I wish I could pay the oyster shuckers at Black's Bar and Kitchen to be my own personal oyster shuckers. They have this way of shucking the oyster perfectly every time. I've had three dozen oysters there, and so far, not a single one has done anything but slide off the shell into my mouth without the least bit of prying.
The oysters at Black's Bar and Kitchen are definitely the way to go, especially the kusshis, which have become my favorite oysters since trying them at Black's for the first time. They're thick and meaty, but amazingly tender and go down easy because they're small. My favorite wine to drink with them is the Muscadet which conveniently is the cheapest wine by the glass, but complements the salty flavor of the oysters well because it's not too sweet and citrusy. Sometimes, I wish I'd just ordered three or four dozen of them and called it a night.
I've only ever sat at the spacious bar at Black's Bar and Kitchen where the atmosphere is fun and the bartenders quick to keep your glass full. Why would you sit anywhere else than the bar at a place like Black's? They have two bartenders at the bar, so the service is very quick. I was lucky to be served by Mike each time I was there (I hope he won't mind me mentioning him here, but I always feel compelled to talk about someone specific when I receive exceptional service from them.) You'll recognize him because he's the big jovial guy on the left side that treats everyone like his best buddy.
Black's Bar and Kitchen is the sister restaurant to Blacksalt, which has always been one of my favorite seafood places. Where Blacksalt has a tendency to pair their seafood with a heavily flavored sauce, Black's Bar and Kitchen takes a subtler approach to their dishes, leaving the quality of the ingredients to speak for themselves, but unfortunately, that's not always enough.
The seafood dishes that I've tried came off a little bland although, for those that like a good, honest seared tuna, Black's is a good choice. When you get past the slightly bitter flavor of the cocoa and black pepper crusting, the cut of tuna is superb and perfectly cooked -- almost cool in the middle and just the way it should be. The crispy whole fish, on the other hand, left me disappointed. There wasn't much meat on the bones of the fish and the citrus flavored sauce it was served with didn't do the trick for me. I think when I return, I'll just order the a la carte seafood like the organic salmon with a simple lemon herb sauce.
Once the aphrodisiac from the oysters wears off, you might want to refill with either the mint julep or chocolate trio, both of which have a month's worth of chocolate servings. The first is a warm, oozy chocolate lava cake with refreshing homemade mint ice cream that I liked very much. The latter, a combination of three rich chocolate desserts: two small chocolate ice cream sandwiches, a thin fallen chocolate souffle, and chocolate panna cotta. All three are very rich, but the chocolate ice cream sandwiches are the best, especially when eaten with the sparkling red dessert wine (the exact name escapes me) that's available on the menu by the glass and just happened to be on the house that night because "we looked like we were having a good time". Thank you Mike!
As I mentioned before, the Muscadet is probably the best deal for wines on the menu, but other than that, the wines on the menu are generally pretty expensive. Black's offers a good deal of wines by the glass and two different options for pours -- a 3 oz. or 6.5 oz pour. the 6.5 oz pours which is basically a normal glass that you can get anywhere else can go up to $15. I'd avoid glasses and just order a bottle. I'll spare you the rant about the Montgomery County liquor board and just say in Black's defense that it's a lot easier for a restaurant in DC or Virginia to have a quality, low-priced wine list.
Hours: See web site
Dress Code: Business Casual
Closest Metro: Bethesda
Reservations: Taken and recommended. Bar and cafe are first come first serve
Baby-Child friendly rating: 3 diapers. There are actually a good deal of families that go to Black's and I've even seen people with their children in the cafe/bar, which is non-smoking.
Ever had Afro- Franco-American fusion food before? Me neither, until I went to Farrah Olivia which refers to their cuisine as "Creative American". The best I've heard it described is "Southern American soul food with an African twist".
When I first dined at Farrah Olivia, it was Restaurant Week. (Actually, it was the week after Restaurant Week, and the restaurant had expanded their Restaurant Week offering for an additional week.) I was surprised at the casual atmosphere, given the pictures of the food that I saw on the Farrah Olivia web site. For some reason I was expecting a Sport-Coats-Required atmosphere, but it was anything but that. The first thing that sticks out when you see the pictures on the web site is the preparation, which is as close to art in food as I've seen.
Artful presentation is easily found in the seared scallop appetizer. A scant trail of bacon powder on one side, some bacon bits on the other, then a small pool of the melon seed milk surrounded by a drizzle of the berbere oil. In the center of all that, a single scallop perfectly rare but also perfectly seared with a crispy, caramelized layer on the top and bottom of the scallop. Mixing all of the ingredients together gave a great contrasts in flavor and texture: Creamy and crispy, salty and sweet. This was literally the best scallop I've ever tasted, but the only problem is the price. For $15, you'd think there'd at least be two on the plate?!
By far, my favorite dish is so far is the lamb chop I had on my second visit. Like the scallop, there's only a single lamb chop on the dish, and there's probably only about 5 or 6 ounces of meat on the plate, but the texture of the lamb was tender and juicy -- it's been awhile since I let out a moan like that after tasting a dish. A dish that needs no special presentation is the Parmesan soup. The menu says it's silky and it's not kidding -- if you could call something liquid silk, this would be it.
