Restaurant Openings

The Queen Vic: A New Restaurant On H, An Actual Gastropub For D.C.

Ryan Gordon knows what a gastropub is.

"It's a place you go to have a drink, first."

That's absolutely right. But if you want to eat, there's a menu that combines traditional pub fare with plates typically scene in white tablecloth dining rooms.

Ryan knows this, too. He should, he's opening a gastropub next week.

89500003 On April 4, Ryan and his wife Roneeka will open The Queen Vic, the newest addition to the H Street dining corridor. On paper it looks good: 20 beers on draught and 20 bottles, soccer and rugby on the flat-screen TVs hanging behind the two bars, and a menu that hits the U.K.'s greatest hits while managing to work in enough culinary flourishes to put the gastro in gastropub.

The restaurant's name is even a nod to the long-running BBC soap, EastEnders.

But just because a restaurant calls itself a gastropub doesn't mean it is. Frankly, most of the gastropubs in D.C. aren't gastropubs, and some of the ones that were eventually dropped the concept.

CommonWealth opened as a gastropub in 2008. Offering cured pork belly, oyster pie and house-made head cheeses along side fish and chips helped establish the Columbia Heights restaurant as a solid example of a British gastropub. In time, however, the menu became more "continental Europe" and less creative. CommonWealth closed in February.

This begs the question: can The Queen Vic succeed where CommonWealth failed? Does D.C. know what a gastropub is and is it a concept people are interested in?

We're going to find out.

89500004 The Gordons, and silent partner Kevin Bombardier, brought in Adam Stein as their executive chef (on the right next to sous chef Blake Aredas). Stein -- who worked under chef Matt Jennings at La Laiterie in Providence, R.I., before returning to the area -- is a farm-to-table adherent. He plans to butcher in-house. He plans to source locally and cook seasonally. Even the British staples will be sustainable. So while the fish and chips may be standard fare, the fish Stein will use will change based on its availability and sustainability.

For inspiration, Stein cited April Bloomfield and Fergus Henderson. Henderson might not have invented nose-to-tail cooking, but he picked up a Michelin star revolutionizing it in his London restaurant, St. John. Bloomfield's New York restaurant, The Spotted Pig, is widely considered the best gastopub in the country. So when you say that your restaurant's cuisine will tack closely to Bloomfield's and Henderson's, the world knows what to expect ... and where you fall short.

Signs of Bloomfield's and Henderson's influence are tucked into The Queen Vic's inaugural menu. There are the fried oysters on the half shell - a trio of fried oysters served with foie gras, duck confit and cornichons. There are the rich, roasted marrow bones, an appetizer Stein said he is lifting directly off St. John's menu.

The chefs' influence will also be seen in the daily specials, which will showcase the benefits of butchering on-site, such as house-made head cheeses, braised beef cheeks and sweetbreads. Stein said the specials menu is where he will react most quickly to changes in seasons and ingredients.

While Stein clearly wants The Queen Vic's menu to be thoughtful and progressive, it's some of the traditional items that stand out. Certainly, you can't open a British restaurant without fried fish and french fries, but the traditional English breakfast (beans and all), pork scratchings and curries show an attention to detail that most of the British (and Irish) themed eateries miss.

(I can't overstate the significance of a good Cornish pasty. They're like a large empanada without the egg. Absolutely simple, absolutely fantastic. However, most of the ones I've had here in the states are sorry. More often than not, they're like doughy wontons straight from the frozen food isle. Stein promises the real thing. If he delivers, I'll trust anything he puts on his menu.)

89500018 As for the bar, the opening draft selection isn't all it could be. The taps are dominated by familiar names: Guinness, Harp, Kronenbourg 1664 and Smithwicks (none of which are British). However, there are a few bright spots, including Fullers ESB, Wells Bombardier, Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil and Old Speckled Hen.

Ryan admitted the beer lineup was the best he could do in a short amount of time. By the end of April, he expects to replace many of the beers with more interesting offerings.

89510006 In the mean time, thirsty punters can check out the Vic's bottle list, which includes Young's Double Chocolate Stout, St. Peter's Organic English Ale, Manchester Star and Skull Splitter scotch ale.

Although the gastropub doesn't have a beer engine behind the bar (a real shame, especially as so many beer bars around town now have one or five), there are four nitrogen taps behind the upstairs and downstairs bars. So there may not be the hand-pulled beers so typical of British pubs, but there will be eight taps pouring plenty of smooth, creamy pints.

It's not hard to understand where the level of detail that's gone into The Queen Vic came from: Roneeka was born in Britain and raised in Wales. Her parents own and operate a hotel and restaurant in Bridgend, Wales. Before she was a teenager, Roneeka was already working in her family's restaurant. The Queen Vic isn't so much a concept as an extension of the cuisine that she grew up with. At least it should be.

