It was a humid Thursday evening when Amy and I found ourselves at a local Tenleytown restaurant called Dahlia. Dahlia replaced the mostly unknown Finding Someone Who's Been There Is Like Finding A Needle In A Haystack Meglio's, or maybe it was called Melio's. I forget. I never went.
Late in the day, I had made arrangements for a babysitter since I never like to take Noah to a restaurant the first time I visit, mostly for fear of the unknown, but also because I sometimes like to see how places treat people with children and without. Luckily, my babysitter had turned me down the night before and "owed" me, otherwise that night I might have found myself playing "Ridin' on a Horsey" and singing along to Dan Zanes' Choo Choo Ch' Boogie for the millionth time instead.
Parking, in what is by day a very packed parking lot, was fairly easy to find around dinnertime. We had a reservation, but didn't need it because the dining room was mostly empty -- save for maybe four or five tables, one of which seemed to be the chef's parents for whom he brought out plate after plate of interesting combinations from the menu all night.
Other than the chef's parents, it was an extremely mixed clientele: a pair of young college girls, one wearing a skirt that was way to short too be wearing out in public, as she was forced to yank it down each time she jumped up to look for her boyfriend, for fear that she was flashing the entire restaurant, an older couple decked out in a wool suit and tie and a formal dress suit with evening pearls, and another couple in t-shirts and shorts. All were treated with the same respect and courteous service that we received.
Our dinner began with a summery salad of fresh mozzarella, mango, arugula, and prosciutto, which most likely gets its influence from the street food of prosciutto and melon, and is even better. The lone special for the night was a bruschetta with smoked salmon, pesto, tomatoes, and mozzarella, which we had to order, just because it sounded so interesting.
The wine list isn't huge but is reasonably priced. I struggled to find wines I was familiar with, but ended up choosing the lone Pinot Noir on the menu due to the fact that Amy had ordered a seafood dish and I picked a lamb dish.
I was discussing American food recently with a friend/restaurateur, and the topic came up about what American food would be today if it weren't for the invasion of French Cuisine in the early 1900's, World War II and McDonald's. I normally don't talk about culinary history; in fact, I avoid the subject like the plague because I'm incredibly ignorant about it. I'm more about what I am eating now and tend not to be a "woulda, shoulda, coulda" type of guy, but while I was dining at Dahlia, I thought a lot about the topic. Dahlia is simply American food.
For instance, the Parmesan-encrusted lamb chops I ordered were each on their own a perfect cut of meat, that reminded me of what lamb actually tastes like. You might mistake them as bland, until you realize that they weren't over-salted, which was the key to being able to actually taste the lamb, and they were cooked perfectly with tender meat that ran with juices as you cut into them. I cleaned each of the bones with my teeth when I was done. I also shouldn't fail to mention the vegetables that came on the side: eggplant, zucchini, and a myriad of others, all grilled to perfection. However, the mashed potatoes were in dire need of salt, pepper, or any kind of seasoning at all.
The scallop dish is also very American in its design. Seared scallops are place on top of a large bed of yellow cheddar grits and served with a side of vegetables. Assuming the restaurant is getting their scallops from a decent supplier, it's hard to screw them up, short of overcooking them and these were definitely not. Screwed up, that is. Once again the dish wasn't over-salted which would be the theme for the evening I'd say.
We shared the mini lemon bundt cake for dessert, and by "share" I mean she had a couple bites. Perhaps this could have been a little moister? I don't know. The lemon icing on the top on the cake hid the dryness pretty well and it was good nonetheless.
Dahlia can be a special night out or it can also be a casual dinner depending on the size of your wallet. If you're a person that looks for a more elegant atmosphere for that special night out, you might want to look elsewhere, but if your definition of a special night out is simply good food and service, then you'll probably want to give Dahlia a try. It's comparable in price to that of a Corduroy or Vidalia with entrees between $20 and $30. Our tab ended up being around $150 before tip.
As our meal was winding down, I overheard another table talking to the Chef's parents.
"It must be nice to have a chef for a son!"
"Yes, it can have its privileges", they replied.
"Everything is was excellent," they said in a sincere tone, "we'll be coming back for sure."
I look forward to trips back to Dahlia and I'm happy that a restaurant like it has opened in my neighborhood.
4849 Massachusetts Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20016
Mon-Sat: 11:30 AM - 9:30 PM
Sundays: 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
Dress Code: You decide.
Parking: Street: Parking in the shopping center.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Probably Tenleytown, but it's a hike from there.
Reservations: Taken. Probably not needed.
Baby friendly rating: 2 or 3 Diapers. I'll probably try to bring Noah on our next visit.