Monthly Archives: May 2009

Proof: They Serve Food, Too!

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Wine display at Proof

Proof, in Washington’s Penn Quarter neighborhood, certainly takes Benjamin Franklin’s statement, “Wine is proof that God loves us,” to heart. The restaurant is known for its wine “program”: sixteen whites and sixteen reds available by the glass dispensed by a stainless steel Enomatic machine from Italy, a Champagne trolley for tableside access, and a dictionary-sized wine list. These offerings, combined with the enthusiastic sommelier and elegantly displayed racks of bottles decorating the back of the dining room, represent the focus of the establishment.
Indeed, Proof feels more like a wine bar or a trendy lounge than a restaurant. The lighting is very dim and the noise level is on the loud side. The crowd is primarily young, and many people choose to hang out at the bar for drinks only.
But my experience at Proof delved beyond their well-known wine and accompanying cheese plates, and my dinner was very good. We began with the roasted beet salad, served with carrots, aged goat cheese, pea shoots, and toasted hazelnuts in a sherry mustard vinaigrette. The goat cheese, was exceptional, as expected, but the other ingredients were fresh and flavorful too. We also started with a small plate of seared foie gras, which was immediately followed by another small plate of seared foie gras because we enjoyed the first so much.
For main course I shared both the halibut and the duck breast. The halibut filet was seasoned with Vadouvan spices according to the menu, but the dish really got its flavor from the coconut emulsion in which it was served, alongside jasmine rice and baby red kale. The duck dish also displayed a tension between sweet and savory. The Pekin duck, glazed in honey, was served with roasted yam purée and grilled ramps (spring onions) in a blackberry-almond vinaigrette. I was pleasantly surprised by these two dishes as both  were prepared well and had very interesting flavors, but the duck proved to be a more memorable dish due to its especially unique combination of ingredients.
There is little doubt that Proof is outstanding for its wine, and the restaurant works hard to maintain this reputation and a corresponding atmosphere. But the restaurant’s chef, Haidar Karoum, deserves praise for his modern American menu and its admirable preparation. While Proof is a great place to go for a glass of wine and a cheese plate to share, it is also worth sticking around for a full meal.

Proof
775 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 737-7663

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You Know It’s Fresh: BlackSalt

blacksalt_aboutImage1The Palisades neighborhood of DC, home of BlackSalt, feels more like a yuppie suburb than a part of the district. Indeed, BlackSalt is not just a restaurant; the building also serves as a fish market, giving the establishment a casual, local feel. A market display of fish is prominently located just through the entrance, and so when I walked into BlackSalt, I immediately checked out the potential ingredients of my future meal. The soft shell crabs were the first to catch  my eye, as they were the first I had seen of the season. I also noticed that the scallops looked particularly fresh, and so the fish market display certainly influenced the way I would later order at the restaurant.
Complementing BlackSalt’s location, the restaurant’s crowd is not as trendy as many other seafood restaurants in the city, such as Georgetown’s Hook. But the atmosphere is certainly chic and the service is young and friendly. The enthusiastic sommelier helped us choose a great wine: EIEIO and Company’s 2006 Chardonnay from Willamette Valley, Oregon—a choice I would never make on my own.
We started with wood grilled Mediterranean sardines with olive persillade and lemon. While these were good, they paled in comparison to the soft shell crabs we ordered off the menu. The preparation on the menu was in a smoked bacon-malt gastrique, and so we specially ordered them simply prepared with flour and lightly pan sautéed. This is my favorite preparation of soft shell crab because it allows their flavor and texture to really shine—unlike oft-seen deep fried and tempura styles. In fact, we could not get enough of these crabs and promptly ordered another plate.

