Logan Circle

ChurchKey: Ambitious Vision Is Realized As D.C.'s Very Best Beer Bar

Everything you need to know about ChurchKey is on the draught list.

Look at it. Drafted on tan, heavy paper - good paper, hardy paper - it's a black script roadmap to 55 drafts and casks. Hoppy, spicy, fruity, smoky beers are offered by the taste and by the glass. Along side each beer is the name of the brewery, its style, its place of birth. There's the alcohol percentage, the serving temperature, the price and the proper glassware. In case you don't know a tulip from a pint, there's a key of glassware silhouettes along the bottom of the menu.

Churchkey6 It's polished, elegant and written for nebbish beer geeks, but designed to guide anyone through ChurchKey's substantial selection of beers. 

It's the best menu I've ever seen.

The bar is almost as nice. From the solid burnt orange bar with its inset of keys, to the gothic chandeliers and floor to ceiling windows overlooking Logan Circle, ChurchKey is a beautiful establishment that was built to impress.

Without a doubt, it is one of the best bars I've ever set foot in. ChurchKey is not just one of D.C.'s best beer bars, it's our most important bar. The Brickskeller was ahead of its time when its lengthy beer list made the record books. But Miss Havisham has had her day and D.C.'s beer scene has come into its own. Portland has the Horse Brass Pub and Brussels has the Delirium Cafe. Now, thanks to Michael Babin and Greg Engert, we have ChurchKey.

I'm not the only one who's noticed.

"I was very pleasantly surprised with the professionalism [of the ChurchKey staff] and especially Greg has a great knowledge," Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, the Danish brewer behind cult beer favorite Mikkeller, told me via email. Earlier this year, Engert hosted Mikkel at a beer dinner at ChurchKey's downstairs sister restaurant, Birch & Barley. "It is hard to compare [to other beer bars] as ck is unique, but it is definitely one of the best beer restaurants I have been to."

Then of course, there are the local awards (two Rammys and the City Paper's pick for Best Beer Bar/Best Beer Menu) and national recognition (Food & Wine, The New York Times, Paste, All About Beer). Clearly, the arrival of ChurchKey and Birch & Barley has not gone unnoticed.

48580023 It's never easy, or cheap, to open a restaurant, much less two of them in a shitty economy. Yet, Babin (above, right), co-owner of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, did just that. Last year, he turned a former hamburger joint into a destination beer bar set atop an upscale restaurant. The establishments are treated separately, but are equally bound by a lineup of beers that stretch between floors and into the hundreds, all of which is overseen by a beer director that obsesses over every little detail. Needless to say, it was Babin's most expensive project, but it made Engert (above, left) a very happy man.

Before spending most of his waking hours at ChurchKey, Engert was (and is) the beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, including Rustico, Babin's beer-centric restaurant in Alexandria. Although Rustico was launched with a beer program, it was Engert who focused and expanded it.

He brought in interesting beers, cask ales and a hand pump, hosted beer dinners, started a library of rare beers, headed up beer themed events, and eventually started talking to his boss about an even better beer bar.

Babin and Engert knew there were limitations to what they could do with Rustico. There was only so much space, all of which was built before Engert was hired, and they wanted Rustico to remain a neighborhood restaurant. So a plan was hatched. Babin asked Engert what he would do if he could do anything. Engert responded with ChurchKey.

"Every single thing I wanted to do with beer here, I did," said Engert, who is also a partner in ChurchKey and Birch & Barley.

33680011 It shows. If you know anything about ChurchKey or the District's craft beer scene, you probably know these stats: 555 beers on hand, 55 of which are drafts, five of which are hand-pumped cask ales. It's impressive in its size and scope, but it's not the most impressive aspect.

No, the most impressive thing is the trio of coolers. Each cooler is set at a different temperature (42, 48, 54) based on the style beer being stored (for example, lagers are stored at colder temperatures than ales). The draft lines that run the beer from the coolers to the taps are insulated and cooled to ensure that the beer filling your glass is the same temperature it was when it left the keg.

