Kapnos Taverna: Seafood Tower

Seafood Tower

When someone says Mike Isabella you likely think of pepperoni sauce, killer pizza, maybe even spit-roasted meat. But, thanks to the addition of Kapnos Taverna, Mike can add seafood to his growing list of culinary sorties.

The biggest differentiator between Ballston’s shiny new Kapnos Taverna and the 14th Street original, Kapnos, is the addition of a raw bar that cranks out seafood towers and platters that can compete with the likes of Fiola Mare and Le Diplomate (yea, we said it). For reasons that will soon become obvious, the magnanimous seafood tower with its bounty of ocean critters and house made condiments is the Best Thing on the Menu. It’s so impressive that we’re breaking it down by tier.

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Warm up on the first floor where things are pretty familiar: shrimp that have been sexed up by some kind of tangy yogurt sauce and an array of oysters divided by West Coast and East Coast. Boost their briny flavor with harissa hot sauce, tomato-ouzo cocktail sauce, lemon yogurt, mignonette or fresh horseradish.

Tier Two

The Taylor Bay scallops made zippy by apple and grapefruit steal the show in tier two, though the marinated mussels accompanied by celery, preserved lemon and pomegranate bring competition. Also served in small metal vats are king salmon tartare with purple potatoes, mustard and cucumber as well as tender octopus with eggplant, red pepper and olive.

Tier Three

Finally, like a lady wearing a whacky hat at a horse race, lobster and crab form the dramatic crown of the tower daring you to take on the work that goes into cracking those crab legs.

The whole thing weighs in at $125, but if you bring a team of four it won’t break the bank. All you’ll need to leave feeling full is a few dips and spreads that come with flatbread or maybe some vegetable mezze like Greek spiced potato fries or fried burssels with lemon, pomegranate, dill and garlic yogurt (reminiscent of he Best Thing on the Menu at Zaytinya).

Kapnos Tavern is located at 4000 Wilson Blvd.

Seafood tower not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Pinea: Charred Octopus

Octopus

Chef Barry Koslow has had some time to settle into his latest culinary foray, Pinea, inside the W Hotel DC. You know him from his Jewish deli days at DGS Delicatessen. His Mediterranean concept replaces J & G Steakhouse, which was ripe for retirement. If you’re a hotel restaurant naysayer, suck it up and pay Pinea a visit because you could easily find it on a cool street in Europe.

The Best Thing on the Menu channels Urusla (but there are no unfortunate souls): Charred Octopus with Saffron Potatoes, Green Olives, Chorizo and Sherry Dressing. The flavors are explosive and slightly reminiscent of paella (at least the kind of paella someone on the Paleo diet would eat because there is no rice). The chorizo adds smoky heat, the dressing is tart, and the octopus is charred to perfection. That last part might be “too soon” for fellow DC chef, George Pagonis, who departed this season of Top Chef because of the way he cooked the pesky eight-legger.

Pinea Lamb Burger

Also outstanding is Chef Koslow’s Lamb Merguez Burger, which can be found on the lunch, dinner and brunch menu. It’s fiery with harissa, but fortunately cucumber yogurt cools your mouth. A $19 burger you say!?!? It is The W after all. The price tag is worth it for the polenta fries alone.

After you’ve demolished the Best Thing on the Menu and the lamb burger, settle up and head down to The Root Cellar. The pint-sized bar serves up some tasty barrel-aged cocktails and a whole lot of whiskey.

Pinea is located at 515 15th Street NW.

Charred Octopus not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Bourbon Steak Lounge: Pulled Pork Pop-Tarts

Pop-tarts

Sure, Bourbon Steak Lounge is synonymous with face-melting, make-you-scream-for-your-momma-they’re-so-good burgers. Put it this way, we’d rather have a Bourbon Steak Lounge burger than stock in Shake Shack. But there’s something even better (and brand new) lurking on the lounge menu – The Best Thing on the Menu: Pulled Pork Pop-Tarts served with Carolina BBQ sauce and gherkins. 

