Rasika–Washington, DC

Often touted as the best Indian restaurant in America, getting a table at Rasika is now a little easier thanks to a second location in the West End. We went to the original, which may not be as chic and modern as the newer spot, but the menu is almost identical at both so we were happy. Having been years ago and remembering it as one of the best Indian meals I’d ever had, I was excited to go back. While it may not have exceeded my lofty expectations, I loved most of the dishes we ordered.

Malai Palak--Rasika

Here was the line up.paneer shashlik--Rasika

paneer shashlikP1010133 P1010132 P1010131 P1010130P1010128

Marinated cottage cheese / onions / peppers

Spinach / garlic / green chili / onion

Duroc pork chop with Vindaloo / Peri-Peri masala / spiced potatoes

Chicken Green Masala

Chicken / mint / coriander / ground spices

Gobhi Mattar

Cauliflower / green peas / cumin / ginger

Lobster Pulao

Bell Pepper / cumin / mango kadi

We also sampled naan in almost every flavor, including onion and sage, garlic, and chile and olive oil.

My son’s favorite dish on the menu is the spinach and, while it may not sound exciting, after trying it, I had to agree. It was crispy, and bursting with a complexity of flavors that belie the description. The paneer dish, which one usually finds floating in creamed spinach, held its own as a kabob, and I could have made a meal out of the cauliflower. I was a bit disappointed in the pork chop because though the sauce was spicy, it didn’t sing to me. The green masala was lighter than the typical red version since it didn’t contain cream, but if you don’t love coriander, this is not the dish for you. The lobster pulao was similar to a biryani rice dish, so I loved that.

It’s a hopping place and is quite loud, but we had a prime window table making it easier to converse.

If you like Indian and you’re going to DC, call well in advance to try to snag a table.


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Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Jose Andres has done it again. The celebrity chef based in Washington DC owns several restaurants around the District, and I’ve now eaten at all of them with the exception of Minibar (though my son and his girlfriend went and took lots of pictures so I have experienced it vicariously).  I had heard fabulous comments about Zaytinya for years but was reluctant to go because the featured cuisines of Turkey, Greece and Lebanon are not typically my favorite. But this is not about hummus and dolmades, though those particular dishes are on the menu. If you venture out of your comfort zone, you will be richly rewarded with fun and exhilarating fare.P1010148Zaytinya in Washington, DC

Here’s the list of what we shared at our table with a description from the menu. I’ve made a few notes of explanation where needed. The pictures say it all.

CRISPY BRUSSELS AFELIABrussels Sprouts with Greek yogurt--Zaytinya
brussels sprouts, coriander seed,
barberries, garlic yogurt

HORTA SALATAKale salad --Zaytinya
kale salad, smoked olives, fava Santorini,
ladolemono, pistachios

medjool dates, orange, pomegranate,
pistachios, mintHalloumi cheese--Zaytinya

Halloumi is a cheese that can withstand heat without melting. It gets a bit too chewy when it cools, but right off the stove it’s soft and pairs well with a variety of sauces and fruits.

sautéed shrimp with tomatoes, green onions,
kefalograviera cheese, ouzo

grilled Mediterranean octopus, marinated onions,
capers, yellow split pea pureeOctopus Santorini--Zaytinya

Samke Harra-style with coriander, cardamom,
pickled Lebanese chili oil, pine nuts and tahiniSalmon with Lebanese chili oil--Zaytinya

grilled chicken thigh, sumac, onions, garlic tuom,
grilled tomatoesChicken thigh with sumac, tomatoes, and tuom--Zaytinya

Garlic tuom is a Lebanese dipping sauce made along the lines of a pesto in that a mortar and pestle is needed to crush the ingredients into a paste. This particular condiment contains garlic, salt, olive oil and lemon juice.

There are a number of beef and lamb options on the menu. Knowing we had another meal to eat later in the day we opted for the lighter dishes. Though the small plates are meant for sharing, we still ordered too much food for three people to consume for brunch. The salmon was the only dish I didn’t care to fight over. There was nothing objectionable about it; compared to the other dishes, it was ordinary.

Not to be forgotten is the puffy warm pita that comes to the table with olive oil for dipping. It’s light and airy and makes a great pusher for each dish. We asked the server how it was made and he said it requires a very expensive machine, so I dismissed thoughts of trying to duplicate it at home.

Pita at Zaytinya

I try to check out a new restaurant, or one I haven’t visited, each time I make a trip to DC, but Zaytinya will definitely be on my repeat list.




