Crimson

My interest in Crimson was twofold: first, their whiskey lounge had been recommended by the bartenders at a different whiskey lounge. Second, I had a coupon passport that entitled me to a free whiskey with the purchase of another whiskey. So, whiskey. The diner was just an added bonus, and a weird concept.

The diner on the ground floor was, in fact, nearly empty when we came in, even though it was 7:45 on a Friday. Maybe Crimson diner gets busier with the brunch crowd, or maybe this is just a really strange combination of restaurants. Personally, I don’t think of drinking fancy cocktails while I’m ordering eggs benedict, but you do you, people.

Our server talked us into the fried green tomatoes, and we also ordered a plate of their deviled eggs to share. The fried green tomatoes were excellent, and prepared me for a great meal, though admittedly, most of their awesomeness was derived from the spicy mayo and crumbly cheese on top. The deviled eggs were made with pickled eggs, which I like as a general concept, but it didn’t really add anything. No issues with them, though.

mvimg_20180713_195726.jpg

Crimson’s menu is, in a word, overwhelming. I was actually stressed out looking at this. Breakfast? Dinner? Small plates? Entrees? Burgers? There are just too many options here.

Among other dishes at our table were my rainbow trout, which I settled on after about twenty minutes of agonizing over the decision, my husband’s monte cristo, and my mother-in-law’s fried chicken sandwich.

IMG_20180713_201527.jpg

The trout was a big, full-sized platter; so big that I barely ate half. The fish was cooked well, the potatoes were nicely crisp and the carrots were soft. The whole thing was drowning in caper butter, which sounds delicious but honestly felt a little lazy. Everything tastes good when it’s covered in butter and this was at least half a stick of it.

The fried chicken sandwich was excellent. The chicken was moist on the inside, super crunchy on the outside, the bun had a subtle sweetness, and the whole thing was great with the tartness from their house pickles. Although it normally comes with chips or fries, Crimson was happy to oblige a side salad, which would have been great if it weren’t the most stupid and uselessly composed salad of all time (my husband, who also ordered a side salad, ate his lettuce rolled up with his hands like you might imagine Ariel would do in The Little Mermaid, if Eric had served her salad).

mvimg_20180713_201520.jpg

mvimg_20180713_201511.jpg

Here’s a monte cristo. It was delicious, was made better by the addition of currant jelly, and came with another stupid salad. No major complaints, but also no great praise. If you can put ham on bread and operate a griddle, you could make this at home. You’d probably also make a more eater-friendly salad.

MVIMG_20180713_210746.jpg

 

My mother-in-law is a sucker for milkshakes, and totally deserved an alcoholic one after a really long work week. Similar to Ari’s Diner, Crimson’s selection of flavors is nothing extraordinary. They were willing to make a small concession in trading vanilla for chocolate ice cream in their coffee-themed shake. The result was okay. This is no Ted’s Bulletin shake, let’s just say that.

After dinner, we went downstairs to check out this famed whiskey lounge. The music-thumping, dimly-lit, leather-clad downstairs bears no resemblance to the old-school diner vibe of upstairs. They had a not extremely large selection of whiskeys, but it was nothing to sneeze at either, and they had some interesting stuff from places, like California and Colorado. Remember that passport coupon I had? It entitled the bearer to a buy-one-get-one on “any whiskey $15 or under,” which is basically like Maserati advertising a sale on economy compacts. I understand that whiskey ain’t cheap, but come on, Crimson. Try to write a coupon that’s a little less dripping with douchiness.

Price: $35 per person.

Bottom line: Crimson tries hard to be Ted’s Bulletin but comes up short. The food was alright diner food with a hefty price tag (update: and more expensive than Ted’s!) The whiskey lounge downstairs is worth checking out if you have a group too big to fit inside Copycat, or just happen to be hanging out in Chinatown.

The Eleanor

The Eleanor takes up the first floor of one of the many ugly high-rise apartment buildings in NoMa and used to be a restaurant called Union Social. Union Social died and I said “good riddance” without even trying it. I didn’t even need to go there to know it was overpriced, generic TGI Fridays nonsense.