It's an attention to detail most people will overlook, but it separates ChurchKey from most bars in the country, much less D.C.

33680014 Consider the bottle list. It's 500 deep, yet there are dozens and dozens of names you probably don't recognize. As he did with the beer list at Rustico, Engert organized the beers by flavor rather than style or place of origin. Understanding that hundreds of somewhat obscure beers don't sell quickly, Engert keeps a limited number of each beer. And when one sells out a new one usually comes in.

33680017 Engert's regular rotation of rare and eclectic beers, on draft and by the bottle, has led some folks around town to question how he gets such unique products. Some have suggested that ChurchKey and the
Neighborhood Restaurant Group can spend more money than other bars and restaurants, while others speculate that because ChurchKey is the popular beer bar in D.C., brewers and distributors are lining up to get their products in.

Engert said it's none of those things. Rather, he said, it's simply a matter of working harder than everyone else to find out about new beers entering the market, establishing relationships with the brewers and distributors, and keeping his draft lines pristine and his coolers at the proper temperatures. ChurchKey also maintains a stash of 76 casks that they ship to breweries to keep the hand-pump selections interesting.

And then there's the beer dinner series and meet-the-brewer nights, the vintage beer list, and the firkins (because five beer engines pumping fresh cask ale just isn't enough - and it's not), but I should stop. I should note that ChurchKey may be designed with beer enthusiasts in mind, but they make their nut on the curious and the uninitiated.

For Engert, ChurchKey is an opportunity to teach. The less you know the better. Come in and peruse the pretty draft menu or thumb through the bound bottle list. If you can't make up your mind, that's fine. Engert and his staff will show you the way. That's why he spends an hour and a half every day working with the bartenders and servers in ChurchKey and Birch & Barley on the beer program. If you have a question, everyone should have an answer.

"We believe very strongly that this would be an eye-opener for many people," Babin said. "You get people in the right mood to try new things."

Of the many trips I've made to ChurchKey and Birch & Barley since it opened last fall, I've only caught one bartender off guard. The guy gave me the wrong beer and assured me the stout I ordered was the bitter I received. However, he double checked with Engert, who relaized the mistake and got me the right beer. A rookie error by a new bartender that was quickly addressed.

That's it, though. Babin and Engert have hired a lot of staff, and all of them (well, most of them) are clearly well trained.

48580017 When ChurchKey is packed, I like to grab a seat at the bar in Birch & Barley. All the beer is the same and you get to admire the copper "beer organ" that houses the draft lines coming from upstairs. However, Birch & Barley's bar doesn't have direct access to the bottles or cask ales on the hand pumps. Nevertheless, the bartenders always seem more than happy to run upstairs for an order. It's a nice touch.

Babin and Engert are quick to note that much of ChurchKey's success - and Birch & Barley's for that matter - is also due to the work of Executive Chef Kyle Bailey and Pastry Chef Tiffany Macisaac. They're right to do so. Bailey and Macisaac do an excellent job servicing two restaurants with semi-distinct menus (there are some crossover dishes). They even keep in the spirit of things by working beer into a number of dishes.

I would add to that Nahem Simon, who's worked with Engert for years, bartending at both Rustico and ChurchKey. Simon is an excellent bartender and may be as well versed in his product as Engert.

So is there a bad thing to say about ChurchKey? Maybe some nitpicking.

DSCN5408 One man's eclectic beer list is another man's frustration. Engert obviously puts a lot of thought into his bottle beer list, but I think it's a bit over thought. As much as I like to try new things, I also have a number of favorite beers I'd expect to see at a place like ChurchKey. Rather than an obscure gueuze beer from Belgium, how about sticking in a couple Titan IPAs from Colorado?

I'd also like to see more local beers. Engert is skeptical of the concept of localism and builds his beer list around flavors rather than geography, but I can't see the harm in supporting local breweries. He's done a few events with Frederick's Flying Dog and Brian Strumke of Baltimore's Stillwater Ales, but he can do more by keeping a few bottles of our exceptional local breweries on hand.

