Last Friday, on my way home from work, I stopped at a well-known wine store on MacArthur Ave. to stock up for my usual weekend drinking binge. When I left the store (with three bottles of wine in hand), I looked around Palisades, thinking to myself what a nice little neighborhood it is. As I was looking around, I noticed right there, a mere two stores down from the wine store, was BlackSalt.
Holy shit! I didn't know BlackSalt was that close to me! I did need to find a good seafood restaurant to go to and from what I've heard about BlackSalt, it could be that place.
So guess where I was last weekend...
We decided to go on a Sunday. The only reservation that was available was at 5 PM, which was pretty early, but since we were going to have Noah with us, I figured it was for the best. To be safe, I called ahead to check that it was okay that we brought him with us.
"Hello, we've never been to BlackSalt before. Is it the kind of place that's too nice to bring a baby to?"
The hostess on the other end of the line replied with, "Oh no! People bring babies here all the time. You'll be fine!"
Sounds like my kind of place. If this were true, then I might be going here quite often. There's plenty of parking so no need for a cab, and Noah is welcome so no need for a babysitter. SCORE!
We arrived at BlackSalt about five minutes before 5 PM. The place was pretty empty. I found out that there is a section up front called "the café" that doesn't take reservations and you can just walk in. The problem is, shortly after 5, the people started coming in droves. This place must be everyone's Sunday night habit.
As you'd expect with being the first table, we were seated almost immediately. Our waiter came over and greeted us and explained the menu to us. I was impressed with how many specials BlackSalt had -- two or three options on the specials menu alone for each course. BlackSalt can be the perfect neighborhood restaurant because you can return over and over and the menu would always have plenty of new options.
There is also a wide selection of oysters and mussels which vary in cost, depending by how hard it is for them to get them. We skipped the small plates section of the menu although I really wanted to order the braised baby octopus.
The six Kumamoto oysters we ordered were $2.50 each -- these were for Amy. She's the one who has the real love for oysters although I have to say that these oysters (which were pretty big for the Kumamoto variety) were probably some of the best I've ever tasted - buttery, briny, and tender. What more can you ask for in an oyster?
I also had the special soup, which was a Portuguese (or Manhattan) Clam Chowder, except this was Portuguese Clam Chowder on steroids. The broth was a chunky red sauce with root vegetables, and plenty spicy thanks to the merguez sausage. Then as an added bonus, the chef puts a few fried clams on top.
Our dinner got even better when our entrees came out, although they did take a while to come. Our waiter apologized several times for the wait and offered us more bread (which I have to say is great by the way), but Amy and I didn't mind. Noah was sound asleep and we were having some good conversations over our wine, a very nice Pinot Noir.
I was happy with the artful presentation of the entrees, which I'm not really used to seeing at seafood restaurants. Amy's Maryland rockfish was really incredible; the rockfish was perfectly cooked with a cauliflower puree and brussel sprouts and other wintery vegetables which gave the dish a real down-home feel. My mahi mahi was also cooked perfectly, but I didn't like mine nearly as much as Amy's. The sauce it came with really overpowered the mild flavor of the dish, but I still managed to eat all of it.
Dessert was a complete surprise. We both ordered our own, which I think is still a bad habit from when Amy was pregnant and wouldn't share anything with me. My bread pudding was quite possibly the best bread pudding I've ever had! It was just the way I like it, firm in texture (not mushy like wet bread that's been sitting in a pool of water) and full of cinnamon and caramel flavor. I devoured it, which I was sad to do because it was a work of art. I'd go back for the bread pudding alone.
Amy is a crème brulee fiend. I don't think she can keep herself from ordering it when it's on the menu, and at BlackSalt, she made no exception. Their crème brulee three-ways was very enjoyable for her to eat and came in three different dishes with three different flavors.
Our check was nothing to shrug off. The final bill was over $200 with tip, but I imagine you could get out of there for cheaper than that if you ordered glasses of wine instead of a bottle at $45 and didn't order quite as much food as we did. With entrees in the range of the mid-$20s to the high $30s, appetizers in the range of $10 to $15 and $10 desserts, it'll be hard to get out of Blacksalt without a serious dent in your wallet, but it'll probably be worth it. There's way too much good food on BlackSalt's menu to get out of there for less than $100. But for those of you with kids, you can subtract a cab ride and babysitter fees which can easily add $80 to your night.
Oh, and I think I found my seafood restaurant.
4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW
Lunch: Tuesday - Sunday 11:30 - 2:00
Dinner: Tuesday - Thursday 5:30 - 9:30, Friday 5:30 - 9:30, Saturday 5:00 - 11:00, Sunday 5:00 - 9:00
Dress Code: Business Casual (I saw people in jeans though)
Parking: Plenty of street parking
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: none
Reservations: Call or use opentable.com
Baby-Friendly Rating: 3 out of 4 diapers. We weren't the only ones there with a baby. In fact, there were two other families there with newborns.