Bourbon Steak Chef Joe Palma takes 20% of the fun out of it by explaining that pop-tarts are really just flat empanadas. He ruined our fantasy that these would would one day be available to purchase from Kellogg’s for daily, in-home consumption. Alas, to Bourbon Steak Lounge we’ll head for round after round of these warm, flaky wonders filled with bright yellow meatsies thanks to the mustard component of the sauce. Order them alongside an expertly crafted cocktail from bar genius Duane Sylvestre.

Burgers

Fortunately (like Kellogg’s) an order of pop-tarts only comes with two pastries, leaving you belly room to tackle one of those epic burgers we mentioned. Feel free to explore all of the options, but don’t overlook the original oak-fired prime steak burger with house pickles, cabot clothbound cheddar and secret sauce. The Korean barbeque burger packs a punch thanks to heat from kimchi and gochujang sauce. Just don’t expect a patty made from minced salmon. You get a whole salmon filet instead, eschewing dryness and creating an adorable juxtaposition of a rectangle tucked between two round buns.

Obviously, you’re also getting the duck fat fries with a trio of dipping sauces.

Bourbon Steak Lounge is located inside the Four Seasons Hotel Washington at 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. 

Pulled Pork Pop-Tarts not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

BUL: Hangover Soup

Soup
Guest post & photos by Curtis Rogers

Remember that video of Bao Bao discovering snow this Winter? Now, remember the last time you discovered something you loved so much you wanted to roll around in it? If you’re coming up blank, it’s probably time to visit Bul. A new offering from the minds behind Sakuramen, Bul channels classic Korean street food and drink into a menu you didn’t know you were craving. They call it a pojangmacha, because it’s modeled off bustling pop-up street food carts in Korea. 

You’ll want to roll in The Best Thing on the Menu: Hangover Soupa generous bowl of enoki mushrooms, leeks, chilies, and Busan-sourced fish cakes in a rich broth. Served with a deep ladle, this habit-forming brew is best enjoyed with a group of drinking buddies—which is true for most of Bul’s fare, falling mainly into the categories of Little Anjus and Big Anjus. (Anjus are plates meant to be enjoyed with alcohol).

Luckily, working up a Hangover Soup-worthy hangover just got easier with Bul’s recent alcoholic additions, featuring bottled sakes, beers, sojus, makgeolli, and an array of canned sakes so inspiring it verges on art (especially for Warhol fans). Non-alcoholic options include DC’s on Craft Kombucha on draft, with seasonal flavors such as elderflower and pomegranate.

Skewers
Guest post & photos by Curtis Rogers

Other standout Anjus include the DC Kalbi Ssam (Korean BBQ short ribs) and the Dukboki (rice cakes in a tangy red sauce). If you can get a break from looking at your Google Translate app, also be sure to order a few of Bul’s yakitori. These Japanese-style small open fire-cooked skewers, including chicken meatballs and bacon-wrapped asparagus, are perfect for appetizers, happy-hour snacks, or simply a quick bite on a busy day. Their flavor comes from “tare”typically made from soy sauce, roasted chicken bones, mirin and sake. 

For something different, visit BUL on February 10th. They’re screening “Fresh Off the Boat.” Tickets are available here.

Bul is located at 2431 18th Street NW.

Hangover Soup not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Thip Khao: Naem Khao

Crispy Rice Salad

Remember that dim-witted man who decided to tip toe across a high wire between two of Chicago’s tallest buildings without so much as a carabineer for protection? Yea, the one who then did it blindfolded? At the end of his stunt he experiences a euphoric release that’s akin to how we felt when Thip Khao opened its doors in the District.

A little distance never kept us from hitting up Bangkok Golden in Virginia, but the fact that a straight shot up 14th Street is all that’s separating us from edible Laotian treasures from Chef Seng makes us tingle.

While the intricate menu mandates several (hundred!) trips, there are some early front-runners for Best Thing on the Menu like Naem Khao—Crispy rice with coconut, lime, green onion, sausage, peanut, cilantro and lettuce wraps. It’s a $10 texture party found in the soup & salad section.