Normally I knock beer bars that have a strong dining presence, but for all of Chef Bailey's hard work (there's poutine, people), the food is a supporting player at ChurchKey.

Finally, this might be might strangest criticism yet, but ChurchKey is just too popular. It's been open nearly a year, and it still draws a mob. In time, the crowds will thin and the line to get in will disappear. When that happens, ChurchKey will cease to be a scene and settle into being D.C. very best beer bar.

Score: 18 of 20 (beer: 7 of 8, atmosphere: 4 of 5, bartenders: 5 of 5, other elements 2 of 2)

The Best Beer Bars so far: Birreria Paradiso (17 of 20), The Galaxy Hut (16 of 20), Franklin's (14 of 20), Rustico (16 of 20), Lost Dog Café (12 of 20), The Black Squirrel (16 of 20) and Dr. Granville Moore's (15 of 20). And don't miss our special feature on D.C.'s best German bars.

(Note: The Best Beer Bar series is going on hiatus. I'm taking six months off to check out new beer bars or beer bars I haven't visited in a while. I will also be revising the criteria that I use to judge the beer bars. If you have any suggestions for places I should visit or what I should look for in a good beer bar, leave me a comment below.)

Must Haves: Poutine at ChurchKey, aka the Disco Fries

Must Haves focuses on some of DC's great dishes.

This probably isn't the best time to talk about something to do with Canada.

Listen, as a life-long Bucs fan, I know what it's like to get your hopes built up, only to watch them get slapped away, like so many Ovechkin shots on goal. It sucks.

But hear me out, because there's a bowl of gravy-covered Canadian happiness down at ChurchKey that will help you get past you're anger at the great white north and learn to love those maple suckers once again.

Or you can order it by it's American name.

The Poutine, aka Disco Fries (I have no idea why), may well be the greatest Canadian export since a washed up Wayne Gretzky joined the LA Kings. The dish is nothing more than French fries covered in sausage gravy and cheddar cheese. It's nothing less, either. Maybe Canadians need to bulk up for the winter. Maybe they hate life. Either way, covering fries in sausage gravy makes you wonder why we've been screwing around with ketchup this whole time.

(By the way, I assume ChurchKey also calls them Disco Fries as an homage to decidedly unhealthy coke -fueled late 70s. I don't know this, but it kind of makes sense.)

DSCN5276 Now, I do have a conspiracy theory about poutine. Having grown up in the South, I've had more than my fair share of sausage gravy. Biscuits and gravy is easily my favorite Southern breakfast, and gravy can be found at every meal of the day. So, how is it that a region that puts gravy on everything from biscuits to fried chicken never thought to pour a little on fries? It just doesn't add up. And while I haven't spent much time north of the border, the Canadians are not a people known for eating prodigious amounts of gravy (they mostly limit themselves to puffins and whale blubber ... I think.). Yet, YET, they've nationalized this fantastically Southern style dish and then add cheese to it. Adding cheese is what we do! Us! The Americans! The fat ones! So I don't buy it that a Canadian came up with gravy-covered French fries. No. Either some poor bastard got lost between Chickasaw and Tuscaloosa, or the Underground Railroad had a border crossing. One or the other.

If you still haven't bought into what I'm talking about here, let me be perfectly clear: Chef Kyle Bailey takes a perfectly good bowl of crispy, hot French fries, plunks in some bits of cheddar cheese and covers the whole damn thing with creamy sausage gravy. It's horrible for you, but my god is it tasty.

And if you just can't bring yourself to order the Canadian national dish, remember that they can be Disco Fries until next year, or the year after, or whenever the Caps find a way to win in the playoffs.

Stoney's Bar and Grill

The Venue: If Stoney’s were an entry in a thesaurus, words like lived-in, comfy, cozy and maybe even homely would pop up next to its name. Although a staple in our post-theater rotation, how would Stoney’s hold up to the “pre-theater mandate”: quick service, light fare, value and variety. DS and I decided to grab a quick bite before the 8 o’clock show at the Studio Theatre.

