Reviews: Where to Eat and What to Get

Eater DC just posted a sneak preview of the newest addition to my neighborhood’s rapidly growing collection of eateries: Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack.  The place sounds like a lot of fun; more importantly, the menu concepts sound super delicious! A gourmet twist on rib-sticking bar food and southern-style seafood will definitely be welcome as the colder months start rolling in.  Can’t wait to check it out! It’s good to live in my hood…

A Sneak Peek Inside Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack

Friday, September 9, 2011, by Amy McKeever

Image Gallery

Fall’s first big restaurant opening is soon at hand as Jeff Black’s duo Pearl Dive Oyster Palace and Black Jack near completion on 14th Street. The pre-opening party is tomorrow night, but the restaurants hope to soft-open next week once the liquor license goes through. Eater took a look around both venues and can officially confirm that they will be very popular, thanks to an indoor bocce court and the solid reputation for seafood that Black has earned from restaurants from BlackSalt to Black’s Bar and Kitchen.

Though they are connected, Pearl Dive and Black Jack are emphatically two separate restaurants with separate entrances, menus and dramatically different design schemes. The decision to split the space into two, Black says, is due to his own belief that “food suffers in big restaurants.” So on the main level you have Pearl Dive, which emphasizes the seafood on its menu with a nautical decor that includes weathered wood, an undersea mural punctuated by portholes, mermaid coat hangers and that generally distressed look that everyone is going for these days. In the back, there’s an oyster bar that seats four and another 15-seat bar looks out on 14th Street passers-by.

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Estadio is one of my go-to restaurants for impressing out of town guests. And not just because it is uber-conveniently located just a few blocks down the street from me.

I swear.

In all seriousness, every meal I’ve had at Estadio has been incredibly enjoyable.  And it certainly doesn’t hurt that I’m completely enamored with their beautiful furniture and fixtures.  I also LOVE that they have an open kitchen with bar seating for those of us who consider professional cooking as a spectator sport (and chefs as superstar athletes).

My only beef with this place is that they don’t take reservations for parties smaller than 6, and as a result I’ve been turned away on multiple occasions with an apologetic “we’re full for the rest of the evening and can’t accommodate any more walk-ins.”  They’re always nice about it, but it really is a pain in the bum.  It’s called OpenTable, folks. Get with the program.

That hiccup aside though, I heartily recommend this restaurant.  It’s nice enough for a special occasion or an impressive meal, but it’s easy enough to duck in and steal a seat at the bar for a quick plate or two of delicious nibbles.

Don’t-Miss Dishes:

*New* Roasted Corn Side:  Off-the-cob kernels have been roasted to perfection, then topped w/ housemade garlic aioli, cayenne pepper, and shredded manchego.  The key to taking this dish over the top is to spritz it with the accompanying lime slice before digging in.  My friend and I loved it so much that we gobbled the whole dish up before I remembered that I wanted to take a picture of it. Guess I’ll just have to go back and order it again…

Patatas Bravas:  These potatoes are always perfectly cooked with a lovely hint of smokiness. The aioli over top is delicious; the spicy red sauce is as well, though on my last few visits I’ve felt that they were a bit too heavy-handed w/ the red sauce. It overpowered the rest of the dish a little, and made for soggy potatoes by the time we got around to finishing the dish.  Otherwise, though, always a solid choice.

**Manchego Cheesecake**: This, my friends, is the reason why I always, always bring guests that I’m looking to impress to this restaurant.  This cheesecake is simply phenomenal, and never fails to impress. It is honestly one of the few dishes in DC that I can count on to always wow my audience, no matter what. (Rasika’s crispy spinach and black cod are two others – but that’s another post altogether!)  Manchego cheesecake over a pistachio crumble and topped with an apricot puree. Words cannot do it justice. And I am honestly flabbergasted as to how they manage to achieve that creamy cheesecake texture using Manchego, given that it’s a fairly hard cheese! Pssst Estadio chefs, if you ever feel the urge to share your secret, I would be a more than willing confidant!

Photo Sesh:

Patatas BravasShrimp + Garlic + Parsley

Hanger Steak + Tomato + Bread Salad

Manchego Cheesecake

Sadly, as much as I adore their muffins and croissants, I cannot hide from the truth any longer: I hate Pret’s coffee. It is bitter, bitter ,bitter. Their espresso drinks are no better. From now on must remember to walk the extra half-block to Marvelous – even a white mocha from (shudder) Starbucks would be preferable to this. Sigh…I did want to so badly to love everything about that place…

I don’t care how “touristy” Chuy’s has become… I grew up on their Tex-Mex, and as long as their recipes stay the same, I will always love it. The family and I headed over to Chuy’s for dinner the other night and had ourselves a mini Tex-Mex feast:

Tortilla Chips the way only Texans make em – super thin and ultra crispy, just barely able to stand up to their dips, with just right amount of salt and the tiniest trace of the oil in which they were freshly fried before gracing our table.

Chuy’s famous salsa mixed with their lesser-well-known but even-yummier jalapeno ranch dipping sauce (it’s free, but you have to know to ask for it. Thus, only true Chuy’s aficionados get the full experience ;-).) The two dips are great alone, but the trick is to combine them for a killer accompaniment to those yummy chips!

Queso. Done right. Velveeta and Rotel. Nuff said.

Then, the entrees:

Me: Chicken flautas topped w/ chipotle sauce, sour cream, guac, and refried beans.

Bro: Nachos smothered in beans, cheese, sour cream, etc., and topped with deliciously smoky and tender steak fajita meat.

