A couple of things before I get into the details of each of the restaurants: First, high end solo dining is awesome. Obviously, the best scenario would have been to have my wife with me so that we could enjoy it all together. BUT if she were with me, there’s no way we would have hit all of these restaurants…this adventure involved a little bit of money. But as far as going solo, man it is great. In my experience, you are very, very well taken care of…..whether it’s because they feel sorry for the orphan, or because if you are there alone you are there for the food…whatever, no idea. Maybe it’s just me. Not to brag, but if you want the most a restaurant has to offer, I’m a good dining companion for you. I research the living shit out of restaurants like these before I go, so usually I am familiar with the menu and I constantly engage the staff to discuss the food and various aspects of the service and restaurant itself. I am great at schmoozing….and it’s not fake, I am genuinely happy to be there and if you are good to me I’m your buddy. And I tip really well. So a three and a half hour meal by my lonesome is a hell of a good time. Plus, you get to listen to other conversations and hear things like “Have you had foie gras??? It is SOOOOOOOOO FRENCH!!”. Second, the no-booze thing…..I have this weird inferiority complex, like I’m robbing the restaurant by not ordering wine. So when I declined any cocktails or pairings, it was in an apologetic manner….kind of stupid I guess, because I quickly learned that nobody really cared. Sure, they would love to double your check, but ultimately they want you to have a great experience. Looking at other tables during all of my dinners I saw several folks who, for whatever reason, didn’t order booze. Sure, I miss having wine, but honestly, I just enjoy the food more now….no dulling of my mind and palate from downing a bottle or two. AAANNNNDDD….non-alcoholic drinks and various housemade colas and ginger ales abounded during my stay. No booze was no big deal, and like I said, I tip really, really well….kind of like when you use a gift certificate and you still tip on the original amount. Part of my tip comes from the fact I just want to give a little extra to my server because I would have normally plunked another hundred bucks onto the bill at a minimum when I drank. Oh, if you are one of those people who subtract tax and alcohol before you figure a tip….please stop reading and go away. Seriously. I hate you. You are a stupid, stingy fucker with no class and if you’re doing math to save a few dollars off of the hundreds you just dropped, I guarantee you are one of those entitled pain in the ass types who just lacks joy and basic social skills. Fuck off. You are a pariah with a completely flawed philosophy on life. Your spouses and children abhor you and plot against you behind your back.
So now that those pricks are gone, on to the goddamn wonderment….
DISCLAIMER: The following acts were performed by a professional. Do not attempt to recreate this itinerary without extensive research and prior experience. I shit you not. Money aside, it was very intense.
DISCLAIMER #2: I have given up on compiling exhaustive and consistent descriptions of dishes. I just jot down whatever hits me, I let go of that bizarre OCD thing. I’m thankful for others who go to the lengths I used to, I love food porn, but the writing, the picture taking…bleh. I take pictures when it feels appropriate, and always after I get reassurance from a server that the chef and staff don’t think of it as completely douche-y. But again, I’m not consistent and sometimes I just don’t feel like doing it. I’m there for peace, good conversations, and the food. The food blogger shit is way down on the priority list.
Saturday Night at Eola–
Now this is a place I didn’t know existed until I mentioned my love of offal over on eGullet when I began planning this trip. Initially, the menu sounded a little gimmicky, but the few reviews available were very positive. I actually moved my reservation for Restaurant Eve to Monday night in order to eat at Eola. Smart goddamn move on my part, let me tell you! Chef Daniel Singhofen is going some amazingly tasty stuff! Wouldn’t it be annoying if I switched into exclamation mark mode when describing the food? WINNING!
So, nice walk-up former residence (I assume) just off of Dupont Circle…low lighting, clean and subtle room, comfy, cozy, lots of dark wood…a pleasant amount of the chill-factor.
As it is with most “faincy” restaurants, the service starts off pretty formal and evolves to suit you and your demeanor and attitude. I’m a guy who wants to have fun, enjoy good food, and be the easiest table the staff is going to have all night long. I put a very, very big premium on waitstaff who are emotionally invested in the restaurant and have real opinions on the food, and are enthusiastic about it. I was lucky on this trip, because I got that at every single restaurant. Another common element was the sensitivity the staff had towards how you would like to pace the meal. I have a tiny stomach now, so I adjusted accordingly in order to let digestion happen and avoid the bariatric-sweats.
Quick note- there was no initial mention of a tasting menu option when my server presented me with the list of dishes. But as soon as I asked, we were off and running.
Deep Fried Pig’s Ear
The ears are brined, slow cooked, sliced and tempura fried, then served with a housemade tartar sauce. Deep fried lip smackity jaw gumming goodness.
Amuse Bouche- Confit of Pork heart with pecan– a “minerally and sweet” intro to the meal that let’s you know what you are in for.
Sous Vide Duck Egg with garlic broth and comte
This was the only dish I was iffy about, It was very tasty and rich, but maybe too subtle. Either the broth needed a little oomph or it could have used more texture.
Chicken fried pork tongue- pickled shallots, lentils, spiced apple puree
The brined tongue had more of a corned beef flavor and texture than tongue, and it was rock star good. This was definitely the “it may have sounded gimmicky at first, but this shit is for-real good” moment of the night. Damn,damn, damn good dish. And it was proof that the Chef Singhofen not only knew how to cook tongue, he knew how to do a proper, crispy, flaky chicken fry. Throughout the meal, whatever direction he took the ingredients, he always started with a very solid technical foundation and went from there. I really like this guy.