The Cast of Characters: Most will tell you that the star of Stoney’s is the Super Grilled Cheese – comfort food taken to a new level with the addition of tomatoes, bacon and onions. However, the (regular) Grilled Cheese is more to my liking – lots of cheese, melted, between slices of thick bread. Both are served with fries.

DS ordered the crab platter and got more than he bargained for: two crab cakes and two sides – mashed potatoes and salad. (The menu was a bit confusing: Crab cakes are listed as an Appetizer ($9.25), Sandwich ($10.25) served with fries and coleslaw, and Platter ($17.50). Although both the sandwich and platter come with sides, DS didn’t realize he had ordered the platter until the bill came.) Although the crab cakes looked a suspicious shade of gray – maybe it was the lighting – they were really quite good: just the right amount of filler, a light hand in the seasoning department. I’ve not developed my palate to be able to distinguish between mashed potatoes that come from a box and those that come from the ground, but with enough butter and salt it doesn’t really matter.

A creature of habit, I ordered the cheeseburger with fries. The cheeseburger was… well, just a cheeseburger. And, although I’ve eaten my share of burgers at Stoney’s, they’re nothing to write home about. I have learned, over time, that a rare Stoney’s burger often leaves the kitchen medium rare; medium rare is closer to well done. You do get your choice of toppings, ranging from Black & Bleu to Texas with BBQ sauce and coleslaw to the One-Eyed, a burger topped with a fried egg and Swiss cheese. All burgers are served with fries and range in price from $7.75 to $8.95.

DS and I both made the mistake of ordering as if this was just another evening out. We forgot we had tickets to the theater. The goal – eat light, drink less, stay awake – was totally forgotten. Although the portions are adequate our selections proved to be too much for a pre-theater meal. Stoney’s does offer salads and pizzas – and there are daily specials that include pastas and solid comfort food – and we could have easily chosen lighter fare.

Performance: We were, however, able to enjoy a leisurely meal. The food came from the kitchen at a reasonable pace. Yet, water or wine refills are another story: don’t expect much attention from the wait staff. They are quite content to leave you on your own. Past experience told us it’s easier to glance at the chalkboard, rather than ask the wait staff, for the daily specials.

Set Design: Stoney’s is divided into two distinct areas: a bar and a dining area. Beer tap handles – at the top of the back bar, extending around both sides – provide sporadic bursts of color among the dark wood and an interesting distraction while waiting for food.

Stoney’s does attract, as well as reflect, the diversity of the neighborhood. On any given night you might find: sixty-somethings celebrating a birthday in the dining area; twenty-somethings discussing the World Cup qualifiers as they watch on one of the two big screen TVs; neighborhood folks chatting up newcomers and regulars alike; or, actors gathering to unwind, critique or congratulate.

The Mark: Our expectations weren’t high. After all, we had eaten at Stoney’s many times after the show; however, this was one of the few times we had visited before the show. Stoney’s is a tavern, in the true sense of the word: a place to gather, socialize, drink and eat. The crowd is eclectic and the food is reasonably priced, dependable and, unlike other neighborhood restaurants, available for both the late-night and pre-theater diner.

Stoney’s Bar and Grill

1433 P Street, N.W.

Washington, DC


(One block west of Studio Theatre)


(Stoney's is so unpretentious that it doesn't even have a web site.)

From Circa to Cork

With the weather this past Sunday only threatening rain instead of actually pouring as predicted, Eliza and I trekked into the city to run a few errands, and maybe grab some food and drink. After a long due stop at Second Story Books (who are having a 20% off Summer Sale, FYI), where we failed to come back with fewer books than we had brought, we swung by Circa to check out the brunch selection.

Established in April 2007, Circa is a relative newcomer to the already crowded category of "Dupont Circle Upscale Cafes." Apparently they have carved themselves a niche, as the shiny, aluminum accented dining room was at capacity; unexpectedly, we were able to snag the last two top on the makeshift sidewalk patio.

