Tail Up Goat

Spring Break staycation is a great time to try some restaurants on a Tuesday night that I’d never have been able to get reservations at on a weekend. Tail Up Goat is one of these. I knew it couldn’t be as good as everyone claimed, but this might be my only chance to try it. Earlier in the day, I was telling my cycling instructor and cycling class friends that nothing bothers me more than overpriced food. I’ll pay big money for good food. I’ll pay little money for small food. But I hate leaving a restaurant hungry and poor. I was worried that it was going to be one of those times.

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Although their beer selection isn’t stunning, they immediately impressed me just because they carried a Belgian kriek. You don’t even need to wonder if I ordered it or not, because duh. Husband ordered a Belgian dark strong (not from Belgium, but still pretty good).

Normally, I’d do all the picking at a share-plates restaurant, but since it was my husband’s birthday dinner, I was feeling generous. To my surprise, the thing he wanted most was the $14 Spanakopita focaccia. I mean, we just paid $4 for bread last Friday and spent the rest of the night making fun of Chloe for it. But okay…. The other two dishes we settled on together because we’ve morphed into one person at this point. We asked for the casarecce pasta with sherry-braised pork, as well as the lamb ribs. “We’ll just turn it into a three-course meal,” said our server. They must do this a lot.

Now, there’s $4 bread from Chloe, and then there’s $14 bread from Tail Up Goat. It’s not worth reposting the picture of Chloe’s bread. Let’s just say it was five tiny melba toast-sized pieces of regular grilled bread with a mouse-sized bowl of olive oil. C’mon Chloe, I know you didn’t expel the olive oil from the olives yourselves while we waited, why that bread gotta be four whole dollars? Now, this is what $14 gets you at Tail Up Goat:

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Things to notice immediately:

  1. I don’t even see any bread on there. I promise it was there.
  2. This is enormous!
  3. There is no shortage of toppings. More on those in a second

When people talk about “manna from Heaven,” I’m pretty sure that this is the bread they’re thinking of. The green stuff was kale, but you’d never know it for how delicate and wilted it was. There was feta, but this wasn’t no store-bought feta. It was creamy and melty, with only a slight hint of salt. The whole thing was dusted with those pine nut crumbs, which were so deliciously crunchy I would have been happy if they’d just brought me a bowl of that. And finally, it was finished off with a sweetness…honey? Maple? We’ll never know. But it worked. Oh yeah, and there was focaccia bread under all that. It was soft and a little oily like it’s supposed to be. On the downside, we feared that the rest of the meal couldn’t possibly live up to this.

We had a good amount of downtime to talk and imbibe before the pasta arrived. I was happy to see a sane amount of pasta with just as beautiful of a presentation as the bread:

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Once again, this dish wasn’t just your grandma’s bowl of spaghetti with pork. There was a nice crunch of breadcrumbs on top, plus a tang from orange zest. The pasta was a nice al dente and the pork was soft and savory. I’m afraid that it didn’t outdo the bread but it was still worthy of being ordered.

I don’t know what I was expecting from the lamb ribs. At this point I thought it could go either way. A picture is once again worth a thousand words here:

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I have nothing on this plate for scale, but my immediate thought when this arrived was “I’m not going to be walking away hungry.”

It would be wrong to say that the meat fell off the bones. These ribs were so cooked that the bones fell off the bones. They were crispy on the outside, with melty fat and a molasses-y sweet glaze. There were small pieces of dried fruits and nuts scattered underneath, bathing in glaze and meat juice. I hate potatoes, but the potatoes on this plate were spicy and crispy. Barely visible in the picture are the onion zoodles marinating in yogurt and za’atar, which were also beyond delicious.