Just to make sure Stein is clear on the concept, Ryan and Roneeka sent their chef on an eight-day tour of Britain and Wales. The tour began at her parent's restaurant, the Bokhara Brasserie. It was there that Stein learned how to make murgh makhani, a butter chicken dish Roneeka grew up with. From there, Stein headed to a butcher shop in northern Wales and spent time in London, dining at The Bull & Last and St. John.

If the gastropub concept doesn't fly, it won't be for lack of effort.

89500007 Like the menu, the restaurant looks the part of a traditional British pub. The red and black exterior opens to a cozy bar and dining room. The layout is repeated on the second floor, which leads out to an outdoor deck on the back of the restaurant.

Ryan said The Queen Vic will accommodate a little less than 100 people, a couple dozen more if you count the deck.

While the gastropub may be small, it took a sizable effort to get it ready for its debut. The building burned down, twice. Before work could begin to turn the building into a restaurant, it needed to be gutted and rebuilt. The façade was out of alignment and had to be screwed back into place, and much of the roof was replaced. The deck was a new addition.

89500022 To give the rehabbed restaurant an older feel, they used as much recycled and refurbished materials as possible. Doors came from old schools, the phone booth is, well, an old phone booth. The roof may be new, but the exposed beams, stained a dark mahogany, help add a rustic, old(er) pub feel.

The Queen Vic will be located along the ever-more popular and ever-more crowded H Street corridor. Ryan, who's an investor in the neighborhood bar The Pug, says the gastropub should fit right in. Although H Street has an increasing number of bars and restaurants, it's an eclectic mix. So rather than being lost in the myriad of options, The Queen Vic do well situated between the sushi and tater tots joint and the Philly style sandwich shop.

Besides, Ryan said, the cadre of new bars and restaurants that have sprung up on H Street over the past few years tend to support one another (Teddy Folkman, executive chef at Dr. Granville Moore's, introduced Stein to the Gordons). It's the rising tide lifts all boats theory: the more traffic and positive attention one bar or restaurant can attract, the better off all the neighborhood bars and restaurants will be.

89500021 But positive press and big name inspirations will only help so much. The British gastropub is a great concept that most people misinterpret or simply don't understand. If The Queen Vic is a success, it'll be because Ryan, Roneeka and Chef Stein find a way to give D.C. a true gastropub, one that will hopefully stick around a while.

The Queen Vic
1206 H St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 396-2001 

Mussel Bar: First Impressions

Mussel_Bar_ChefsIn the months, weeks and finally days leading up to the opening of Mussel Bar, Robert Wiedmaier's new restaurant in Bethesda, you could hear people talking on the street about it. "I can't wait for that place to open!" I heard groups of people say as we passed by. People were definitely looking forward to this place opening.  It's been a long time since a new restaurant like this came in Bethesda. The last one I can remember is Redwood, and we all know how that went.  

Anyway, Mussel Bar finally opened on Thursday, after pushing back the opening day from Wednesday. Another reason I could tell it was long awaited? The already hour-long wait when Amy and I arrived Friday night at barely 6:30. Luckily, the small bar was no more than one level of people deep so we were able to get a beer and wait it out. We heard the wait times increasing, one hour and ten minutes, 1 hour and 20 minutes, until when we were finally seated, 1 hour and 30 minutes. Not bad for it only being your second night open.

When you first enter the restaurant, the aroma of the mussels and all the broths is intoxicating. Someone should bottle this as a perfume/cologne and sell it. There is not much of a waiting area, so you are forced to congregate around the bar, which isn't very large itself. Overall, the entire restaurant seats a maximum of 125 people, which makes me think there will be many long waits in the future for people.

Tap_listAs with most of Robert Wiedmaier's restaurants, beers, not wines, are the focus. A small selection of draft beers is available, with a large (not Brickskeller large) selection of bottled beers. On tap Friday night, were Brabo Pils, Delirium Tremens, Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor, Gouden Carolus Tripel, Kasteel Rouge, and Kasteel Donker. Prices for the draft beers range from $7 to $13, which was a little pricey in my opinion. At least that's what I thought at first, until I tried the Gouden Carolus Tripel and realized what I'd been missing all these years. While we were waiting at the bar, a guy came up and ordered a Bud Light. "Sorry sir, we don't have Bud Light," the bartender said. 

"Do you have any light beers?" he replied.

"No sir, we don't." 

(I'll leave the any further beer analysis to the likes of Drew and Rob since they know a lot more in this area than I.) 

