I often wonder what goes through the average Washingtonian's mind when they are deciding where to dine. Maybe because it's summer time and everyone was away for the weekend, but the first time I went to Circle Bistro, it was nearly empty. I made a late reservation at about 9 PM, and when we arrived, there were only two other tables. Now, I knew from my research that Circle Bistro was good, but I'd started to think that maybe I'd missed something. Could the chef recently have changed? Had the restaurant been closed due to a failed health inspection in the last couple days? What the hell??
Lucky for me, all of those questions were answered with a resounding, "NO!" Our meal that night, and every other night we've been to Circle Bistro, has been quite good. Of course, there were some annoyances, but I'll get to them in a bit.
I'll start with the appetizers. Picture two large fried zucchini
blossoms, stuffed with goat cheese and pine nuts and served with a colorful, chunky vegetable
"salsa" on the side -- I wish I could've taken a pint of the salsa home with me. (Sadly, the fried zucchini blossoms are a summer dish and are no longer on the menu, but they've been replaced by a tomato and zucchini tart.) A soft shell crab fried in tempura batter is also done especially well -- I thought frying the crab in a light tempura batter was a nice touch and kept the batter from getting too heavy.
Executive Chef Brendan Cox, who's trained under such notable local chefs like Todd Gray of Equinox and Roberto Donna of Galileo, has a purpose for every ingredient on your plate at Circle Bistro -- you want to be sure that you get a little bit of each ingredient in every bite. This was so with the hanger steak which I had on my first visit. The steak is seared on cast iron and then served on a bed of baby spinach with roasted fingerling potatoes, and organic sweet onions. Each ingredient on its own is good, but the combination of all of them together does wonders for my mood. If it weren't for my incessant need to always try something different, I'd probably order this on every return trip.
Soups at Circle Bistro are magnificent.
In our first visit, Amy ordered an un-ordinary minestone soup (sadly no longer on the menu either -- serves me right for doing a thorough review after multiple visits). I counted 13 ingredients ranging from rapini (or broccoli rabe) to lima beans. What really made the soup, though, was a fritter (that looked like a wonton) filled with herbed goat cheese. When you cut open the fritter with your spoon and mixed the goat cheese in with the soup, it gave the broth a creamy texture. Brilliant!
Other than the minestrone, you'll find a hearty and spicy gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes and jumbo lump crab remoulade, which just had to be the best damn gazpacho I've ever tasted. I commented to Amy that if she's overdue with our baby boy, we should go to Circle Bistro and the gazpacho might kickstart labor. More recently, there's a yellow pepper soup that's so popular, they ran out last Saturday night when I was there.
Other highlights include just about anything with mushrooms. Brendan Cox is a self proclaimed "Mushroom Maniac" (as am I). The pan-roasted rockfish with girolle (or small chanterelle) mushrooms and zucchini is evidence of this. The fish is roasted with the skin side up in order to leave the skin extra crispy. As I was eating this dish, I noticed a pleasant salty flavor and I said to Amy, "I taste a slightly salty flavor in this dish, but it's not from extra salt." Then I noticed the little bits of crispy pancetta and it all made sense. Yum. I recall eating a similarly served dorade at Citronelle that wasn't nearly as good as this dish.
Of course, Circle Bistro isn't The Most Perfect Restaurant In The World like I've made it sound so far. The nights that I've been there when they were actually busy, I noticed that the kitchen would get a little behind and there was a noticable wait between courses. Luckily, my wife and I have plenty of things to talk about, but if I was on a first date with someone, it might get awkward.
Also. glasses of wine are more expensive than I like to see, ranging from $8 to $13. They seem especially expensive when you can get a full bottle of the $9-a-glass Kermit Lynch Cote du Rhone for just $28.
In all my trips to Circle Bistro, I've had no complaints about the service. It is always spotless and the servers are very familiar with the menu. I'd say the only tiny complaint would be that sometimes my empty glass of wine wasn't replaced with a new one quite as fast as I like. But honestly, I drink like a fish, and most people can stand to have their glasses empty for a short period of time. I also wouldn't mind if when I order the cheese plate the server explain what each cheese is instead of vanishing instantly. It tends to remove some of the guess work.
I'd be remiss if I left out details about the desserts. Heather Chittum, Circle Bistro's pastry chef, makes a bad-ass madeleine -- one shouldn't leave Circle Bistro without trying them. Others worth noting are the profiteroles with homemade mint ice cream and chocolate sauce and a bittersweet chocolate mousse with raspberries.
And finally, if you get a chance, stop by the Circle Lounge, Circle Bistro's bar, for happy hour from 5-7 PM, Mon - Fri, where all glasses of wine, beer and cocktails are half off. Make sure you order the pomme frites with garlic aoli (butter) and ketchup -- they're a guilty pleasure.
Dress Code: Business Casual
Smoking: Allowed at the bar
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Parking: Free Valet at the hotel!
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Hotel restrooms are always pretty clean, although the location right next to the hotel's basement-like laundry room is a little weird.
Bistrot Lepic is having a complimentary wine tasting at their wine bar, Tuesday (08/30/05), from 6PM to 8PM. Wines include:
Bourgogne, Cave de PSV, St. Veran
Bordeaux, St. Emilion, Château Haut Piquat
Côte du Rhone Village, La Chapelle
Also on Tuesday nights, you'll get 20% off the entire wine list at the wine bar.
Galileo Grill is open this week on Wednesday and Thursday (August 31st and Sept 1) from 11:45 AM until 1 PM. Enjoy!
1110 Twenty-first Street NW
Washington, DC 20036
First, we are new to DC and a friend recommended your site for getting to know Washington’s food scene. As a result, we really enjoy DC Foodies; it is a fabulous site! Next, we are having family visit Washington for the first time over Thanksgiving and we want to eat dinner out… Any good recommendations for a great Washington holiday experience? Any insights are greatly appreciated!