Not wanting the party to stop, we got the bitter chocolate pudding. It looks like this:

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That thing on top is not ice cream, it’s a sad meringue. Quick rant: I’m pretty sure meringue exists for the sole purpose of challenging bakers to make it. Does anybody actually like it or go out of their way to eat it? It looks pretty, I guess. But it tastes like crap always and adds nothing of value to my dessert. End rant. Aside from the meringue, this was a solid but not fantastic dessert. I like dark chocolate and pistachios. Who doesn’t? But…it’s pudding. I think Tail Up Goat could have done better than this. Even they know they could, that’s why they added a meringue to make it artificially beautiful.

Price: $100 per person, including lots of alcohol.

Bottom line: Despite a fairly disappointing dessert, I was overall extremely impressed, happy, and full after finally eating here. The service was wonderful, the cooking was excellent, and the prices were high but fair. Tail Up Goat has restored my faith in expensive restaurants.

Chloe

I’m back, baby! And this week, a reservation I’ve been holding on to for a few weeks: Chloe! I’m surprised I even made a reservation at a restaurant called Chloe considering that it’s a name a thirteen year-old girl gives to a Chihuahua, and I’m not really sure I remember how or why I found out about this restaurant in the first place (I thought it was in Shaw, but it definitely isn’t), but here we go. Stupid names aside, the inside was beautiful. I liked their comfy chairs and many succulent plants, as well as our clear view of the kitchen. I love to see the inner workings.

I’ve seen few things that are hands-down ridiculous, but here’s one of them: Chloe carries two breweries–draft from Hellbender here in DC, and cans from Prairie in…Oklahoma? What? Why? Ready for it to get more ridiculous? While the draft beers were a normal DC price of $9, he cans cost TEN DOLLARS. In what universe is a canned beer more than a draft beer? I’ll tell you where–the same ridiculous universe where a draft beer constitutes eight ounces, served in a stemless wine glass. Aka The alternate universe we know as Chloe.

The Prairie beer was okay, the Hellbender beer was okay, and my rum cocktail was pretty delicious. In short, drinks were nothing to write home about. But we weren’t expecting CopyCat and that’s not why we were there. Our waiter told us about their small plates-based menu. “For a table of four we recommend ten to fourteen dishes.” So….your whole menu then? Let’s just do the math here. If we generously assume that each dish you order here costs $15, 14 of them would come out to $210, and that wouldn’t even include drinks. So no. I ordered bread for my bread-loving mother-in-law, the house pickles, butternut squash salad, crispy cauliflower, salmon, and the chicken, which is one of the “larger” dishes.

One thing I appreciate is how vegetable-forward they are here. There were very few meat dishes at all. On the other hand, I feel kind of stupid paying $17 for some arugula and butternut squash that I could have just gotten at the Whole Foods salad bar.

Bread came first. Let’s just pause here to make a prediction. How much would you pay for five tiny slices of bread? Here’s a picture for reference (I shrunk the picture a little to more accurately represent the actual size of the bread):

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If your answer was “Nothing, you dumb dumb, because bread is supposed to be free and unlimited!” then you would be wrong. If you said, “Four dollars!” then you are both correct and insane. Let’s just say, not a great first impression.

The pickles made a slight recovery. Of special note was the pickled garlic, which didn’t even taste or feel like garlic but was undoubtedly delicious. The peppers were great too–neither too spicy nor too mild, but they needed more of these and the cornichons.

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The rest of the food, save for the chicken, came out fairly quickly. Next we had the butternut squash salad. Once again, it tasted fine, but $17 fine? I don’t even know what $17 fine means. A $17 steak would probably be fine. A $17 plate of arugula with a few pieces of squash is definitely not fine.

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Cauliflower was the next thing out. This was the only thing that was truly delicious. It was a great crispy texture and tahini and pine nuts are always winners. It was something I had just never thought to combine into one dish, but my husband reminded me, “You could do this at home and it would probably be better.” So he earned his brownie points for the night I guess!

The quinoa-crusted salmon (or, as my father-in-law might call it: “Quin-what?”) was cooked well, extremely flaky and buttery, and I liked the extra crunch that was lent it by the quinoa. But again, way too small.

