Mikko

I’m about to utter some words never before spoken in the English language: I miss the food I ate in Iceland. Before going there, I was a hardcore nay-sayer every time my friend mentioned wanting to eat their traditional food. But everything we found there was high-quality, fresh, and a plethora of delicious seafood that I’ve been trying to recreate at home ever since. Mikko has that adorable made-by-Ikea look that let’s you know this place is all about salmon.

Honestly, I was pretty disappointed with their whole set-up. Seating is extremely limited both inside and outside, with only the tiniest tables that honestly probably did come from the playroom department of Ikea, and you have to order at the counter. I get that this is more of a lunch place and we were there for dinner. I also get that counter ordering was inordinately stressful because there were five of us and nobody can agree. But if you are open for dinner, and if you have dishes that cost $18, you need to come to my table. You also need to provide glasses and bottle openers for your beer, come on guys!

My mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law got their own stuff and it looked like this:

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It’s a mushroom quiche and I know it tasted good because my mother-in-law finished the whole thing without even trying to pressure anyone else to take a bite. The flip-side of this is that I can’t give you any idea of what this tasted like. Sorry!

The three cool people at the table decided to share some plates and they came out one at a time:

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These were small pieces of cheese but there was a huge variety of soft, hard, blue, and even two kinds of Scandinavian caramel cheese (top-middle and bottom-right), and they were so interesting and different from the usual (imagine that a babybell had a baby with dulce de leche).

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The meatballs were very beefy with the flavor of red wine, and a thin puree that I was surprised to taste was not mashed potatoes.

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On the menu, it definitely, definitely said “potato bliniS.” Plural. But this is one. It was approximately the size of a standard cookie. It’s larger in this picture than it was in real life. We split it into thirds and it was quite sad. On the other hand, salmon roe + sour cream + red onion = mouth heaven. There was a disproportionate amount of those things too, so I just kind of piled them on my fork and hoped nobody saw me.

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The salmon is categorized as an entree, so it was significantly larger than the other dishes. This thing was carrot city. The fish was so rich and, for lack of a better flavor descriptor, salmony. The carrots still had a lot of firmness too. I couldn’t stop picking at this.

After these four things, I was satisfied but not full. My MIL and Grandma ordered individual desserts from the lovely-looking pastry case, and three of us ordered lattes which, when they arrived, were the tiny tiny versions I became accustomed to ordering (several times a day) throughout Iceland. The brownie was also ridiculously fudgy and dense (no picture because it was eaten so quickly).

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: I think I’d come back here if I wanted to have a luxurious, wine-fueled lunch or tiny coffee. The food was mostly excellent, but with some rookie mistakes.

Brick Lane

After passing Brick Lane a few weeks ago and doing an inadequate amount of google research, I made a Friday night reservation here. It’s important to note that when I say “inadequate amount of google research,” what I mean is that I googled the name of the restaurant, gave the menu the once-over, and determined that the food was a reasonable price and mother-in-law friendly. I also peeped that they bill themselves as “The Hottest Restaurant in Dupont Circle.” Is there a restaurant hotness certification board that determines these things? After eating here, I can say definitively: No. Brick Lane’s website also touts that they are an OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award Winner. Guys, sometimes you’re just blinded by glitter and flashbulbs and can’t see the gritty side of Hollywood.

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Alright, it’s cute; I’ll give them that. It’s also tiny. But even though I’d perused the menu online, I was suddenly stricken by an unnameable fear. Something here told me that I’d just made a mistake. Perhaps it was the large number of unimaginative meal options all featuring the same vague ingredients. There was a salmon entree, a salmon sandwich, and a salmon salad. They had lemon chicken as a menu option. Lemon chicken is what your mom cooks on Thursdays because she hasn’t had time to go to the grocery store and if you don’t like it, then you can just cook dinner from now on.

We ordered drinks: as per usual, two beers, a wine, and the Capitol cocktail. I wish I could say that the cocktail was memorable, but it was watered-down and sad. I held on to high hopes for the meal. I had been promised hotness and I wanted to see hotness!

We didn’t order any appetizers because they were all boring as shit, but our entrees arrived reasonably quickly. I had the salmon sandwich I was just making fun of, my husband got the Brick Lane burger, my father-in-law got the hanger steak, and my mother-in-law had the coconut shrimp salad.

