The Best Things About #WestEndWednesdays

Westend Bistro Veal

There’s a new bar crawl in town and it has NOTHING to do with souvenir cups, beads, costumes or hooking up with strangers. Rather, you’ll drink exquisite wine paired with food from four standout restaurants in the West End. It goes by the hashtag #WestEndWednesdays and hopes to serve as the solution to a very specific problem: The dramatic explosion of 14th Street, Shaw and H Street coupled with the consistency of old standbys like Penn Quarter and Dupont Circle. These factors have bumped the West End section of our city outside the top five neighborhood dining destinations, and for no good reason.

#WestendWednesdays is a four-stop progressive dinner. April’s follows the path of hors d’oeuvres at Marcel’s followed by an appetizer at Ris, main course at Westend Bistro and dessert at Blue Duck Tavern. Each month the order rotates. Sorry for those who live and die by Blue Duck Tavern’s apple pie.

Ris

Standouts on the April menu include roasted veal loin with foie gras ravioli from Westend Bistro and a Portuguese seafood stew from Ris. If these sound appetizing, it’s a shame. April is sold out, and most #WestEndWednesday dishes are off-menu. But based on the expert preparation and creative wine pairings, May is promising too.

Tickets for May go on sale April 2nd at 10:00am and cost $100 before tax and gratuity. In order to retain an air of exclusivity, #WestEndWednesdays are capped at 12 diners. You’ll eat together at a communal table, so brush up on your schmoozing skills. Tickets for May will be available here: https://www.giftrocker.com/secure/events/?c=westendwednesdays&b=Y&q=gt1586

Spice 6: Naan Pizza

Spice 6 Naan Pizza

There’s nothing better than food that proves you wrong. Fast casual CAN be flavorful. Fast casual CAN mean from-scratch cooking. Fast casual CAN be so good that it warrants a trip down Rhode Island Avenue to Hyattsville, MD.

Meet Spice 6, a fast casual Indian restaurant that only shares one thing in common with the Chipotle concept: Speed. Spice 6 hasn’t conformed to be bland. Those who fervently avoid shy spices and mild flavor will see what we mean, especially if they go off menu by requesting Vik’s hot sauce.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Naan Pizza is innovative, yet familiar enough that Indian newbies will feel comfortable. Load up a freshly baked round of naan with a sauce (Tikka Masala, Kadai Masala, Korma Masala or Spinach Masala) plus a protein (chicken, lamb, veggies, tofu or house made paneer cheese). Complete your pizza with a few more toppings and mozzarella cheese before it goes back in the oven for a hot sec. Then, BOOM New Delhi Domino’s to the face.

In choosing your protein remember that lamb is the reigning defending, undefeated, undisputed champion of Indian food. It’s not like chicken, which just sits there soaking up sauce. The owner, Vik Singh, must really trust his Nepali Chef, Upendra Thapaliya. Being a strict vegetarian, Vik’s never tried the meaty parts of his menu. Don’t worry Vik, your chef’s got it under control.

Spice 6 Chaat

Another top pick is the chaat, a typical Indian street food. In a year when street food is king (even Anthony Bordain is opening up a street food hall in NYC), the chaat is a must try. Fried strips of naan are topped with a savory pile of chickpeas, herbs and sauces (the best of which is a sticky sweet tamarind chutney). Wash it all down with a mango lassi.

Naan pizza not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like Rasika or Bombay Club.

1905: Confit Turkey Leg

1905 turkey legs

Medieval Times called. They want their turkey legs back. It must be because they’re in a different category of deliciousness. These confit gams are a no contest Best Thing on the Menu at 1905. They come with two seasonal sides and pastrami mayo. The menu says leg (singular) so when two showed up, it was like Christmas in March.

It goes without saying that the meat falls right off the bone. The leg only has to catch a GLIMPSE of a knife and fork before it slides onto your plate and into the pastrami mayo, doing all the work for you. You lazy caveman you.