If nothing else, Circa is a great spot for people watching — over the course of our meal, we saw dogs and babies of every size, several death-defying feats of cycling, and were regaled with a fascinating, hour long argument from a neighboring table over a very special chair, and why Diner #1 felt it was wrong of Diner #2 to get hammered and ruin it. (To our dismay, the two gentlemen departed before reaching consensus).

The food was decidedly less thrilling. Eliza's Caesar's Salad, which on the menu promised "roasted red peppers, boiled eggs, [and] Spanish anchovies," actually contained about a square inch of pepper, one-half-of-one egg, and not a single tiny fish; I don't know where they get off pluralizing! My hamburger Sliders were equally disappointing, as the onions were not remotely carmelized, and each burger was presented on a bun that was limp and quite clearly store bought. Our meals as served weren't bad for the price ($7 and $9.75, respectively), but neither was actually what we ordered —  a bit more attention to detail and truth in advertising might well be in order.

Cork1_2 After a detour to U Street for some Margaritas at Alero (who knew half a pitcher was so big!), we happily made our way down 14th Street to our next port of call, Cork Wine Bar. Situated in the evolving Logan Circle neighborhood, Cork and its neighbors are an eclectic bunch whose numbers include a furniture store, a bodega, a dog sitter's, a plant shop, an independent comic book shop, and other small businesses not common to the city.

Cork reflects its diverse environment with one of the most interesting wine lists I have ever seen. It is an unfortunate fact that most restaurants in this area, even those which purport a wine focus, are lazy when it comes to their by-the-glass programs, limiting their selections to the banal offerings of the larger distributors (which are all to willing to "help out" in putting them together). Even those that put the effort forth all too often will take the safe route, sticking to well-known, workaday producers and varietals. Not so at Cork, whose 40+ long list is dominated by relatively obscure French and Italian wines like Verdicchio, Irouleguy, and Marcillac; if these words are meaningless to you, fear not, as each wine is accompanied by a pithy, well-worded description. Our server was very attentive and helpful, and over the course of the afternoon we were visited by several staff members, each friendly and informative. Prices range from $6 to $14 a glass, and I promise there is not a boring wine among them. For those interested in training their palates, Cork offers several well priced flights which are changed on a monthly basis.

Cork2 As wine is always best enjoyed with food, Cork serves a selection of small plates intended for sharing and sampling with the bar's many wines. The menu is comprehensive given its size, offering cuisine appropriate for nearly any glass. On Sunday, we enjoyed a dish of sauteed wild mushrooms in madeira and marjoram, an asparagus special, and several items off the charcuterie and cheese list; everything was well prepared and well priced (the mushrooms were particularly tasty, and I hope someday we can replicate them at home).

Where Circa seemed careless in its execution, the people behind Cork quite obviously have a vision, and everything seems very well in focus. Though I have only been once and, therefore, am loath to make any conclusive judgments, I can say that I will most certainly be visiting Cork again. If you have any interest in exploring the wider world of wine, at first blush Cork seems a great place to begin.

1601 Connecticut Ave, NW
(202) 667-1601

Cork Wine Bar
1720 14th Street, NW
(202) 265-CORK
Hours and Reservations

Pictures of Cork courtesy of Sarah Mattingly

14K Restaurant: A Theatergoer's Opinion

The Venue: There are two challenges faced when eating before attending a theater performance: getting portions that are filling to ward off hunger pangs -- yet not overly so to cause drowsiness during the performance; and, speediness of service. For these reasons I tend to grab something to eat at the bar before going to the theater. Prior to a recent performance of The History Boys, I stopped at 14K Restaurant, five blocks north of the Studio Theatre.