Once we were finally seated, everything went pretty smoothly, particularly for a new restaurant getting so thoroughly slammed on its second night open. Our waiter explained the menu, which was not too complex. There is a small selection of salads and soups ranging in price from $7.50 to $15. It was way too hot out for soup, so we chose a couple of light salads; one with roasted beets, grapefruit, cumin, herbed yogurt, and a confit of lemons and raisins, and the other an asparagus salad with a poached egg and bacon. Both were very big successes 

Mussels_at_mussel_bar Of course, Mussel Bar has moules frites and are all $16. The mussels are all “Blue Bay” Prince Edward Island mussels, which is what you would expect. There are also some wood-fired tarts, which are basically flatbreads/pizzas, and some sandwiches. If you're looking for something on the larger side, there are three entrees including a short rib bolognese pappardelle available in a full or half portion, a grilled strip steak, and a grilled Atlantic salmon. that range in price from $22 to $24.

We figured getting anything other than mussels on our first visit would be criminal, so Amy and I both ordered our own. Amy beat me to ordering the wild 'shroom preparation with pancetta, Parmesan, and truffle cream, so I went with the "classic" mussels with garlic, shallot and white wine broth. The staff deliver the mussels in piping hot cast iron pans. Upon placing them on the dining table, the staff took the covers off the pans and oh, man, it smelled so good. We took deep breaths and then dug in. I was loving the "classic" mussels I had ordered, but after trying Amy's 'shroom mussels, mine just seemed outright bland. I think the added touch of truffle is really what made them stand out. 

Mussel_Bar_frites The mussels themselves were cooked well, but my only complaint is that there were a good deal of mussels with a tiny amount of meat inside. The frites were very crispy and made for good dipping in the mussel broth as we ate. Although, I would not say the frites are classic frites that follow the fry and bake cooking approach, but thought they were delicious.

We skipped dessert because we were full, and the dessert selection is not especially tempting. You have a choice of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and a vanilla creme brulee. While Amy is a big fan of creme brulee, she was way too full to eat anymore.

Overall, our first visit to Mussel Bar was very successful and we'll definitely be going back. I only hope that things calm down a bit in the coming months and the wait goes down. If the wait scares you, you probably want to get there on the very early side, or try a weeknight (although not Monday night -- they're closed).

Mussel Bar
262 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814

Ray's Hell Burger Too: Gourmet Burger Redux?

RaysHellOutside1 Local beef Impresario Michael Landrum has been a busy man of late. Hot on the heals of opening Ray's The Steaks East River, Landrum has done a whirlwind overhaul of one of his Ray's Hell Burger locations in Arlington, re-dubbing it "Ray's Hell Burger Too." Of course, everyone knew he was going to do something with the space, but I hadn't heard anything about the launch until this Thrillist article hit my inbox the Friday before last. Some friends and I popped around that evening, in the hopes that it flew under everyone else's radar, as well.

Ray's Hell has become the go-to gourmet burger location in the DC area since opening in July 2008. Their fresh-trimmed, hand-ground 10 oz burgers and myriad decadent toppings have become a favorite of burger fiends inside the beltway. Despite some brilliant press and some high-profile, repeat customers, NOVA's premier gourmet burger bar has had its share of detractors and complaints. Ray's Hell Too, it seems, is an attempt to address those most frequently voiced quibbles. A sign they'd taped to the front door summed it up nicely:

RaysHellSign Ray's Hell Burger Too

Hate Waiting in Line?
Hate Fighting for a Table?
Want a Smaller Burger?
Into Exotic Game?
Wishing for Waitress Service?

Check Out our New, Exclusive Menu
Offerings and Sit-down Service


Not mentioned above is the oft lamented lack of booze, which was also purportedly remedied. This, plus the lack of a smaller option were always my greatest complaints, so I was pretty psyched.

RaysHellShirt1 The restaurant is set up much like the old Ray's The Steaks location, with forty or so tops jammed into a tight, sparsely decorated space, with an open kitchen off to the back. Where the old Ray's had a touch of class with its open wine racks and wood floors, Ray's Too is all linoleum and cheap paneling, with neon Coke coolers and framed T-Shirts telling us to "Go To Hell." But then, it is a burger joint -- just don't go expecting the Ritz here.

RaysHellInside1 While none of the diners seemed crowded or put upon, the waiting area is a bit on the small side. We crowded into the 6 by 4 foot vestibule with a few other wannabe patrons, until we overflowed and started a line against the wall. There is no host or host stand, but a competent waitress was quick to give us menus, take our head counts, and give us some time estimates. Once our party was fully formed we were seated very quickly, which was impressive on such a busy night -- can never say a Ray's doesn't know how to flip tables!