The Eleanor is owned by the same people as Bar Elena on H Street. This should have been my first clue. They’ve turned it into a two-lane mini bowling alley/adult arcade/tiny facsimile of Dave and Buster’s. A sign on the outside admonishes children that their presence will not be tolerated without their parents. I like bowling! I like pinball! I’m fun! Most importantly, I don’t want to be reminded that teenagers exist when I’m on summer vacation! This is my kind of place.

Their tap list is pretty nice and included solid beers from near and far, including three sours. Cocktails looked good too, and I ordered a Rosa de Jamaica. We also nabbed an order of their hushpuppies, which are served elote loco-style. They were pretty okay. Hushpuppies are more my mother-in-law’s jam. They were barely moist with lots of your stereotypical powdery parmesan cheese and some (but not enough) spicy mayo. Hushpuppies are so dippable, I don’t know why they didn’t include a dipping sauce.

mvimg_20180706_194945.jpg

Everyone at the table received their drinks and hushpuppies and then we waited basically forever while our waitresses (PLURAL!) helped the other, like, four tables that were occupied. We had menus down. We were just talking. I was making decidedly un-casual glarey eye contact with them. I understand slow service if you’re busy, but they weren’t. Finally, we managed to summon them via Jedi mind tricks and were able to order. Here’s the only preliminary you need to know about our overall order: my husband made a big deal about ordering the chicken sandwich with fried chicken (an option that appears on the menu) and with cheddar instead of American cheese. Why is American cheese even an option at a fine dining establishment? This is not McDonald’s. A better question yet would be Why is American cheese even a thing? Four year-old me could tell that that shit is disgusting and only vaguely cheese-esque. Is this the new status quo in Trump’s America? I don’t know about you, but processed cheese product is not how I want my country represented. Alright, you got it? Fried with cheddar.

Here’s the M. Night Shyamalan plot twist: the chicken sandwich arrived and it was not fried and it had American “cheese.” Bet you didn’t see that coming! Besides the mix-up, it  was lame. The Eleanor uses chicken thigh for all their chicken needs, a bold move in our low-fat boneless breast-loving culture. I love dark meat chicken. But not when it’s full of gristle, as this was. Come on, guys. Lettuce, red onion. This sandwich was basic.

mvimg_20180706_203357.jpg

Also pictured here is my father-in-law’s spaghetti sandwich. What fresh hell is this? I think a carb-happy kindergartner may have conceptualized this meal. Worse yet: every part of this was store-bought, down to the spaghetti. My father-in-law said it best with “everything on here just tastes old.”

I ordered the tomato and kimchi salad with an addition of smoked salmon. The salmon was good, but, once again, definitely store-bought. The tomatoes were fresh too, I guess. But this was not a dinner-sized salad, nor was it even cohesive. Tomato and [a tiny amount of] kimchi is not a stretch, but then there were a bunch of pita chips topping it, like flat croutons. Except you can’t even use a fork to eat pita chips. It’s literally impossible. I just ended up pushing them to to the side because they weren’t even good.

img_20180706_203611.jpg

img_20180706_203405.jpg

My mother-in-law had the lobster roll and loved it. Her appreciation for her sandwich was partly a function of her forgiving and enthusiastic nature, but I have to admit that it was the best meal in our group. The lobster was tender, it had a good ratio of mayo to meat, and the bread was an appropriate medium for the food (in contrast to spaghetti, which does not require additional bread). Then we waited about twenty more minutes for the check.

“This was so good!” chirped my mother-in-law in her usual, very kind and generous way.

“NO,” said the rest of us.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: I hope one day the curse will be lifted and this location can finally have a decent restaurant. Until that time, don’t let the bowling gimmick cloud your perception of an otherwise blah eatery.

JoJo

mvimg_20180615_182635.jpg

JoJo was yet another pick by my father-in-law, whose qualifications for choosing restaurants include “Does this place have whiskey?” and not much else. Fun fact: JoJo does! It also has live jazz!

Sadly, we were seated away from the jazz, upstairs in a cozy booth. Even with reservations, we didn’t get here early enough to get their prime music-viewing seats. After some deliberation (and a too-short beer draft list), three of us decided to split a bottle of Malbec, and I ordered the A Train cocktail (aka Manhattan with a related name). I was satisfied with everything: my cocktail was very strong, and the wine was tasty.

