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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

Primrose

Primrose inhabits a dumpy-looking space on 12th Street NE in Brookland that used to house an equally dumpy-looking Peruvian chicken joint. I never ate there, but I still felt a pang of nostalgia when I saw that they had closed, and then a similar pang of excitement with a tinge of white guilt when I saw that they had reopened as a chic wine bar. Naturally, I made reservations right away.

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You wouldn’t even know this was open if you didn’t gaze longingly through the tinted windows. The only sign of new life here is this sweet-ass mosaic outside their door. On the other hand, there are plenty of signs of life on the inside, where not only is it hopping with people, it’s also decorated with the feathers of about a hundred birds. Behold the carnage:

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This place is adorable! The bar is decorated with the classic shade of turquoise and in what may very well be an extremely offensive stereotype, all the waiters wear striped shirts. Let’s just give them all jaunty berets, hand-rolled cigarettes, and off-putting nihilism while we’re at it.

My husband was a little overwhelmed by their list, and started off trying to order the merlot but was rebuffed by our server: “Actually, I really hate this merlot. Can I bring you a different wine?” In a world where we actually know anything about wine, this might have been seen as condescending, but we live in the real world, and here in the real world, we are veritable wine ignoramuses, so his suggestion was well-received. My husband enjoyed the Viti Vini Bebi that arrived, saying it was “bold and intense.” (And yes, apparently the plural of ignoramus is ignoramuses. I looked it up).

I very much appreciate the slower pace of service at Primrose. It’s not slow because they’re forgetting you; it’s slow because they want you to relax and enjoy the thing you have in front of you. It made the meal so much more enjoyable.

We weren’t going to get an appetizer, then we waffled toward the cauliflower, but then the couple next to us had a cheese plate put down in front of them and I knew I had to have it. Confusingly/Europeanly, the cheese plates are listed under the desserts on the menu. “Well, let’s just get it for dessert and be fancy,” I said. But then I recanted at the last minute because I knew I couldn’t wait that long for cheese. It arrived a few minutes later. I regret that I didn’t have a photo of it because I inhaled it, like, immediately. It looked basically like every other cheese board you’ve ever seen, so I’ll just let you imagine it. The three cheeses were a hard. crumbly, nutty cow’s milk cheese, a cow/sheep blue blend that was fairly mild, and a semi-soft cow’s Camembert that was not as gooey as it usually is but very creamy. They were accompanied by apple compote, delectable cardamom-spiced dried apricots, and house-pickled vegetables.

We had another nice digestion break before the entrees arrived. And when they arrive, did they ever arrive in style. I had the trout:

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Could this plate be any more beautiful? The beets were soft and sweet, the sorrel cream was mild and creamy, and even I, a notorious potato-hater, liked the blue potatoes. The trout itself was extremely plentiful and cooked to crispy/flaky perfection. I couldn’t be happier with this meal.

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My husband had the short rib wrapped in pastry. For short rib, the meat was a little dry, but still flavorful. The roasted parsnips were spicy and sweet, and it had those strips of crunchy sweet potato on top that made my husband do an Italian chef-style hand kiss.

I think the slower pace and great food we had already had definitely influenced our dessert decision. Under normal circumstances, we’d probably forego dessert, but my husband was talked into getting a flight of aperitifs (admittedly, it didn’t take very much convincing), and we heard tell of the madeleine cookies with custard dipping sauces. We were supposed to choose only one sauce, but when we couldn’t settle on it, our wonderful waiter brought us two: the espresso and the pistachio.

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The madeleines were so cute! They were soft and buttery, although not warm, and were good vehicles for these delicious custards (which were good on their own, and the two flavors made a solid custard suicide). The liqueurs were all wonderful: from left to write is cognac, calvados, and armagnac (I preferred the calvados, but they were all wonderfully unique). I don’t remember the last time I was so happy and satisfied at the end of a meal.

Price: $60+ per person, worth every penny.

Bottom line: Primrose isn’t just an asset to Brookland, it’s a great new addition to DC’s restaurant scene. I hope its off-the-beaten-path location doesn’t deter people from checking it out. I can’t wait for summer nights on their patio. Bonus: after-after dinner drinks at Right Proper around the corner!

The Sovereign

The hubs and I were hoping to avoid a big Valentine’s Day to-do by circumventing the actual holiday itself and going for something a little cheaper. Turns out that “little” would be the operative word here.

We just returned from a trip to Belgium about a week ago and you’d think we’d be sick of sour beers and mussels. You’d be wrong. Especially since, sadly, The Sovereign’s food is far superior to anything we ate when we were legitimately in Belgium. Then again, that wasn’t exactly the point of the trip.

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If you haven’t been there yet, please just ignore their craft cocktails, wines, and giant pitcher o’ absinthe. You’d be doing yourself a great disservice to not get anything from their carefully selected draft list or, if you’re so inclined, to get a bottle of authentic Belgian gueuze (at an enormous markup, I might add, but still so worth it). They even serve the gueuze the Belgian way–in a basket! See? They know their shit here. (Side note: I highly recommend Drie Fonteinen as a general rule).