The new menu offers the same beef behemoths as always, along with some new points of interest: Vegetarians finally have an option in the form of a 1/3 lb veggie burger, and lovers of more exotic fair will be tempted by the fruit glazed venison burger, or the 'Hanoi Style' wild boar burger. The real draw is still the classic, now also available in the more modest 1/3 lb form, cleverly dubbed the "Lil Devil," for $6.99 plus toppings.

RaysHellMyMeal The wait would prove to be the most well orchestrated portion of our evening, as from here, organization flew out the window. Our server was very sweet, but had almost no idea what was going on concerning the menu or otherwise. When asked about the new Hanoi burger, which is only vaguely described on the menu, she had nothing to offer in the way of description. Ray's had yet to draw up a drink list, and we got very different opinions on what it actually contained, depending on who we asked. I don't know whether to blame lack of time for training, last minute changes, or what, but if we hadn't already been well acquainted with the original concept, we would have been lost.

As best I can tell, Ray's offers Bud Light, Bell's Two Hearted Ale, and Delirium Tremens by the 12 oz bottle -- strange selections for such a tiny list, as each of these occupies some sort of fringe in the wide world of beer. Baby bottles of Beringer Merlot and Cabernet were also served, along with Pinot Grigio, which was already out of stock. We were told that all drinks were $4.00 a piece, making the Tremens a tremendous deal (if you like that sort of thing), and the Budwater a terrible ripoff. The drinks were a long time in coming, and were then unceremoniously dumped on the table, sans glasses, with the soft drink bottles not even opened. I know I'm not the bloody Duchess of Kent or anything, but come on...


We'd all ordered incarnations of the "Lil Devil," which arrived in various states, ranging from overcooked to underdone. As often happens when given too many options, I panicked, and ordered my burger with what some may call a revolting combination of bone marrow and cave aged cheddar. It didn't work at all -- which I admit is totally my fault -- and I was very disappointed to find my "rare" burger just a hair under medium. Eliza ordered more sensibly, opting for the always delicious sherry and brandy sauteed mushrooms (a longtime staple at Ray's The Steaks), but her's, too, was about one shade too brown. 

Worst of all, one of our companions ordered the boar, which came out underdone! He made a terrible face when he tried it, and voiced his concerns. Unfamiliar with ground boar, we all thought that maybe it was supposed to be a little pink, but the texture was undeniably gummy and unpleasant. The waitress was less concerned than I would have hoped that they'd served us raw pork, but did take it away and fire a new onRaysHellMyBurgere. In the interim, we were offhandedly informed that we would not be allowed to order any more drinks, as they were running low, which at that point was pretty much cool by all involved. The bill came to about $74.00, which included five burgers, several sides of fries, our beers, and truffled mac and cheese.

I know its not fair to judge a restaurant on its first week, much less on what might have been its opening day. But folks, this ain't remotely Michael Landrum's first rodeo, and this isn't even really a new restaurant, so much as a new concept shoehorned into an old space. Landrum knows how to open a restaurant, which makes our disappointing experience all the more puzzling. 

RaysHellBoar1 Since our visit, we've talked to a couple friends who have been since the renovation, and they had a pretty good time, so hopefully things are settling in. I'm hoping that our experience was just an isolated event, or that matters have much improved by now. So I throw it out to you -- have any of you guys been? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Ray's Hell Burger Too
1713 N Wilson Blvd
Arlington, Virginia 22201
(703) 841-0001

Biergarten Haus: A Whole Lotta Deutschland on H Street

The word from Aaron McGovern is that Biergarten Haus will open this Friday, June 11.

Thirty-five hundred square feet of outdoor seating.  Thirty mahogany brown tables with bench seating to accommodate around 200 people ... outside. A kitchen cranking out the best of Germany's wurst, as well as locally baked pretzels and rolls. An upstairs bar and dining room with multiple flat-screen TVs airing live coverage of the 2010 World Cup. Three bars, 12 taps, 20 to 30 bottles all showcasing the brewing prowess of the German and Austro-Hungarian empires.

02480008 As cocktails and craft beer continue to dominate the D.C. drinking scene (not a bad thing), H Street's newest restaurant and bar is going to keep it simple by keeping it very German (not bad either).

There will be polka.

The Biergarten Haus is set to open May 14, and it will be big.

In fact, it's the size of the location that gave co-owner Aaron McGovern (pictured above) the idea to open a biergarten in the Atlas District. Aaron and his business partner Arturas Vorobjovas, who co-own the Russia House, have talked about opening a biergarten for years, but didn't have a location until they came across an old five and dime shop on H Street.

When Aaron saw the two-story building with its large patio space, he knew he had the ideal location for a biergarten, Germany's quintessential outdoor watering hole.

"As a young boy I grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, with three German families as neighbors," Aaron said via e-mail. "Having traditional family style meals every weekend opened my eyes and palate to this wonderful cuisine. The weisswurst, weinerschnitzle, sauerkraut, to name a few, were always my favorites."