I had a hard time choosing food, not because the menu was so extensive (it was!) but more because I was stumped when it came to their classic food. Being at JoJo made me feel like Betty Draper in Mad Men or something; the cuisine was all out of some 1950’s fancy restaurant playbook. Steak, herbed chicken, wilted spinach, that kind of thing. Part of me really wanted one of their salmon dishes, but the other part of me kept nagging that I cook salmon all the time at home. I eventually settled on the blackened chicken with shrimp.

img_20180615_190038.jpg

I’ll be honest. Was this chicken-veggie-rice combo fairly standard and basic? Totally. But damn if it wasn’t tasty. The vegetables were varied and roasted perfectly. The shrimp were coated in a sweet mustard sauce. The chicken was moist and had the right amount of seasoning. Even the rice was surprisingly okay. I could have cooked this dish at home, but it wouldn’t have tasted this perfect.

My in-laws were up next with the lobster ravioli and the steak in bourbon sauce. Once again, it was pretty good ravioli, but elevated just a little. The vodka sauce it came in was rich and interesting. The steak was cooked a beautiful medium-rare. My father-in-law had ordered medium but I assume the chef thought that would be an affront to all steak everywhere (it is) and decided to cook it to his or her own specification instead. I appreciate that level of decisiveness. The bourbon sauce was rich and alcohol-y.

img_20180615_190054.jpg

img_20180615_190202.jpg

My husband had the Triple B burger, which is really just a normal burger with remoulade (read: mayonnaise). It was cooked to specification and had ample meat and toppings. The shoestring fries were also quite tasty, although the whole thing was very classic again.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: At JoJo, you pay a premium for cool live music. Prices are high but not outlandish, and the food is unimaginative but executed well. Like your grandma’s house, but with Manhattans, reasonable portions, and a stand-up bass.

Ari’s Diner

20180223_192028.jpgAnother Friday family fun night, and I’ve struck out a few times lately, much to my own embarrassment. I was also informed that my husband’s grandmother would be joining us, and her very discerning tastes frequently limit our mutual dining options to only the best places that serve crabcakes. So I knew I was under pressure to choose a crowd-pleaser.

Ari’s Diner in Ivy City checks all the boxes: inexpensive (you’re welcome, in-laws!), healthy-ish options for me, crabcakes for grandma, and adult milkshakes that excited the menfolk! And, as luck would have it, they were offering a nightly special of fried chicken with mashed potatoes and spinach which is basically my mother-in-law’s three favorite things put on one plate. I’m not sure how their chef divined that we would be coming, but it’s like they somehow knew.

Sadly, Ari’s Diner was basically a ghost town when we got there. We walked in just behind a family with two small children and that made…nine of us total in the restaurant. There were actually more staff working than customers. This merits some side-eye, especially considering that next door, La Puerta Verde was hopping, so this isn’t just some Ivy City thing. Drink options were limited to the most basic of beers and “house” wines (from the House of Trader Joe?) so my husband and father-in-law were positively forced against their will to order alcoholic milkshakes. As my father-in-law had arrived a whopping two minutes ahead of us, he naturally received his special-order vanilla-bourbon-cookie milkshake before my husband’s Mexican chocolate malt. The result was this:

20180223_182404.jpg

I appreciate that these shakes were a completely reasonable, if all too easy to down in one gulp, size, unlike Ted’s Bulletin. I did not appreciate what felt like a lack of exciting milkshake options. Come on, guys, how hard is it to throw a banana in there? The Mexican chocolate shake was more chocolate than Mexican but at the end of the day, it’s still ice cream and liquor together in a perfect symphony of bad decisions.

Ari’s Diner serves breakfast all day, which is nice, although I’m not really a breakfast person. This meant that grandma, for whom I had chosen this restaurant specifically, completely neglected crabcakes in favor of a Western omelet. Turns out she adores Western omelets more than crabcakes. Huh. My father-in-law ordered the Greek omelet, and my husband, not to be outdone and with all breakfast options available, picked up the French toast monte cristo. I ordered the turkey sandwich with a side salad, and, since the option was there, asked that the sandwich be topped with runny eggs, natch. The menu advertised that this sandwich came with Fontina cheese on “pullman bread.” I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded fancy, so…

20180223_184243.jpg

It turns out that “pullman bread” just means white bread. Regular, from a plastic bag white bread. This was sad. I also really strongly doubt the authenticity of this so-called Fontina cheese, which looked and tasted much more like white American cheese than any creamy, stinky European original.