Galileo Grill is open today (Monday) and tomorrow (Tuesday). Just in case any of you were interested...
Well, Restaurant Week sucked for me this time. I spent half the week recovering from food poisoning and I had to cancel most of my reservations. The only place I was able to go was Zengo, and my experience there was average at best. Put it this way, just because you put an Asian sauce on a Latin dish, doesn't make it Latin-Asian fusion.
The Restaurant Week menu that Zengo offered was OK, but there were things on the regular menu that interested Amy and I so we skipped the Restaurant Week offer. I was glad we did this, because when we compared the portions of what we ordered to the Restaurant Week portions, ours were obviously larger.
I'm not going to waste a lot of your time going into to much detail, but I'd say the dish that was most representative of our experience at Zengo was the whole crispy fish that Amy ordered. Normally, a whole crispy fish is a great dish and one thinks of similar dishes at DC Coast and TenPenh. The entire fish is usually deep fried, flesh still on the bone which leaves the meat of the fish juicy and more flavorful than if it was filleted.
Zengo's presentation, however, is the carcass of the fish deep fried AFTER the meat is removed. They then put "nuggets" of fried fish meat on the plate with the fried carcass. Amy and I had a theory that they just have a bunch of deep-fried fish bones back there and some fish "nuggets" which they fry up fresh and put on the plate together. Presentation aside, the dish was bland. The breading had a slightly bitter flavor to it and the veggies it came with added nothing to the overall experience.
Anyway, we were very unimpressed.
You still have a chance to take advantage of some Restaurant Week offering. The following restaurants extended the offer this week:
Sea Catch Restaurant - through the 21st
CABANAS - menu available at dcseafood.com
Nick's Riverside Grille - menu available at dcseafood.com
Tony and Joe's Seafood Place - menu available at dcseafood.com
Butterfield 9 - menu available at dcseafood.com
21P - Extending for Dinner only.
I'd highly recommend taking advantage of Dino's offer if you haven't had a change to stop by there yet. They have their whole menu available and you really can't beat the deal. Make sure you try their cheese course!
It's been an interesting couple of weeks, featuring food poisoning and features of my blog in the Washingtonian Online, Washington Post blogs, and many other web sites. Welcome to all the new readers out there.
So to start with this week, a first-time question from someone who actually works at a restaurant.
I have a question/comment for you. As a restaurant marketing person I simply cannot read everything written, so forgive me if this has been mentioned!
Did you know that OpenTable.com charges each restaurant at least $200 a month per computer, and then an additional $1 per head per reservation? I believe in the site and the benefits, but here's what would help restaurants so much more.
All of us have links to OpenTable on our respective websites for reservations that take you straight to OpenTable. All diners get the same amount of points in their account, but in return it only costs restaurants 25 cents on the dollar.
I know that so many of your readers, Washington Post readers, and other foodies want the restaurants to run as best as the can...if people knew this, do you think they would do the extra click directly to the restaurants website? I have been discussing it with other food folks and wondered if it is a secret, and if it wasn't would patrons help us?
Maybe this has been posted before, but if not I was curious for your opinion?
Well, I did happen to know that restaurants pay less for reservations when they refer diners to OpenTable from their web site. However, the only reason I know this is because I'm a web site designer and I happen to be working on a restaurant's web site right now that works with OpenTable. I was not aware of the $200 per month additional charge for each additional reservation computer. Ouch!
Most people don't know this, and I think it's a great point to call people's attention to. You hear that readers? Help your favorite restaurant out and make your reservations through the restaurant's web site!
I was looking at your site and I didn't see a review of Maestro. Any particular reason why? Just like to know.
Money, my friend. Money. On my birthday last year, I had the opportunity to go to Citronelle and that was probably the most expensive meal I've ever eaten. I imagine I might make it to Maestro eventually though. Fingers crossed.
I love your site...You guys have the cutest baby outside of mine. :)
But back to business. Have you been to Marrakesh on New York Ave.?
Thanks, he is cute isn't he?
No I haven't been to Marrakesh, mostly because I've heard that the experience is entertaining (belly dancers are fun), but that the food is only okay. Has anyone else out there eaten at Marrakesh that can give me better recommendations than I've heard?
I have heard recently that there is a restaurant in the D.C metro area that is known to have some dishes that can induce labor. I am way past my due and desperate to try anything healthy. Can you help me find this restaurant.
LOL. There's a little something called castor oil that a pregnant woman I know said she took to start labor. No, it wasn't Amy.
This is nothing that I would normally know, and I have to give Amy all the credit for knowing this, but you happen to be talking about Austin Grill. George Stephanopoulos' wife, Alexandra Wentworth, supposedly ate there and went into labor due to the "spiciness" of the food. Yeah. Whatever. If Austin Grill is spicy, then Olive Garden is authentic Italian.