Here’s the good news first. The salmon was cooked well, the sandwiches were served on interesting buns, and hanger steak was pretty good. Here are some pictures of food:

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Here’s the boring news: everything. In case it’s unapparent in this picture, I ate salmon. On bread. With lettuce and tomato. The end. The hanger steak was steak. With mashed potatoes. And some grilled bok choy. If I had put this on a plate at home, my husband would be like, “I don’t get it.” I mean, it tasted fine, particularly the steak. But like my father-in-law astutely pointed out, have you ever had a bad mashed potato? Particularly unimpressive was my mother-in-law’s salad, which I take exceptional issue with because of this: the menu says “coconut shrimp.” This is not coconut shrimp. This is oily, bad tempura shrimp on top of some lettuce. Even before I tried this, I refused to take a picture of it on account of it just being some shrimp on top of lettuce. Can you picture that in your mind? Good, now you don’t need a photo.

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While the rest of us tried not to make eye contact with my MIL, she ordered a slice of tiramisu for dessert. It is accurately represented in this photo.

I have so many problems with this, but I’ll stick with the glaring error: I didn’t even taste liquor or espresso in this when both of those things should have been soaking through the layers of cake. That, and I’m 99% sure this came from the Safeway around the corner.

And now for the worst part of the meal: the post-meal google session. So after some cursory internet searching by a competent professional (i.e. my husband), it turns out that the so-called OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award is either:

a) a real thing that Brick Lane is falsely claiming they won, or

b) a semi-fake award that OpenTable gives to everyone in exchange for getting free press on restaurants’ websites

I don’t know if it’s better to know you’re lying, or to be taken for a ride and not knowing you’re lying. They’re both pretty bad.

Price: $30 per person. All things considered, the entrees were pretty reasonable prices. Being overpriced was not Brick Lane’s problem.

Bottom line: I’m trying to liken Brick Lane to a chain restaurant everyone knows, but that’s too hard. It’s at least one notch above TGI Fridays. If anyone has actually ever called this place “the hottest restaurant in Dupont,” it was likely to have been your weird aunt who thinks she’s really fancy and avant-garde because she added pears and walnuts to the salad one Thanksgiving.

Nazca Mochica

I topped off Restaurant Week with Nazca Mochica, a swanky Peruvian joint just East of Dupont Circle. I sometimes feel like I’m a junkie chasing my next restaurant high. I always want to try something newer, more exotic, more interesting. It felt a bit disappointing to be eating Peruvian at a time like this.

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They’ve got some beautiful digs here, including a live stream from the central park of Lima. Like I needed one more reason to feel bad about not actually being in Lima (although in three short days I will be in Brussels, so maybe I’m still winning). Service started out a little slow (including not starting us off with a drink menu. I’m at the point in my life in which I am insulted while being mistaken for being younger than I am and ALSO insulted at being mistaken for older, so I’m sensitive to them not bringing me the drink menu right away). They did, though, and both wine and cocktails were exciting and reasonable. I got the beet and rosemary chilcano and my wonderful spouse ordered a glass of Malbec. “Blech! Is this cranberry or something?!” he said as he recoiled while trying my chilcano. I liked it a lot and appreciated the spicy ginger beer with the subtle sweetness of the beet, but let this serve as a lesson about there being no accounting for taste. Choose your cocktail wisely.

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This was the last time service was slow.

In fact, from this point on, it turned into a fast-motion meal with “Yakety Sax” playing in the background. Our appetizers came out even before the drinks, and a whole ninety seconds after ordering. It wasn’t one minute after we finished those that the entrees came out, and the dessert came as soon as our dinner plates were cleared. Our reservation was at 6:30 and I’m pretty sure we left the restaurant before 7:00. That being said, let’s go over the meal components:

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For the appetizer round, I had the ceviche and my husband got the causitas. That ceviche was ridiculously good. The fish was so soft, not a bit chewy or rubbery, had a light lime touch with something creamy (coconut milk?) as well. The bits of fried yuca complemented the fish well. And it was enormous! The causitas were very soft and plushy but, if I’m being honest, kind of bland. All three were the same with just slightly different toppings.