The Cast of Characters: On my first outing, I tried the Chesapeake crab cake ($13) served, according to the menu, over creamed spinach and Pommery mustard. Instead, as an uncredited understudy, the supporting side dish was a warm, Southwestern-styled corn salad and a crisp roll filled with guacamole and garnished with an orchid. The crab cake was good -- not too much filler, lumps of crab – but the corn salad – with flecks of pancetta, tossed in a roasted, tomato vinaigrette – was even better and complimented the crab nicely.

On another visit, I ordered the steamed mussels ($14) in a white wine, herb broth. Yet, I couldn't figure out what herbs were used; there wasn't a speck of green in the broth. The mussels were bought out in a large, 3-quart Dutch oven, overwhelming the pound or so of mussels. Perched on top of the mussels was a lone piece of toasted cheese bread; not enough to sop up the broth. However, in my book, you can rarely go wrong with mussels.

Both meals were served with bread. On one occasion, the basket contained two types of rolls: sourdough and rye; on another, pretzel bread sticks as well as the sourdough rolls. The bread, especially the sourdough, was quite good. But answer me this: how does bread come out of the kitchen steaming? Were they served hot from the oven?

Performance: Unlike table dining, there are certain risks inherent in sitting and dining at a bar. If the bar is crowded, you'll have a tough time getting the bartender's attention. At other times, when the bar is slow, the staff is either busy setting-up or nonexistent. At 14K, there is an additional challenge: the bar is a circle, bisected by the drink station. On one occasion, while the bartender was servicing one side, the other side was being neglected. I had a hard time attracting his, or anyone's, attention to get water, ask about the corn salad, inquire about my meal and get the check. The other time, the staff hovered; whisking away the bowl anytime it contained five or more discarded mussel shells.

The pace of the kitchen left a lot to be desired. On my two visits, it took an average of 20 minutes, once ordered, for food to arrive. Maybe my own timing was off; I had allotted 45 minutes for a somewhat leisurely, yet quick, meal before show time. I know now to build in additional time in order not to feel rushed.

Set Design:
14K takes great pride in appearance and presentation. The room is light and airy with lots of open space. The circular bar provides a semi-restricted view of the hotel lobby or the restaurant. Albeit located on a busy, rush hour intersection, the outdoor dining patio is ideal for people watching. The kitchen does take great care in plating and showcasing the meal. A single orchid graces the guacamole roll, or a slice of bread atop the mussels, confirm this.

The Mark: 14K has a lot going for it, as a pre-theater dining experience: it’s proximity to the Studio theater; the variety offered on the bar menu; the selection of by-the-glass wines; the value for the money. Yet, it also has a few major distractions… the pace of the kitchen and staff attention left a lot to be desired…and should be avoided before an evening or matinée show. For a leisurely meal, with patio dining, 14K deserves a second chance.

14K Restaurant and Lounge
Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel
14th and K Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 218-7575

Cafe Saint-Ex

You don't usually expect to find good food at a bar. A bar is where you typically find great munchies like nachos, cheese sticks, mini-burgers, and maybe...maybe if you're lucky, you'll find some Asian-inspired potstickers.

Café Saint-Ex isn't your typical bar though. 

The first time I went to Café Saint-Ex, I mistook it for your everyday bar. It was when I first moved to DC, long before I started this site, and I think at the time I was looking for a place "to party", or something like that. I believe it was after a 9:30 Club show. My friends and I waited at the bar nursing some beers while we waited to get in downstairs, but ended up leaving when that took too long.

Little did I know, five years later, I'd be returning for a completely different reason. This time, it was before a 9:30 Club show (Carbon Leaf to be exact), and we were there for dinner...instead of a party. Amy and I were having a night out on the town without Noah, our first in about three weeks! We were looking forward to a relaxing, casual dinner and that's exactly what we got.

We enjoyed the experience so much that we returned two nights later for dinner, but this time we took Noah with us. When we were there the first time  we noticed that there were some other people there with children, so we wouldn't feel out of place with him. Also, the louder atmosphere made it ideal if he decided to throw a tantrum or scream out loud, which only happens occasionally, but you never know when that shortened afternoon nap will catch up with him.