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Vidalia–Washington DC

Vidalia has consistently made Washingtonian’s list of the Top 100 restaurants in the DC area, and is usually in the top ten. Its cuisine is more mid-Altantic/Southern, of the sort you’d find in Charleston. It has a lovely dining room and, fortunately, not a loud one, so conversation is easy.

We had a wonderful server, who was friendly but not at all obsequious. His command of the menu was impressive and we relied on his suggestions. He was also very accommodating and said the kitchen is always happy to entertain special requests.

For starters, we sampled the crab cake with creole mustard butter, country ham and a bit of cabbage and kale; agnolotti with shrimp; and the signature appetizer, a Vidalia onion stuffed with country ham, red-eye gastrique, and mushrooms. The crab in the crab cake was the star of the show–very little filler and the sauce did not overpower. The pasta was light and fresh and beautifully presented. The onion didn’t live up to its billing, but onion lovers would nonetheless enjoy having a dish that focuses on what is typically just a lowly ingredient.

Yellow fin tuna with oxtail fritter, sweet onion fondue, roasted heirloom carrots, barley, port city porter was not as exciting as it may have sounded, but the tuna itself was excellent. The seared scallops with smoked bacon, grit cake, spring onion, collard green marmalade, cracklings, barbecue butter was the most complex, both in terms of texture and flavor.  The shrimp and grits with smoked bacon, grit cake, spring onion, collard green marmalade, cracklings, barbecue butter reminded us of what we’ve been enjoying recently at Bluestem, Webster House and Genessee Royale Bistro. It was fun to see that the grits were from Anson Mills, which I profiled in a recent Kansas City Star story.

We finished with pecan pie, and it was as sweet, chewy and decadent as one would expect from this quintessential Southern dessert.

While at Vidalia, we also had our first ever bottle of wine  with a glass cork in it!  It’s really quite stunning. An elegant and definitely more upscale alternative to the screw top, it also does the job of cutting down on corked wine that can result from a traditional cork.


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Ceiba–Washington DC

Ceiba is one of several restaurants owned by Jeff Tunks in Washington, DC, the most well-known of which was the now shuttered Ten Penh and my favorite of the group. Ceiba has a Latin American theme and you can choose to sit in the bar or lounge and have appetizers, or enjoy a full dinner in the dining room.

We did both. We ordered several appetizers at the bar and then had our entrees at a table. Appetizers in the bar, especially at Happy Hour (which is all night on Sundays) is the way to go. You just can’t beat $5 Caipirinhas, $6 tuna sliders (3 per order), $5 ceviche or $6 chipotle chicken quesadillas. We also sampled tuna tartare taquitos…and had our eye on a Cubano sandwich and shrimp and crab nachos but restrained ourselves in favor of ordering off the dinner menu.

For bargain hunters, there’s a $29 three-course option. Considering entrees are in twenty dollar range, this is a no brainer. We didn’t care about dessert, but figured a little sorbet couldn’t hurt.

Black bean soup is a staple of Latin American cuisine, but this rendition was only passable. Needed some sherry or hot peppers, both of which are often accompaniments. The grilled lobster enchiladas were interesting, matching the crustacean with spinach and chile de arbol sauce. My seared tuna was served with a crab and black bean tostada and serrano ginger vinaigrette, and was pleasant enough but couldn’t compare to other meals that I had devoured over my weekend in DC.

The restaurant is quite large and there are rooms suitable for whatever mood you happen to be in. I imagine the lounge, with its comfortable chairs and big windows is a big draw on weekends. Even without the Happy Hour prices, that’s the menu I’d stick with if I go back.

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The Source DC–revisited for brunch

The Source is a Wolfgang Puck fine-dining establishment, and I had an exceptional dinner there a couple of years ago. This time we tried the Dim Sum brunch. Scrap your image of rolling carts, this is basically an Asian version of Spanish tapas.

We weren’t sure how many dishes to order, but our server said that a typical serving is five per person. Dumplings come in threes, and we were a party of four, so we had double orders of several of the dishes, 16 in all.  We practically rolled out of the restaurant though we didn’t come close to ordering as much as was suggested. I think our server overshot it–some of the dishes are larger than others, so three per person would probably be enough for most people.

We had pork belly dumplings, Szechuan “Dan Dan” dumpling,  a field mushroom dumpling, lobster and shrimp spring rolls, lobster club sandwiches (not sure how this fit with the Asian theme, but they were very tasty), Shanghai noodles with curry, chili and oxtail, duck bao buns, Chinese sausage fried rice,  Kobe beef hash, and the signature Puck Chinese chicken salad.

