Capitol Hill

A Coffee Buzz: The Scoop on What's Become of Murky Coffee

Img_4593 Like many people, has been following the situation surrounding Murky Coffee and its tax difficulties with some interest.  And although we promised not to mention it again for at least a week, there are some times when we learn things that are just too good to keep to ourselves.

Walking by Murky this afternoon, I noticed a panel truck parked outside and a pair of workers wheeling handcarts in and out of Murky's Eastern Market location at a steady pace.  I walked up to the truck and took a look inside, where I saw much of what endeared Murky to coffee lovers (and aspiring novelists) - the espresso machine, a large refrigerator, assorted tables and chairs.

As sad as I was to be witnessing this dismantling of a Sunday morning favorite, I had the presence of mind to introduce myself to the gentleman who appeared to be supervising the operation.  I asked him a few questions, to try to learn what I could about the future of Murky's equipment and the location itself.  Later on, when I came back to take some pictures, the truck was gone but an employee of the building was there and he helped to fill in some additional details.

Img_4595 And if you're not sick of this story yet, here's what we know:

  • Despite the published opening bid price of $10,000, the Office of Tax and Revenue ended up selling the contents of Murky Coffee for $7,000.  Included in this figure were the espresso machine, which retailed when new for more than $12,000, and a water purification system whose estimated cost was between $3,000 and $4,000.
  • Thankfully, the equipment was purchased by a local man who plans to open The Big Chair, a coffee shop located near the famous landmark in Anacostia.
  • Of the more than 30 groups that have submitted proposals to occupy the space that will be vacated once Murky Coffee is formally evicted this month, the list has been winnowed to four contenders - and it sounds like most, if not all of them, are proposing new coffee shops.  These bids are under consideration and a winner is likely to be selected shortly.  It is going to be more than a few months before a new shop is open for business, though.

Img_4597 So what started out as a blow to small, local business has actually resulted in opportunities for two separate local businesses.  I, for one, think it's great to see Murky's equipment going not only to someone who is eager to get started, but who is also going to be expanding the District's coffee culture into yet another neighborhood.

And those of us who relied on Murky Coffee for our java fix on the way to work or after a trip to Eastern Market on the weekends will have to settle for Port City Java (a North Carolina-based chain with franchises in seven states, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and the District) or - gulp - one of the Big Boys (Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks) who sit at either side of the entrance to Barracks Row on a direct sight-line from Murky's front door.

Granville Moore's

Img_4164_2Over the past two years, the stretch of H Street between 10th and 14th Streets, NE, has seen quite a bit of activity.  The Atlas District, as it is known, is becoming a destination for theater, live music, and one of the more eclectic bar scenes in Washington.  With the opening of Dr. Granville Moore's at 1238 H Street, NE, last year, the Atlas District gained its first honest-to-goodness dining destination.  Since its opening, Granville Moore's has been joined by Napa 1015, an upscale dining establishment that shares GM's commitment to fresh, local ingredients, and a reinvented Argonaut, a neighborhood pub that shares GM's culinary inspirations thanks to a chef who came recommended by GM's executive chef, Teddy Folkman.  But Granville Moore's remains the highlight of the Atlas District, and the crowds are a testament to their continued popularity.

Granville Moore's is, first and foremost, a tribute to some of the best things that Belgium has contributed to international cuisine - mussels (moules), beers of every conceivable body and style, and golden fried potatoes (frites).  Though it is certainly not the first place in the District to mine this particular territory - Belga Cafe on Barracks Row offers a similarly inspired menu of mussels as well as a wide range of Belgian-influenced dishes and Chef Robert Wiedmaier's Brasserie Beck boasts a beer list of equally impressive pedigree - Granville Moore's offers their food and beverages in a laid-back pub atmosphere that demystifies the various dubbels, tripels and lambics that populate the menu.

Img_4167Granville Moore's is named after the neighborhood doctor whose practice was based in the building that the pub now occupies.  He is commemorated by a plaque on the door and his old practice sign that still sits in the second-story window, but these memorials are easily overlooked at night.

