Ruta del Vino

I was panicked on our too-long rush-hour drive to Ruta del Vino in Petworth. I knew the place was small and refused to take reservations. There were five of us. I really didn’t want to be driving all over town on a Friday night without a clear plan. I did a tuck and roll out of my father-in-law’s car and burst through the door like someone about to object at a wedding to find…a basically empty restaurant.

Now, I feel kind of stupid admitting this, but not one of us drank a drop of wine at this wine bar. How Ruta del Vino can make a profit on $5 happy hour margaritas (or how they managed to be this empty with $5 happy hour margaritas) is totally beyond me, but we took full advantage of that deal. We took so much advantage of that deal that my husband spilled his second one all over me and was immediately brought a third one. The margaritas were great.

Most of us decided to go the share-plates route and we–I mean, I–picked out a few things to try. Let’s get down to business here.

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The first round included the grilled cheese (bottom) which I didn’t try despite my mother-in-law’s pleas. The beet salad (top left) was big enough for four of us to share, and the sweet beets were complemented by tart pineapple and salty cheese, with plenty of greens and cilantro. It tasted so fresh, and I can’t wait to recreate this at home. The empanadas (top right) were stuffed with kale, nuts, pumpkin, and raisins, and the pastry was deliciously flaky, but I feel like the stuffing could have used more sweetness or spice.

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Next came our two seafood dishes: the grilled octopus and chorizo and the tiradito del dia. The octopus was cooked to perfection, not a bit chewy, and went well with the smoky sausage. I wish there had been more of it. The ceviche was again a little small, especially given how delicious it was. It was slightly sweet from mango and grapefruit and simply perfect. One of the best ceviches I’ve had.

Our last share plate was actually an entree: the carne asada. We ordered it medium rare and that is exactly how it came out: a perfect pink throughout despite the thin cut, a good amount of meat to share, a fragrant chimichurri, and some spiced yucca fries that were soft and crispy.

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My husband’s grandmother ordered (or rather, she was forced to order) the pollo a la huancaina. It was a decent size entree and the chicken had a great crispy exterior. Even the potatoes were delicious. I loved everything about this.

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We ended the night with a “bartender’s choice” blind comparison of two mezcals (the $5 margaritas may have played a role in this decision), and we were not disappointed by the two very different and very unique liquors we were brought, one of which was a younger, clear, and bolder flavor, and the other of which had the smoke and burn of oak barrel.

Price: $50 per person.

Bottom line: I don’t know how Ruta del Vino wasn’t more popular on a Friday evening, and even though it was to my distinct pleasure and benefit that we easily found a table, it would be a damn shame to not fill this place up.

Bistro 1521

Since Bad Saint was the inspiration for this blog with their horrible, salty, over-hyped, line-causing disaster of a restaurant, I wanted to give Filipino cuisine a second chance (and have another restaurant to share the “Filipino” tag for the sake of fairness to the people of the Philippines).

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Quick side note: if you think, “Oh yeah, let me just drive to Arlington on a Sunday night, no big deal,” you should probably check what time of year it is. If it’s the first weekend of April, just lock your doors, turn out your lights, and hide under your bed until Cherry Blossom Fest is over. Don’t even think about going to Arlington. Also, if you plan to go to Arlington in general, just don’t. The parking is a nightmare and nothing good ever comes from this place (except tortas).

My dining companions had already ordered appetizers by the time I arrived. We had the lumpiang shanghai (egg rolls) and ukoy (veggie and shrimp fritters). I appreciated the crispy simplicity of the egg rolls. They were mostly shell with a small amount of filling, but it was well-seasoned regardless. The fritters were enormous and served with a thin, spicy-sour sauce that worked really well. On the other hand, they also weirdly included shell-on shrimp. They were delicious but why? Why do I have to pick apart a fritter in order to shell my own seafood? Why am I even paying for not-quite-prepared food? It’s even worse in fritter form.

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When we ordered, it turns out that the people in our group fell into two camps: the people who wanted spicy pork tenderloin and the people who wanted chicken on top of noodles. Our table of five ordered two of each of these things, plus I had a mango salad and we got an order of chicken adobo fried rice for the table. My husband ordered his bicol express pork dish extra spicy, as per usual.

First, let me talk about the mango salad. I guess I just assumed this would be a salad that was actually made from mangoes, not a salad with a few sad julienne slices of mango on top. Disappointing. Not even worth posting.