Wow! You're really planning ahead there. Every year I do a Thanksgiving post where I detail which restaurants in the area are open for the holidays and what they're offering. Here's my post from last year. It should give you a good idea of what places will be open this year as well.
Just wanted to say thanks for a great web site. I love going out
to restaurants in DC...however, I'm still a grad student so I don't
want to waste my money on a restaurant that's well known but not really
worth it. Your reviews are really helpful.
Have you checked out the Little Fountain Cafe in Adams Morgan? I'm taking my boyfriend there for his birthday and I've heard great things about it.
Here's my post from my last trip to Little Fountain Cafe. You'll notice that the last time I was there, it was January 2004, so I can't speak to how good it is lately. However, I know that Tom Sietsema of The Post never hesitates to drop recs for Little Fountain Cafe in his weekly chats. It's a great place for a romantic dinner. Service, food and ambiance are excellent for that special evening out.
I see you are a big fan of Indian. I'd be interested to hear what you
think of the new-ish Delhi Club in Arlington (Clarendon). I live in the
area and used to rely on Delhi Dhaba for my Indian fix, but recently have had
some not-so-great experiences there (super-greasy shrimp jalfrezy, fatty lamb
vindaloo, hard rice). If you've tried it, let me know what you
Well, I noticed this place the other day when I was driving through Arlington. I was like, "Hey that's new!" and I almost stopped in, but instead, I ended up going to The Italian Store. I agree with your prognosis of Delhi Dhaba - the quality of their food has really taken a turn for the worse in the last year. I used to frequent the location by UDC, but now I rarely go. Has anyone out there been to Delhi Club yet?
It's baaaaaack. Taste of Bethesda, the best "taste of" festival of the year, will be Oct. 1 from 11 AM to 4 PM. I look forward to this festival every year. Taste of Bethesda is the best chance to try a ton of different Bethesda restaurants in one day. Tickets are $5 for 4 and can be bought at the festival. Here is the link to the full event info.
I was just notified of this...Todd Kliman, the food columnist for The Washington City Paper, has just been named Dining Editor for The Washingtonian magazine! That is so awesome! Congratulations Todd!
We're all looking forward to seeing your writing in The Washingtonian!
I will miss being able to read your writing for free though. :(
I want to thank everyone that emailed me about The Italian Store in Arlington, VA. I finally stopped by last Sunday and I have to say it's probably some of the best NY-style pizza in the area. Well actually, I wouldn't quite classify it as NY style -- It's more like a cross between New Haven style and NY style, with a crust the thickness of New Haven style and the cheese and sauce quantities of NY style.
The dough that the crust was made from was quite flavorful. As I tasted it, my thoughts quickly reverted back to my childhood, eating slices of pizza at the Naugatuck Valley Mall in Waterbury, CT. Sauce was scant, and IMHO, there could have been a little more, but I don't think the lack of sauce detracted that much from the flavor.
All Amy and I had were a couple plain cheese slices each, so I don't know how fresh their toppings are. But seriously, when you're eating this type of pizza, you're not looking for gourmet toppings like morel mushrooms or local spring onions. You just want some sauce, some greasy cheese and maybe one topping or two -- pepperoni, sausage...anchovies. Keep it simple stupid.
If you're looking for a place to sit down, you don't want to go to The Italian Store. The only places to sit are five or six tables outside and you'll be lucky to find a place to sit during prime time. There's a Starbucks next store as well so you can squat in on of their tables if your brave.
Other than pizza, The Italian Store is an Italian grocer and deli. You can order subs and deli meats or shop in the aisles for some gourmet imported Italian pasta or some pre-made pasta dishes for your lunches this week. Amy had the spaghetti and meatballs, stuffed shells and cheese and spaghetti bolognese for lunch this week and found all of them to be quite good.
So far, I'd say The Italian Store is some of the best NY-Style I've tasted in the area, although I still haven't made it over to Radius Pizza in Mt. Pleasant, so I will reserve any final judgements until I've been over there. Also, the last few pizzas I've had from Vace in Cleveland Park have been overcooked so I've dropped them down a notch.
The Italian Store
3123 Lee Hwy
Arlington, VA 22201
I went to Circle Bistro tonight and everything was wonderful. I'd recommend NOT going with the wine pairing though, because the staff isn't used to doing wine pairings, and their timing of when they bring out the glasses of wine is way off. I started with the goat cheese fritter with marinated beets -- a pretty basic dish, but nonetheless very tasty. Amy didn't order the Restaurant Week menu, but instead opted for some gazpacho and salad. The gazpacho was a "Rockin" gazpacho with crab meat and heirloom tomatoes -- the cold soup had a a slightly acidic start and a nice spicy kick towards the end of each taste. The desserts on the Restaurant Week menu weren't anything to cry wolf about. While they tasted good, I felt myself wishing I'd ordered Circle Bistro's warm madelines off their regular menu.
Wed night, I went to Vidalia which was good but far from mind blowing. I mean, nothing we had there was bad, but I wondered if it would be worth paying their normal prices for. I'd have to try Vidalia some other time besides Restaurant Week to make a complete judgement.
Finally, Bombay Club was our destination Monday. I actually rather liked the dress code -- it gave me a chance to wear that sport coat that I hadn't taken out of the closet all year. I really liked my lamb saag (lamb with spinach curry).
From the comments on my main Restaurant Week post, it looks like pretty much everyone who's going to Corduroy is enjoying it, which I'm happy to hear. Anyone who couldn't get a reservation this week should keep in mind that they can go next week and get the same Restaurant Week deal.
Happy Restaurant Week dining everyone!