Upon entering the narrow townhouse, visitors are likely to be struck by the (intentionally) unfinished look - exposed brick and beams, lots of dark wood and a slightly dusty haze - and by the din of multiple conversations competing with each other along the length of the space.  With almost half of the ground floor occupied by the rustic-looking bar, there are only six booths and tables available for seating at any given time.  Another half a dozen booths and tables can be found upstairs (along with a second bar and the kitchen), and there is an outdoor beer garden with more seating that will see quite a bit of use as the weather continues to warm up.  The staff does their best to accommodate everyone, maintaining a waiting list where guests can provide their cell phones to receive a call when a table is available - allowing them to visit another nearby bar like the Pug or the H Street Martini Lounge until they can be seated.  They also accept reservations for parties of six or more Monday through Thursday nights.

Img_4278 Over several visits, my wife and I were fortunate enough to be seated on several occasions, though we did enjoy a meal at the upstairs bar and found the service no less attentive there.  The bartenders and the servers alike are well-versed in the virtues of the beers they serve, and they seem happy to provide recommendations based on what a guest has previously tried and liked (or disliked).  With a beer menu that runs to the dozens, that's no small feat - and their help can be crucial if you arrive late on a weekend night and find your favorites erased from the chalkboard where the beers are listed (indicating that they are sold out).  Sometimes service can be spread a bit thin on busy nights, resulting in inconsistencies and oversights - a dining companion had to repeat her request for water several times despite the rest of us receiving our beers quickly; sauces for frites are occasionally delivered long before the frites themselves, as they are stored behind the bar and not in the kitchen; overlooked silverware had to be requested.  And although most of what comes from the kitchen is delicious, there are some missteps there, as well, such as a bison burger that came with unevenly warmed cheese, resulting in a cool, chewy mass of cheddar atop the center of the patty.  On the whole, however, there are few causes for complaint. 

Img_4280We tried several of the mussel preparations over our visits, and there are definitely standouts among them.  Despite their higher cost, Granville Moore's features rope-grown mussels from Prince Edward Island.  This sustainable cultivation practice results in bigger, meatier mussels with less grit while allowing for faster maturation.  The classic Moules Mariniere give off a fragrant steam of white wine and herbs.  Though not the best version of this dish I've ever tasted, it was definitely well executed.  More enjoyable is the Moules Au Pesto, which features a rich walnut-arugula pesto that is offset by an acidic note of lemon.  A third mussel dish that features blue cheese, bacon and spinach was a bit too thin for my taste - I would have preferred more of a noticeably smoky, salty flavor.  All of the mussel dishes sell for $14, but the portions are large enough to serve as an entire meal on their own so they don't feel overpriced.  A recent innovation, Moules Mondays, knocks the price down to $10 on Monday evenings as a further incentive to give them a try.

Img_4282 The menu offers a range of appetizers, including a bison chili, several salads, and the requisite charcuterie platter, but none of them really stood out enough to warrant our attention on our previous visits.  Sandwiches and entrees, however, are another story.  The menu features several presentations of bison meat sourced from New Frontiers Bison in Madison, Virginia.  Their brisket sandwich, served with cheddar cheese, sauteed onions and horseradish cream, was tender and tangy, a great combination of heat and meat that required the use of a fork and knife to truly appreciate.  Although a gastropub may not be the first place one would think to try fish specials, several of the options have been tempting enough to make us rethink our commitment to mussels and frites.

And those frites are truly outstanding.  Hand-cut and twice fried, they are light and crisp with just the right amount of peanut oil lingering on them as they make their way from the kitchen to the table.  They are topped with sea salt and fresh herbs, giving them an aroma and a flavor that is enjoyable on their own.  The six house-made dipping sauces you can choose to accompany them seem almost superfluous - until they are tasted.  A Dijon-flavored mayonnaise is rich without being heavy, and the horseradish cream that topped the bison sandwich is equally appropriate as a dip for the frites.  Garlic ranch is not to be missed.  Unfortunately, each small order of fries ($4) only comes with one sauce - further incentive to spring for the large ($7) which comes with two - additional sauces can be had for $1 each.  If you're planning to order a sandwich or an entree, it should be noted that they all come with a side of frites (and one sauce).