Based on both of my experiences at The Source, I would have to put it at the top of my DC list. Komi was quite memorable, but a once in a lifetime type of place.  The Source is worth repeating, again and again.

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Kinkead’s in Washington, DC

Kinkead’s has been around for decades, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It is consistently on all the top restaurant charts, deservedly so.

I made a return visit there recently, after too long of a drought.The multi-level restaurant has multiple personalities, depending on where you sit. There is a casual cafe on the lower level, a loud bar at street level, and a more subdued and formal dining room upstairs. We were seated in a booth upstairs, which was made for easy conversation.

In early March, spring hadn’t yet taken hold, but unfortunately they had just changed to the spring menu, eliminating the possibility that we could try the grilled tuna with mole, a dish my son and I both had our eye on when perusing the online menu before the changeover. Fortunately, we were happy with all of  our selections, most of which were on the Classics menu that doesn’t change seasonally.

We started with two appetizers whose descriptions were intriguing, and unlike any dishes either of us had experienced. One was Grilled Squid with Tomato Fondue, Pesto and Creamy Polenta. It was arranged vertically and artfully, and resulted in each bite having a burst of flavors.  Yucatan Style Tuna Soup with Tomatillos, Chiles, Lime, Sour Cream and Tortilla Strips was all green, like a split pea, but made with tomatillos and cilantro. Chunks of tuna are dropped in at the last minute so they are barely cooked and not overdone. The tortilla strips added crunch to a very successful soup.

My son was determined to have tuna, so he tried the preparation on the new menu and wasn’t disappointed. Sesame Crusted Rare Tuna with Cool Soba Noodles, Sesame Seaweed Salad, Soy Dipping Sauce and Wasabi tends to show up on many a menu these days, but if the preparation is flawless, as this was, what’s not to like.

I tried another of the classics, Pepita Crusted Salmon with Cilantro, Chiles, Crab, Shrimp and Corn Ragout. Since I was near crab and shrimp country, it seemed like the thing to get. I was less than enamored at the outset, perhaps because I make enough salmon at home that I rarely order it in restaurants, and because I don’t love a crust surrounding my fish. But as the different ingredients took hold and each bite offered up a different taste, I was happy I had tried it.

Though primarily a fish and seafood restaurant, Kinkead’s does offer meat entrees for landlubbers at the table, so don’t shy away from trying an outstanding restaurant simply because you don’t eat fish. Though not inexpensive, it offers a very pleasant and delectable way to spend an evening.



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SEI Restaurant–Washington DC

To say that SEI restaurant in Washington, DC is a sushi restaurant doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it has some pretty terrific and beautifully prepared sushi. But what makes this Penn Quarter gem glitter beyond its white and amber decor is the inventiveness of the small plates on the menu.

Building a meal around these eclectic dishes is not easy, only because there are so many intriguing choices. And since there were just two of us at the table, we didn’t come close to sampling all that we wanted to try. But we savored each dish that we did order.

The sashimi pizza has a thin crust and is topped with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp, salmon roe and wasabi aioli. It was hard to distinguish the flavors, but it was gorgeous and fun to eat.

The lamb chop with red curry was as tasty as it was pretty. It was accompanied by Indian Idli, which tastes like polenta and was the perfect foil for the smooth sauce.

Though they were out of the pork buns, we consoled ourselves with Korean tacos. Short rib meat was paired with kimchee in corn tortillas, and though they didn’t wipe out my longing for a Momofuku style pork treat, the tacos were tasty.

The duck edamame hash was presented in a mold and topped with a perfectly cooked fried egg.  We were loath to break it, but once we did, we devoured it.

We also enjoyed the Triple Tuna sushi roll, just to be sure that SEI does sushi well. They do.

Other offerings we wanted to try but didn’t have room for in our stomach? Seven pepper tots (tator tots served with sriracha honey ketchup), tuna poke with wonton chips, wasabi guacamole, and fried rice cakes with kimchee.

I had the opportunity to meet sommelier Andrew Stover at the DrinkLocal Wine conference in St. Louis last month, as he sipped his way through the weekend looking for Missouri wines to bring to DC. He has a passion and commitment to regional wines, which is evident from the inclusion of wines from Michigan, New York, Virginia and New Mexico on the restaurant’s wine list.

Service was unusual. There seemed to be a tag team system, which in theory is a good idea because diners are never ignored. But we found it to be a bit annoying. Each of the two servers on our team kept coming to our table, asking the same questions (would you like a drink, ready to order?), as though the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

The food ruled the evening though, and I am anxious to try SEI’s older sibling, OYA on my next visit to DC.


