Meb Byrne

Archive for the ‘restaurant’ Category

Montmartre

In brunch, dc, french, restaurant on June 30, 2009 at 3:58 pm
If you couldn’t guess by now, I’m a big fan of outdoor markets. I’m also a big fan of brunch. (What other meal is designed specifically for lazy rich people?) So I was excited to combine my two interests in an outing to Montmartre, located a block away from the Eastern Market in DC.

I will say one thing in defense of Montmartre: the quiche-of-the-day is superb. The crust is thick yet light and flaky, the eggs moist, the fillings (on this day, bacon and various cheeses) flavor-packed with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Get the quiche.

My praise ends there.

This is not to say that Montmartre is a bad restaurant. It is not. The servers are friendly. The space is nice. The mimosas are tasty. The buckwheat crepe is hearty, crispy, and chock full of meat and vegetables. It does, however, need salt. The quiche’s side of greens is fresh, but unfortunately paired with a weird mayonnaise; a better choice would have been a light vinaigrette.

The clincher for me was the desserts: five flat, despondent-looking tarts, sugar glazed beyond hope. In a strange move, the fruit of the blueberry tart is covered by a top crust, masking the flavor and making the dessert more high fructose corn syrup than berries. The kitchen presents these sad tarts beautifully, surrounding them with a pool of vanilla sauce and a drizzle of raspberry. The gigantic mint leaves as garnish, however, are overkill.

In the end, Montmartre’s wait is too long, its decibels too high, its service too harried and its portions too large to be a faithful representation of French cuisine.

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Zaytinya

In dc, greek, recommended, restaurant, tapas on June 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Great meals always start with an exhalation. You know what I’m taking about: almost compulsively, an “ohhh” escapes your lips as you bite into a flaky crust, a juicy piece of fruit, a perfectly grilled steak. I think all meals should begin like that. To get a good taste of such a meal (pun intended), try Zaytinya, located in DC’s Penn Quarter.

Zaytinya has an interior like a futuristic subway car: clean, flickering, dim. Blue and white luminaries line the bar and the slick white staircase, hung by criss-crossing wire cables. The restaurant’s airy layout creates as much open space as possible; this is a place for beautiful people to see and be seen. A long central table for large parties is spot-lit; get a smaller side table on the main floor to observe the hustle & bustle.

Greek food is often oppressive, centering around the harsh, acidic flavors of garlic, feta, and olives. Zaytinya, in contrast, serves mezze, tapas-style plates of a Greek-Turkish-Lebanese hybrid cuisine. Two people can share five to seven small plates, which the bustling staff present to your table in staggered courses throughout the evening. Order a few dishes from each of the menu’s categories, and don’t be afraid to ask your waiter for advice: the staff gives great recommendations.

Zaytinya reinvents done-to-death Greek standards and makes them outstanding. Ubiquitous pita bread is transformed into long trenches of puffy, air-filled bread, piping hot and served with a trio of spreads: silky smooth hummus, drenched in oil and garnished with chickpeas; an outstanding red pepper and feta mash-up; and a nice variation on tzatziki sauce. Another Greek standby, chicken kebabs, is deconstructed, served with slipskin tomatoes, spice-laden onions and a delicious whipped goat cheese on the side.

Zaytinya isn’t content to reinvent the wheel, however. Squash blossoms are stuffed with crab meat and cheese, deep fried, and served with a dill sauce. The end result is light, creamy, and warm; try this dish while the blossoms are still in season. In another dish, sauteed shrimp are served in an artful sauce of lemon, mustard, butter, and dill. Zaytinya gets especially creative with the cauliflower side dish, tossed with sultanas for sweetness, capers for tang, and pine nuts, chopped into crispy disks and roasted with sea salt, for crunch.

My favorite concoction of the evening combined Zaytinya’s talent at reworking old standards with its daring inventive streak. A spanikopita crust is packed with flavorful ground lamb and crumbly feta, and topped with pungent crumbled feta. It is excellent. My only regret is that I was so full from the other wonderful things I’d eaten that I couldn’t finish the lamb dish.

Zaytinya’s dress code is upscale casual, and its prices reflect that sentiment. All told, our meal cost $100 for two people. If you’re on a budget, you can still nibble on a plate or two while you sip inventive house cocktails at the bar. The floral drinks invoke the Greek pantheon with names like Aphrodite’s Pear, and feature unusual ingredients: baby roses and honey dust make the Eros cocktail taste like a sachet. In the end, no matter what budget you’re on, Zaytinya is a gem worth remembering.

Pretzel Croissant

In breakfast, nyc, pastry, recommended, restaurant on June 29, 2009 at 8:52 pm

Image courtesy of The Wandering Eater.

Who: You.

What: Pretzel croissant.

When: As often as possible.

Where: City Bakery, 5th Ave at 18th Street, NYC.

Why: I cannot sing high enough praises for this pastry. It is both a pretzel and a croissant, rolled into one light, buttery, crispy, flaky knot of deliciousness and joy.

How:

  1. Buy them early, and buy them hot. Pretzel croissants are fine at room temperature, but utterly heavenly when first warm.
  2. Eat all the crumbs. (Oh, there will be crumbs.)
Go buy one. Now.