All of this is accomplished in a kitchen the size of most people's bathrooms.  Despite the lack of a stove and the cramped quarters, two or three chefs (including Folkman) work the line on any given night.  Over the course of a week, these guys turn out more than 500 pounds of mussels and closer to 1000 pounds of frites.  Add in the numerous burgers, sandwiches and entrees that an average dinner service commands and you get a pretty good idea of just how hard (and how effectively) this kitchen staff is working. 

Chef Folkman has recently been hinting at a forthcoming spring menu that will continue to focus on local produce (from an Amish farming community in Pennsylvania) and that delicious Virginia bison in even more creative presentations - a bison tartare studded with capers and black truffles and dressed with first-pressed Spanish olive oil was delicious and unctuous despite the lack of egg ("I don't always trust raw eggs," said Folkman, "but I know I can trust my bison!").

Beers run the gamut from the well known Stella Artois ($4 on tap) and Chimay ($7.50 for red, $9 each for white and blue) to labels that are likely to surprise even the most knowledgeable beer drinker.  And, as is de rigeur for discerning Belgian beer purveyors, they pride themselves on serving every beer in the appropriate glass - many of them branded with the logo of the beer they are meant to be paired with.  Four beers are offered on tap downstairs, where they tend to come and go pretty quickly.  Make sure you check the board to see what's on hand when you visit, and don't hesitate to ask questions.

It came as no surprise to learn that the Food Network is highlighting Granville Moore's wonderful moules and frites in a segment of their upcoming series "America Eats."  Camera crews filmed the early part of the dinner service on Monday, March 17th.  The YouTube clip of Teddy Folkman I linked to in the first paragraph was actually his audition tape! 

UPDATE:  As suspected, the "America Eats" story was a cover for a "Throwdown with Bobby Flay."  On Tuesday, Teddy and his crew set up at the Argonaut (another local establishment in the 1400 block of H Street) to put on a mussel-cooking demonstration, only to be surprised by Bobby Flay showing up and issuing a "moules and frites" challenge.  Watch for it sometime in late May or early June on the Food Network!

If you've been meaning to check out the emerging bar scene on H Street, NE, you owe it to yourself to make Granville Moore's part of the trip.  It's worth the wait.

Dr. Granville Moore's
1238 H Street, NE
(202) 399-BLGM (399-2546)

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Street parking is available throughout the nearby neighborhood, but it can be difficult to find on busy weekend nights.
Closest Metro: Union Station, but be advised that it's a 12-block walk from Union Station.  You would be better off grabbing a cab or riding the X1 or X2 bus, both of which follow H Street.
Reservations: Only taken for parties of six or more, and only a few per night.  Staff maintains a waiting list for tables on busy nights and will take your cell phone number to call you when your table is ready.
Baby-Child friendly Rating: 1 diaper (to borrow Jason's system).  The loud and boisterous atmosphere coupled with the two small restrooms make this a less-than-ideal choice for families with small children, but they are certainly not discouraged.
Bathroom Rating: Two small bathrooms on the ground floor.  Clean, but with few amenities to speak of.

A. Litteri, Inc. - Home of Italian Products

Img_3943 Since 1932, Washingtonians have been able to get a true taste of Italy at A. Litteri in Near Northeast, tucked away among the warehouses of the Florida Market that lies between New York Ave. and Florida Ave. near Gallaudet University.  Whether it's authentic balsamic vinegar, fresh pasta from Baltimore's Little Italy or mozzarella di bufala campana, you can find almost anything you're looking for in this off-the-beaten-path delicatessen.  And although it is not primarily a cheese shop (as my previous features have been), owner Mike DeFrancisci and his family pride themselves on carrying only the best and the freshest cheeses that Italy (and the rest of the world) have to offer.  When I'm looking for aged pecorino or fresh mozzarella, I know I can find it at Litteri's.