And with that, I will conclude this weeks Question and Answer post. Keep the questions coming and hopefully I'll get enough questions each week to actually do this weekly.
I received a notification of this event the other day, and it sounds like a lot of fun, especially since I can bring my dog along!
Todd and Ellen Gray, co-owners of Equinox restaurant are having the fourth annual Sugar and Champagne Affair on January 25th from 7 PM to 10 PM. The event features fine wine, champagne, and desserts made by the best pastry chefs of the DC Metro area from BlackSalt, Citronelle, Equinox, Galileo, Marcel's, Market Salamader, and Vidalia. Plus, you can bring your dog! Tickets are $75 a person and the proceeds benefit the Washington Humane Society. For information and tickets, call (202) 723-5730 x206.
I've wanted to try Leopold's Kafe & Konditorei for a while now, ever since Todd Kliman wrote about it in the Washington City Paper. Outside of the reports of bad service, the idea of trying their Eastern European fare sounded like it would be interesting, and it wasn't a cuisine that I'd had a lot of exposure too, outside of the perogi I used to get in my college dorm cafeteria.
Now that I'm working out of my company's Georgtown office more, Leopold's was one of the first places on my to-do list. I have a friend named Alex, who happens to be from the Ukraine, and works in Georgetown also. I figured, "Who better to go to Leopold's with than someone who would be familiar with this type of cuisine?"
When we arrived, it was interesting to see that the restaurant was buried back in an alley called Cady's Alley. When I read that the restaurant was back in an alley, I pictured something like the alley where Blues Alley is located. However, once we got back into the alley, I realized there were a whole bunch of stores there. Who knew?
The kafe was mostly empty which wasn't surprising considering the restaurants location and the fact that even Pizzeria Paradiso wasn't very full. There was only one other table with people and we had our pick of seats. The waitstaff seemed to be all huddled by the door waiting for people to come in. The overall look of the kafe is modern and sleek and reminded me of LeftBank in Adams Morgan, so it was not very welcoming.
I wonder if the reviews by Todd Kliman and Tom Sietsema that were wrought with reports of poor service kicked this place into gear. I mean, we didn't have any problems with service, but that could have just been the kafe wasn't very busy.
So onto the food. The menu is not what I expected. I mean, where were the perogi? Ha. Seriously though, there were many dishes on the menu that I wanted to try, but Alex and I decided to stick with some of the more traditional dishes of schnitzel and bratwurst. We also had a crostini ($8) topped with a cheese spread, chopped roasted red peppers, sweet peas, fava beans, shredded lettuce and pecorino shavings.
When the crostini first appeared, I didn't expect to like it based on what I saw. I've always had an aversion to peas and there were a lot of them, and this looked like a salad on top of toast. But after I bit into one, I noticed that the best thing about the crostini were the peas. They were very sweet and had a nice texture - not too soft and not too crunchy, like a ripened cherry. The sweetness, combined with the salt and pepper flavor of the cheese, tomatoes and spread was interesting, but the crostini were difficult to eat. The peas went all over the place when you lifted the bread up to your mouth so we mainly ended up eating them with our forks.
Alex had the bratwurst ($16) which had a crunchy skin, with juicy meat in the center. On the side was a heavy-handed swirl of spicy Dijon mustard, fingerling potatoes, and sauerkraut. Alex wasn't impressed with the sauerkraut. He prefers it crispier than Leopold's serves it. It's probably just a matter of taste.
My entree was pretty basic, but good. The gulyas ($19) was made with tender chunks of beef in a tomato and paprika sauce, egg noodles and a dollop of sour cream. Mixing the sour cream into the beef sauce gave the dish a completely different tangy flavor.
None of the portions were huge, but they also weren't overfilling.
There was no dessert for us. I was in a hurry to get back to the office, so there was no time, but as we walked past the dessert case on the way out (which pretty much takes up an entire wall), I saw that we were probably missing what might have been the best part of the meal.
On our way out, everyone said, "Thank you. Come again!" I responded, "Thanks, I will!"
Probably for dinner though. Our lunch for two came to $70 after tip. A pretty hefty bill. I think that Leopold's would be well-served by having a lunch menu and then they might be a little more crowded for lunch.
Now I just need to stop by for dinner and see if the service degrades when the place is more crowded.
Leopold's Kafe & Konditorei
3315 Cady's Alley, NW
Washington, DC 20007
7 am to 12 am Monday - Sunday
Dress Code: Casual (at least for lunch)
Parking: lots are your best bet - street parking is a rare in Georgetown. There seemed to be valet available. I recommend taking a cab.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom (don't take Metro unless you plan to supplement with the bus)