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For the entree, my husband (at my strong encouragement) got the seco de cordero and I had the pulpo a la parrilla. The perspective on this photo makes it look like I ate an entire sea monster, but in reality the lamb was much larger. The lamb was very tender with not a bit of chewy fat on it and the sauce was rich and winey with a slight spicy bite. It was top-notch and I think we’re both glad that I forced him to get this. Before I talk about the octopus, full disclosure: my husband recently called me “an octopus master” after I cooked PERFECT tentacles. I love octopus, but when it’s bad, it’s really bad. I started with the fat end, knowing it would be the inferior part and it was…quite chewy. I felt like some kind of hoity-toity Captain Ahab hacking at this leg with the provided steak knife. Fortunately, it improved from there. The sear on the tentacles was perfect (mmmm! Those crispy suckers!) and I liked the accompanying hominy. I wish this dish had had a green vegetable. Potatoes just don’t do it for me.

Finally, the part of the meal we had been waiting for: the alfajores. This is literally the only dessert Nazca Mochica has so we assumed it would be heinously good. Unfortunately, we were mistaken.

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What is this nonsense? The cookie-to-dulce de leche ratio was all wrong. I think the generally accepted rule on this is 1:1 and these cookies were just way too thick. I’m not sure I even tasted the caramel center. It was like expecting a Double Stuff Oreo and instead getting an Oreo that someone had licked the frosting out of and stuck the two halves back together.

Price: $45 per person during Restaurant Week; something closer to $50 or $55 per person at all other times.

Bottom line: I was satisfied after this dinner and not upset that I came here, but I’m not sure I’d come back. The Octopus Master(TM) is kind of above this. PS It has recently come to my attention that I also happen to be the Alfajores Master. My Peruvian coworker was impressed with my cookies, so it has been decided. And if I want to be depressed that I’m not in Peru, I can just watch videos at home.

Plume at the Jefferson Hotel

Let’s get this out of the way: it’s Saturday night, it was my birthday dinner, I just had a wine pairing, and I’m like 7/10 drunk right now. But Plume!

We ordered the Classic Wine Pairing with the tasting menu, so I have a lot to talk about. Let me gush course by course:

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  1. Choux pastry/cheese biscuits: YES. More of these please. Like Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits, but prepared by God.
  2. Bread plus a million butters: you can’t lose with this.
  3. Amuse Bouche: it was a tripartite dish consisting of an artichoke foam, a salmon crudo egg roll, and a kumquat stuffed with fois gras. We also had champagne with this course. Everything was great, but I was particularly blown away by the buttery, mild foie gras stuffed inside the citrusy kumquat. We had champagne with this and it was wonderful.
  4. Sweet corn gnocchi: everyone at the table ordered this and almost everybody agreed that it was the best course. Even the gnocchi was made with corn meal. The prosciutto, the truffles…everything complimented this dish. Whereas other restaurants are overzealous in their use of shaved truffle (cough…Masseria…cough), Plume was judicious.
  5. Poached pike/Jersusalem artichoke: the pike won 3 to 1 at our table; crispy, rich, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.
  6. Squab/goat cheese tartine: I went for the goat cheese, red onion, and fig tartine, mostly because anybody can rope me in with promises of figs. My mother-in-law was with me on this one. The men at the table ordered the squab and were not disappointed. It also had a delicious squab liver mousse, which I thought was the best part of that dish. But back to the tartine: rich, oniony, the figs were chocolatey and not overly sweet. In my opinion, this was the best course of the night. It was accompanied by a pinot noir.
  7. Three of us, including yours truly, ordered the venison. I have tried venison a few times at classy joints and never liked it. But I had a feeling that Plume could change my mind. It still had that distinctive, metallic flavor, but it was quite good, and accompanied again by kumquats, a pairing that I now believe is under-utilized. This course came with a shiraz.
  8. Pre-dessert: mini-macaron. I guess it was good for a mini-macaron.
  9. Dessert: apple pavlova, which was rich, apple-y, and full of texture and creaminess. The real winner of dessert was the wine, which the sommelier informed us was not a fortified wine, but a completely natural sweet French wine, which smelled overwhelmingly of passion fruit (no complaints here!)

General impressions: We had a great experience here, especially for a place I found while simply googling “best restaurants in DC.” The staff was thorough in its service and its explanations of our courses, the sommelier was incredibly knowledgeable, and the food was high quality and scrumptious. I would come back in a heartbeat. The wine pairings were definitely worth the extra expense, and the pours were generous. The entire experience was comparable to Komi.

Bonus: The sommelier overheard me and my husband badmouthing Minibar and joined in with us to make fun of its pretentious molecular gastronomy and sympathize with our love of actual food.

Price: Around $250 per person.

Bottom line: worthy of return, for special occasions only!