A true tour of A. Litteri must begin with directions - it's not the kind of place you'll stumble upon otherwise.  Located at 517 and 519 Morse St., NE, Litteri can be reached by taking 6th Street north from H Street, NE.  When you come to Gallaudet University at Florida Avenue, you will want to take your next left - onto the 500 block of Morse.  Parking is scarce (especially on Saturdays when one of the biggest flea markets in the city takes over a nearby parking lot), so be prepared to walk a bit.  Alternatively, you can take the Red Line to the New York Avenue Metro stop and then head east a few blocks, but the walk to Litteri is less than picturesque.  The red and green vertical stripes outside the green door announce your arrival.

Img_3945 Step inside the door for the first time, and you're likely to need a moment.  Immediately on your right, cases of wine are stacked six feet and higher, and signs trumpet prices as low as $3.99 for a bottle of Italian wine.  A mild feeling of claustrophobia can set in as you make your way toward a refrigerated case full of bottled soda, deli pickles and pre-made Italian sandwiches (made fresh each morning on hard and soft hoagie rolls).  Everywhere you look, your eyes are greeted by stacks of canned, bottled and packaged items from traditional Italian-American retailers like Cento, Sons of Italy, and De Cecco.  But in and among these items that can be found at most grocery stores are true gems that reflect Litteri's 80+ years of service (the original was opened downtown by DeFrancisci's great-uncle and grandfather in 1926) as a conduit for Italian staples: dried porcini mushrooms, arborio rice (for risotto) and desserts whose labels contain only a few words in English.

What appears to be a daunting and somewhat haphazard layout eventually resolves itself into a fairly well-organized floorplan: wine takes up a good portion of the front of the store, followed by spices and dry pasta along the right-hand wall.  The left wall is taken up with refrigerators and freezer cases containing fresh-made pasta from Frank Vellegia's Casa di Pasta in Baltimore, hand-tossed pizza dough, and packaged fresh cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta, mascarpone, etc.).  Down the middle of the store two large shelves offer a dizzying array of olive oils, vinegars made from almost any fruit you can think of, jarred pasta sauces (for those who don't have the time or the energy to make their own 'gravy' from scratch) and canned goods.

Img_3944 If the layout of the store didn't serve to draw customers to the rear, the deli counter that runs along the entire back wall would easily do the trick.  Even from the front of the store you can see the hanging salamis and prosciutti beckoning you.  The view continues to improve as you approach the counter, with hand-linked sausage and stuffed vinegar peppers on display in a glass case that is full of Italian-American delicacies like baccala (salted cod) and soppresata (a pork salumi that has large chunks of fat throughout).  The men who work behind the counter have done so for years, and this is reflected in the easy, ongoing conversations they share with regular customers.  They are quick to offer samples of anything from an obscure salume like mortadella to an everyday provolone, and their recommendations have always served me well.

The counter is the heart of A. Litteri - in addition to the cold cuts and cheeses that they slice to order, visitors can also purchase a wide variety of Italian accompaniments by weight - assorted cured olives, sweet and hot peppers, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese and sea salt-packed capers all sit ready and waiting behind the counter in large containers.Img_3949_2  And it is here at the counter that customers can have sandwiches made to order.

These are not your ordinary, run of the mill sandwiches.  They are possibly the best deli sandwiches I have found since coming to Washington more than a decade ago.  The meatball and sausage sandwiches remind me of the ones I enjoyed with my family on weekends while I was growing up in New Jersey, and the cold cut options go far beyond those of most sandwich shops.  Additionally, this is the only place I have ever found to offer fresh mozzarella as a choice of cheese for your sandwich without any sort of upcharge.  The freshness of the bread and the rich flavors of the various condiments make for a great taste at a reasonable price - a loaded sandwich on a soft roll can be had for less than $5.

