Finest eating places within the D.C. space: Tom Sietsema’s favorites in February 2023


Information flash: Washington is on a French kick, and one of the crucial thrilling debuts finds a Breton native cooking in a fetching eating room in Georgetown. Welcome, L’Avant-Garde.

I wasn’t solely chasing shiny baubles this month. In reality, quite a lot of my meals passed off in eating places whose cooks have been round awhile however whose cooking is value bringing to your contemporary consideration.

A flock of individuals talking a number of languages crowd the lobby of the West Finish outpost once I present up. Regardless of the early dinner hour on a current Monday, quite a lot of tables are occupied.

“Is it at all times this busy?” an arrival asks the host.

“Chef was simply acknowledged by the James Beard Basis,” the greeter replies, which put her institution on a list of semifinalists for excellent restaurant award consideration.

Cheers to Ris Lacoste, a veteran of 1789, the Georgetown traditional, and the late Kinkead’s, the most effective seafood eating places ever to launch in Washington. The chef opened her personal place in 2009 and says the final decade, even earlier than covid-19, has been a problem, what with waves of “small-plates” competitors round city and her penchant for serving “common meals.”

Can we comply with disagree, chef? Her scallop margarita is a fan favourite for a motive: What’s to not like about lime-kissed scallops tucked right into a cocktail glass with tequila ice, creamy avocado, crimson onion and racy chilies? Maintain her seafood background in thoughts if you’re mulling the menu. The shrimp tempura lashed with sriracha aioli rocks, too. I’ve but to discover a finer quiche than the tall wedge right here, a Thursday particular that calls to me with its streaks of kale and buttery crust. And the herby rooster Milanese is so large and scrumptious, it may yield one other meal in the event you’re capable of present any restraint. The restaurant’s generosity extends to the servers, a few of whom have been with the place because it set sail and know that, say, serving to diners with their coats provides a private contact to an evening out. Want a non-public room? Ris has three.

“I at all times wished to have a diner,” says Lacoste, a Massachusetts native and considered one of seven children whose father’s job as a firefighter inspired her to at all times attempt to “assist someone” and whose mom’s recipe for meatloaf impressed the entree at Ris. (Mother’s secret: oatmeal as a substitute of bread as a binder.) The chef likes to think about her meals as “unfussy.” I say it’s value a reservation.

2275 L St. NW. 202-730-2500. Open for indoor eating, supply and takeout. Essential programs $23 to $48.

Chef Gilles Epié says he aimed to create a restaurant that appears and tastes similar to what you discover in Paris, and lo and behold, he achieved that lofty aim with L’Avant-Garde, which wastes no time spiriting diners throughout the ocean, beginning with a menu provided in each French and English and components — butter, fish — sourced from his native France.

L’Avant-Garde is raising the bar for French dining in D.C.

Born in Brittany, he’s been within the sport since he was 15 years outdated and counts a few of his homeland’s most revered cooks as mentors. Since 1993, he’s cooked in the USA as properly, in Los Angeles and Miami. “He doesn’t need to show himself,” says the restaurant’s proprietor, Fady Saba, who spent $3 million on the venture. Ribs of wooden on the partitions, an imposing fireplace, velvet drapes and gold domed lights over the luxe cubicles yield a cocoon of consolation.

The great appears lengthen to the meals: a intelligent duck foie gras beignet glossed with a port wine discount, marinated Scottish salmon paired with potato slices enlivened with tomato French dressing, a snow-white macaron, garnished with raspberries, that’s nearly too fairly to eat. His kitchen consists of a dozen newbies who realized the menu by taking cooking lessons from Epié for 2 months earlier than the restaurant opened in Georgetown. Diners style the training in such particulars because the textbook-perfect roast rooster and french fries whose golden hue is the results of twice frying the potatoes in clarified butter.

The French-focused wine listing, created by the nice and cozy and discerning Samantha McCrimmon, is wealthy in each sense. (Patrons pays $50 per bottle to herald their very own wine; unusually for a restaurant of this caliber, there’s no restrict on the variety of bottles.)

The arrival of L’Avant-Garde, one of the crucial necessary debuts this 12 months, provides one other star to the constellation that already makes Washington the perfect fine-dining vacation spot within the nation.

2915 M St. NW. 202-652-1855. Open for indoor eating. Entrees $43 to $62.

You get what you ask for right here. “Spicy means spicy,” says Mandalay proprietor Kyaw “Joe” Myint.

Certain sufficient, the fried jasmine rice combined with shrimp and bitter mustard greens I request “spicy” is filled with dynamite within the type of roasted Thai crimson chiles. Floor earlier than it goes into the dish, the TNT is invisible to the attention. However the tongue instantly detects a bonfire, which hotheads will admire.

Launched by Myint’s mother and father in 2000, Mandalay shuttered in 2021 and reopened 9 months later, with supply and takeout. Earlier this month, the eating room reopened with restricted hours (11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday by Sunday for lunch and 5 to eight:30 p.m. Tuesday by Thursday for dinner). “I don’t have the employees” to do extra, says Myint, who additionally halved the variety of seats within the restaurant to 40.

The proprietor’s spouse is Mandalay’s chef, Latt Naing, who depends on Myint household recipes. A current supply confirmed care within the packaging — items of cardboard separated cold and warm dishes — and inspired future orders. Two of a number of hits included inexperienced tea leaf salad, evenly crunchy with cabbage, yellow peas and roasted garlic, and a standout curry marrying tender chunks of pork and pickled mango. The donutlike gram fritters are fluffy sops for the sauces.

Myint’s mother and father are retired however make occasional stops. “They ensure that we’re doing the suitable factor,” their son says with fun. “If not, we hear about it.”

