know, I can’t believe it took me this long to actually eat here. I’ve been in for drinks several times and always been blown away. It’s like if Beauty and the Beast took place in Kentucky and the Beast’s castle contained a library full of bourbon. Did some research and their food menu looked fabulous. So this is how we spent my father-in-law’s birthday.

We ordered the supper plate for the table and enjoyed their great deviled eggs, pickled beets, and charcuterie. I love charcuterie, so no complaints here, and although it was nothing life-changing, it was a great deal for the amount of food we got. Everybody at the table ordered a beer from a solid menu. For dinner, I ordered the duck breast, my husband got the chicken with brussels sprouts, and my in-laws both ordered small plates: the crab roll and the squash ravioli.

It was at this point in the meal that I visited the bathroom and came to find out that at that exact moment, Jack Rose was honoring a semi-annual deal called “Pappy Hour.” If you are not familiar with the ultra-rare bourbon known as Pappy Van Winkle, acquaint yourself right now. Singles of Pappy tend to start around $20 for a simple 10-year and end with $600 for the 25-year. This deal was too good to pass up. Because it was my FIL’s birthday, we ordered our own flight: the 10, the 15, and the 23-year, and they arrived with purified water and tasting notes from Jack Rose’s resident whiskey expert, a service not provided everywhere.jackrose

Back to the food: my duck was good but on the chewy side, although the parsnip cake and other accompaniments were great. The other food at the table was clearly high-quality and good, but again, not life-changing; the chicken was on the dry side, the squash ravioli was a little underdone and a little underseasoned. On the plus side, we had great service (even before we ordered $250 worth of bourbon), and I was still pretty happy with the meal altogether. Will definitely return.

Grade: The food is good if you happen to be here but not worth a special trip. However, you can’t get better whiskey or whiskey cocktails in DC.

Price: If you buy normal quantities and qualities of alcohol, $50 per person