If you have ever visited the Italian Store in Arlington and fallen in love with their Old World charm, I encourage you to visit A. Litteri for the genuine article.  To make the trip even more worth your while, take some time to explore the Florida Market (the nearby warehouses and wholesale food vendors in the area).  Though more than a year old, this article from the Washington Post offers some great tips on places worth checking out.  Just make sure to plan your visit for a time when Litteri is open - they close at 3 PM on Saturdays and are closed all day on Sundays.

A. Litteri, Inc.
517 & 519 Morse Street, NE
7th & C Streets, SE
(202) 544-0184
Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 AM - 4 PM
Thursday and Friday, 8 AM - 5 PM
Saturday, 8 AM - 3 PM
Closed Sunday and Monday

Bowers Fancy Dairy Products at Eastern Market

"Cheese from All Parts of the World"

Img_2890 That's what they're promising at Bowers Fancy Dairy Products since 1964, and they deliver: their straightforward website lists seventeen countries from which they carry cheeses.  I stopped by Bowers Fancy Dairy Products this week because I wanted to make this DC landmark the first cheese shop I featured.  To many D.C. Foodies, the phrase "cheese shop" conjures images of relative newcomers Cheesetique and Cowgirl Creamery -- in no particular order.  Bowers has been around 10 times as long as both of them put together.

Despite their relatively small size, Bowers has been the best source for imported cheeses on Capitol Hill for 43 years.  Their cheese counter in the South Hall of Eastern Market has always welcomed regular customers and newcomers alike with a sample of something colorful and unique like Sage Derby or a perennial favorite like Parrano. On weekends, the crowds are often two and three people deep to taste freshly-sliced cheeses and to pick up favorites from around the world.

Img_2894 But the fire that gutted most of the South Hall on April 30th dislocated Bowers along with the rest of the markets' permanent residents.  Thankfully, community support for the market's vendors kept them in business through the summer, and on August 25th the temporary East Hall opened with new (and in many cases, improved) facilities for all of the merchants who were displaced.

On a weekday morning, the Saturday and Sunday crowds are gone and you can actually carry on a conversation with the person offering you samples from behind the counter. In some cases, that someone is Ray Bowers or his son, Mike.  If you happen to catch one of the Bowers behind the counter, be sure to talk to them about the history of the place.  If not, you may find your server less chatty...but no less knowledgeable about the cheeses they have to offer.

Img_2893 Prices at Bowers Fancy Dairy Products are comparable to those at other cheese shops in and around the District - assuming they carry what Bowers is selling in the first place!  I purchased a small piece of Saint Agur blue cheese from Bowers, where they were selling it for $18.99/lb, and decided to call around to comparison shop.  Calls to several other cheese shops in DC, Arlington and Alexandria confirmed that this was the best price for Saint Agur to be found, and one of the larger shops I called didn't even carry it.

A visit to Eastern Market is a must for anyone who is looking for local produce, quality meats, fresh seafood, and tasty baked goods in one convenient (Metro-accessible) location.  In the heart of Eastern Market, Bowers Fancy Dairy Products is a largely unsung gem for cheese-lovers on Capitol Hill and throughout the District.  If you haven't checked it out yet, you definitely should!

Bowers Fancy Dairy Products
Eastern Market - East Hall (temporary structure across 7th Street from Historic South Hall)
7th & C Streets, SE
Tuesday through Saturday, 7AM - 6PM
Sunday, 9AM - 4PM
Closed Mondays