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Tabard Inn–Washington, DC

The Tabard Inn has long appeared on “Best Brunch” lists in the DC area. In fact, it’s one of those places where you need to call a month in advance to insure a reservation.

I made that call and was rewarded for my efforts with an 11:30 am Sunday reservation (Saturday brunch is also served).

The historic inn in which the restaurant is housed is lovely. We had to meander through the small, quaint rooms to find our way to the back where the restaurant sits.

We announced ourselves to the hostess about 30 minutes early and assumed we’d have to wait for an open table. We heard her tell a person at the other end of the phone that they could come in without a reservation, but that it would probably be 2-3 hours before she could be seated.

Surprisingly, they asked if wanted to sit down, and we walked into a relatively empty dining room. But in the next half hour it filled and stayed that way during our visit.

I had read that the Tabard Inn kitchen makes its own doughnuts and that they could be order singly or by the half-dozen. Since the server had just set  down a basket of  homemade muffins and breads, we decided to just order one to split.

Smart move. These were full-sized, not little donut holes; rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla whipped cream. I’m not generally a big doughnut fan, but these were light and served warm, what’s not to like?

My son ordered steak and poached eggs with chimichurri sauce, and while I was tempted by the seafood gumbo, when the server told  me its heft might require me to take a nap afterward, I opted for the huevos rancheros. Though the green and red salsas lacked a kick, they nicely complemented the black bean puree, avocado and perfectly cooked fried eggs that smothered the tortillas.

The menu features an large number of both breakfast and lunch items, and I would have been happy with any number of them. And the tavern-like ambiance is just as much of a draw.

As we left, the living rooms were filled with people waiting, some chatting while sipping drinks, and others reading the newspaper to pass the time. I was tempted to assure them that it would be worth their while to stick around.

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Acqua Al 2 in Washington, DC

Acqua Al 2 has come to Washington, DC. Its owners know a thing or two about what constitutes authentic Italian cuisine. Started in Florence, Italy, the restaurant’s only other  North American outpost can be found in San Diego.

Acqua Al 2 took over a charming little space in the up and coming Eastern Market section of DC in early summer. Since that time, it’s been wowing diners who revel in the homemade pastas and  steaks that taste like they came straight from Tuscany.

On our visit, we couldn’t resist the pastas, sampled several and even ordered a second round. Maccheroni all Vodka looked bland but hit all the right notes with its spicy vodka tomato/cream sauce, Fussili  Lunghi  alla  Fiaccheraia, pasta with a spicy tomato sauce  proved that simple is often best, and the Cannelloni  Mascarpone  e  Funghi, certainly didn’t resemble St. Louis’s standard, but was every bit as decadent. And the gnocchi, essentially a potato dumpling, was light and airy (and then smothered in a rich cream sauce.) The homemade bread and focaccia was the ideal vehicle for mopping up all those sauces.

The two specialties of the house are the filet mignon with blueberry sauce, a combination which I just couldn’t bring myself to order, and Tuscan style rib eye (read blood rare) served on a bed of arugula, which I did order but they forgot to serve. I think it was a miscommunication rather than neglect–the server thought I was just asking how it was prepared and didn’t realize I had actually ordered it. No worries, I’ll be back and I had more than my fill that day anyway.

The restaurant is long and narrow, rustic and comforting, and on the night we were there was filled with families, groups and cozy couples. With its extensive menu, this is the kind of place where family style dining is preferred–more to try, more to love.

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Central Michel Richard Washington DC

At the end of a long weekend of eating substantial meals in DC, my son and I were not up for another one. Yet we certainly wanted to enjoy another evening together and we had to eat, right? We had previously made a reservation for Central Michel Richard, and though it has its fair share of rich bistro fare, there are other paths a diner can follow, so we stuck with the plan.

The menu has a generous mix of appetizers and salads, as well as a very appealing list of sandwiches. We chose to split two burgers–one lobster, one tuna. And French fries, of course. Boy, did we do it right! The burgers were outstanding and just so fun to eat. Both were formed to exactly fit the homemade bun, and they were each topped with a fabulous potato tuile for additional texture.

The French fries were crisp and, naturally, the perfect accompaniment.

We also enjoyed, at our server’s suggestion an interesting and reasonably priced Napa cuvee from Tudal Family Vineyard. It was a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Sangiovese, not the usual suspects, and very tasty with our burgers.

This unexpected meal was the perfect ending to a lovely weekend.

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