02470015 While German cuisine will be on the menu, Aaron and Arturas don't plan to go too over the top with the theme. They are planning to have live polka music and are considering hiring an accordion player to come in from time to time, but don't expect to see the staff wearing dirndls and lederhosen.

Chris Chambers, regional director for the Russia House and Biergarten Haus, said the idea is to keep things simple so folks can enjoy themselves. So customers can come for the German food and beer (apparently they're working on a massive "King's Platter" of sausages and sides that is clearly aimed at the 'Skins offensive line), or to grab a beer and watch a soccer match on TV (they hope to be come a destination for D.C. soccer fans).

02470007 Chris also noted that the Biergarten Haus, near the corner of 13th and H streets, is a 10 minute cab ride from the Verizon Center, giving Capitals and Wizards fans a fairly close destination before and after games. For now, cabs and cars will be the means of transportation for most Biergarten Haus customers. The nearest Metro station, New York Avenue, is a long walk down H Street, and the trolley car line is at least a year away from completion. And until the trolley line is finished, H Street will remain a hot mess of construction crews and jersey barriers.

Aaron is taking the long view.

02470009 "We are only a year away from having DC's first European-style trolley, the road construction is rough but the construction crew are making progress daily," he said in his e-mail. "In the past seven months numerous new restaurants have opened, numerous abandoned buildings have been brought back to life. I find that the atlas/capital hill neighbors are very loyal to their business as well as very active the the continuing growth of the neighborhood."

Chris said the rent on the space is reasonable, which should help them get through their first year if the construction limits their customer traffic. In fact, the affordable rent led Aaron and Arturas to lease a space two doors down from the Biergarten Haus location where they plan to eventually open a European market that will offer a few things from the restaurant's menu, as well as sandwiches and other items.

02470023 As for those taps and bottles, Aaron has pulled in the Belgian beer knight himself, Bill Catron. The beer list is still be finalized, but expect a variety of beers from German stalwarts Spaten, Paulaner, Gaffel Kolsch and Eggenberg. However, Bill said he also plans to bring in some "gems," like Paulaner Pilsner, and is looking at ordering a few firkins.

"When you do go to drink beer, you want something a little bit extra," he said.

While the beers that Bill brings in will surely be good, the little bit extra most folks will be interested is the lot of outdoor space that will make the Biergarten a biergarten.

Well that and the beer. And the wurst. And the schnitzel. And maybe, just maybe, the polka.

Biergarten Haus
1355 H St., N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002

Assaggi Mozzarella Bar: A First Look

When I heard that someone was opening a "mozzarella bar" in Bethesda last month, I was definitely intrigued.  Can a restaurant in an area with as many options as Bethesda hope to succeed with such a specialized concept?

AssaggiAs it turns out, Assaggi won't have to find out.  While they do plan to offer a full-service mozzarella bar complete with a cheese and charcuterie specialist who will be slicing and serving their various offerings, Assaggi is actually a very accessible Italian restaurant that features a variety of salads, pastas and meat dishes in addition to their signature mozzarrella tastings.  Taking over where Centro left off (and using a few similar design elements while incorporating a distinctly new feel), Assaggi provides a different taste of the Mediterranean.  In fact, the name of the restaurant means "taste" or "sample."

And taste we did.  We began with the Assagi di Mozzarella, which allowed us to sample three of the five mozzarella varieties on offer with a choice of four accompaniments.  The cheese options on the menu: burrata (a buffalo's milk mozzarella with a liquid curd center), ricotta di bufala (not a mozzarella, so we passed), authentic mozzarella di bufala from Italy, Bubalu Bubalis (a Southern California buffalo's milk cheese) and cow's milk mozzarella from local favorite Blue Ridge Dairy* (though they're referred to as "Blue Ridge Farms" on the menu).  The sides offered some unique flavors - a green tomato marmalade that was surprisingly chutney-like in its sweetness, a basil-marinated zucchini, and a roasted organic eggplant were all tasty and basic.  And although the 'fresh, seasonal tomato' was a bit underwhelming, it still managed to convey far more bite and flavor than many of the tomatoes currently available at local markets.