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I regret that I didn’t get a picture of the chicken, but we were so hungry by the time it arrived that we basically ate it off the serving plate like cavemen. It was the only thing that was a reasonable size. I liked the crispy skin (although my husband thought it had a weird texture), and the Asian greens were cooked well. Bone-in chicken doesn’t make a good share plate, though, and the “chili-lime sauce” (aka fish sauce with some chili flakes) was lackluster.

We left and went across the street to Bluejacket where we all pigged out on dessert and had reasonably-priced good beer. No regrets.

Price: Like many of my best-laid plans these days, there is a huge disparity in how much we spent vs. how much one would have to spend in order to be fairly satisfied. I’ll say the range could be anywhere from $40 per person to $100 per person.

Bottom line: Chloe was good, but good is not fair when you’re paying $25 for a chicken leg. Our waiter was not lying when he said that 10 plates would be a good size meal for four people. But Bluejacket is across the street and they have a brownie sundae, so…

Fresh Greek Grill

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The setting: the day before Thanksgiving, 11 a.m. I need to ditch work, shove some food in my face, and hit the road fast. Enter Fresh Greek Grill, which happened to exist in the correct location (near my work) and serve the correct food (portable meat). My husband, a veritable gyro connoisseur, was beyond excited, arrived early, and sent me a rapidfire stream of increasingly worried texts when he thought that Fresh Greek Grill wasn’t going to open at 11 as promised. When you need a gyro, you need a gyro.

But open they did, and we waited in their no-nonsense shack-sized diner until they quickly delivered our two gyros–his with lamb gyro meat and mine with chicken.

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The gyros are served one way–soupy tzatziki, tomatoes, and red onions, and they didn’t skimp on any of these ingredients. In fact, it was veritably dripping with tzatziki. The pita was warm and fluffy, which was pleasant, although maybe not the sturdiest vehicle for this many toppings and sauce. The chicken was surprisingly tender too. While the gyro meat was extremely flavorful on account of being lamb, the chicken was under-seasoned. The only other qualm I have with this magnificent sandwich is that it should contain lettuce and/or cucumbers.

Then dessert:

20171122_113149.jpgWe couldn’t help ourselves. The baklava was moist, nutty, sweet, and the size of my entire hand. Perhaps a little on the soggy side. But still, it hit the spot.

Although we didn’t order any, Fresh Greek Grill also serves a wide selection of beers, most of which are IPAs indistinguishable from one another, and also 40’s of malt liquor. There’s nothing like washing down baklava with some Steel Reserve. I need to remember this place when I’m having a particularly bad day at work.

Price: $10 per person, or $13.99 if you want to include some Steel Reserve.

Bottom line: Fresh Greek Grill is efficient, tasty, and worth your time for a quick stop or a weekday lunch.

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?)

Shamshiry

Do you like driving to Tyson’s? Yeah, me neither. But sometimes going there is a sad necessity, and in these terrible times, you need to make the best of the situation. Shamshiry is how you do that. Shamshiry will cure all your Tyson’s-driving woes.

If you arrive after 7 or so, you can expect to wait a while. There’s a reason. Shamshiry specializes in Persian-style kabobs and rice dishes. Don’t be scared of the overly verbose menu, just choose a delicious-sounding protein and reap the rewards. I recommend the salmon, which was juicy and paired well with the yogurt sauce, and the lamb, which was flavorful and tender. The rice with orange rind is also unique and delicious, sweet and fruity. Shamshiry also features a ton of Persian desserts, including a baklava that is unlike any you’ve tried before; less flaky and flatter.

The downsides are that service can be a little slow and substitutions on the menu are extremely limited. You can swap rice for a fabulous salad (if you don’t do this, you risk being buried under the Mount Everest of rice), but don’t try to ask for other substitutions. The dessert menu is also extensive but they are sometimes out of one or more of the better ones.