930 Bonifant St., Silver Spring. 301-250-4078. Open for indoor eating, supply and takeout. Entrees $16 to $22.

A part of the enjoyable of eating at Nostos is tagging the celebrities — Maria Callas, Anthony Quinn — whose near-life-size pictures grace the chalk-white partitions of the Greek restaurant in Vienna. Proprietor Peter Pagonis says the black-and-white photographs assist clarify the identify of his restaurant, rooted within the Greek phrase for nostalgia, “the need to return to the place you had been born and raised.”

I’ve but to examine a visit to Greece off my want listing. Within the meantime, Nostos delivers a few of the solar and taste I count on to see once I get there. A go to invariably begins with my favourite dip: fish roe, lemon juice and olive oil whipped into pink clouds and rapidly dispatched with triangles of heat pita. The meals engages the senses. Saganaki offers a ground present when a slab of fried cheese is splashed with brandy and set aflame on the desk, and spanakopita sounds off with an audible crackle — and a bathe of flaky pastry — when diners chunk down on the spinach- and feta-filled phyllo packets. Eggplant layered with cinnamon-spiced floor beef and béchamel-topped potatoes makes for a comforting moussaka.

Within the small-world division, the Nostos-branded crimson wine on the all-Greek listing is produced by the previous proprietor of Taverna Cretekou in Alexandria. Primarily based on syrah and different grapes, Nostos makes a pleasant companion to the juicy grilled lamb chops.

Some dishes are extra compelling than others, however the hospitality is constantly heat. Regulars, for example, may be greeted with free of charge swordfish skewers, that are in any other case $18 on the appetizer listing, together with a beet salad. (Pagonis jokes that recipients of the reward swear it’s higher than the identical model on the menu. “One is free,” he figures; “you pay for the opposite.”) Whereas the restaurateur needs folks to get pleasure from their meal, he says the perfect praise is when departing company inform him, “We had fun.” Good instances are ensured when lunch or dinner concludes with a nutty, gooey, raisin-laced pastry sandwiched with scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Since my final meal, Nostos reopened for lunch, Wednesday by Friday, and takeout is doubly improved: Not solely do orders include the choice of curbside pickup, bottles of wine can be found for half-price.

8100 Boone Blvd., Vienna. 703-760-0690. Open for indoor eating and takeout. Entrees $26 to $44.

Esther Lee is among the most modest prime cooks in Washington. Ask her about her background and she or he merely says she’s “a child from the suburbs.” If it weren’t for the pleading of her employees, her long-running Italian restaurant, Obelisk, which she took over from the equally personal Peter (2 Amys) Pastan in 2016, won’t be on Instagram.

“I’m doing what makes me completely satisfied,” says Lee of her work in her spare townhouse setting in Dupont Circle.

By never veering from its recipe, Obelisk remains a top draw in D.C.

What makes the chef completely satisfied makes her viewers completely satisfied, too. The drill has been the identical just about because the place opened in 1987: 5 programs, with just a few decisions per course, beginning with some skinny house-baked breadsticks and dreamy burrata trailed by a blizzard of antipasti, together with unequalled suppli and snacks that talk to the season — one winter evening puntarella slick and scrumptious with anchovy dressing. Subsequent, some great pasta, in a portion that acknowledges extra meals is on the horizon.

Fish tends to be my default principal course, though a plump pork chop massaged with “porchetta” spice and splayed on cranberry beans and smoky radicchio offers stiff competitors. Insist your eating companion get one thing totally different from you, then insist on buying and selling plates midway by. For higher or worse, your decisions won’t be mine; Lee adjustments her script each week. The one particulars I can promise are a nice plate of cheese after the entrees are cleared, and additional robust choices come dessert.

Right here’s one of many uncommon memorable dinners the place you possibly can hear your self assume. Obelisk doesn’t play music in its intimate eating room. It’s additionally the unusual restaurant that doesn’t set a time restrict lately. Diners can just about keep in Italy so long as they need.

2029 P St. NW. 202-872-1180. Open for indoor eating. 5-course menu $123.

The pandemic prompted the proprietor of Woodberry Kitchen, the barn-size tribute to the Mid-Atlantic, to rethink his imaginative and prescient. The largest change? “We turned the restaurant into an occasion house and the occasion house right into a restaurant,” says Spike Gjerde, the James Beard Award-winning Baltimore chef.

Woodberry Tavern thinks big in a small space in Baltimore

Woodberry Tavern, a former personal room, is the place diners can now e-book considered one of 22 seats for dinner 5 nights every week. Knotty wooden paneling punctuates the hovering brick partitions, and amber votives forged a heat glow. No sooner are you settled in than a “welcome” board is ready on the desk, a grand gesture of hospitality that threatens to spoil your urge for food with house-baked cheese twists, native charcuterie, pickles that get their punch from premium Keepwell vinegar and extra.

The unique Woodberry Kitchen had a menu the dimensions of a poster. The tavern is a a lot shorter learn, however no much less scrumptious. Welsh rarebit is reimagined as a “vase” of grilled spelt bread capped with mustardy beer cheese. Slicing into the development reveals a boiled egg and ham inside. You don’t need to be a vegetarian to understand the carrot tartare, an excellent orange mash seasoned with coriander, bay leaf and white soy sauce. The homier entrees — fried rooster, pork schnitzel — name to me most, and in the event you like oysters, spring for the fried, uncooked and roasted Ruby Salts from the decrease Japanese Shore of Virginia.

The looks of a candle alerts the arrival of baked Alaska, splashed with rum and ignited on the desk. The house may be small right here, however the concepts are large.

2010 Clipper Park Rd., Baltimore. Open for indoor eating. Entrees $27 to $67 (for rib-eye).

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