Rasika

In dc, indian, recommended, restaurant on June 22, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Rasika is a well-reviewed, high-end Indian restaurant located in Penn Quarter. Its exterior is unassuming, its interior welcoming, with lots of burnt orange tones, low tables and flickering candles. Reservations are recommended, but you can try to nab seats at the bar for dinner as well. Watching the bartenders work is comparable to watching sushi chefs assemble their concoctions. As a bonus, the bartenders are very knowledgeable about the menu. We left most of the entrée-choosing to our man, and ended up with several appetizers, a few half-portions of entrées, and a vegetable side or two. (This was all on a college kid’s budget; don’t let the $30 entrees frighten you away. This menu can work for any wallet size.)

Rasika’s appetizers excel. A tower of potato disks, chickpeas and spices disintegrates into a flavorful mush when you try to cut it apart. The crispy spinach salad, the restaurant’s most popular hors d’oeurve, is a standout. Both dishes combine four to five distinct, exotic flavors that contrast fabulously and never overpower one another.

Other dishes play it safe. The mango shrimp is a very nice, simple dish of four pink shrimp and a pastel green, mild yogurt sauce for dipping. It lacks the stand-out boldness of the crispy spinach salad. The bowl of complementary bar popcorn features light notes of lime, chili, curry, salt, and sugar; a tiny, elegant snack for casual upscale diners.

Rasika’s entrees are potent. The eggplant side dish is a vegetable in hiding, whipped into a paste and spiced heavily. The menu, being Indian, features several potencies of curry, from mild to very spicy. We chose the mildly spicy fish curry, which the bartender promised had a bit of sweetness to it. The fish had a pure, clean taste, but the curry was so hot that I physically sweated while eating it. (Clearly, I need to eat more spicy food. 🙂 )

Recommended.

Banana Café & Piano Bar, Take 2

In cuban, dc, restaurant on June 4, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Returned to Banana Café last night with Pratik, my oh-so-fashionable yet gastronomically underexposed co-intern. The skies had cooperated all day, but by the time we got out of work at six, heavy clouds threatened rain. We made it to the restaurant just before it started pouring and (wisely) chose to sit inside. The décor is fun, with burnt orange and yellow walls. The numerous works of art on display are reminiscent of a very safe, commercialized Picasso.

I wanted to eat plantains again, but I could only find them on the menu in deep-fried form, which didn’t suit my mood. Instead, I chose camarones Andaluz: white rice molded into an upside-down bowl shape (as in Egypt); black beans on the side in their own little bowl; and shrimp, sautéed in a white wine sauce with scallions, peas, peppers & mushrooms. I licked the plate clean.

Pratik, vegetarian that he is, ordered spinach & mushroom chille relleno: a giant oblong plate of fried stuffed peppers, with cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, white rice, black beans, and ranchero sauce. I didn’t try any of his meal (very unlike me, I know.) Both dishes were nicely presented.

A note on appetizers at Banana Café: As in most Hispanic restaurants, complimentary tortilla chips and salsa flow freely throughout the meal. Banana Café’s tortilla chips are corn-based and basic, with little salt; the salsa is surprisingly sweet and tangy, with a zing in the aftertaste. On my initial visit, I topped my chips with vinegar and salt, which turned out to be a good combo.

Banana Café’s service redeemed itself this time around. Our server was attentive, polite and genteel; our food and check were brought promptly. I would have no qualms recommending this place.

Final thought: I will return at least once after my 21st birthday (June 20th!!!) to try the house’s mango margarita. The menu claims it’s the best in the city.

http://bananacafedc.com/

Banana Café & Piano Bar

In cuban, dc, restaurant on June 1, 2009 at 10:03 pm

DC is like NYC in that they both have a city feel, but NYC has shops on the street and a loud, vibrant culture, while DC is much more austere and full of suits. Still, a few DC neighborhoods retain their character. Dupont Circle, I’ve heard, is one. Chinatown is another. The neighborhood surrounding the Eastern Market metro stop is my latest find.

Courtney and I dined at Banana Café & Piano Bar, located at 500 8th Street, SE. The Café, with its brightly painted walls and buzzing atmosphere, is tough to miss. The menu is descriptive and extensive, featuring both Cuban standards and their Americanized variations. Courtney introduced me to plaintains in her plaintain soup- I swear I must have eaten them before, but I’d forgotten the experience. Reaction: must find more plantains immediately. 🙂

I stuck with the standards and ordered a tropical salad with shrimp, scallops and squid. The dish’s excessive lettuce was compensated for by tender and tasty seafood in a tangy sauce. (Oo, alliteration.) The palm hearts framing the plate were a standout, while the tomatoes doing the same thing could have been left out.

The service was disappointing, always either too attentive or too lax. (My salad originally arrived sans seafood and the check took ages, but our water glasses were kept full and our waiter practically pounced on us to ask how we liked the food.) Regardless, the atmosphere reminded me of my beloved New York, and the outdoor seating can’t be beat. I’ll definitely be back.