Centro_3 After our mozzarella sampling (which confirmed our love of burrata and the distinct difference in texture and taste between cow's milk mozzarella and buffalo's milk varieties), we tried some options from the rest of the menu.  My wife enjoyed the soup of the day, a gazpacho whose vegetables were so finely pureed and silky-smooth as to make us think that she was being served something with a cream base.  She also had a simple salad of butter lettuce, gorgonzola dolce and a lemon-oil dressing that allowed each of its components to show through to the best of their ability.  I opted for a pasta dish, choosing the orecchiette with ground sausage, air-dried ricotta and broccoli rabe.  The dish was sauced with a combination of a broccoli rabe pesto and a creamy 'deconstruction' of the sausage that gave it a wonderfully smoky and complex flavor without the usually oily texture that accompanies this kind of dish.  It was a really impressive presentation that reminded me of some very traditional favorite dishes but that took things in a more elegant direction.  Though the dessert menu seemed to offer a number of Italian restaurant staples, it also highlighted a few more "assaggi" choices - tastings of chocolate, sorbet, gelati, and biscotti.  We didn't take advantage of any of these, choosing to save them for future visits.

Throughout our meal, service was attentive and knowledgeable.  Questions were answered with confidence by Stephan, our waiter, and he seemed genuinely interested in hearing our thoughts on the food we had eaten.  When a discrepancy between the menu price of our mozzarella tasting and the price that appeared on our bill was pointed out, he remedied it without argument and thanked us for bringing it to his attention.

Our biggest disappointment came from the fact that the vaunted mozzarella bar is not yet functional.  Its two marble countertops stand at the ready, with glass cubicles that will provide temperature and humidity controlled storage for the signature cheeses as well as a high-end slicer that will prepare imported Italian prosciutto to order.  But the Big Cheese himself, the man who will oversee the cheese program for the restaurant, has not yet taken his position behind the counters.  For now, the cheeses are stored and prepared behind the scenes, in the kitchen.

I look forward to a second visit to Assaggi in the near future, both to experience the mozzarella bar in action and to see how the rest of the menu continues to develop.  As a first look, however, this experience was definitely a good start.

Assaggi Restaurant
4838 Bethesda Ave.
Bethesda, MD  20814
(301) 951-1988


* - It seems that there was some confusion about the provenance of the local mozzarella being served at Assaggi during the first few weeks of service.  When I asked my server and then called a few days later to ask about the mozzarella that had been served to me, I was told both times that the cow's milk cheese came from "Blue Ridge Farms...Blue Ridge Creamery," that they take deliveries every few days and that Blue Ridge sells their mozzarella at local farmers' markets as well.  But I spoke to Paul Stephan of Blue Ridge at the Dupont Farmers' Market that weekend, and he assured me that he had not sold any mozzarella to Assaggi in at least three weeks. 

Blueridge When I spoke to chef/owner Domenico Cornacchia this week, he confirmed to me that they had not been stocking the Blue Ridge mozzarella for a few weeks while they waited for the mozzarella bar to come on line.  But he assured me (and Paul Stephan confirmed) that they are now bringing Blue Ridge products - including ricotta and smoked mozarella - on a regular basis.  Because the menus had been pre-printed, they continued to list the Blue Ridge product during its absence, but Cornacchia told me that staff had been informed that it was unavailable and that they were offering an Italian cow's milk cheese in its place.  My experience suggests that the message wasn't uniformly received.

Is this inherently problematic?  Only if you're truly passionate about cheese and eager to know what you're eating and where it comes from.  The mozzarella they served was definitely delicious, but it was not the local product I thought I was getting.

Sticky Rice to Open on H Street Next Week: Sushi (and Tater Tots) Buzz

Sticky_ricePeanut butter and jelly.  Macaroni and cheese.  Dark chocolate and port.  Anything and bacon.

There are some classic food combinations that just work.  Sushi and tater tots have not previously been on that list in my mind, but I'm ready to be convinced.  And now Sticky Rice is ready to do the convincing.  As reported by THE source for all things on and around H Street, FrozenTropics, the Washington outpost of the popular Richmond institution is just about ready to open its door.  Though they are waiting on a few final details, they fully anticipate being open for business next week.

Sticky1 I had the chance to talk with the guys who will be running the show up here in Washington, and they took the time to tell me a bit about what D.C. foodies can expect at this eclectic eatery.  For those who are unfamiliar with Sticky Rice, the concept can best be described as "Asian-fusion," but that's only the tip of the iceberg.  The menu at Sticky Rice includes a wide range of sashimi and sushi (nigiri and rolls) as well as several noodle-based dishes that can be ordered with beef, chicken, seafood or tofu.  But they are not limited to the typical fusion offerings - a half-dozen sandwiches are available, as are appetizers including the hyped "bucket of tots" that is ready and waiting for late-night crowds coming from the Rock n' Roll Hotel, the Red & the Black and even the Atlas Theater.

Sticky2 Check out their website for a better idea of their menu, and while you're there be sure to notice just how much of it is Vegetarian and Vegan-friendly.  Quite a few of their menu items are inherently suited to Vegetarian diets (and noted as such on the menu), and even more of them can be easily modified to accommodate.