Khao Poon

The Khao Poon noodle soup is silky and teeters between sweet and spicy. Rice noodles dance in a broth made from coconut milk, red curry and shrimp paste, along with a mound of cabbage, bean sprouts, carrots and a protein of choice (chicken/flounder/tofu).

Finally, you can’t go wrong with laab. The dish is commonly pronounced larb, but we’ve sworn that off like a bad habit thanks to some instruction from Chef Seng and other Laotian buddies who say it like a lob in tennis. The signature dish consists of minced meat, fish or tofu blended with herbs, tang and heat. Go with duck if you can.

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If you woke up with your big boy pants on, place an adventurous order from Thip Khao’s “Let’s Go to the Jungle” menu. Extra points if you sing Guns N’ Roses. This menu boasts more authentic tastes like crispy fried intestine with sriracha sauce; spicy blood sausage with peanut and ginger; and rice noodle soup with pork blood tofu.

If possible, save room for a cocktail from the mind of Jack Caminos who took the challenge of making Lao inspired drinks very seriously. It was tough because beer is the go-to beverage in Laos, making cocktails relatively uncharted territory.

Naem Khao (crispy rice salad) not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Thip Khao is located at 3462 14th Street NW.

El Camino: Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles

The news of a taco slinger opening in Bloomingdale was met with the kind of excitement of being a kid on Christmas morning who finds a present the exact size of a Power Wheels Pink Barbie Jammin’ Jeep under the tree. In other words, EPIC excitement. Believe it or not, this analogy is kind of appropriate because El Camino is indeed named after a car (Yea Chevy!). That’s why you’ll see things like tables bases made from rims.

Gently-priced tacos are the first thing you spot on the Mexico meets SoCal menu, which runs the gamut of tortas, ceviches, braised meat, and chips with dips. While everyone can get on board with $2.50 tacos, the Best Thing on the Menu comes in a crock pot: Chilaquiles made with corn tortilla cops, salsa verde and smoked gouda. 

Simply put, they’re wet nachos. But in the best possible way. In Mexico, they’re typically eaten for breakfast or lunch but at El Camino, dinner’s the only option so dig on in. Here’s the kicker. These bad boys are both vegetarian AND gluten free. You hardly miss meat when the gouda cheese imparts so much smokiness. Start with one order, then another if for no other reason than “chilaquiles” is hella fun to say.

Mezcal Old Fashioned

Pair this tasty crockpot with something equally smoky – the Mezcal Old Fashioned. It’s the priciest cocktail on the list, but spring for it anyway because you can get a margarita almost anywhere. El Camino’s cup of love contains Mezcal, mole and orange bitters, and vanilla-sarsaparilla agave.

Chilaquiles not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

El Camino is located at 108 Rhode Island Avenue NW. 

Slipstream: Breakfast Bowl

Breakfast Bowl

Slip into something more comfortable in Logan Circle: a brand new coffee shop and cocktail bar that you’ll want to spend a lot of time in (even though they don’t do wi-fi). The coffee at Slipstream is super science-y, and is so futuristic it might as well appear in the movie Interstellar. The food on the other hand has a slight Asian lean to it and comes across simple and fresh.

When you order something three times in one week, it asserts itself as the Best Thing on the Menu. Such is the case with the breakfast bowl. Traditional breakfast items like scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and soggy hash browns do not make an appearance. They’ve been replaced with Madagascar pink rice (oooh exotic!) topped with shaved asparagus, a fried egg, preserved lemon, radish slices and optional (but duh!) pork belly. The rice has been generously zested bringing tang to the table to contrast with the smoky pork belly.

Go about eating it expertly: Break the egg so it runs sloppily all over the bowl. Then, break up the pork belly to assure a hint of scorched fat is included in each bite. Finally, use the radish slices as cute little spoons to transport bites to your breakfast bowl loving mouth.

