It has been ten years since I last visited Washington, D.C., and to me it felt a lot different back then. The city seemed vastly more residential with small, concentrated pockets of hip commercial activity in neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, etc. Simply put, it just seemed real chill for a major metropolitan city. After spending this past weekend there, I no longer have that impression.
Commercial activity has seemed to really taken off in D.C., giving it an energetic pulse reminiscent of Lower Manhattan’s East Village. I also discovered that the hoopla over the city’s restaurant renaissance is certainly merited.
On my first evening, my friend and I participated in the prix fixe experience at Palena located in the Cleveland Park neighborhood. In hindsight, choosing to start off our weekend in Palena’s formal dining room, as opposed to its more casual cafe, was probably a stuffy choice for two beer-loving dudes who haven’t seen each other in a while. Regardless, we enjoyed our Italian-Mediterranean inspired meals highlighted with some rabbit terrine (”porchetta”) and hen breast containing a crisp, golden crust. Although, I didn’t care for a serving of seared tuna served with a pasty, tomato coulis that overpowered the fish’s flavor.
After spending the next morning at a nearby pub to watch some soccer (and get our hearts broken by our teams in the process), we made our way to brunch at the Blue Duck Tavern located in the ground floor of the Park Hyatt Hotel. Everything here was outstanding. I had the steak and eggs with a side order of röesti (Swiss hash browns), which came out as a perfect rectangular nest of crispy, grated potatoes. My friend struck gold with an order of short rib hash topped with a poached egg. It was a gooey delicious mess that I enviously watched him swab warm bread through over and over.
A few hours, beers and Bloody Marys later, we made our way over to Hotel Tabard Inn and slowly passed our day in its cozy lounge. We made friends with the bartender who recommended Sushi Taro for our dinner plans that night, which we luckily got last minute reservations for. Sushi Taro sits above a CVS pharmacy in the Dupont Circle neighborhood, and offers diners an authentic peak into the Japanese kaiseki experience.
Kaiseki is a multi-course traditional Japanese meal served to diners in a predetermined order. Sushi Taro offers a sushi tasting, a traditional kaiseki tasting mixing in hot and cold dishes that may not involve fish, a tasting prepared with suppon (sea turtle) and an expensive one using taraba (red king crab) and lobster.
I chose to participate in the traditional kaiseki paired with flights of sake. The kitchen dazzled my taste buds with artfully prepared morsels of seafood, tempura, soup, sashimi, sesame tofu soaking in dashi and miso-marinated beef sizzling on top of a miniature binchōtan charcoal grill. I wish I could give you all a clearer picture of each dish that I had, but blame the sake (which they give you a lot of).
The next morning, I begrudgingly left Washington, D.C. in the same fashion that I came — late for my train and running quickly to my departure gates. I’ll make a note to be a little more prepared on my next visit.
by Gene Lee, Food and More blog