Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where to Eat: District Kitchen

A few weeks ago, I watched the Ravens lose to the Patriots in the AFC title game and immediately fell into a deep depression on par with the time I was six and dropped a double scoop ice cream cone in the mud.  That incident still haunts me, much like I imagine the image of Billy Cundiff missing a 32-yard field goal will be forever burned into my brain.      

Thankfully, I had plans to meet a friend after the tragic game for dinner at the recently opened District Kitchen.  I was hopeful that we would find it to be a welcome addition to the rather subpar Woodley Park restaurant scene, and I am happy to report that it is indeed a bright spot on an otherwise dull street.  For starters, I am a big believer in the importance of ambiance in creating a memorable dining experience, and District Kitchen has got that down pat.



The restaurant’s exposed brick walls and low lighting lend an invitingly cozy air to the joint, and District Kitchen manages to pull off the perfect balance between casual and upscale.  It’s a nice place, but not stuffy or ornate.  It’s romantic, but minimalist, with a crowd that’s lively but spaced out enough that you won’t feel smothered by fellow patrons.  Furthermore, everyone from the hostess to the bartender to the waitress was incredibly welcoming.  

But none of these things ultimately matter if the food is no good.  Fortunately, that’s not the case, a fact made evident by the clean plates we left at the end of the evening.  There aren’t a ton of vegetarian options unless you combine small plates, but I was intrigued by the lone vegetarian entree, a mushroom “french dip”, and very much enjoyed the combination of crusty bread with a creamy mushroom and bean topping.  I’m picturing some of my meat-eating friends gagging at this, but I promise- it was actually quite tasty.  My friend ordered the duck leg confit, which she deemed delicious, and we split an order of fries, which I deemed mine.  No, I did actually share them like a grown up, but they were so tasty I could’ve easily housed them all on my own.  And I don’t even like fries that much.      

For dessert, we shared the chocolate pot de crème, which arrived with chocolate shortbread and salted caramel whipped cream.  It was as delicious as it sounds, and I’m pretty sure you could put their salted caramel whipped cream on top of an old shoe and I’d still have a go at it.     

So what’s the downside?  The price.  The main dishes run from $17 for my vegetarian entree to $28 for the seared halibut.  Not outrageous for a fancy-ish place, but a bit overpriced.  Then again, you’re paying for the service, ambiance, and location- steps from the Woodley Park metro- and a few extra bucks is, in my opinion, worth it.  Just don’t go on a Monday, because they will be closed and you will be sad.  Then you will remember that there is a Chipotle around the corner and feel better again.  Then you will feel uncomfortably full from your ginormous burrito and wish you had been able to go to District Kitchen instead.

On an unrelated note:    

If you’re not yet sick of all the talk of Valentine’s Day, and are single and looking for something fun to do, the folks over at AskRomeo are hosting a “Meet My Friend” mixer at James Hoban’s Irish Restaurant and Bar.  It starts at 7:00 pm on Valentine’s Day and will feature free finger food and extensive drink specials.  So if any of you lovely ladies or dapper gents are looking to mingle, make new friends, or simply get drunk on a budget, grab that platonic pal of yours and make your way toward Dupont Circle this Tuesday.  Check out their website for more details.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where to Take Her for Valentine's Day

A week from today is the holiday that all men and all single girls everywhere despise. It is, however, the day that all girls in relationships love. Because it forces their men to step up to the plate and be romantic. So, sorry guys, you have to suck it up.

As someone who was completely spoiled on Valentine's Day for years, I know how great it can be.

There was the year that he flew me to NYC and we went ice skating in Rockefeller Center and to a Broadway play. There was the year he took me to a little cozy bed and breakfast in the mountains of Vermont and had champagne waiting in room. There was the year he took me to Montreal and we wined and dined our way through the entire city.
Yes, I know most men don't go above and beyond like my ex boyfriend did. Hell, these days a simple "Happy Valentine's Day" text would impress me. Oh, how my standards have gone down. But, I digress.

Anywho, based on my experience being on the receiving end of some pretty friggin' romantic gestures on Valentine's Day, I think I'm the perfect person to offer advice to all you men out there trying to impress your girls.

Below are three date ideas for Valentine's Day. Do any one of them and she will be putty in your hands. And by putty, I mean she will take you home at the end of the night and sport a little Victoria's Secret number for you. See, when you look at it that way, it's a win-win for all parties involved!

Ice Skating at the Sculpture Garden followed by dinner at Rasika

I dated someone not too long ago who told me that a good date is always in two parts. He was right. I think one of the best ways to celebrate Valentine's Day would be to take advantage of the city we live in by taking her ice skating at the National Sculpture Garden. It's pretty inexpensive. $3 for rentals and $8 for admission, and boom, for $22 you've just totally impressed her. Now, as for your skating abilities? I can't help with that. That's up to you.
National Sculpture Garden Ice Rink
After you ice skate and hold hands and work up an appetite, walk up to Rasika at 6th and D Street. Rasika is by far one of the most romantic spots in downtown D.C. You can read my review here. Order cocktails. Share plates. Eat chocolate desserts. Tell her how much she means to you. Yada Yada Yada.

Lounge in the Tabard Inn

Dinner at Urbana followed by drinks and dessert at Tabard Inn

Tell her to meet you in Dupont Circle. But don't tell her where you are taking her. Then walk down P Street hand in hand to Urbana for dinner. Urbana, located in the Hotel Palomar, is uber cozy and uber romantic. Not to mention delicious.

