Ivy City Smokehouse

I was not expecting much when we walked up. I’d checked out the menu online and waffled about coming here. I’m a barbecue purist, and when I saw that their back room is set up as a club, I got skeptical. It sounded like a set-up for one of Stefan’s club recommendations on SNL: “If you’re looking to combine loud hip hop and lox, look no further than the Smokehouse club across from Fish Pro Wholesale…”

They quickly redeemed themselves by seating us on the gorgeous roof deck and we were met with probably too many good options. Fortunately, I narrowed it down by deciding to try only house-smoked foods. But first–drinks!

MVIMG_20180427_185919.jpg

Despite being served in plastic (an unforgivable offense given that this is not a frat party), my cucumber mojito was a perfect, refreshing mix of flavors and still liquor-y enough. It was everything you would want when you’re drinking something on the roof of a building on a Friday evening. The draft beers are 12 ounces but at $5-6 each, still a deal in DC.

For the appetizer, we ended up with the salmon candy board, one of the five options of house-smoked fish. I couldn’t be happier with this. The fish itself was sweet and smoky without being overpowering, although it didn’t pack the spicy punch I was promised. The chive cream cheese was perfect. Even the tartar sauce, usually my worst seafood nemesis, was inoffensive.

img_20180427_191219.jpg

For my meal, I had the mixed greens salad and paid a whopping $9 to add house-smoked rainbow trout. Now, I love salad, and I will pay $20 for a dinner salad while feeling only a little stupid about it, but you gotta deliver.

img_20180427_193541.jpg

And deliver they did. They had me at candied walnuts and pickled onion. Not only was the salad itself interesting, they did not cut corners in adding this fish which was only slightly less delicious than the salmon we had in the appetizer. It was smoky without being too dry, and definitely not over-salted. As you can see, there is basically an entire fish on here. I was extremely satisfied after eating this.

Now, on to the more important story, and for this we have to backtrack about five years. My husband once went on a business trip to New Orleans, and on his way to the airport he stopped in to a Jewish deli and ordered a Reuben. Now, if you’re like me (aka a normal person), you don’t exactly associate New Orleans with good Jewish delis, but that Reuben became the stuff of legends. Also, personally, I can’t even remember what I ate last week, let alone five years ago. I think it may be time to let go. For years he tried in vain to find an equivalent sandwich in DC (and in Chicago at an actual Jewish deli!) and was so let down that he eventually gave up and moped around. After much argument and pleading, I convinced him to try Ivy City Smokehouse’s Reuben-style pastrami sandwich. It was smoky, it was piled with meat, the bread was buttery, and it had Swiss cheese dripping off of it. And after polishing it off, my husband declared it both “the best Reuben in DC” and “the best Reuben I’ve had besides that one in New Orleans.” Here it is, in all its glory:

img_20180427_193550.jpg

Oh yeah, the fries and slaw were pretty good too. Just get this sandwich.

Service was a little slow, but you’re sitting on a roof deck, so what’s the hurry?

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Ivy City Smokehouse’s unique and delicious offerings of all kinds easily earn it a place at the top of my Favorites list.

Ari’s Diner

20180223_192028.jpgAnother Friday family fun night, and I’ve struck out a few times lately, much to my own embarrassment. I was also informed that my husband’s grandmother would be joining us, and her very discerning tastes frequently limit our mutual dining options to only the best places that serve crabcakes. So I knew I was under pressure to choose a crowd-pleaser.

Ari’s Diner in Ivy City checks all the boxes: inexpensive (you’re welcome, in-laws!), healthy-ish options for me, crabcakes for grandma, and adult milkshakes that excited the menfolk! And, as luck would have it, they were offering a nightly special of fried chicken with mashed potatoes and spinach which is basically my mother-in-law’s three favorite things put on one plate. I’m not sure how their chef divined that we would be coming, but it’s like they somehow knew.

Sadly, Ari’s Diner was basically a ghost town when we got there. We walked in just behind a family with two small children and that made…nine of us total in the restaurant. There were actually more staff working than customers. This merits some side-eye, especially considering that next door, La Puerta Verde was hopping, so this isn’t just some Ivy City thing. Drink options were limited to the most basic of beers and “house” wines (from the House of Trader Joe?) so my husband and father-in-law were positively forced against their will to order alcoholic milkshakes. As my father-in-law had arrived a whopping two minutes ahead of us, he naturally received his special-order vanilla-bourbon-cookie milkshake before my husband’s Mexican chocolate malt. The result was this:

20180223_182404.jpg

I appreciate that these shakes were a completely reasonable, if all too easy to down in one gulp, size, unlike Ted’s Bulletin. I did not appreciate what felt like a lack of exciting milkshake options. Come on, guys, how hard is it to throw a banana in there? The Mexican chocolate shake was more chocolate than Mexican but at the end of the day, it’s still ice cream and liquor together in a perfect symphony of bad decisions.