Known first and foremost for its roof deck, 1905 is tucked away at 9th and T Street NW, bridging the Shaw and U Street neighborhoods. It’s perfect for a first or second date because of the favorable lighting, cozy fixtures, cheap(er) cocktails and unobtrusive service.

1905 Hush Puppies

Whether intentional or not, the menu leans a little gluten free. There are spicy quinoa-crayfish hushpuppies and a bunch of sauces involving sorghum. Vegetarians can find solace too. The seared cauliflower “steak” and warm heirloom grain entrees actually give vegetarians a choice instead of a one-dish mandate.

Confit turkey leg not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Capriotti’s: The Bobbie

Capriotti's

Tax-free shopping, Ryan Phillippe and Dogfish Head aren’t too shabby. But, do you know what else comes from dot-on-the-map Delaware? Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. Visit them in Dupont Circle…or soon, several other locations in the DMV. They serve 20+ hot and cold hoagies/subs/heroes/grinders, depending on where you’re from.

Every night, the M Street location roasts a rafter of Butterball turkeys. And no, they’re not serving Thanksgiving to a football team in March. They’re preparing for a full day of making their top selling, award-winning sandwich and Best Thing on the Menu: The Bobbie with Homemade Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Stuffing and Mayo. In fact, take a short trip back in time and check out their baby-faced CEO talking about The Bobbie being the #1 sandwich in America. It has all of the bonuses of Turkey Day leftovers, without the whole “I’m so sick of turkey, I don’t want to look at it until next year,” feeling.

Other top picks include the cheese steak (be sure to add sweet & hot peppers!) and the Capstrami loaded with hot pastrami, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and cole slaw. It seems the Russian dressing has not yet been embargoed… Click here for more sandwich pictures.

The Bobbie not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like Bub & Pop’s, Stoney’s or Taylor Gourmet.

Flight Wine Bar: Pulled Duck Sandwich

Flight Pulled Duck Sandwich

The humble French fry—so often relegated to the role of a caloric afterthought cowering on the side of the plate. Not so at Flight Wine Bar, where the fries are fermented. Based on the classic combo of salt and vinegar, Chef Bradley Curtis takes the mess out of it by fermenting potatoes with a simple solution before they hit the fryer.

You’ll find these zippy spuds next to The Best Thing on the Menu: Pulled Duck Sandwich with Spiced Berry Reduction and Napa Cabbage Slaw. Duck is auditioning in this dish to take the pulled pork world by storm. It holds moisture really well, and lends a little bit of gaminess.

Flight Beet Salad

The pulled duck sandwich is actually a little bit of an anomaly at Flight. Much of the menu has notes of Mediterranean and North African influences. Standouts include the sumac bronzino, squash dolmades and roasted beet salad featuring a perfect soft-boiled egg. Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Mediterranean, Whatever…all menus should have at least one bursting egg. In the case of this salad, the egg yolk replaces any need for dressing.

Flight is a wine bar after all, so if you see either of the husband/wife owners, be sure to ask their opinions on what to drink. Swati Bose and Kabir Amir can help with pairings, or challenge you to try something from a lesser-known wine region.

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

You might also like Cork or Proof.

Lupo Verde: RA2 Pizza

Lupo Verde Pizza

Lupo Verde is the newest Italian stallion to set up shop on 14th Street, falling in line after Ghibellina, Etto, Mcafe Bar and Posto. Lupo Verde stands out because of its cheese shop operation, which we’ll try when spring gets its act together, making picnics possible. Oh, and the dashing Italian chef (Domenico Apollaro) and Italian owner (Antonio Matarazzo) are standouts too. They grew up in neighboring towns in Italy.

Antonio Matarazzo

Get ready for some intense menu handholding. You will get a walk through of every menu category in terms of portion size and the “prescribed” number of items you MUST order per category. Don’t you wish you had a little card that you could display on your table that said something like This Isn’t My First Rodeo? Kind of like the Green GO/Red STOP card at Brazilian steakhouses?

