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.

Bistro Bis

Restaurant Week seemed like the perfect time to check out Bistro Bis, which has been on my list for a while. It just never seemed like an appropriate time to check it out until I could get three courses for, like, the price of one normal appetizer here. So cross this one out and here I go!

I’ll forego talking about the drinks because they were kind of unremarkable. Normal beer list, pricey wines, some original cocktails at DC prices. Everything was fine (I did drink two cocktails, after all), but it’s not worth the effort to post a picture, although I have to say that the server brought my cocktail out in a mini shaker and poured it right into the martini glass in front of me, which always makes me feel like royalty.

First of all, I love that their Restaurant Week deal allowed us to get basically whatever we wanted from their normal menu, which enabled everyone to get something completely different. Here were our appetizer selections:

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Starting on the top left, my husband has been working from home all week due to a bad cold, so this guy was super excited to order the French onion soup. It was your regular French onion soup, except I could smell this delicious stinky cheese even sitting on the other side of the table from him. It was all I could smell, in fact. The cheese was melty and crispy; the broth was full of onions. I loved it. It was worth my getting his cold just to try it. In the top of the photo is the endive salad, which I almost ordered for myself. I love the bitterness and crunch of the endive with the sweet, candied walnuts and pears. On the right was the Salade Panache. The apricots lent a nice sweetness and I’m partial to manchego. It was a good salad, but ultimately just a salad. On the bottom of the photo was my pick: the salmon cru. The carrot puree was particularly good; the green apple puree took me a little while to get used to. The salmon was only lightly cured and therefore not overly salty, but it was cut nicely and very tender. The cabbage and carrots on top lent a nice texture as well. It was also a perfectly-sized appetizer, especially for one person.

After tasting our entrees, though, I now believe in sorcery. Everything was so good in its own way. Between the four of us, we had the walnut-crusted scallops, the beef Bourguignon, the lamb shank, and the duck confit, which I will admit was my order because ever since I converted from being a vegetarian to being a meat-eater four years ago, I’ve been notorious for ordering duck any time it’s available. It’s like chicken, but not a horrible disappointment to eat.

Anyway, let’s start with the beef. So tender, so fall-aparty, in a rich wine sauce. It was a fantastic beef stew, and it came with these mashed potatoes that were so delicious even I liked them, and potatoes just are not my thing. I’m pretty sure that they were at least 60% butter. Butter is unequivocally my thing.

The lamb shank was heavenly. The meat had that lamby flavor but it wasn’t overwhelming, and it went really well with the cinnamon-y chickpeas on the plate. Lamb is so hard to get right, and this was incredibly melty and not even a bit chewy. I have nothing bad to say about it. I even chomped down the caramelized crust pieces my husband left behind.

20180126_192850.jpgSpeaking of not-my-thing: scallops. The nasty marshmallows of the sea. But in this case, I could roll with them. The nut crust gave them a texture that was decidedly less marshmallowy, and they were cooked really well, not chewy at all. The accompanying sweet potato puree was delicious.

Finally, the duck: I always prefer my meat boneless because I like to have the shortest route possible between my plate and my mouth (bonus points if the meat is already cut into small pieces!) But this duck fell right off the bone, and was served with beans and a spicy tomato-based sauce that worked well to cut the fattiness of the meat. Duck wins again. No regrets here.20180126_192838.jpg

20180126_200334.jpgFortunately–or unfortunately for my waistline–Bistro Bis’ restaurant week deal included an individual dessert for all four of us, which was highly unnecessary. Like the ingenious, crafty people we all are, we once again coordinated our dessert choices to include the widest possible variety. Represented here were: Apple Croustade, Citron Tarte, Torte au Chocolat, and Paris-Brest pastry. I think the winner of this round would depend completely on who you asked. I really enjoyed the apple croustade, mainly because the pastry crust was so flaky and buttery, and I really liked the raisins in the filling. My husband thought the Paris-Brest’s pastry dough was overcooked, but it was filled with a delicious cream that I can’t complain about. The chocolate cake itself was slightly dry, but had a decadent mousse topping. And the Citron Tarte was good if you’re into that sort of thing: tart, crusty, meringue.

Price: $50 per person during Restaurant Week, probably a solid $70 per person at all other times.

Bottom line: I was not disappointed by anything at tonight’s dinner. That said, I think Restaurant Week is the perfect time to go here since the price was actually reasonable. For a regular Friday night, I might choose Le Grenier instead since it has a much more local (read: cheaper) vibe.

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?)