Some dishes are creatively presented, but the flavor doesn't quite live up to it. The "shocked" tuna is one example of this. What does "shocked" mean? It means the tuna is dropped in boiling water for a minute then shocked in ice water. The tuna is then sliced in exactly equal potions and ends up looking similar to a seared tuna, but with a much nicer texture, leaving it very similar to sushi. The flavor ended up not being much better than regular old raw tuna though.
Another example of this was the Pantagonian Toothfish which was ok, but the white bean puree that was served on the side had an unpleasant chalky taste and texture. I didn't even know what Pantagonian Toothfish was at the time I ordered this dish, but a quick Google search fixed that when I got home. Per Wikipedia, a Pantagonian Toothfish is a large fish found in the cold, temperate waters (from 50 to 3850m) of the Southern Atlantic, Southern Pacific, Indian and Southern Oceans on seamounts and continental shelves around most sub-Antarctic islands.
If you're looking for the perfect combination of the key lime pie at Ray's the Steaks (or Classics for that matter) and the cheesecake at Cafe St. Ex, look no further than the lemon cheesecake. And if you've never had either of those desserts, let me give you a little better description. Take a cheesecake with perfect texture, not too dense, but not too creamy, and add the flavor of lemon with just the right amount of sweetness so it's not too tart. This is all on top of a thick graham-cracker crust and topped with a crispy, sweet layer of bruléed sugar. The other desserts are all very good as well, but this one stands out.
Farrah Olivia is not a restaurant for the value-centric diner. My average bill for two people with four courses of food and a bottle of wine was about $200. (I never once left feeling hungry, but the portions are small enough that you need to get four courses.) But for those of you that are looking to be challenged by the food you eat and look forward to trying new combinations of flavors, then Farrah Olivia is probably the restaurant for you.
On another note, I overheard the manager talking about how she'd just ordered the patio furniture for the summer, which makes me look forward to what new things will be on the menu this summer at Farrah Olivia.
Hours: See web site
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street and free covered lot.
Closest Metro: King Street
Reservations: Taken and recommended on the weekends although you might be able to walk in and find a seat at the bar if you're lucky.
Baby-Child friendly rating: 1 Diaper. I wouldn't be caught dead with my little guy here.
February was a good month for ads. We had over $370 come in and March is already off to a good start. So make sure you click on the ads to the right and check out the advertisers' web sites!
For March, I'll be giving the ad revenue to Share Our Strength, a national organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger. Every year, Share Our Strength organizes an event called Taste of the Nation in major cities across the United States (Washington, D.C.'s event is on April 9th) and this will be the 19th time they've organized the event. Purchasing a ticket to the event gives you an all-access pass to tastings from over 50 of the area's restaurants and chefs, including Equinox, Restaurant Eve, and Cafe Saint Ex. You'll also be able to pair wines from 20 local wineries with the food at the event. Basically, the event is HUGE! Tons of food and wine and 100% of the ticket sales go to fighting hunger in Washington, D.C thanks to all of the sponsors, chefs , and volunteers donating their time and money.
Lately, one of my favorite things to do on the weekend is to go to Haandi in Bethesda for their lunch buffet. The last two weekends, I've managed to get there on either a Saturday or Sunday, and both times it was a very good experience. The most impressive thing about the buffet is that they bring out fresh naan for you. Rather than bring out bunches of naan and let it sit there under a heat lamp, they make it fresh and they refill it when you run out. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have fresh made bread instead of the rubbery naan that you get at most Indian buffets.
The other thing I really like about Haandi's buffet is the variety of dishes. You don't find butter chicken or bland dishes on the buffet, but rather you can get dishes malai kofta with spicy cheese and potato dumplings in a thick masala curry, or baigan bartha with diced eggplant cooked in a tandoor oven serviced with a mixture of vegetables and five-spice curry. In fact, this is one of the few Indian restaurants where I really enjoy to eat vegetarian. They also regularly have a minced lamb and herb (or seekh) kabab and some pretty tasty rice pudding to finish off the meal.
The cost of the buffet on the weekends is $11.99 -- a great deal considering, and it's never very crowded which is really a shame considering the quality of the food in the buffet. I've never been to the buffet during the week, though. I'd imagine that the lunch crowd during the week is heavier, plus it's only $8.99 -- perhaps someone can leave a comment speaking to the quality of the selection of dishes during the week vs. the weekend.
4904 Fairmont Ave
Bethesda, MD 20814
Falls Church, VA 22046
Don't forget that this Thursday March 8th is the Food and Friends' Dining Out for Life event where 150 area restaurants donate percentages of their earnings for the evening to Food and Friends. Some restaurants are even donating 100% of their earnings the evening. To see the full list of restaurants that are participating, go to the event web site.
Food & Friends is an organization that prepares, packages and delivers meals and groceries to more than 1,200 people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses throughout Washington, DC, 7 counties of Maryland and 7 counties and 6 independent cities in Virginia. Since 1988, Food & Friends has provided food and companionship to our clients, their loved ones and caregivers. To learn more about Food and Friends, check out their web site.