As far as food is concerned, Café Saint-Ex is definitely doing things right, and after reading Chef Barton Seaver's Bio on the Café-Saint-Ex web site, it's not surprising. You can get an extremely good meal there for a very reasonable price. For appetizers, the wood-grilled calamari (or actually anything wood-grilled) is tender and makes you wish everyone was making calamari like that. If you're expecting those typical rubbery rings of calamari that you get everywhere else, however, you'll be sorely disappointed. This calamari is served whole. The beet salad rivals that of any that I've had at other restaurants, with a goat cheese that doesn't overwhelm the beets, but also isn't so bland that you can barely taste it. And a horseradish vinagrette punches up the entire dish.

As I said before, anything wood-grilled or maybe anything that's cooked close in proximity to where the wood-grilling happens is very good. Most of the fish is cooked this way and I'd recommend you try it. I don't think the smoky and spicy flavor will be to everyone's taste, but you've got to try it once to see. So far I've tried the salmon and flounder and both were a big hit with Amy and myself.

For desserts, the smooth and creamy goat cheesecake comes looking like a giant scoop of ice cream on top of a crumbled graham cracker crust. OH MY GOD was it good. This rivaled Ann Amernick's cheesecake I tasted at Palena not long ago. Seriously people, if there is one reason alone to go to Café Saint-Ex, it's this cheesecake. I hope they don't take it off the menu anytime soon.

I should mention that the price fixe option that Café Saint-Ex offers is a very good deal. Before 7, three courses are only $28 per person, and after 7, they are $32. Our bills have consistently been below $100 with a bottle of wine. The wine list at Café Saint-Ex is very European with the occasional appearance of a New Zealand of California wine. Prices for bottles range from $24 to $75 with a majority of them falling in the lower end of that price range.

The host/hostesses are friendly as are the servers, who don't seem to have enough time to be overly congenial, but are quick to help you with the menu and point out the price fixe option to save you some money.

Café Saint-Ex
847 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC  20009
(202) 265-7839
Web Site

Corkage: I didn't check. Call the restaurant to see.
Dress Code: Casual
Parking: Street:  Street Parking. I found it pretty easy to find a parking spot on the streets in the area.
Closest Metro: U Street.
Reservations: Not Taken. First come, first serve. Dinner rush starts at about 7. If you get there before that, you probably wont have to wait long.
Baby friendly rating: 3 Diapers. The atmosphere is loud, which makes it great for children, and the waitstaff and hosts seem to really love babies.

Viridian Restaurant

It's pretty rare that I write about a restaurant that I visit during Restaurant Week. Restaurants are so packed at this time of the year; they're often not in top form; and it's hard to tell if the hurried service and slow kitchen are a normal occurrence or just a result of...Restaurant Week.

When I was at Viridian on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (yes, all three days) during Restaurant Week, I didn't witness any of those complaints. Other than the "Restaurant Week" heading on the menu pointing out the special, you wouldn't know...and not only was the full, normal menu available, but there were no up-charges.

Servers were gracious each time we were there, even on the second night when we took Noah with us. Noah was in a rare (for him) cranky form and was being a complete pill -- impatient, squirming, and screaming out often. Despite this, every waiter or bus person that went by made it a point to say hello to Noah and smile at him. I know he's the most adorable baby in the world and all, but I've never witnessed this at any other restaurant.

We were rushed to finish our meal, and our server recognized that we were a little stressed. Our waitress handed us dessert menus while we still had our entrees: "Please don't take this as a sign that I am hurrying you out, but you look like you want to get out of here."

"Thank you! Yes we do!" We replied.

Our check was on the table soon after we received our desserts.

The following day for brunch, our server was again very friendly to Noah, and even took the time to make an origami crane for him...BWAH?!? What world have I suddenly been transported to? Some perfect world for diners with children?

Okay, so the service was great. Get it?

Got it.