Sonoma - Update

So I went back to Sonoma last Saturday and I noticed that a few things had changed. First of all, the bread that came with the cheese was now a toasted Italian bread (it might have been last time as well, but the four glasses of wine I had might have made my memory of that night a little fuzzy). Spreading cheese on thin toasted bread is fairly challenging, since whenever you put slight pressure on the bread, it crumbles. This time, I paid more attention to the menu's descriptions of the cheese and ordered some that sounded better to me. My favorites of the night were the taleggio vecchio (cow) and the Pennsylvania Pipe Dreams Farm goat, which spread like cream cheese on the bread and when mixed with the figs we ordered, has some nice, sweet undertones to it. The one cheese we ordered, the ricotta salata, actually didn't come on our plate, but instead we were given what looked to be like a blue cheese. I know this now because I just looked up what ricotta salata is supposed to look like, and what was on out plate was surely not that. At the time however, when the expeditor brought the cheese to our table, he pointed to the cheese and said it was ricotta. Amy and I looked at each other very puzzled-like and just shrugged out shoulders. Sadly, I'm not the cheese expert that I'd like to be and I didn't speak up and say, "But that looks like blue cheese to me."

Other changes...the focaccia was missing the rosemary, which I thought was a welcome change, and to add a little more detail -- whatever they're grilling the focaccia on has quite a bit of smoke to it. Be ready to ask for more bread, because they only gave me three pieces when I ordered the pate, salami and bresaola (which they actually had spelled on the menu as bresola?) -- so that's one slice of bread per meat selection. Amy ordered the pizza, and I'm happy to report that my first impressions from looking at it were 100% correct. The crust was bland as I've ever had and you all know that imho, the crust is the most important part of the pizza. The only thing separating it from what I used to get at my high school cafeteria, was the fresh toppings. The fresh marinara that the red pizza she ordered came with was very chunky and was made with very fresh tomatoes. I, on the otherhand, ordered the wagyu burger which was very good (in fact, I thought it was better than the $10 burger at Palena), which came out a perfect medium just as I had ordered it. I also asked for the pancetta and fontina which added a nice, salty flavor to the meat, although I wondered if it would have taste as good without the extra toppings. The meat was juicy, which I find isn't always the case with burgers made with beef like wagyu which tends to be a little dryer sometimes because restaurants use leaner beef. There were some changes to the menu. For  instance, the arugula and fennel salad that I commented on in my first post, was absent from the menu, but that's expected since Sonoma's web site says that they'll change the menu often depending on what ingredients are in season.

More on Sonoma...

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar - First Impressions

I figured with all the hype that's behind Sonoma, I'd might was well try it out and let everyone know what I thought about it. I was debating all week about whether or not I'd try Sonoma or if I'd go to one of my usual hangouts, but I decided after receiving a few emails from readers asking about it, that I'd give it a try.

I've read mixed things about it. On, people said the staff was inexperienced, but the food was yummy depending on what you ordered. I have to admit, looking at their menu online, I was fairly intrigued. The appetizers reminded me of the wine bar at 2Amys, with the cheese and meat, but with a better selection. For cheeses, you have many choices of blue, cow, goat, and sheep's cheeses. Your meat selections, or charcuterie, are typical for a sliced meat menu with speck, prosciutto, and capicola and chicken liver pate. I could eat an entire meal at Sonoma and only order off the charcuterie and cheese menus -- and of course I'd order a bottle of wine as well.

I actually tried a French goat cheese, which kind of kicked my ass. I made the mistake of eating a large chunk of it at once, and it was a little more than I could handle because the cheese had a strong, smoky flavor, almost like that of a blue or feta cheese, and it was fairly "stinky". This combination had me drinking large amounts of water to calm down the powerful flavor. My recommendation: if you order the French goat cheese, spread it thinly on the bread they give you. We also had a Spanish sheep's cheese which was fairly mild and pleasant -- a welcome change after the French goat. I also had some of the chicken liver pate which I enjoyed, but the bread that came with the cheese and pate was almost too complex and flavorful. Seriously, all I need is half of a French baguette to enjoy some pate -- not some fancy thick whole-wheat pita bread with rosemary (EDIT: Thanks to Richard for pointing out to me that the "fancy thick whole-wheat pita" is actually Italian flat bread with rosemary). I ended up tasting the bread too much instead of the cheese or pate.

