Gypsy Soul: Grits

Gypsy Soul Grits

The doors to R.J. Cooper’s new restaurant are now open – beckoning people from the burbs to try his adventurous, eccentric cuisine. While most of the Gypsy Soul menu screams of the South, there are dishes that pull from other corners of the world like a Greek-inspired lamb neck entree which was mighty tasty thanks to tzatziki. And yet, this is the very first time in BTM history that a side dish stole the show.

The Best Thing on the Menu: Yellow corn grits with foraged mushrooms and preserved truffle should simply be called holy shit grits. The elevated crock of comfort food can be found under the “Heirloom Grains & Tubers” section of the menu. Our advice? Order two so you can take one home and eat it the next morning for breakfast/brunch. The mushrooms are fairy tale tiny, and then there are truffles. Truffles, truffles truffles.

Fried Chicken Cracklings

Other can’t miss dishes included a big bowl of fried chicken skin cracklings served with snake oil (don’t worry, it’s just hot sauce) and roof top honey; a crazy combination of bone marrow and sea urchin; and a confit pork dish that incorporated Oktoberfesty accoutrements like sauerkraut and a sweet pear butter.

We’re guessing your question is – should I hop in my car and head out there? Is it worth it? Answer: Yea, most def. If you can, try to make the trek from the Dunn Loring-Merrifield metro stop, so you can take full advantage of their cocktail program, which also involves inventive ingredients like an herbaceous marjoram popcorn syrup.

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

Gypsy Soul is located at 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax, Va 22031. 

Dino’s Grotto: Free Form Lasagnette

Lasagnette

The Shaw reincarnation of the shuttered Dino’s in Cleveland Park, Dino’s Grotto, held on to a couple signature dishes. And thank god for that because The Best Thing on the Menu is one of them: Free Form Lasagnette with pork & veal ragu, besciamella, pomodoro, bacon, and grana. If you put bacon in lasagna you win. It’s as simple as that. You may be thinking, a $20 lasagna!? But this crock pot of Italian flavor is quite sharable, so don’t try to tackle it yourself. The “free form” part describes the fact that you won’t find perfectly arranged rectangles of pasta. Rather, this dish is more like a game of Jenga with pasta sheets strewn every which way. It’s as if a four-year-old did his or her best job and building something organized. The messiness makes the dish more fun.

Trotter Tots

A close runner up is an order of Trotter Tots filled with pork shank & hock (truck patch), potato, lioni smoked mozzarella, bread and egg. This appetizer comes with three sticks of golden fried pork goodness and  a side of pepper gravy for all your dipping needs. Dean Gold’s dish is more similar to Spanish croquettas than American tater tots. Order a few for the table and try not to diagram in your head which part of the piggy these hail from. 

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At Dino’s Grotto you’ll also find a souped up bar program. A series of seven signature cocktails is constantly changing because they’re doing all their infusions in house. Right now a favorite is a summery (and world cup-y) “Bitter fruit of a Brazilian Threeway,” with aqua cachaca, punt e med, and aperol grapefruit bitters. But, it could be gone tomorrow so be flexible in choosing a libation. The wine program impresses too.

Free Form Lasagnette not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

You might also like Osteria Morini, Lupo Verde or Alba Osteria.

Red Light: Black and Tan Donuts

Black and Tan Donuts

New to 14th Street is a seductive dessert and drinks spot called Red Light. It’s not named after a TLC track, but it will be there for you…all though the night (until 2a on Friday and Saturday). It’s named for the era when Logan Circle was replete with scandalous, illegal activity. After a few visits, we can confirm that it’s CrazySexyCool.

Only time will tell if a cocktail and dessert spot can make it in the former Bar Di Bari space, but with dishes like The Best Thing on the Menu: Black & Tan Donuts, it stands a GREAT chance. The donut hole batter contains a pour of pale ale, while the chocolate dipper is made with stout.

El Dorado

Wash down the Best Thing on the Menu with an El Dorado – the best cocktail from bar brothers Ari and Micah Wilder. It packs some heat thanks to the jalapeño garnish and contains Pisco, Yellow Chartreuse, Wilder Bros Pineapple Gomme, Lemon, Burlesque Bitters and Peychaud’s Bitters. 

Red Light offers about 10 rotating desserts, an impressive and reasonably priced cocktail list, boozy slushes, cake shakes and more. Plus, they have one of the best patios on the block. Check them out and note that one thing’s for sure: Taking a date to Red Light as the last stop of the night will definitely help you seal the deal.

Black and Tan Donuts not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Boundary Road: Bison Hanger Steak

Boundary Road Bison

A stone throw’s from Union Station sits Boundary Road. The menu stays true to the appetizer/entree/dessert formula, eschewing small plates, share plates and other nonsense. What’s even more refreshing is that the most expensive dish is $27 and zero creativity is sacrificed, making it the perfect start to a night hopping around the best H Street NE has to offer.

Chef Brad Walker has a playful menu full of uncommon ingredients like quark and black pepper pierogis, chioggia beets, fregola, porchetta and jagerwurst. He also digs delicious proteins, like The Best Thing on the Menu: New Frontier Bison Hanger Steak with Roasted Cauliflower Puree, Spicy Kale and Sauce Choron. Bison has so much more personality than beef, and it also has less fat, fewer calories and more protein. The creamy cauliflower puree, a creative substitute for buttery mashed potatoes, means a healthy meat and “potatoes” kind of meal.