Ari’s Diner serves breakfast all day, which is nice, although I’m not really a breakfast person. This meant that grandma, for whom I had chosen this restaurant specifically, completely neglected crabcakes in favor of a Western omelet. Turns out she adores Western omelets more than crabcakes. Huh. My father-in-law ordered the Greek omelet, and my husband, not to be outdone and with all breakfast options available, picked up the French toast monte cristo. I ordered the turkey sandwich with a side salad, and, since the option was there, asked that the sandwich be topped with runny eggs, natch. The menu advertised that this sandwich came with Fontina cheese on “pullman bread.” I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded fancy, so…

20180223_184243.jpg

It turns out that “pullman bread” just means white bread. Regular, from a plastic bag white bread. This was sad. I also really strongly doubt the authenticity of this so-called Fontina cheese, which looked and tasted much more like white American cheese than any creamy, stinky European original.

The pros of this sandwich included tasty turkey, of which I’m not usually a big fan, a lot of veggies, a nice and clearly house-made mustard vinaigrette on the salad, and ample avocado. By the end I was just scraping sandwich fixings off the boring bread and sopping up egg yolk with my turkey. This was the way to go.

The monte cristo was a solid plate of greasy goodness served with maple syrup. My husband loved it, although I think it would work better at 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning after a serious bender.

My mother-in-law was extremely happy with her fried chicken. Actually, extremely happy” is a bit of an understatement. She was ecstatic over this. The mashed potatoes had a few solid chunks of potato left in them, which lends to their credibility as home-cooked. The chicken was exceptionally moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. The spinach was definitely fresh, but fairly boring and under-seasoned. It was green, though. Perhaps this was its only purpose.

20180223_184249.jpg

I have to admit that I didn’t try either of the omelets because their owners were pretty defensive of them. Perhaps the biggest endorsement of the western omelet was the fact that grandma actually FINISHED it and, like I said before, she is a niche connoisseur.

Price: $20 per person.

Bottom line: All in all, Ari’s Diner is less of the Ted’s Bulletin knockoff that I thought it would be, and more of, like, an actual diner. My biggest suggestions for improvement are a) better bread, b) more milkshake flavors, and c) more customers. They are open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. which I feel like is missing a massive opportunity to be Northeast DC’s premier drunk food depot (especially considering their prime location across the street from a distillery and a shitty hipster bar). Check it out if you started drinking at 9 a.m. and need your hangover food extraordinarily early, or if you are hanging out with your friends who want brunch but refused to get a babysitter.

La Puerta Verde

20171020_182102.jpg

In a long-awaited dinner reservation, my usual Friday night companions (aka my husband and in-laws) ventured to Ivy City to check out La Puerta Verde. Ivy City is trying, you guys. It’s trying really hard. And try as it might, La Puerta Verde was dead. I was actually embarrassed that I had made reservations for a place where we were the only people sitting at a table. But hey, that means good service, right?

The inside of this place is gorgeous. I was already feeling nostalgic for Mexico, and this just drove it home. How can I find their interior designer?

20171020_184517-e1508554445635.jpg

As per usual, we started with drinks. I had the special pomegranate margarita, which was crisp, not-too-tart, not-too-sweet, and very refreshing. My husband ordered the LPV margarita, which claimed to be mezcal and cilantro puree. The only sign of cilantro puree was its distinct green-ness. Other than that, it was a smoke bomb. It would be perfect for your pretentious friend who always talks about how much he loves Scotch. It was also perfect for my father-in-law. Both of my parents-in-law ordered their special hurricane-relief mojito. The plus side was that the proceeds went to charity. The downside was that their bartender somehow forgot to add syrup and it just tasted like cold lime-water. I officially rule the cocktails a bust.

We ordered the elote loco for the table because when in Rome. If you’ve ever eaten street corn from the actual street, it sucks (at least in the States). El Chucho has managed to make theirs into the perfect melding of corn, cheese, and chili, with just the most perfect hint of chile. La Puerta Verde’s is alright. I mean, it’s corn and artisanal mayo so it couldn’t be bad. The corn was sweet and the chile was (in my opinion) understated.

Next up: entrees. I only got a taste of two of them because a certain dining companion (let’s just refer to her as “Monster”) gobbled up her shrimp dish without offering up even a taste. So first, I had the mole verde con pollo. The chicken was moist and cooked to the exact right temperature without going over. It was served with sauteed red onions and cactus, which I appreciated, but it didn’t have a solid texture. The mole verde was slightly nutty but overall kind of bland. On the other hand, my husband’s chamorro de cerdo was like taking a bite out of an angel’s wing, it was so tender, smoky, buttery, and well-seasoned. It also had a spicy green salsa, which was a great accompaniment.

20171020_185517.jpg

20171020_185509.jpg

In general, the service was fast. However, our server was, shall we say, slightly over-salted. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt because I, too, am prone to the occasional snark attack. I like to think I can dish it out, too, and she made me uncomfortable on a few occasions. She didn’t even offer us dessert! It was only through some keen internet sleuthing that I deduced that they offered tres leches cake. I wanted to not order it just to spite her, but then again… it’s tres leches, and I am a mere mortal, after all.

The tres leches was, sadly, fairly standard. Not the driest, not the moistest. It was topped with I assumed to be a dollop of whipped cream because I am a tres leches purist. But upon closer inspection, it was actually cream cheese. This shall not stand. Tres leches is the highest incarnation of cake, and it is a show of pure folly to believe that one can improve upon it.

Price: $30 per person.

Bottom line: La Puerta Verde was hit-or-miss. The main miss was their cocktails. The main hit was that tasty pork shank. Mad props to their decorator.