We’re glad we went rogue and ordered too many pizzas, because that’s how we discovered The Best Thing on the Menu: RA2 Pizza with Mozzarella, Stracchino, Mortadella, Pistachio, Radicchio and Honey. This pint-sized pie doesn’t rely on tomato sauce to sting you with flavor. Nuts and honey, plus some bitter greens do the trick.

Lupo Verde Pasticcio

Other top picks? The Seppia al Forno from the Antipasti section. It turns out squishy cuttlefish covered in shoestring fries is a winner.  So too is the Pasticcio. Though we wish they would call it what it is: Mac and cheese inside a pastry shell. Your inner child will thank you.

RA2 Pizza not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

2941: Smoked Burrata Ravioli

Ravioli at 2941

If you’re married, you’ll face immediate regret upon dining at 2941. The high ceilings scream special occasion and the naturescape (albeit man-made) on the other side of the widows is picturesque enough for your big day. Even Frida Kahlo would envy tying the knot there, given the funky art punctuating the walls.  The decor isn’t the only thing that changed for the better after the recent renovation, so did the food.

Classically trained, adorably accented French Chef Bertrand Chemel has a habit he can’t kick. He spends every day trying to make his customers happy, which can be a challenge given the eclectic mix likely to wander into a restaurant accessible only by traversing a ganglion of highway intersections in Virginia. What he settled on thematically is Upscale Casual Modern American French Mediterranean Cuisine, which takes a full breath to say. But only one bite to enjoy.

The Best Thing on the Menu is a prime example: Smoked Burrata Ravioli with Escarole, Spicy Duck and Arbequina Olive Oil. France and Italy share a border. They also share secrets. When Chef Chemel was working for Daniel Boulud (yes THAT Boulud) he had chance to learn pasta making from Andrew Carmellini. That is why an uber-talented French chef can pull off pasta. The ravioli dish is smoky because of the burrata, bitter from the escarole and gamey due to the spicy duck sausage. Try this along with the pillow-top mattress gnocchi and minty lamb orcchiette.

2941 Lamb

Another stunner is the Elysian Fields Farm roasted lamb loin with gnocchi alla greca, semi dry tomato, feta cheese and garlic-mustard jus. Further evidence that lamb > beef. We also can’t stop ourselves from mentioning that the 2941 dessert menu is an (unintended?) hat-tip to Justin Bieber. Don’t skip the Never Say Never selection.

2941 Table

Despite our fawning over the space, there is one bad seat in the house. According to sommelier Jonathan Schuyler, it’s next to the big, beautiful amethyst because it’s a sobriety stone. In Greek, amethyst means not drunk or a remedy for intoxication. So, if you want your wine to work its magic, sit elsewhere.

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

Izakaya Seki: Kakiage

Izakaya Seki Kakiage

Izakaya Seki is a different kind of father/daughter dance: Father Hiroshi expertly slices sashimi and molds triangular onigiri while overseeing every move in the downstairs kitchen. Daughter Cizuka dances with grace around the V Street restaurant, making sure patrons are seated in precisely the perfect place and that everyone leaves full, happy and with clothes that carry the scent of Japan.

The traditional-with-a-twist Japanese pub food at Izakaya Seki ranges from raw to fried and even includes an item that’s still alive. We’ll get to that. But first, The Best Thing on the Menu: Kakiage – rock shrimp and vegetable fritters can’t be missed. Onions and other vegetables stack up like an unkempt pile of firewood inside fried batter and every few bites you’ll encounter a rock shrimp or two. This will make you rethink your commitment to traditional tempura. These pancakes are way more fun to tear apart, share and dunk into a mild dashi sauce. Just don’t try making it at home, unless you have a kevlar grease shield.

Izakaya Seki Uni

Adventurous eaters should try two things, especially if they’re sitting at the downstairs arena looking into the kitchen. The first, an order of live uni, translates to a 10-minute show. Watch as a cook tickles a live sea urchin with tweezers until all that remains is the meaty yellow flesh. The taste and texture can only be described as savory and pungent frozen yogurt.