Boundary Road Foie

A little less on the healthy side is another must-try menu item: The foie gras torchon PB&J with grapefruit Malört marmalade. It’s in the appetizer section, but no judgment here if you draft it for Team Dessert. The dish would be a dash better if the foie was warm, but then it wouldn’t be a torchon. Torchons, after all, are an art. We think Grandpa’s Candy, an Applejack centric cocktail, would pair nicely with this gourmet bite that will have you rethinking your old favorite grade school snack for months.

Sundays are perhaps the most adorable nights to visit Boundary Road. They lower the lights and drop down a projector in order to show films. April promises to bring a lot of rain, so expect movies with this breed of precipitation in the title.

Bison Hanger Steak not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Barmini: Foieffel

Barmini cocktail

For a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory meets Jose Andres kind of night, book some seats at Barmini. You’ll work your way through custom cocktails that incorporate everything from smoke, pumpkin and egg whites to cotton candy and edible flowers. The food at this Latin inspired drink den/speakeasy packs just as much creativity and whimsy.

Barmini Foiewaffle

Though it is nearly impossible to choose, the Best Thing on the Menu is the FoieffelA palm-sized waffle stuffed with the silkiest foie gras we’ve ever experienced. It oozes out at the perfect temperature upon the first bite. Then throw in the fact that it’s topped with chocolate and peanut butter. You’ll wish you came with someone who hates (or is morally opposed) to foie gras, because sharing this bad boy is as painful as a flight cancellation, or baby shower.

Barmini Chicken Skin

A very close second is the fried chicken skin that you dip into a Buffalo-Tzatziki lagoon. It’ll make you forget crackers ever had a purpose. The skin is dotted with rotisserie salt and spices, making it delicious all on its own. But with that sauce. OMGet yourself to Barmini. Special thanks to our bar tendress and cocktail wizard Carlie for making sure we didn’t miss out on this dish. Oh and for the ridic cocktails, especially the sherry-based Adonis.

Click here for more photos.

If our evening at Barmini is any indication of what life is like on the other side of the glass at Minibar, we’re going to start saving up.

Foieffel not your BTM? Post your favorites in the comments section.

Eat The Rich: Swordfish to the Face

Eat The Rich

You don’t have to love oysters to like Shaw (somewhat newcomer) Eat The Rich. Sure, there are oyster cage chandeliers above prison bench seating and briny sections of the menu. But there is so much more you don’t have to slurp. If a Mainer and a nice German lad birthed a dish it would be The Best Thing on the Menu: Swordfish to the Face featuring grilled swordfish, smoked pork-sausage, sauerkraut and North Carolina head-on shrimp. Oktoberfest on a yacht. A fisherman wearing lederhosen.

This top dish is rich and creamy and provides a completely original marriage of swordfish and sauerkraut. The head-on shrimp are a nice touch, especially since the noggins are already nice and loose for you to pop off. We’re not surprised by this level of attention to detail coming out of one of Derek Brown’s spots.

ETR Cocktail Pitcher

So, what is one to eat to cut the cream and amplify the flavors of this land-sea compilation of sorts? You can be boring and order a Sauvignon Blanc that has that just-filled-my-mouth-with-wet-rocks taste or, you can be bold and get the Buck Hunter: A pitcher of Belle Meade Bourbon, House Ginger Syrup, Lemon, Sarsaparilla Bitters. At $32 it will serve four friends and then some.

Our visit to Eat The Rich was the culmination of our Shrawl – a self-made Shaw bar crawl. These Facebook photos are proof of the fun to be had. Our order of operations was to start at Southern Efficiency, due to it being the newest and therefore the spot likely to be the most crowded since this city is horny for anything new. Then, a visit to BTM favorite Mockingbird Hill didn’t disappoint (here’s what to get). Other spots to visit include All Souls and Right Proper.

Swordfish to the Face not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Bar Charley: Jiro Dreams of Sidebar

Bar Charley's Jiro Dreams of Sidebar

It’s a showdown of food vs. beverage at Bar Charley.  If your experience is anything like ours, you’ll be impressed by both and it’ll be hard to decide which program comes out on top. We went for the cocktails but were impressed by the food, which led to more cocktails and then you guessed it, more food.

When you visit this cozy new cocktail den located next to Lauriol Plaza, be sure to order the Best Thing on the Menu: Jiro Dreams of Sidebar – Wasabi, Ginger, Shochu, Rice Vinegar and Nori.  It’s sushi in a glass. Other top cocktails? The Stepdad if you’re in the mood to be dramatic or tiki drinks on tap if you’re feeling fratty.

Ask for Paul Martinez behind the bar, he’ll craft you a killer cocktail and look for a beaming blonde out on the floor, that’s Jackie – one half of the dynamic duo of restaurateurs that also brought you El Chucho.  

The food menu is a trip around the world: An Indian chaat, German frankfurters, tapas-like anchovies on toast with marrow butter, some kind of Nordic cheese and a New England lobster roll. Finish off your sampling of small plates with a go-big-or-go-home dish for the table.

Bar Charley Whole Fish

The whole grilled fish is served with fennel, grape jam and potato puree. Feeling more like meat? No problem, get the grilled steak for two served with fries & kimchi ketchup and a compressed duck sauce.

The good news continues: Bar Charley is now open for brunch! So resist the urge for flavorless fajitas and head a few doors down for creativity, quality and value.

Jiro Dreams of Sidebar not your BTM? Post your favorite (food or drink!) in the comments section.