Mom: Steak burrito topped with a fantastic Hatch chile cream sauce.

Dad: Ground Beef enchiladas topped with that same Hatch chile cream sauce.

…And that’s why I don’t bother eating Mexican food on the East coast.

So apparently, my hood is home to the best Korean food in DC. As DC is hardly a haven of Asian cuisine, this isn’t necessarily saying much…but the food at Adams Express is definitely worth the hype. First of all, the place itself is absolutely adorable. Well, adorable in that hole-in-the-wall, slightly dingy, feels-like-you’re-actually-in-the-owners’-kitchen kind of way that only a neighborhood joint can be. The place is owned and run by an elderly Korean couple that is so sweet that you can’t help but want to put them in your pocket and take them home with you. The night I visited, the husband was busy at the stove while the wife was hand-rolling another patron’s sushi order. I sat on one of the 5 stools (it’s not the sort of place you should plan to actually sit and eat at, unless you want to sit at the bar by the window and watch world go by on Mt. Pleasant Street) and watched the two cooks hard at work, both of whom never failed to smile at me every time they caught my eye. The kitchen is entirely open, so you can see their every move. And it really did feel like I was being given a glimpse into their home kitchen…it was such a great, cozy experience, one that I’ve been hard-pressed to find in DC.

I took home an order of their beef bulgogi. I’m no expert on Korean cuisine, but I have to say…this stuff was fan-friggin-tastic. The ingredients all tasted fresh, the entire dish was super-flavorful…well, I’ll let the picture speak for itself!

Late July, Aug, Sept 09 470

Pret a Manger (aka “Pret), a great London-based sandwich/salad/soup/etc. shop, opened up an outlet across the street from my office earlier this year. It didn’t take me long to get addicted to their phenomenal croissants, which are pushed over the top by the fact that they are kept warm until the moment of purchase, so they are perfectly toasty on the outside and warm and steamy on the inside…YUM.

I’ve never been a big fan of their tomato soup – it was always too acidic for me, as I like my soups on the creamier side. BUT! When paired with one of those ridiculous croissants, it makes for the perfect light(ish) lunch!

Yes, that’s right. I called a croissant “light.” That’s how I roll. 😉

Yet another fantastic meal today…my opinion of the DC food scene is definitely starting to pick up!

Agraria is a fun place on the Georgetown waterfront; its outdoor seating patio is dog friendly, but it doesn’t actually face the river; instead, it’s right next to that big gorgeous fountain, which adds a lovely soundtrack of rushing water to the background of the meal. Both times I’ve visited the place, I’ve been seated outside, so I can’t speak to the indoor dining experience – though the inside does look great, chic but with fun blues and greens that reflect the restaurant’s “Farmers and Fishers” theme.  Also, the bathrooms have super-cool hand dryers! It is the sister restaurant to Founding Farmers, another favorite of mine in the city. There are some similarities and parallels between the two menus, but Agraria’s menu has more options and is my favorite between the two.

We started with the Maryland Crab dip and Chicken Pops appetizers. Both were AMAZING. The crab dip was very different from the average MD dip; it had thick slices of sweet onion, huge lumps of crab, and a combination of cheese that was pretty much to die for. I’m usually not huge on crab dips, especially not on warm summer days, but this stuff was really exceptional.

The Chicken Pops are basically mini pieces of fried chicken, tossed in your choice of sauce, and served w/ blue cheese dressing on the side. The chicken was amazingly moist and tender, and the breading was perfectly crispy and crunchy. There was a thin layer of buffalo sauce under the breading that added a nice little kick to the chicken. I really enjoyed dipping it in a combination of the citrus and blue cheese sauces – yum!

My entree was the BBQ Beef rib. The meat was deliciously tender and really did melt off the bone; the sauce it came with complemented it perfectly. My one complaint was that it tasted more like a roasted/braised rib than a BBQ rib – it just didn’t have the flavor or texture that grilling imparts to meat. It was very tasty though, just not quite what I was expecting. The mashed potatoes it was served with were exceptionally buttery and delicious, and I polished them off without sharing. I’ll admit it. The veggie medley, a mixture of diced squashes and whatnot, was forgettable. But perhaps that’s just my anti-vegetable leanings speaking out…

I sampled my friend’s crab ravioli – the pasta was a little underdone, but the creamy lemony sauce that it was served with was wonderful! Another friend got the chicken carnitas navajo sandwich, which I actually didn’t like. There was goat cheese involved, which a.) I can’t stand and b.) I thought was an odd choice for a mexican-influenced sandwich. Also, the navajo bread tasted more like a thin naan than a puffy fry-bread; I wouldn’t recommend it.

And then…DESSERT. We split two between the table: vanilla cake w/ chocolate frosting, and peach shortcake. The vanilla cake was actually a yellow butter cake, and was really really delicious. Very moist, fantastic buttery flavor. The chocolate frosting was glossy and almost pudding-like in texture (I’m pretty sure some sour cream must have been involved); it added a delicious chocolatey touch to the dessert without being overpowering or cloying. The peach shortcake was also wonderful. The cake had sort of a crunchy crust on the outside, but was soft inside – my guess is that they use a recipe that resembles a traditional biscuit-like shortcake, but just shape it to resemble a slice of poundcake. It’s topped with sweet grilled peaches, super creamy vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, white chocolate shavings, and a generous dusting of cinnamon. When all of those elements were combined into a single bite, the dessert was fantastic. Without the ice cream, however, I thought the shortcake alone was a little lacking.

Overall, a wonderful meal…we’re all still recovering from our food comas. 🙂