The bicol express was plentiful and looked like this:

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It had a good texture and a very unique flavor, which I will attribute to a seafoodiness from shrimp paste. On the other hand, I hesitate to call this “extra spicy,” and maybe it’s not even fair to call it “spicy,” which is the warning they offer on the menu. As compared to the regular spicy version, the extra-spicy had a couple extra chilis thrown in last-minute. They weren’t even super-spicy chilis. So spicy was not its forte, but it was satisfying.

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The chicken bihon looked and tasted like your typical chicken-noodle-vegetable amalgamation. The chicken was kind of dry, the dish was composed primarily of vermicelli noodles. I was fairly underwhelmed by this too.

The standout of the meal for me was the 1521 fried rice, which I’m actually shocked that I liked considering that I think rice is the number one most useless food to ever exist. But damn, throw some chicken adobo and some hard-boiled egg in there and I’m all over that noise. One again, pretty dry chicken but the oiliness of the rice made up for it.

The unsung hero of Bistro 1521 was the cocktail selection, though. We were all very satisfied with an interesting mix of liquors and authentic juice flavors, and everyone had a second round. I bet this place does a mean happy hour.

Price: $40 per person.

Bottom line: Well, it’s a lot cheaper and less salty than Bad Saint, so if for some reason you absolutely need to eat Filipino food and nothing else will quite cut it, this might be a decent option. Otherwise, come for the apps and beverages, then fill your belly at one of the other fine establishments that I’m sure exists somewhere in Arlington. Can’t help you with that one.

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.

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…

Kith and Kin

This place is sometimes stylized as Kith/Kin, so I’m not sure how to properly write their name. This was my first time going to the Wharf and I was pretty excited. I’ve been looking forward to this. It was nice being on the waterfront and probably would have been even nicer had it not been negative one thousand degrees and already dark when we got there (side note: why do we insist on compounding the misery of winter by switching to standard time and making the evenings even darker? I will rail against this until the day I die). After dinner, I realized, though, that the Wharf is really just Tyson’s Corner East; full of fancy fountains and overpriced makeup stores.

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Anyhow, regardless of depressing darkness, Kith and/or Kin and the hotel that houses it are both beautiful and modern looking. We were seated and given one drink menu for the entire table of six. The first page had some delicious-sounding cocktails with some outrageous prices. The next pages listed a sad selection of beers, both bottled and draft, with also outrageous prices. If you’re going to charge nineteen goddamn dollars for a drink, it better be a Long Island iced tea served in a glass as tall as I am. Already Kith/Kin was on notice.

They served us each a tasty coco bread roll, which made me hopeful for things to come, and our server explained the menu, describing their share-plates as being either appetizer-sized or entree-sized. We hedged our bets by ordering five things, two of which were the larger size. If you think that paying $17 for an entree sounds entirely reasonable, get ready to see what kind of hamster-sized food Kith and Kin considers an entree.

The food arrived quickly and for the sake of simplicity I’ll dump all my pictures here:

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Top picture: Before I describe anything, I want you to look at the picture and notice the spoon. That was not a large spoon of the serving-utensil variety. That was a normal-sized spoon. Okay, now I can begin. In the top left you will see the tamarind-glazed chicken wings. These had a nice smoky-sweet flavor but I’m not sure what kind of premature infant chicken produced wings this small. In the middle is the brussels sprouts suya. I don’t know exactly what this means, but the sprouts were fried well and tossed with baby onions and a nice, slightly-spicy, tangy sauce. I would go as far as calling it delicious. On the right is the king crab curry that the staff wouldn’t shut up about. It was slightly sweet and coconutty, but it contained approximately 1.5 pieces of crab.

Bottom picture: these are the two “entree” dishes. I don’t get it. Are they for children? They said entree, but these bowls were the size of a bowl you might use to, say, eat ice cream, if you were actually following the guidelines on recommended portion size. The left is lentils. They were bland and I have nothing else to say about them. The right was the oxtail stew. For me, this was probably the best part of dinner and reminded me a lot of braised short rib due to its slow-cooked fattiness. It was a little smoky, a little spicy, and generally good. I should note that I seemed to like this more than everyone else I ate with, who agreed with each other that it was just okay.

