Stable

I have to say, my curiosity about Swiss food was motivated by my recent reading of chef Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir, which recounts his experience training in an Alpine hotel and attempting to modernize traditional Swiss dishes. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another Swiss restaurant, or met a Swiss immigrant, probably because who would ever want to leave a magical mountain paradise full of hot chocolate and sweaters and secret bank accounts?

We started with drinks and a cheese board. My standbad cocktail with watermelon vodka was refreshing but definitely not too sweet and even had a watermelon ice cube, and my mother-in-law’s apricot daiquiri was a good blend of bitter and tart. Our cheese board was intense. It reminded me of our experience in Belgium of ordering cheese in grams and, like the idiot Americans we are, having no idea the enormous quantity that would appear in front of us (“500 grams? That’s like…a small package, right?”). That is the only time I’ve eaten so much cheese that I would call it too much. Similarly, Stable’s board is one cheese but it’s a lot. Their house bread and butter are inexplicably amazing too.

mvimg_20180720_202650.jpg

My father-in-law had the veal. This is some serious meat and potatoes. The veal comes sliced thin, beautifully brown but still tender, in a creamy mushroom sauce. It was the kind of thing I couldn’t stop picking at, even when it was just mushrooms and gravy left.

mvimg_20180720_202757.jpg

 

 

My mother-in-law’s vol-au-vent (that’s a lot of hyphens) was crisp and buttery, with a side of peas that bore no resemblance to nasty, chalky frozen peas. The dumplings inside the pastry were rich and plush, with another creamy sauce.

 

My husband, after a lot of internal debate, ordered the spaghetti with pork picatta. Not his usual style, but it got a big thumbs-up from our server. He was not lying about that thumbs-up; the thin-cut fried pork was perfectly flavorful and this was not some shitty store-bought spaghetti.

mvimg_20180720_202723.jpg

Due to my aforementioned infatuation with Marcus Samuelsson and his repeated mention of the traditional Swiss rosti, I ordered this. I had no idea what I was going to get, and in my imagination it was some sort of stew? Maybe? A casserole? I was close. What I ended up getting was the world’s greatest drunk food, Switzerland’s answer to cheese fries.

mvimg_20180720_202751.jpg

It’s an enormous hashbrown topped with tomato, stinky melted cheese, and topped with speck. The potato was so crispy and perfectly seasoned, and the cheese was just enough to impart serious flavor without turning it into stinky sock city. This meal was not me, but it would definitely be perfect if you were somehow inexplicably already drunk at 6 p.m. I gave up after barely eating half, and the other half also worked well as my husband’s hangover breakfast.

We ordered a dessert of Schnapps, lattes, a chocolate mousse, and a creme brulee. Maybe if you like Schnapps you would be impressed by Stable’s collection. I can say we gave it an honest try. The coffee was good, but oh my god the chocolate mousse was unbelievable:

mvimg_20180720_210611.jpg

This picture does no justice to it. Rich, deep, bitter dark chocolate flavor, candied almonds, perfect whipped texture…this was incredible and I ate much more than my share of it. The creme brulee was deliciously creamy, for sure, but nothing could overshadow this mousse.

My biggest regret in coming here was that I didn’t make the special reservations necessary for Stable’s raclette service. That will have to be saved for a birthday or perhaps and time when I need a very large pick-me-up and the only thing that can help is a giant wheel of melted cheese.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Stable delivers an awesome experience with everything they serve. You can’t go wrong with anything, but these meals are not for the faint of heart, or the carb-avoiders.

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.

Colada Shop

If I were a smarter person, I might have tried not walking to 14th Street in 95 degree weather. Nor sitting outside. But I guess now I got the full Havana experience at Colada Shop, yet another cutesy place that combines my two favorite things: coffee and cocktails. 11:45 a.m. on a Tuesday is not too early for me to drink when I’m on summer vacation. Actually, maybe Colada Shop has my three most favorite things: coffee, cocktails, and pork.

My friend agreed to go splitsies with me, and I’m glad she did because the Cubano is enormous. I ate half and am not sure how I’m going to eat dinner in five hours. The bread was perfect, with a nice crunch, and the mustard was prevalent. The shredded pork was cooked well but kind of bland. What did they even do to pork to make it not-flavorful?! In general, I’d say this sandwich was good but could have used 25% more of everything. I’m not even sure I tasted pickles.

mvimg_20180710_121811-1.jpg

mvimg_20180710_121818.jpg

I finished up with a mojito (yes, at 11:45. Don’t judge me) and two pastelitos: the savory piccadillo and the guava-cheese. The mojito was small, standard, but half-off thanks to the Teacher Passport program. I’ll just choose to not complain. There are lots of other people who had to go to work today and couldn’t spend late morning sipping rum cocktails in short shorts. Suckas!