The menu is northern Italian with influences from the south of France. And there are over 90 wines by the glass to choose from. The dining room is modern but intimate and at times feels like you are in a cozy wine cellar and a modern DC restaurant all at once. When you make reservations, request one of the half circle booths. Urbana is also featuring a special Valentine's Day menu that looks amazing.

After dinner, walk back up to the circle, down Connecticut Avenue, and take a left onto N Street to the Tabard Inn. This is where she will become putty. The Tabard Inn is everything a place should be for after dinner drinks. It's cozy with overstuffed couches and chairs. A fireplace and dim lighting. It's quaint with period pieces hanging on the wall. It's romantic because it is this little inn tucked right into the middle of the bustling Dupont Circle. And the cocktails? The cocktails are great. Order drinks and split a chocolate dessert. Then walk out and have the doorman hail you a cab so you can get home and naked stat.

Exterior of Volt in downtown historic Frederick
A Romantic Trip to Frederick, MD: Hiking and Dinner at Volt (will probably need to do this on the weekend either before or after Valentine's Day)

You know what doesn't get much more romantic? A trip out of town. Or as Bridget Jones would say, "a mini break!"

First off, do not tell her where you are going. Just tell her to pack hiking clothes and a fancy dinner outfit. Start off your Valentine's Day trip with hiking one of the many trails in and around historic Frederick, Maryland or in close by Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. I think hiking can be one of the most relaxing and romantic things a couple can do. Turn off the cell phones, get a good work out, make out in the middle of the wilderness. All good things.

Then, after the hike, check into a hotel for the evening. Frederick has extremely low rates on everything from traditional hotels to small bed and breakfasts. Check out the Frederick Tourism website for options. Take her to dinner at Volt. While I've never been, I hear that it is simply amazing. Executive Chef Bryan Voltaggio, a native of Frederick, believes in the farm-to-table commitment so the food is guaranteed to be local and fresh. In addition, Volt is in an old mansion. Does it get much more romantic than that?

I hope these three ideas help you plan a romantic evening for two!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Where to Eat: Little Fountain Cafe

Spurred on by a LivingSocial $20-for-$40 coupon, my intrepid gentleman caller and I made the chilly trek to the scant-parking and scant-clothing Mecca that is Adams Morgan on Saturday night to check out a new restaurant: Little Fountain Cafe.

Now, by "new," I mean new to me, as I'd never heard of the place before the coupon popped up in my email inbox. But as it turns out, I'd walked past it a million times before without ever realizing it.
Yes, folks, the diminutive restaurant ("Little" is apropos, as it only seats 38 guests at a time) is in the English basement right next door to Jumbo Slice:

If you've spent any amount of time in Adams Morgan (and if you're reading this, I'm assuming you have), you're probably more accustomed to watching a huge group of girls teetering down the street in six-inch heels and all manner of drunken discombobulatedness happening once the clock strikes last call. Surely, it's the last place you'd ever go for a romantic dinner a deux.

But that's just what Little Fountain Cafe provides, with its warm, cozy interior and internationally minded menu.

My man and I got non-alcoholic drinks (you'll see why I'm making this note in a minute) and appetizer salads, then he had the beef tenderloin and I had the gnocchi. We split the dark chocolate torte for dessert. Our total bill, pre-LivingSocial discount, came to about $70.

$70 for two people -- No. Alcohol. Added.

That struck me as a bit steep for the following reasons:

1. The salads weren't properly cut

So, you know how when you go to the grocery store and buy a head of Romaine lettuce, the lettuce comes in these giant leaves that you pull from the whole stalk? That's what made up our salads. And when you get served giant lettuce leaves with dressing all over them, it becomes super awkward to cut/eat at the table. Dressing flies all over the place, no matter how dainty you are with a knife and fork.

For $7 a salad, can't y'all back in the kitchen spend 2 extra seconds cutting it up for me? I'm not saying I'm a baby and I need things in bite-size morsels so I don't choke, but come on.

2. The server wasn't properly attired

The LivingSocial deal expired on Sunday, so the restaurant had been swarmed with people trying to use it before the deal was off. For this reason, I'm giving our server a pass for being a bit frazzled/not as quick to take our order and refill things as I'd have liked.

But, with that note, a caveat: Our server, who definitely was working hard and was as friendly as friendly could be (just want to make sure that's out there so I'm being fair), was wearing a gray T-shirt and jeans. In a romantic, Europe-inspired setting.

Not that she needed to be wearing a tux with full tails or anything, but for a place that's serving dinner for two sans alcohol  for $70, couldn't she have classed it up a bit? I didn't feel like I was in Europe; I felt like I was being picked up by my mom for soccer practice. She was surely setting our meals down then jetting out the door to pull the minivan around.

Other than that, the entrees were rich and filling, though I've had better chocolate tortes (this one wasn't as dense as other chocolate tortes I've had in the past).

So, to summarize: Good -- not excellent -- food, a steep price tag and a too-casual server. With that criteria, you'd think I'd be quick to dismiss this place altogether as somewhere I'll never return. But the interior was just so cozy and charming that I'm willing to give Little Fountain Cafe another shot to impress me.

Next time, though, I'm taking my mother -- she usually makes our meals together her treat.