Not wanting to waste any more money than we possibly had to, we asked for the check  and they instead brought us dessert menus. They must have confused my being a glutton with being a glutton for punishment, which I am not. We again asked for the check and received it. It was not unreasonable ONLY BECAUSE we were all starving. It was decided that a) this was my worst restaurant selection of all time, and b) we would pick up a pizza on the way home. We had some debate about pizza toppings. It’s hard with six people. Here’s the finished product:

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We demolished this pizza like the hyenas demolished Scar at the end of The Lion King. Fun fact: This large three-topping pizza cost less than one cocktail at Kith and Kin!

Price: $40 per person if you want to eat pizza afterward; $??? if you actually want to feel satisfied.

Bottom line: This place was so overpriced and so under-sized that I fear my review didn’t dis it quite enough. If you have a million dollars to blow and just can’t figure out how to spend it most prodigally, I can write you a list of at least ten better places.

Ancient Rivers

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If you’re hip and with it, as I am, you might recognize the exterior of Ancient Rivers and think, “Hey, wait a second! It’s Eatonville with a crappy vinyl sign!” And you would be correct. Ancient Rivers is just Eatonville with the most minor of decor changes. I think they put about five minutes of thought into their decorating scheme here, but the decorations aren’t exactly why we were here.

When we arrived, we were told it was Happy Hour until 7 and all cocktails–ALL COCKTAILS–were $5. “They’re going to be watered down!” we moaned, then ordered them anyway. Long story short, we actually hit a second round before happy hour ended and were able to try a slightly embarrassing number of their house cocktails. My favorites were the Al-kindi, which had the pungent smokiness of mezcal with a pleasant sweetness, and the Nile, which tasted exactly how it purported: spicy and gingery. We were wrong about them being watered down; although it took an awfully long time to receive our drinks and they weren’t all winners, they were definitely made fabulously. Not quite sure how they can manage to sell these drinks for $5 apiece and still stay afloat, but that’s their problem.

We ended up ordering a total of seven mezze, which may have been a bit of a mistake. I always feel like tapas-style restaurants mean that I can eat exactly the right amount without having to finish a huge entree, when it reality it means that I will invariably slightly under-order and then compensate by asking for three more things, which end up being two things too many. Anyway, enough about my lifelong battle with Friday-night binge eating, here’s a picture of the first round:

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The meat dolmas had the classic spiced meat with tart, oily grape leaf exterior. The libne b zayt was so delicious, just a giant bowl of creamy, cheesy, yogurty goodness to scoop up with their plush, warm pita. The cheese fatayer was doughy and soft with a well-spiced cheese filling. Kind of boring, but hey, it’s cheese and bread and I’ve certainly never complained about this combination. But seriously, dat cauliflower. Spicy, crispy, and just the perfect texture, with a thin harissa to boot. I could eat this all day. And then…our merguez sausage arrived. How did I ever live without this sausage? How did I ever spend fifteen years of my life without any sausage? Is there a more perfect food anywhere? The merguez was one of the greats, though; all spicy, lamby goodness, pine nuts, and onions.

20171027_191529.jpg Next, we went for the kibbeh–yumyum meatballs in yogurt sauce–as well as the red pepper hummus. As you can see, Ancient Rivers doesn’t skimp on the pita. In fact, though you can only see two enormous baskets of pita pictured here, they brought us a total of three. Is there such a thing as too much pita? I’d ordinarily say no, but this was maybe slight overkill..? The hummus was good but not a star by any means. But that’s only because it was completely overshadowed by all the other great things we got.

I am not one to pass up a solid dessert, and I am really glad I didn’t. Ancient Rivers offered a slice of kunafeh that was basically the size of my head and at least an inch and a half thick of gooey, melty cheese. The top was not as crispy and honey-soaked as I like, but it was topped with a pistachio crumble and was laced with cardamom, two flavors I truly appreciate together. How can my husband hate chesecake but be totally fine with this, a cake that is just a huge block of cheese? I will never know the answer to this, but I won’t complain, as long as I get to keep eating sweetened cheese for dessert.

Service was slow, but ended up being totally worth the wait.

Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Ancient Rivers is a hidden gem, if by “hidden” you mean “encased in a huge, conspicuous building on one of the busiest stretches of road in DC, but advertised only via cheap vinyl sign.” It has solid Middle Eastern specialties with decent portions for an actually reasonable price. Come here if you’re thinking about Zaytinya but are okay trading a small difference in quality for a huge difference in price. Or maybe you just couldn’t get a table at Zaytinya, I know how it is.