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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Espita Mezcaleria

I’m always down for mezcal cocktails. Throw promises of high-end Mexican food in the mix and I’ll basically sign away my first-born child. There is no better prescription for a hot Friday evening than these two things. Big ups to the weather for cooperating tonight!

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Fair warning: the mezcal list at Espita is pretty intimidating. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this many sub-varieties and distilleries exist, but how this place has managed to aggregate all these interesting liquors is beyond me. Until two weeks ago at Mezcalero, my fairly hip cousin hadn’t even heard of mezcal at all. Fortunately for me, the cocktail list is pretty straightforward. I ordered the Snap Pea Highball, which promised to be refreshing (spoiler alert: it was!), and my husband ordered Revenge of the Estocada–basically a mezcal negroni, although the liquor used in this one was more subtle and lighter on the smoke. It was a struggle for both of us to not down these drinks in one gulp.

As per usual, we decided to split a few small plates in lieu of ordering larger dishes. In my mezcal-addled mind, this was a good way to ease the financial burden. That was not entirely what happened. In order, our share-plates were:

    1. Salsa de Marañon: nutty, smoky, and slightly spicy. We thought, “Hm, this tastes familiar” for several minutes before my husband finally pinpointed the flavor as “franks and beans.” This is a major undersell because it was delicious. Maybe a very high-quality franks and beans? At least it was not just your run-of-the-mill salsa. The chips were fantastic too; thicker than usual, crispy, and light on the salt.
    2. Ceviche: I don’t know about you, but I expect ceviche to have, like, a lot of fish in it. Perhaps it speaks more to the high standard set by the other dishes, but this was kind of a disappointment. My husband would tell you that there was too much rhubarb. I would tell you there just wasn’t enough fish. Potato/potahto. What fish was there was plush and delicious, but calling this ceviche was false advertising. Call it a rhubarb salad with raw fish on it. Boom! Done.

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3. Tacos al Pastor: Tender pork, tart-salty watermelon, and sweet warm pineapple. This was not your typical taco al pastor but damn if it wasn’t delicious. Definitely the best part of this dinner.

4. Cauliflower: The texture of the vegetable itself was the perfect combination of soft on the inside with crispy florets. The sauce claimed to be hazelnut salsa but I’m pretty sure it was just that same cashew salsa we had as our starter. I ain’t mad, though. In this incarnation, it was almost barbecue- or teriyaki-like, and the cauliflower acted as a good vehicle for eating more sauce.

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An honest question here: how have I been to two different Mexican restaurants in the last two weeks that don’t offer tres leches cake? Do you want my money or not, Espita?

In the end, we opted for liquid dessert. Our server recommended the Durango mezcal flight. Despite a mezcal list about an inch thick, somehow Espita can’t be bothered to write an actual descriptive blurb about any of them so we had no idea what we were getting. One great thing about this flight was that all three of the mezcals were very different from one another. On the other hand, only one of them was particularly good (related: I highly recommend the Mezcales de Leyenda). It was smoky, sweet, and fruity.

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Despite Espita’s food prices–which I would estimate were about 20% higher than necessary–we somehow still managed to spend more money on drinks than on food.

Price: Even at $50 per person, you may be hungry an hour later.

Bottom line: Espita has a unique schtick and food that was interesting and good, but borders on not being worth the price. Come for the cocktails, maybe pick up a small plate or two.

The Partisan

This was my husband’s Birthday Dinner 2: Family Edition and I chose the Partisan because we remembered it being great when we last came here a couple of years ago, plus he didn’t want to make a big deal out of his b-day (#introvertproblems). I was worried that The Partisan wouldn’t live up to my previously-founded high expectations.

First, I had forgotten about the beer list. It’s pretty incredible and included a lot of sours, so already they were on their way to high marks from me. We all had a drink at the bar while they got our table ready and everyone was in a good place.

Next, while the small-plates menu is not huge, I had somehow completely forgotten about the charcuterie list, which is kind of embarrassing considering that it’s Partisan/Red Apron’s claim to fame. I was trying not to over-overdo it, so I chose three interesting-sounding meats and let my mother-in-law pick the cheeses. Here’s what we got:

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Left to right: Partisan’s special McGriddle-esque biscuits, smoked bleu cheese, Kunik goat cheese, bourbon-fig rillette, pig face biraldo, and the red menace ‘nduja. As soon as I ordered these, the sour beer set in and I immediately forgot what I had written down on their handy-dandy ordering sheet. So I’m not sure I tasted bourbon or figs in the pate-like rillette, but I also wasn’t looking for them because they’d completely slipped my mind. The biraldo was earthy, spicy, and salami-like, and the red menace was spicy, as advertised. I went with these weird-ass meats because I figured When in Rome. I kind of wish that these charcuterie plates came with some more interesting accompaniments, but in retrospect I think The Partisan does this intentionally because the meat and cheese need to stand alone. I respect that.

The main small plates came out rather fast after ordering them, but we hardly felt rushed. Here was the first round, from left to right: gose-braised rabbit, brussels sprouts, and shishito peppers.

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I feel like this rabbit could have done better in the looks department, and also in the taste department. It had the texture of tuna casserole and the flavor of mustard, if mustard took a bunch of steroids and went to the gym everyday. Fortunately, it was only uphill from here. The sprouts were the perfect crispy crunch and went well with the pesto and grana padano. I mostly binged on the shishito peppers all night because they felt healthy and there was a mountain of them. They were cooked to a blistered softness.