We couldn’t agree on an appetizer. My vote is always for bitterballen, a Dutch specialty that is basically chipped beef that’s been fried. But the husband isn’t crazy about it. We argued about salads but eventually settled on the Saucisse Ardennes. I was thinking it would be more like regular sausage, but it was a dried salami-like product. It was well-seasoned and very tasty after we requested some mustard to go along with it.

For the entrees, I had the rabbit in kriek (had to), and my husband got the carbonnade flamande.

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Rabbit: yum! Crispy skin, tender meat, baby potatoes, and braised swiss chard, all set in a delicious, not-too-sweet kriek beer sauce (kriek is cherry-infused sour beer, for the uninitiated). The potatoes were soft, and the chard was cooked past bitterness.

The carbonnade flamande is a fall-apart chunk of short rib, wrapped in thin pastry, and accompanied by mashed potatoes. The meat was incredibly flavorful and herbal. This was the ultimate meal for meat-and-potatoes people.

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Finally, we ordered one of Sovereign’s several dressed liegeois waffles for dessert, because we unfortunately and inexplicably didn’t eat a single bite of waffle in real-life Belgium. I wish Sovereign had a wider variety of fun waffles since a few of them were fairly basic, but we ended up with one topped with cherry compote, pistachios, and chocolate chantilly cream.

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I mean, it’s a waffle. It was an appropriately-sized dessert, which was good because we  were two bombers of heavy beer in at this point. Liegeois waffles are made of a heavier yeast-based batter than Brussels waffles (the Belgian waffles we all know and love) and it has more of a cakey texture. The chantilly had a good hint of chocolate. It was a good combination of flavors, but a fancy place like this could do better in the creativity department.

Price: Varies widely with what and how much you choose to drink, but I will divulge that we spent around $100 per person. However, we also spent more money on alcohol than we did on food (aka winning. For explanation, see: El Rinconcito), so our experience wasn’t necessarily typical.

Bottom line: The Sovereign will never fail to make me happy with their fresh take on sometimes-weird Benelux cuisine (ahem bitterballen). They are a perennial favorite.

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.

Duke’s Counter

After last week’s sad case of mistaken identity regarding Fat Petes’ applicability to non-drunken situations, and also after last night’s more-expensive-than-we-thought dinner followed by a more-expensive-than-we-thought impromptu trip to Jack Rose, we were eager for a delicious but cheap meal tonight. All of my suggestions were vetoed, but my wonderful husband came upon Duke’s Counter in Woodley Park.

From the get-go, nothing about this was as expected. First of all, it appears that their employee uniform consists of some blue plaid shirt (you can see an example in the picture below!). Secondly, for a place that claims to serve British food and tries to design itself as a London pub, this place has a menu that lacks the heavy bread, meat, and fried dishes typically associated with British “cuisine” (if you can call it that) and instead they serve only gourmet sandwiches preceded by craft and imported British beers and original cocktails. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a banh mi over blood pudding any day. I ordered the Proper Pimm’s cocktail and my husband ordered one of several microbrewed porters on draft. My cocktail was fabulous. I’m a major sucker for spicy drinks, and the ginger beer paired well with the chili flavoring, like a spicy Dark and Stormy.

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We had a hard time with the appetizer round. There were a lot of interesting things listed but we were trying to keep it cheap and light. Turns out we shouldn’t have been concerned with that….BECAUSE NEITHER THING WAS POSSIBLE. We ended up ordering the spicy hummus. How could hummus possibly cost $11? This is why:

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It’s like the entire produce department at Wegman’s with a baseball-sized ball of hummus, which was a miraculous blend of creamy hummus and chimichurri. The naan had the texture of a memory foam pillow and was so warm and soft that it was hard to stop. Sadly, I didn’t get to finish my carrot binge because our sandwiches arrived.

When I had ordered my sandwich, the El Trasero with a friend egg on top, our server said, “Huh. I’ve never had someone order an egg on that sandwich before.” Then I felt weird. Why did he tell me that? Was he trying to discourage me? I felt defensive, like I had to back up my menu selection. I doubled down on it. I’m glad I did.

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El Trasero is spicy pulled pork with a tart, crunchy celery slaw and arugula, served on a ciabatta roll. From the first bite, it was heartbreakingly good. And you know what? The fried egg was perfect on it, so fuck that plaid-shirted naysayer. I let him know he was wrong.

My husband had the cubano, which was surprisingly cheesy, topped with creamy avocado, and filled with perfectly cooked, thin-sliced chicken schnitzel. Despite the absolute deliciousness, we both had trouble finishing just the first half of our sandwiches, and we packed them up along with the rest of the crudites.

Price: $30 per person, but you’ll have lunch for the next two days.

Bottom line: Duke’s Counter is a winner. Next time we are painting pottery, we will forego Fat Pete’s in favor of this place, which is just down the street. I can’t even imagine how good this would taste if I were drunk.

Special thanks go to my husband, without whom I would have never tried eating fried eggs, much less putting fried eggs on my sandwiches. He’s also responsible for introducing me to dipping my fries in mayo. Thanks, babe. You da best.

Sunday update: Just ate half of my leftover sandwich. Goddamn, that sandwich was good.

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!