The piccadillo pastry had the classic salty-sweet combination from the meat and raisins, and the guava-cheese was sweet without being cloying, but they both left something to be desired.

mvimg_20180710_121839.jpg

I picked up an iced cafe con leche on my way out in an attempt to beat the heat on my walk home (spoiler: it didn’t work). The coffee was probably the best part of lunch, though! It was rich and nutty but not super strong.

Price: $15 per person.

Bottom line: You could do worse than Colada Shop in terms of coffee, sandwiches, or general vibe. I wish I had gotten to try one of their more creative cocktails, but beggars can’t be choosers.

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.

Jackie Lee’s

Tipped off by a friend about the burgeoning Kennedy Street/Manor Park/Super-Sketchville food scene, we ventured out tonight to Jackie Lee’s. A quick note: when anyone talks about the burgeoning Kennedy Street food scene, what they mean is “we have one restaurant that isn’t a front for a money laundering scheme!” That one restaurant is Jackie Lee’s.

Walking up, I felt like we were about to check out Freddy’s place in House of Cards. If anyone dares challenge me on my assessment of Kennedy Street, tell me one other restaurant that is even open. Exactly. But walking in, the vibe definitely changed. Was it divey? Yes, but in a manufactured way. It was dark and vaguely smokey-smelling. A vending machine at the back was selling candy bars but giving away condoms for free. We were the only people in there without nose rings. White hipster parents bounced babies on their laps.

mvimg_20180616_175106.jpg

We sat at the bar and ordered a couple of drinks. I got the Sweet and Spicy rickey because it was a very reasonable price. They have no beer taps but a huge bottle list that includes some actually good beers. My cocktail was everything I hoped: nothing super fancy, but solid, strong, and spicy.

We ordered some barbecue from the food menu. I had the smoked turkey with collard greens and some hush puppies to share. My husband got the brisket (no big surprise) and coleslaw.

img_20180616_180238.jpg

Hush puppies: crispy and sweet, and not overly greasy. They served them with spicy mayo that was not really spicy. The turkey was incredibly moist and very, very smokey. I don’t know how they got it this smokey. It was maybe slightly over-salted but I am willing to overlook that. The collards were tender and juicy.

mvimg_20180616_180243.jpg

Pulled brisket is not the best way to eat brisket, but this was still solid. Very moist, but somehow blander than the turkey. The coleslaw was really crispy and peppery. When we finished these, we were still hungry. So we had to hang our heads in shame as we ordered yet another meat/side combination (this time the pork with a single corn muffin). Yet again, the pork was second to the turkey, but still moist and flavorful. The corn muffin was incredibly sweet. Jackie Lee’s gives only one barbecue sauce with their meals–a very molasses-y tomato-based sauce that paired well with everything but was not unique (nor, I’m guessing, house-made).

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Not life-changing barbecue by any means, but still pretty good! I would come here again for a cheap, easy, solid meal and drinks of a similar nature. Just make sure you order more than one meat and one side; they’re smaller than you think!

Takoma Bev Co.

Full disclosure: I’m morally obligated to love this place because it’s owned by a former teacher from my school. Also, I’m jealous that they have cornered the market on combination coffee shops/bars because this is the perfect restaurant concept that doesn’t exist enough. But I’ll try to separate my feelings about the ownership and concept from my actual review. Let’s get down to it!

Once again this weekend, we came upon a nearly empty restaurant with a fantastic-looking menu. Is this the Walking Dead? Are we going to have to barricade ourselves in the restaurant and hunker down with whatever living souls happen to be working there? Takoma is such a neighborhoody place, why was nobody out and about at this cutesy shop?

At Takoma Bev Co., you have to order at the counter and place a number on your table. I’m normally opposed to this structure. If you’re paying someone to bring my food out, why can’t you pay someone to come over and take my order? On the other hand, this enabled us to grab a comfy couch to sit on. We eat dinner exclusively on the couch at home, why not do it in a restaurant too?