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Then came the fried chicken and the diver scallops. First, let me just say that I hate scallops. They usually taste like string cheese that has been living under the ocean. But these were great. Mostly they just tasted like butter. I loved the bitter chard with them as well. The friend chicken was so crispy on the outside, and the sweet and sour sauce on the side was wonderful too.

Now, here’s where our night got interesting. A server showed up to re-set the table for us as if we were anticipating another dish we hadn’t ordered. My husband immediately pointed the finger at his mother, who has a history of very conspicuously orchestrating surprises. When she swore it wasn’t her, it was decided that I must have said something, and while I swore up and down that I hadn’t mentioned anything to the hosts, I was stricken by fear that I’d put a note in the reservation that we were celebrating a birthday. I was also now working on my next cocktail, so I tried hard not to let on that I thought something might be amiss.

Dessert arrived, and it turned out to be my salvation. At some point during dinner, one of the servers had overheard us talking about cask beer. At the time, he had very casually mentioned that Bluejacket and Churchkey are part of the same restaurant group as them. So we had a brief conversation about beer. Drunk me went on a brief rant about how Churchkey is overcrowded and overpriced. That same waiter came back to give us the run-down: their fried apple pies with a cask Belgian quad, a full pour for all of us, all on the house and 100% independent of any birthday we happened to be celebrating (which the waiter didn’t know about until we all started scapegoating each other).

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So hat’s off to you, Partisan! I don’t know that I’ve seen another restaurant go to this extreme level of service completely unprompted. It felt like everyone’s birthday (and, fortunately, no singing or clapping).

PS the apple pies were flaky and buttery like clouds from heaven.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: After a long hiatus, I think we found a new go-to birthday place. This was one of the best dinners out in recent memory. Pricey, but worth it.

Fig & Olive

 

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Man, I felt super poor walking into Palmer Alley, the weird upscale pedestrian mall where Fig & Olive DC is tucked away. I mean, I was wearing a skirt that I bought at Goodwill for $7 and a pair of Target sandals. I put the good in Goodwill, but still. Walking through the revolving door was like stepping into a Williams Sonoma catalogue.

The downstairs is mostly bar with a happy hour crowd, so we were seated upstairs. The beer list was a little [read: extremely] sad, but the cocktails looked great, and I had some trouble deciding because there were so many great options. I got a Provence Margarita and my husband got the Julep. They were both fresh, flavorful, and served fast. Plus, this place really lives by their name, and the julep was served accordingly with a fresh, speared fig. I also thought that $12 for a cocktail, while ultimately a little expensive, is par for the course in DC. This is a known fact.

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We ordered six different crostini so I got a nice sampling of the octopus (slightly fishy, slightly chewy, still great smoky flavor), the manchego (yum, fig jam! Maybe too much fig jam…nevermind, that’s not a thing), the prosciutto (more fig jam!), and the daily special pata negra with tomato (definitely the winner–slightly salty with savory tomatoes).

20171006_190037.jpgThen, the main course: I ordered the salmon, which came with asparagus, pea puree, and fennel. The skin on the salmon was wonderfully crispy, the salmon just slightly more than the medium I ordered. The asparagus was also perfect, but there wasn’t a whole lot of it. My main issue was the explosion of fennel on this plate. It was gorgeous, but ain’t nobody want to eat an entire fennel bulb with nothing else. I mean, I still did. For science.

My husband had the chicken tajine [sic]. I’m a big fan of the tagine concept. I have weirdly both owned a tagine pot and gifted one to a friend. If you are not familiar with this concept, it’s basically the least useful, least durable Dutch oven that has ever existed, but damn if it isn’t a pretty way to cook things. So I’ve made a tagine or two in my day, and let’s say that what my husband got was less of a tagine and more of a…thin soup? Without a spoon? And couscous on the side? It had some uncut vegetables, which was nice but inconvenient, and the highlight was definitely the harissa, pimenton, and toasted almonds served on the side, but there was no clear way to eat this dish, so he struggled with how to consume the bone-in chicken and where to put the sauce, etc. In retrospect, maybe the couscous was supposed to go in the soup? Unclear. He describes this dish as a “standard chicken dish that was hard to eat.”

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An actual tagine
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Fig & Olive’s “tajine”

One nice thing that Fig & Olive does right is that they offer an $8 dessert consisting of a cup of coffee and a tiny bite of one of their desserts. I appreciated the fact that I could order the actual correct amount of dessert and also not have to agree on what to get with anyone else, because my mother-in-law always wants dessert, but she is a monster who doesn’t like cheesecake, so really why did I ever agree to marry into this family?! Anyway, I got the cherry crostini. It consisted of nicely crumbly shortbread covered in creamy mascarpone, pistachios, and two tiny liquor-soaked cherries. It was a highlight of this meal, but it was still not anything special.

Price: $50+ per person.

Bottom line: Fig & Olive has good-quality food that’s just served wrong. I don’t know how else to put it. Everyone also agreed afterwards that it was exactly 20% overpriced. It had the vibe of a fancy place, the ingredients of a fancy place, the prices of a fancy place, the plating of a fancy place, and the taste of my kitchen (Note: I’m, like, a pretty good cook. But I have not been to culinary school or sold my food for $35 a plate, so I feel like we should all just expect more from this place, ok?)