Fish Market at BlackSalt

Fish Market at BlackSalt

While my instinct with the soft shell crabs proved to be spot-on, I was slightly disappointed with the scallop dish. Although it was on the appetizer menu, I did not anticipate the miniscule size of the dish: Seared day boat scallop (singular) with morel mushrooms and capers in a brown butter sauce with a pine nut, parmesan, and spinach-filled raviolio (also singular). While it had good flavor and the scallop was very good, the dish provided only about 3 bites. I could not help but feel a little ripped off.
We also tried “Addie’s Mussels,” blue shell, rope-cultured mussels from Prince Edward Island in a shallot, garlic, tomato, and lemon sauce, which were delicious. Finally, we had the Rhode Island skate wing, which also looked particularly fresh in the market’s display. The skate was prepared in charred ramp-balsamic vinaigrette, which provided a very strong balsamic flavor. This was also served with a sweet potato confit, which complemented the dish well in an overall successful entrée. We skipped dessert after our multiple courses of soft shell crab and other seafood as the rest of the crowd went home to relieve their babysitters.
BlackSalt is a great place to go for fresh seafood prepared well. The dishes are not incredibly creative, just as the establishment is not especially exciting, but the ingredients are fresh and tasty. Just do not count on hailing a cab in the Palisades—call at least 15 minutes before the meal ends to ensure a ride back to civilization.

BlackSalt
4883 MacArthur Blvd, NW
Washington, DC 20007
(202) 342-9101

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A Taste of Spain in Washington

f_baenaShortly after my trip to Spain, I went out for Catalonian tapas at Bodega in Georgetown. I had enjoyed Bodega in the past, but this time I was able to appreciate its authenticity having just returned from Barcelona. While the atmosphere is funkier than anywhere I had eaten in Spain, the menu lists all of the same dishes as the tapas restaurants in Catalonia.
The meal began with bread and extraordinary olive oil, Crismona imported from Spain. The manager told me the restaurant specially orders it from A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market in Bethesda, MD.  A&H is both wholesale and retail, so Crismona can be purchased there in a variety of quantities. I promptly called and ordered some to be shipped to my house.
Every dish I have ordered at Bodega has been very good. The seared diver scallops with creamy caper sauce and sautéed fava beans made me re-think my general distaste for fava beans. The sautéed shrimp in garlic and Crismona Virgin Olive Oil is delicious, doubtless because of the high quality olive oil. The patatas bravas are exactly like the ones I ate in Girona, Spain—hot and crispy and delicious.
My recent experience at Bodega was for a late afternoon snack, so I did not try the paella or any of the other larger, heavier dishes. However, Bodega is certainly a great place to stop for a light meal during an afternoon of shopping in Georgetown.

Bodega                                                         A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market
Spanish Tapas and Lounge                     4960 Bethesda Avenue
3116 M St, NW                                           Bethesda, MD 20814
Washington, DC 20007                           (301) 986-9692
(202) 333-4733

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Catalonian Travel Tidbits

Seafood Paella at Palat

Seafood Paella at Palat

–    Cava sangria at Origins: the food is pretty standard at this little tapas café but sangria made from the region’s sparkling wine is exceptional. A great place to stop in for an afternoon glass.
Vidrería 6-8, Barcelona

–    Salt Cod Fritters: a classic Catalonian dish that is not as scary as it sounds. The fritters are lightly fried balls of salt cod and dough. We tried them at Taller de Tapas, C. de l’Argenteria, 51.

–    Banys Orientals Hotel: The rooms are comfortable and the people are friendly, but Banys Orientals is really great for its location. In the heart of the Born neighborhood of Barcelona, Banys Orientals is surrounded by places to eat and walking distance to the Picasso museum. Argenteria 37, Barcelona 08003

– Sutton discoteca: great nightclub with a young, Spanish crowd. Open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and eves of holidays. Calle tuset 13- Barcelona 08006

Crema Catalana at Palat

Crema Catalana at Palat

–    Hotel Históric in Girona: Girona is a great city located about 85 kilometers (53 miles) outside Barcelona. It is easily accessible by train but the car ride is also beautiful. Girona has many great restaurants and shops, especially in the old part of the city; but it is famous as the home of many Tour de France athletes. Indeed, Hotel Históric attained fame when Lance Armstrong among other bikers stayed there. Hotel Históric has both hotel rooms and apartments, and the large apartments equipped with multiple bedrooms and a kitchen are actually cheaper to stay in. We only stayed in Girona for a few days and traveled all along the Costa Brava from there, so we did not use our kitchen, but the produce in the area is phenomenal and the kitchen may be useful for longer stays.c/Bellmirall 4a, 170004 Girona Tel: +34 972 22 35 83

–    For great paella and beautiful seaside dining: Visit Palat in the small town Calella de Palafrugel along the Costa Brava.

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