I ordered the special happy hour house cocktail and my husband got a sour beer from Oliver. The cocktail was a perfect blend of sweet rum, tartness from the pineapple, and herbal chamomile. It was one of the better craft cocktails I’ve had in recent memory.

MVIMG_20180519_183620.jpg

img_20180519_184050.jpg

 

For dinner, we ordered three dishes: the brussels sprouts, the octopus, and the braised short rib. All three were brought out together. The sprouts were well-cooked, but had gone slightly slack from the lentils and yogurt that accompanied them. The sweet-sour cranberries went well with the bitterness from the sprouts but they could have been crispier. Still very tasty.

I really really enjoyed my octopus. It was cut into small pieces so that it would mix well with the crispy fried potatoes in the bowl. As such, it was a little hard to find pieces of octopus but on the other hand, it had a great texture, definitely not too chewy, and I loved the paprika aioli with the whole thing. The short rib was very soft and flavorful, with creamy potatoes to boot. All three of our dishes were on the smaller side, but reasonably priced for what they were.

img_20180519_184100.jpg

We sprung for three kinds of dessert: a homemade chocolate cookie, a porter, and a mocha latte (bonus: taking home a bomber of special edition beer from the Bruery!) The cookie was chocolatey, chewy heaven. It is pictured below in half-eaten form because it was already mostly gone by the time we got back to the table. The Founder’s Porter is obviously good, but this is not news to anyone. The mocha was rich and sweet, but not artificial tasting the way some chocolate syrups are. It was a luxury for me to drink a sweet coffee drink and totally worthy of the splurge.

mvimg_20180519_190821.jpg

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Takoma Bev Co. is great fodder for any time of day and just a nice, cozy hangout spot. You can have all your caffeine, alcohol, and sustenance needs met while you’re fighting off zombies, if it comes to that.

Ruta del Vino

I was panicked on our too-long rush-hour drive to Ruta del Vino in Petworth. I knew the place was small and refused to take reservations. There were five of us. I really didn’t want to be driving all over town on a Friday night without a clear plan. I did a tuck and roll out of my father-in-law’s car and burst through the door like someone about to object at a wedding to find…a basically empty restaurant.

Now, I feel kind of stupid admitting this, but not one of us drank a drop of wine at this wine bar. How Ruta del Vino can make a profit on $5 happy hour margaritas (or how they managed to be this empty with $5 happy hour margaritas) is totally beyond me, but we took full advantage of that deal. We took so much advantage of that deal that my husband spilled his second one all over me and was immediately brought a third one. The margaritas were great.

Most of us decided to go the share-plates route and we–I mean, I–picked out a few things to try. Let’s get down to business here.

IMG_20180518_180512.jpg

The first round included the grilled cheese (bottom) which I didn’t try despite my mother-in-law’s pleas. The beet salad (top left) was big enough for four of us to share, and the sweet beets were complemented by tart pineapple and salty cheese, with plenty of greens and cilantro. It tasted so fresh, and I can’t wait to recreate this at home. The empanadas (top right) were stuffed with kale, nuts, pumpkin, and raisins, and the pastry was deliciously flaky, but I feel like the stuffing could have used more sweetness or spice.

img_20180518_180621.jpg

Next came our two seafood dishes: the grilled octopus and chorizo and the tiradito del dia. The octopus was cooked to perfection, not a bit chewy, and went well with the smoky sausage. I wish there had been more of it. The ceviche was again a little small, especially given how delicious it was. It was slightly sweet from mango and grapefruit and simply perfect. One of the best ceviches I’ve had.

Our last share plate was actually an entree: the carne asada. We ordered it medium rare and that is exactly how it came out: a perfect pink throughout despite the thin cut, a good amount of meat to share, a fragrant chimichurri, and some spiced yucca fries that were soft and crispy.

mvimg_20180518_181728.jpg

My husband’s grandmother ordered (or rather, she was forced to order) the pollo a la huancaina. It was a decent size entree and the chicken had a great crispy exterior. Even the potatoes were delicious. I loved everything about this.

img_20180518_181726.jpg

We ended the night with a “bartender’s choice” blind comparison of two mezcals (the $5 margaritas may have played a role in this decision), and we were not disappointed by the two very different and very unique liquors we were brought, one of which was a younger, clear, and bolder flavor, and the other of which had the smoke and burn of oak barrel.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: I don’t know how Ruta del Vino wasn’t more popular on a Friday evening, and even though it was to my distinct pleasure and benefit that we easily found a table, it would be a damn shame to not fill this place up.