The pros of this sandwich included tasty turkey, of which I’m not usually a big fan, a lot of veggies, a nice and clearly house-made mustard vinaigrette on the salad, and ample avocado. By the end I was just scraping sandwich fixings off the boring bread and sopping up egg yolk with my turkey. This was the way to go.

The monte cristo was a solid plate of greasy goodness served with maple syrup. My husband loved it, although I think it would work better at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning after a serious bender.

My mother-in-law was extremely happy with her fried chicken. Actually, extremely happy” is a bit of an understatement. She was ecstatic over this. The mashed potatoes had a few solid chunks of potato left in them, which lends to their credibility as home-cooked. The chicken was exceptionally moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. The spinach was definitely fresh, but fairly boring and under-seasoned. It was green, though. Perhaps this was its only purpose.

20180223_184249.jpg

I have to admit that I didn’t try either of the omelets because their owners were pretty defensive of them. Perhaps the biggest endorsement of the western omelet was the fact that grandma actually FINISHED it and, like I said before, she is a niche connoisseur.

Price: $20 per person.

Bottom line: All in all, Ari’s Diner is less of the Ted’s Bulletin knockoff that I thought it would be, and more of, like, an actual diner. My biggest suggestions for improvement are a) better bread, b) more milkshake flavors, and c) more customers. They are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. which I feel like is missing a massive opportunity to be Northeast DC’s premier drunk food depot (especially considering their prime location across the street from a distillery and a shitty hipster bar). Check it out if you started drinking at 9 a.m. and need your hangover food extraordinarily early, or if you are hanging out with your friends who want brunch but refused to get a babysitter.

Shaw’s Tavern

Five years ago, I walked into Shaw’s Tavern, was unable to get bar service, and walked out, never to return…until tonight.

I was doing some serious dinner research prior to leaving the house and settled on Shaw’s Tavern for two reasons: 1. Prime walkability, and 2. I was having mad cravings for a burger. It was time to give Shaw’s Tavern another shot. It can’t live on the banned list forever. I was ready to forgive and forget.

20171104_174601.jpgThey have happy hour on Saturday. Yay, right? Wrong. Unless you like Miller Lite, then I guess it’s good for you, but you should probably reconsider your priorities. Needless to say, their draft list was particularly un-special, and the lack of decent happy hour specials made me feel not quite so bad about ordering an $11 cranberry margarita. But nothing would prepare me for what was to come next…

…PLASTIC. GLASSWARE. Their water and cocktails were all served in cheap plastic Collins glasses. Is this a five year-old’s birthday party? My husband also had to request three different beers (one draft, two bottled) before he came across one that they actually had in stock. The cranberry margarita was pretty decent, nothing life-changing.

I ordered the Heidenburger, medium, with a side salad. It’s always a gamble requesting a particular burger done-ness when you aren’t sure if they will actually cook it to your specification. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that I truly did want my burger cooked medium.

20171104_181313-1.jpg

The flavors were good, the salad was fresh, they didn’t skimp on ingredients, and it was cooked medium-well, if I’m being generous. It probably needed more Thousand Island, but overall it was fine. I ordered a burger. I got a burger. They upheld their end of the bargain. Transaction over.

My husband got the chipotle chicken pasta. Check it out:

20171104_181328.jpg

If you’re thinking, Wow, that looks like something I got for $9.99 at Applebee’s!, you’d be pretty close, and you would have paid half the price. I’d be impressed with this if my 24 year-old brother made it because, while not bad, it was just some boring-ass pasta with cream sauce and standard veggies. It was fine, it was finished, and everything tasted the way it was supposed to. But if I want Applebee’s, I’ll go to Applebee’s [Note: I will never want Applebee’s, especially not on U Street].

We got the check and hauled ass across the street to Right Proper for drinks and dessert. The food at Shaw’s was unimaginative, insanely overpriced given the quality, and earned them their old spot back on the D-list.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: Shaw’s Tavern is either Rich-Man’s-Chili’s, or perhaps Tasteless-Man’s-Boundary-Stone. Go to one of those places instead.