Unlike quite a few Asian-focused restaurants, Sticky Rice intends to offer a wide selection of suitable beers and wines, in addition to a hand-selected range of sakes that reflects the various styles that are available.  And because they recognize that many people aren't as familiar with sake as they are with other beverages, they plan to offer bi-monthly or monthly sake dinners that will feature different styles of sake paired with complementary dishes.

And just to whet your appetites a little bit further, here are some of the other things we can expect when Sticky Rice opens next week: 

  • Sticky3 NO IMITATION CRABMEAT - Though this is almost an unheard of practice among sushi purveyors in Washington, Sticky Rice will use 100% genuine crab in all of its sushi.  Although this results in a $5 California Roll, it definitely sets them apart from the competition.
  • Weekly specials will cover all courses - In other words, look for a sushi special, an appetizer special, an entree special, a sandwich special, etc. each week.
  • A Late Night 'Fry' Menu - Although the full menu will not be available, Sticky Rice will remain open until 2 AM Sunday through Thursday and 3 AM Friday and Saturday.   Once the main kitchen closes, a fry menu will feature tater tots, sticky balls, garden balls and other fried goodness.
  • Experienced chefs from the start - Four of the chefs from the Richmond Sticky Rice will be coming up to Washington for two months to make sure that the new kitchen delivers the way the original does.
  • Nightly events including "Sushi Heaven" on Mondays (half-priced sushi from 10:30 to 12:30 PM), Karaoke on Tuesday, Blingo (speed bingo) on Thursdays and trivia nights on Sundays.

Sticky Rice has seating capacity for roughly 100 people on two levels and an outdoor seating area on the second floor.  They will open from 5 PM every night, though the kitchen hours will vary from night to night.

Sticky Rice - Opening next week
1224 H Street, NE
(202) 397-ROLL (397-7655)

Cheese & Wine Bar Now Open at Cheesetique

Img_4515_2 When Cheesetique opened in its new location last month, one of the most exciting developments was not yet in place.  As I mentioned in my write-up, proprietor Jill Erber's big plans for the new space included a cheese & wine bar at the rear of the shop.  This week, those plans came to fruition with a Tuesday night opening.

Fans of the cheeses and charcuterie sold at Cheesetique can now enjoy them paired with wines by the glass in a casual dining environment.  Reminiscent of a small bistro or cafe, the space is dominated by a white marble bar that runs the length of the left-hand wall.  Behind the bar, large smoked-glass mirrors and red shelves give the space a warm and friendly character.  The remainder of the cozy dining area features table seating (marble makes another appearance on the unadorned tabletops) for roughly thirty guests at any given time.

Gazpacho_2 And those guests are in for a treat.  Chef Cat's menu goes beyond meats and cheeses in delicious, if predictable ways.  Several salads and sandwiches are available at very reasonable prices, with none of the entree offerings coming in over $10.  Artisanal quiches and panini featuring a variety of fillings will rotate on and off of the menu on a regular basis - the prosciutto panini we ate on our visit was definitely a highlight of the meal.  And the gazpacho that accompanies the upscale grilled cheese packs a delicious chili pepper heat in with the crisp, cool chunks of cucumber that swim in the tomato base.  The soup is available on its own for $3, a bargain compared to standard restaurant fare.

Img_4512_2Even so, the stars of the show are naturally the meats, cheeses and wines that you would expect to feature prominently in this setting.  Though you might anticipate the entire catalog of cheeses to be avialable in the bar, there is actually a small but diverse selection of ten different cheeses. They are featured on the Cheese Cart that stands at the ready beside the bar and can be wheeled to your table to show off the goods.  Our choices included a triple-cream brie, a honey goat cheese, a raw-milk aged cheddar, and a pair of blue cheeses among others - enough to give us pause, but not as many options as we might have hoped. 

Img_4518_2 These cheeses can be enjoyed on their own or in groups, and they come served with fresh, crusty bread.  If you're looking to make a more substantial plate, a variety of charcuterie choices are also available.  They range from the familiar (prosciutto, soppresata) to the more unique (lomo - a cured, pressed pork loin that was rich and flavorful).  A combination of three cheeses and three meats that comes with cornichons, olives, grainy mustard and bread runs $25, and it is a great way to experience a diverse group of flavors in one sitting.  The advice of your server can be invaluable as you try to balance your order - but don't hesitate to focus on your favorites if you know what you like!

Cheesetique's bar offers almost two dozen wines by the glass or the bottle, with prices starting at $7 per glass.  They run the gamut from sparkling wines to dessert wines, with a wide range of reds and whites to choose from.  Some basic pairing notes are included on the menu, but again your best bet is to ask your server for a recommendation to make sure your pinot noir and your Parrano don't clash.  A selection of beers that match up well with cheeses is also available, and the connection between the restaurant and the retail space is reinforced by a 10% discount offered on the purchase of wines that are featured in the cheese bar.