The food was refreshingly good, and fresh, organic ingredients are the highlight of the menu at Viridian. While so many other restaurants serve their steak with some combination of mashed potatoes, mushrooms, and/or spinach, Viridian serves theirs with cippolini onions, figs (not dried -- there's an amazing difference), crispy watercress and a sweet port mustard sauce. Ok, so it's not super dramatically different from what you can get elsewhere, but it's kind of like that change-up pitch that you get after three straight fastballs.

A barramundi with crispy skin like it came out of a deep fryer, beet risotto, lobster and an original beet-ginger reduction sauce was a highlight. Order the cool and refreshing (yes, I used that word again) watermelon soup if you like cold soups. It's given a creamy texture by adding a champagne sorbet to the bowl before pouring the soup in front of you.

I didn't love everything I ate at Viridian, though. I'd suggest ordering the tartare appetizer for the steak and not the tuna. While the lean raw steak is 100% creamy and salty goodness, the tuna is a letdown in comparison in its blandness. And while the beat salad sounds (and looks) like it should be a sure winner, it falls flat on the taste buds.

However, I have yet to try all of the dishes on the menu, and sadly the menu changes on the first of every month, so most likely I won't be able to try the trout with gazpacho and blue crab or the gnocchi with chanterelles. Or maybe I'll luck out and the chef will still have a variation of them on the menu again.

Either way, I don't think that Chef Antonio Burrell is trying to make every diner love each and every dish they eat, but rather he's trying to go for a wide variety of tastes. I'm sure when I return, and the menu has changed, I'll find something new that I'll love -- like the flat iron steak or barramundi -- and there will probably be dishes that I'm not as crazy about. But I imagine that I'll leave happy either way.

Viridian Restaurant
1515 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
Web Site

Corkage: Allowed
Dress Code: Business Casual
Parking: Street: Street Parking or Park in the lot for $10.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle or U Street. It's a hike from either.
Reservations: Taken.
Baby friendly rating: 3.5 Diapers. As I said before, the servers seem to love kids.

Logan Tavern, Sushi Sushi, and a little Indian

The last week has been pretty boring for me food wise. I haven't been eating out anywhere new. Work and my new dog have been keeping me busy. Mostly I've been eating out and around in my 'hood - Tenleytown. Cafe Ole has seen a lot of me and I have not been disappointed by them at all. I especially like that they bring out water for Ceiba when we come by. She is very appreciative.  We actually went there last night - AGAIN! All I have to say is you gotta try the polenta tartufo and ask for some pita chips with which to eat it.

Let's see where else have I been eating? Oh, I ate at Sushi Sushi on Thursday night and was kinda disappointed in their crab rolls. I mean, there is no excuse for the low quality crab meat they use there. Their crab meat is about as real as Michael Jackson's nose. I found myself wishing I was across the street at 2 Amys.

I had a great brunch with Amy and a friend of her's named Martha. I was not expecting much at all, because we were just stopping at some random place, but it really turned out to be the best breakfast food I have had around here in a while. The place was called Logan Tavern and is right on P st between 14th and 16th by the Whole Foods. I had a breakfast burrito, Amy had the Bacon and Eggs and Martha had a grilled cheese. I want to go back and get the grilled cheese because it looked so yummy. Martha thought it was good too :). My breakfast burrito was very fresh and I enjoyed it very much. Amy only had the eggs and bacon, but she ordered them over easy....AND THEY ACTUALLY CAME OUT OVER EASY! Imagine that?! The rest of the menu looked pretty interesting and I would have ordered some of them if I were not hung over from the night before (breakfast food it the best for hangovers). The arugula, peach and prosciutto salad looked good as well and the lump crap and avocado. Grilled scallops with balsamic glaze, baked Greek cheese with tomato sauce, grilled baby squid...all of them sound good, and those are only some of the appetizers. I think I will be heading back for dinner when I get back to Logan Circle.

Well, I think that is everything that has been going on in the last week or so in food. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that an Indian friend of mine from work made me some bhaji that turned out most excellent. He made us this huge container of it and we ended up eating it all in two nights. YUM. YUM. and YUM.