Moving past the cheese and meat courses, you have salads, with an arugula and fennel salad topped with shaved Parmesan, lemon and olive oil, leading the way. I like how simple this salad sounds, and I'll be ordering it when I return, but I skipped it for the pasta courses I'll describe later. Amy ordered one of the other salads, with wood-grilled apples, watercress, pistachio, Gorgonzola and red wine vinaigrette, which I very quickly found out sounded better than it actually tasted. I think the texture of the apples was what did it for me because the grilling left the apples a little less than crisp (perhaps they were overcooked a bit this time). I think if I go back, I might try the venison carpaccio or grilled cuttlefish apps.

I saw many people around me ordering pizza, and they seemed to be enjoying it. There aren't any "prebuilt" pizzas and the toppings are all a la carte ranging from $3 to $5 each. You start with your crust and red tomato-based, green pesto or white olive-oil-based sauces. On top of that, you have your choice of cheeses and then your toppings. The cheapest combination if toppings is a plain cheese pizza for $8. You can easily build a pretty expensive pizza by choosing a couple $5 toppings like morel mushrooms, bottarga (tuna roe), or Vermont buffalo mozzarella. Seeing other people order the pizzas, I wasn't overly impressed with the way they looked, but I'll reserve judgment until I can actually try one.

For my entree, I ordered a double portion of the bucatini with the house-made wild boar sausage, summer squash and pesto. If you're unfamiliar with what bucatini is, it's a thick, hollow spaghetti and it's probably one of my favorite kinds of pasta. I used to order this bucatini dish with sausage and a creme sauce that blew my mind at Il Pizzico and Spezie. Unfortunately, Sonoma's bucatini wasn't nearly as good -- plain and simple. Not that it was bad, but seriously, not even in the same ball park. The bucatini was cooked perfectly al dente, but the homemade wild boar sausage was dry and crumbly which was not a good combination with the pesto sauce, and the summer squash didn't add much flavor. Perhaps when I return, I'll skip the pasta dishes and go straight for the Wagyu beef burger, which is very obviously on the menu to compete with Palena's $10 cheeseburger (a welcome addition since you know I'm not all that crazy about Palena's cheeseburger). Sonoma's version comes with some potatoes on the side and you have the option of adding some toppings like fontina cheese, pancetta or speck.

The high point of the meal for us was definitely dessert. That evening, Sonoma was featuring a smooth, creamy yet fluffy chocolate pudding, and my wife, being the pregnant pudding fiend that she is lately, could not resist. I have to admit that I'm not usually a pudding-type-of-person, but I did fall in love with this after my first taste. It had a very rich bitter chocolate flavor and it wasn't overly sweet like puddings tend to be. I hope it's on the menu again when we return.

In summary, I'd say that (at least right now) Sonoma is a great place to hang out, have some wine, cheese and salads after work. I could spend all night eating a flight of cheese and sampling different wines, then top it off with that chocolate pudding and you can call it a night. I'll reserve my final judgement on the rest of the menu, though, until I can return again and try some of their entrees.

Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar
223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Washington, DC
(202) 544-8088

lunch: 11am - 3pm (Monday - Friday)
dinner: 4:30pm - 10pm (Monday - Saturday)
brunch: 10:30am - 2pm (Saturday/Sunday only)
late night menu is available Thursday-Saturday nights 10pm - midnight
Sunday supper 5:30-10:00pm

Dress Code: Casual to dress casual. Sonoma's web site says that they are upscale casual, but when we went, there were people in shorts there.
Parking: I've no clue what the parking situation is at Capitol Hill. We took a cab.
Reservations: Taken and recommended. It should be easier to get a seat once they finish remodeling the upstairs.
Smoking: I didn't ask if smoking was allowed. Damn.
Nearest Metro: Capitol Hill Metro South.
Amy's Bathroom Report: The bathrooms were kept clean, but they had yet to remodel them like the last place. Everything was pretty old.