The downsides will never outweigh the upsides, however. Shamshiry is a delight, a rare find in the land of chain restaurants, and worth a detour!

The bottom line: Great place if you happen to be in the area.

Price: About $25 per person

The Permanent List

Since I’ll spend all future posts reviewing future restaurants, I wanted to take one post to look at the past and talk about the places I never say no to (and the places I never say yes to). So without further ado, here is the permanent positive list:

  • Boundary Stone: OK, so I am a regular here. It’s my neighborhood place. It’s where I go when I want to go where everybody knows my name. But the food is always on-point and the whiskey list is only topped by a few other places (ahem, Jack Rose). They deserve an A- in food, A in whiskey, A+ in proximity to my home.
  • Mandalay: While not technically in DC, my husband and I stumbled on this place by accident a few years ago and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. I take all out of town guests here for the spiciest food they’ve ever had. Special props go to their Nan Jhi Thoke, their signature Burmese dish. It is worth the drive/metro to Silver Spring for this place. Mandalay earns an A in burning your mouth off.
  • Panda Gourmet: Yes, the sketchy-looking place next to the Day’s Inn on New York Avenue. This is the only places to get authentic, or really even good, Chinese food in DC. Come here with a bunch of friends so that you can try a little of everything–the menu is extensive. A-.
  • Daikaya: Do you like ramen? Do you like Backstreet Boys sing-alongs? Then this is the place for you.
  • Steel Plate: The service is slow, but I like to think of it as European. Enjoy the food, enjoy the company, and ask for the check when you’re ready. Their rabbit poutine is oustanding.
  • Cafe Berlin: Great service, authentic food from a real German chef, and ridiculous portions.
  • El Centro DF: I first came here not too long ago, begrudgingly, and expecting it to be overpriced faux-Mexican food prepared and served by gringos. I was pleasantly surprised by how it defied every assumption I had made about it. Mezcal flights are a big draw too. A for authenticity.
  • Komi: This place is in a different league than the others previously listed, but I had the greatest meal of my life here several years ago and I’ve been chasing that high ever since (not to be found at any other place). A+!
  • Iron Gate: The food is always incredible and the atmosphere can’t be beat. We had a particularly great time here during a Christmas Eve prix fixe meal. Solid A. Never had a bad dish here.
  • The Sovereign: This is a bit of a lie because the last time I was here, the service was incredibly negligent considering that there were only two tables seated in the entire restaurant, but I’ve always been blown away by the food and the beer list. Definite A- for food, potential B in service but will give them another chance.

And now, the permanent B-list (“B” stands for “Banned”):

  • Big Board: This was the first place to be permanently banned in my household. How can a place that cooks only burgers not figure out how to cook a burger? The variable beer pricing is also gimmicky, and the beer is never actually cheap, it just wavers between kind of expensive and really expensive. C for food, D for stupid gimmick.
  • The Pub and the People: I don’t get the hype. Perhaps this place isn’t so bad, but with the crowd they constantly attract, it should be better. B for food, B- for service.
  • Sally’s Middle Name: This place is the Zooey Deschanel of restaurants; all quirky style, no substance. All of their food tasted like it was made my someone who skipped Seasoning 101 in culinary school. Why did they waste perfectly good ingredients on something that wasn’t salted?
  • The Brixton: I’ve never actually eaten here and I never will. One night, while here with my friends, I ordered an Old Fashioned from the bar. The bartender told me that they couldn’t make me an Old Fashioned because it was “too busy.” What. It has 4 ingredients (if you count ICE) and you don’t even have to shake it. Also, YOU ARE A BAR. Brixton earns an F in serving alcohol, the thing that is literally their entire job.
  • Minibar: Controversial, yes. I’m a Jose Andres fangirl, but this place charges $1000 for a weird (and, at times, uncomfortable) experience, not for good eats. It’s interesting, I don’t regret it, but never again. A for effort (?), C in cost-benefit analysis.