Avocado Toast

Surprisingly, the breakfast bowl has received less buzz than Slipstream’s fancy pants toasts. They include marigold butter and French radish; goat cheese mousse and avocado; and homemade creme fraiche and jam. We’re impressed by the size of their cojones. They have to be pretty big to serve avocado toast on the same street as Cork. There’s little to complain about when you’re topping bread with something delicious, the breakfast bowl is just more satisfying.

Monkey Bread

If you’re just trying to get a pastry with your coffee, go with the monkey bread. It’s basically fried brioche that’s been caramelized. There’s much more to come at Slipstream, including a lunch menu with bento boxes. But before the lunch menu launches, you can get the breakfast bowl throughout the day.

Slipstream is located at 1333 14th Street NW.

Breakfast bowl not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Mason Dixie Biscuit Co: Pulled Pork with Jalapeño Slaw

Biscuit

 

UPDATE: Starting Thurs, Nov 6 Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. will be serving out of Union Market, parting ways with EatsPlace.

Unless you’ve been too busy holding hands while apple picking in matching sweaters all Fall, you’ve probably picked up on the biggest buzzword: biscuit. Until recently, DC had been sorely lacking in the fluffy, flakey, buttery department. But this void has been filled by Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.

The biscuit slingers include Executive Chef Jason Gehring, Managing Chef Mo Cherry and CEO Ayeshah Abuelhiga. They’ve been super innovative in launching their concept through pop-ups, and now a residency at EatsPlace, which opened its doors this month.

Located in Park View (near Petworth), EatsPlace is a food incubator that allows up and coming concepts to be nurtured during short residencies. It doesn’t look like a science lab of sorts. Rather, it’s a cozy brick row home complete with seating, and a full bar. It’s there that you can try Mason Dixie Biscuit Co. Mon-Fri 7a-1:30p through the remainder of 2014.

Be sure to order The Best Thing on the Menu: Pulled Pork Biscuit Sandwich with Jalapeño Slaw. Bet you thought we’d say Fried Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. Well, surprise. Tender pulled pork piled high between two fluffy biscuits breeds the best of the BBQ and Southern comfort worlds. You can choose between three biscuit flavors for sandwiches, and in this case Ham & Jalapeño is a no-brainer.

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Obviously, the fried chicken biscuit sandwich isn’t bad. Jason, after all, was the opening chef for Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken. But it’s one of those situations where there’s more fried matter than chicken meat, which somehow makes you feel even more guilty about your mid-morning heart attack snack. Last tip: Bring a team of hungry friends so you can try most of the menu.

Find Mason Dixie Biscuit Co inside EatsPlace at 3607 George Ave NW. 

Pulled pork sandwich not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

DBGB Kitchen and Bar: Thai Sausage

Sausage Duo
Guest post by Aaron Tidman

In June 2013, when Daniel Boulud first announced that he signed a lease to open a local branch of his DBGB Kitchen + Bar at CityCenterDC, the entire DC culinary community gasped and began the countdown to opening day. That day arrived with much fanfare on September 13, following two pre-opening receptions – one for the residents of CityCenterDC (wooing neighbors is always a smart move) and one for media, local chefs, and friends. José Andrés, Patrick O’Connell, Nora Pouillon, Carla Hall and Ris Lacoste were in the house.

There’s already a DBGB in New York, so Boulud and Executive Chef Ed Scarpone put a DC spin on the menu with dishes like “The Crabbie,” a local nod to the Chesapeake. It consists of a perfectly cooked, juicy beef patty topped with a Maryland crab cake. Although this burger could compete as one of the best in DC, Maryland natives like myself have particularly high standards when it comes to crab cakes, and the thin layer of crab got a little lost.

Other dishes follow in the tradition of a proper French bistro, including Tarte Flambée, Oeufs Mimosa, and Coq au Vin. But, The Best Thing on the Menu is surprisingly: the homemade Thai sausage. All of their homemade sausages are stunners, but the pork-based Thai version stands out thanks to lemongrass, red curry, green papaya slaw with peanuts, basil fried rice, and a quail egg.