Img_4505 As with any completely new venture, there are still some small kinks to be worked out - the most noticeable is the Cheese Cart's inability to navigate the spaces between some of the tables when filled.  Additionally, my wife's order was inadvertently delivered to another table, resulting in her sandwich arriving just as we were finishing my panino. But the service was very friendly and quick to respond, and the team at Cheesetique seems like they are already off to a great start with only one night's service under their belts.

Cheesetique's Cheese & Wine Bar is open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 PM to 9 PM, and they do not accept reservations.  They are located at 2411 Mount Vernon Avenue, in the heart of Del Ray.  Street parking is available, and there is a small lot on the block for patrons.

RedRocks Opening This Evening

Outside2I just got final word that RedRocks, the new wood-fired pizza restaurant in Columbia Heights, is opening this evening for business. Even more interesting news is that the ex-long-time pizza guy from 2 Amys, Edan MacQuaid, will be the executive chef at RedRocks which gives me high hopes for this new pizza spot.

Per the press release, "The 95 seat, 1,800 square foot restaurant will offer both traditional and gourmet pizzas straight from the 800 degree brick oven, as well as café fare including fresh panini with housemade bread, salads and starters, wines by the bottle and the glass, Chimay Triple and Allagash White on tap and 30 beers and microbrews by the bottle."

You gotta love Chimay on tap...

Hours will be:

Monday – Thursday, 5 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Friday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Hook Restaurant

Ever since I found out that Barton Seaver was leaving Cafe Saint Ex to go to Hook in late February, I've been anxiously awaiting the restaurant's opening. One of the things I liked the most about Cafe Saint Ex were the seafood dishes, and the idea that Hook would be primarily a seafood restaurant was exciting.

There's obviously been a lot of buzz around the opening of Hook, because calling same day to get a reservation and Thursday was challenging. As usual my lack of planning ahead meant I couldn't to drop by Hook until the following Saturday after it opened. The place was bustling with people.

The space, previously occupied by Cilantro, has been completely remodeled to give it a sleek, modern look. The bar at Hook takes up almost half of the restaurant, which will make it a popular happy hour spot for the Georgetown crowd. Even though space is limited, the owners haven't spaced the tables too closely together, so you have a good amount of privacy when eating. Despite the modern look, the atmosphere is pretty casual at Hook, but people still seem to dress up a little (Dress is dress casual to business casual.) Amy noticed that high heeled stilettos were a common sight.

The wines selection seems well thought out and the prices will suit anyones budget ($26 to $140 a bottle). Most interesting is that the wines are sorted by how strong and complex the flavor is which makes it easy to pick out a wine. Of course, when you're dealing with seafood, it can't hurt to pick out a Muscadet (I had a nice Muscadet from Loire, France and loved it. It's a very good choice at $28 a bottle.)

You should start you meal at Hook with a crudo sampler (or two). Crudo are slices of raw fish (basically sushi Sashimi) that come served with some condiments like a grapefruit slice, ginger, an oil, or something similar. For the more adventurous fish eater, skip the oyster, tuna, and salmon, and go for the wahoo, weakfish, or mackerel which have more interesting preparation. If you're there with a companion, the sampler comes with three that can each be shared between two, so don't feel like you need to order a set for each person.

For appetizers, the grilled shrimp are a hit and give any grilled shrimp in the area a run for their money (yes, even Ray's). They come on top of salty stewed beans that taste like they have a ton of pork fat in them. We also had the "country ham tasting" which is a Virginia version of a Charcuterie plate, but in the stead of prosciutto and french bread, you get Virginia ham and biscuits. I really think this would be perfect if it came with some sausage gravy on the side instead of mustard.

Fish dominate the entrees at Hook like the rest of the menu, except for the mushroom risotto and pork belly dishes. I really enjoyed the bluefish which is one of your more dense, oily fishes, but is complemented nicely with a basil pesto. Serving sizes aren't huge, which can be one of the drawbacks depending on how you look at it. Personally, I was pretty full at the end of the night and you know how big of an appetite I have.

Desserts are done by Heather Chittum, formerly of Circle Bistro, Dish, Notti Bianche, and...oh right, Citronelle. My favorite dessert ever from Circle Bistro has returned on the menu at Hook which are the Madeleines. They're soft and lemony and a light way to finish off the meal.

Oh, and I happened to bump into Sebastian Zutant at the bar, former sommelier of Komi, Rasika and the future sommelier of Proof. When I asked about the status of Proof, he said that it wont be open until very late May. He seemed to be having a good time like Amy and I, although it could have been the wine.

Hook Restaurant
3241 M St NW
Washington, DC 20007