Izakaya Seki Tuna Natto

The second challenge is tuna natto. We’re betting you’re no stranger to maguro sashimi, but its bowl co-chair is sticky, stringy, fermented and hated by at least half of the population of Japan. Fermented soy beans, known as natto, are a divisive dish (even within one Japanese family). You either love them or hate them.

Eating natto involves an acquired skill of transporting the small beans to your mouth while twirling long sticky spider web strings before they get on your nose, forehead or dining companion. They’re super healthy though, and can be attributed to a youthful looking complexion (read: eat this fountain-of-youth food and look like Jennifer Lawrence forever).

For more pictures from the meal click here.

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

Bub and Pop’s: Pop’s Beef Brisket Sandwich

Bub and Pops Brisket

It would be ludicrous to tell you that this is a mom and pop kind of place. But, we just did. You feel like family the moment you walk in and receive a warm welcome from Arlene, who by the way will thank you for even the most standard of tips. This is more curiously refreshing than Schweppes. Plus, just about everything, including the pickles and chips, are homemade at Bub and Pop’s.

The first bite into any sandwich on the menu will have you wondering, hey, is a serious chef behind this operation? Yes. Chef Jonathan Taub, formerly of Pound the Hill and Adour, is at the helm of the shop named for his grandparents who started a deli business in Philly after World War II.

Only a chef could create The Best Thing on the Menu: Slow braised beef brisket sandwich with apple-horseradish cream, 5-year aged Gouda, and veal jus. The real show stopper in this sandwich is not the fried egg, which you can add for $1 extra. Rather, it’s the Gouda that comes straight from Holland. It’ll have you picturing windmills, tulips and wooden shoes in no time.

While this sandwich is scrumptious, there are several ways to be a more adventurous eater. Like trying The Real Obama, or taking on The Challenge: “Eat the entire Li’l Petey, and whatever drops on the tray, including the potato chips it is presented on in 15 minutes and you get your sandwich for free, plus your picture on the Wall of Fame.”

Bub and Pop’s completes the trifecta of sub shops located in the Golden Triangle part of town that bridges Dupont and the Farraguts. Hoagie lovers can choose from Taylor Gourmet, Capriotti’s and Bub and Pop’s. Caution: Once you go Bub and Pop’s, you may never go back.

Pop’s Beef Brisket not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Restaurant Nora: Beef Tenderloin Tartare

Restaurant Nora's Steak Tartare

When a maître d’ asks how I’d like my steak cooked, I always answer tartare. This usually warrants a laugh or a snarl, because no one likes an off-menu order, especially when it involves making a rare meat mush and folding in delicate herbs. So when I do find a nice tartare on the menu, I rarely (pun intended) pass it up.

After tartaring my way around the District, I have found the best version this city has to offer. It’s The Best Thing on the Menu at Restaurant Nora: Grass Fed Beef Tenderloin Tartare with preserved lemon salad, harissa and lavash crackers. Unlike other local takes on the dish, Restaurant Nora’s tartare is smooth in texture, making it easier to spread on crackers and stack on bites of salad. When steak tartare is as chunky as tuna tartare it can be off-putting. The other factor that makes this appetizer a stunner is the touch of Middle Eastern spices found in a delectable mahogany colored paste.

It’s not surprising that the grass fed cows participating in this dish lived  happy lives, given that Restaurant Nora holds the honor of being America’s first organic restaurant in the country (this went down in 1999).  The cattle (Scottish Highland or Ancient White Park) hail from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, VA, where they avoid nasty habits like antibiotics and sitting in pens.

Nora's Hot Pot

Not a meat monster? Restaurant Nora has one of the more inspired vegetarian options I’ve seen in a while: A Japanese style nabe hot pot filled with shichimi crusted tofu, soba noodles, bok choy, shiitakes and crispy yams. This is precisely what I was eating when Ralph Nader walked by, so hopefully it made a good impression. …

Great news for Nora fans: This month, the restaurant is celebrating their 35th anniversary. Not too many places can say THAT these days! Head in on any Wednesday in March to enjoy a special  “retro” 3-course menu for $35. Give them a call for more information. 

Beef Tenderloin Tartare not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.