We also liked the Vermont (a pork and cheddar sausage with hash browns and a red onion crème fraîche, which tasted like an upscale baked potato with the fixins’), the Tunisienne (lamb and mint merguez with harissa lemon braised spinach and chickpeas), and the Boudin Blanc (truffled pork sausage with apple and pommes mousseline). Order a sausage duo (or two!) so you can sample more than one at a time.

Baked Alaska

Find that second stomach of yours when it comes time for dessert because Boulud’s Baked Alaska competes for the Best Thing on the Menu title. A perfectly molded trio of pistachio and vanilla ice cream plus raspberry sorbet is flambéed tableside using chartreuse. (We requested extra chartreuse for greater effect.) The servers are well trained, but trim your eyebrows before you order this finale. If you’re a chocolate lover, try the Chocolate-Chocolate, a sundae with chocolate chip cookies, chocolate truffle cocoa nibs, chocolate fudge, and chocolate whipped cream. It’s like taking the Acela straight to heaven.

One last note – Caroline Bowker, DBGB CityCenter’s new sommelier and bar beverage director, has done a wonderful job of putting together a cocktail and wine list that both pays homage to DBGB’s French roots and incorporates domestic selections – including one of our local favorites from Virginia, RdV Vineyards – that pair well with the restaurant’s dishes.

Aaron and Boulud

Special guest post by Aaron Tidman, pictured above with Boulud. Follow Aaron’s adventures @atidman.

DBGB Kitchen and Bar is located at 931 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20001. 

Thai sausage not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm: Smoked Beef Ribeye

Smoked Beef Ribeye

If you’re in need of an escape from all things urban – where sirens are replaced with the hum of bugs rubbing their wings together – we’ve got the prescription: The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Va. It’s been on our bucket list for good reason: The setting is farm chic; the view is breathtaking; and when the plates hit the table, you’ll think about food in a new way. The man in the kitchen, Chef Tarver King, came to Patowmack Farm from The Ashby Inn. In his new setting, he’s laser-focused on squeezing every ounce of awesome from the ingredients that either come from the 40-acre farm, or from within 100 miles.

Only 11 acres, however, are sewn with crops in an organized fashion. The other 29 are wild, allowing King to forage for fun ingredients that don’t always make it onto most restaurants’ menus. These treasures keynote one of the restaurant’s three tasting menus – “Found.” There is also a “Grown” menu showcasing produce (but not vegetarian) and “Raised” featuring two and four-legged friends. We explored “Found,” and “Raised,” and can’t wait to go back for “Grown.”

Raised is responsible for The Best Thing on the Menu: Smoked Beef Ribeye with celeriac, stilton, beer & oat cracker and mulberry vinegar. Tender beef that barely shook hands with the pan is super smoky and marbled with just the right amount of fat. The meat hails from Martin’s Angus Beef in The Plains, Va., where the cattle dine only on grass and grain grown on the farm.

Oyster dish

A stunner from the “Found” menu was a bowl containing barnstable oysters, stinging nettles, buttered rice dashi, oyster mushrooms and chèvre. Stinging what? For years (okay, until today) we thought stinging nettles were in the squid family. Rather, it’s Europe’s poison ivy and we’re brazen enough to eat it. If prepared properly (we understand it involves careful blanching and shocking), the plant can have some medicinal benefits and the texture is quite fun. The dish as a whole tastes like briny oysters suspended in the best butter you’ve ever encountered. 

If you visit, try to get a few minutes with the owner, Beverly Morton. She bought the farm back in the 1980s with the humble goal of growing wholesome food for her kids. Over the years, she’s collected some fantastic stories, like when her live turkeys snuck down to a Thanksgiving feast to peer through the windows at their not so lucky friends.  “Hey Earl, is that you? You made the cut this year?” She jokes.

Click here for more pictures from the meal.

The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm is located at 42461 Lovettsville Rd, Lovettsville, VA.

You might also like Gypsy Soul, Blue Duck Tavern or Restaurant Nora.