FBLT- bacon cured foie gras, truffled brioche, micro greens, madeira reduction
Probably the best dish of the night and without question the richest thing I’ve ever eaten. Completely and utterly insane. When I say it was the richest thing I’ve ever eaten, I’m not fucking around. And it made me emotional. Fortunately for me, there were a handful of these moments during my whole trip, but this was the first instance…a “what the fuck” moment on steroids. So powerful that the only way I can describe it is to paint a picture….the feeling that hit me so strongly the image that came to mind was a college freshman jock still wearing his high school letter jacket like you see in one of those bad Oxygen movies who is gay but is in such deep and painful denial that he overcompensates with overt but awkward manliness until his first year in college when he has a Brokeback moment that goes horribly wrong….joyfully and blissfully locked in a forbidden embrace until the pain of his closeted existence boils over as self-loathing revulsion; and he reacts quickly and violently…so quickly that the joy has not completely left him, so he sobs as he rains blows down upon the object of his affection, tears streaming, snot bubbles the size of oranges…..letter jacket collar askew, soul torn open, lost, guilty, wide eyed and unable to process the moment……….I hated that sandwich…..I loved that sandwich so much….I could not bite it hard enough but I knew with each movement of my jaw our time together dwindled away…..why did it even have to be here? Who thought this was a good idea? Why does it make me feel so dirty? OK- so from here on instead of painting that picture over again when I get to one of those dishes I’ll just say something like “it was gay jock hate crime of love good” or something to that effect. If you’ve seen the episode of HBO’s “The Wire” where Chris beats that guy to death so badly it freaks Snoop out….throw some of that in there too. Just bam bam bam bam bam.
Pig Brain Tortellini
Again, sounds offal-trendy, but the pasta itself was absolutely perfect and the consistency of the brains made it a dish you could pass off as cheese filled. Singhofen’s hand at homemade pasta is top notch, he knows what he is doing…I’d like to see his exploration in pastas in the same way his chicken-fry technique appeals to me.
Black Cod- sous vide with black olive paste, Carolina wild rice, cayenne glass
I’d had a ton of food already and been hammered with richness, so it took me a few moments to recover in order to enjoy this course. Totally delicious, the sous vide made it feel and taste like a perfectly cooked sweet scallop. Maybe the best texture of any fish dish I’ve had, and the black olive was prominent without being overpowering. The more I ate, the more I liked it. An intriguing combination of flavors I had not experienced before.
Lamb Croquette with arugula puree, barley and barley broth foam
Very rich, a briney flavor to it, but I was told it had not been brined (and from various staff comments, Singhofen is as big a proponent of brining as Thomas Keller). Would make an incredible breakfast dish, or something you’d eat to comfort you while trapped indoors during a blizzard.
Braised beef cheek with a red wine reduction and Anson Mill grits
What do you say about something like this? Sunday dinner good. Damn I love beef cheek. I do not know why it isn’t on more menus.
Cheese Course– I don’t actually remember what all was there, but pretty standard stuff. A nice small and manageable amount. I’m pretty much over the cheese course as a concept, with two very notable exceptions in upcoming reviews.
Orange Blossom Panna Cotta
My server told me that as he and the chef discussed the construction of my tasting menu, he knew I’d need something nice and light to finish off the meal. Excellent, excellent choice…..a nice few creamy citrusy bites to cleanse my palate and wake me back up.
Speaking of waking up….I am convinced that restaurants should do away with brewed coffee completely and make the switch to French press. I roast my own coffee, so I’m a pretty tough customer to impress, and Eola does a good job and actually has a selection of coffees from which to choose.
I’ll definitely go back to Eola, it was a wonderful experience and scratched the offal itch in a big way. The staff is all about the food and extremely willing to accommodate you in any manner as far as portion sizes and progression of the meal. Top notch, highly recommended. What a wonderful start to my trip.
Oh, I will at least MENTION the Nuevo Latino Dim Sum Brunch at Café Atlantico Dim…..not going to do a real review or post pictures. Not because it was bad, it just wasn’t a major component of the trip. Even though some of the dishes are classics from the minibar menu, it’s not even in the same galaxy as the minibar experience. Plus, cranking out such a huge number of the dishes and serving them to so many people at once interferes with the quality of the food and the service. Temperatures were a little off on some of the dishes, and in some cases a runner would drop off the food well before a server could come over and explain it. At 35 bucks, plus the fact I don’t think they charged me for a couple of extra bites I asked for, it’s still a great deal. It’s just not at the minibar level, or even a regular dinner at Café Atlantico for that matter. I’m still really loyal to the restaurant, and I’m sure I’ll always find a reason to visit when I’m in town, but maybe not the brunch.
Here’s what is on the chef’s menu right now…
Endive w/Queso Fresco Espuma, walnut and orange
Tuna Ceviche w/Coconut
Mango and Anchovy foam ravioli
Hot and Cold Foie Gras Soup
Potato with Vanilla and Caviar
Sauteed Mushrooms with 63 degree egg
Pork Belly Confit with Passion Fruit Oil
Fried Egg with Black Bean and Pork
So more reviews to follow….there’s a lot to cover but I knew I had to break it all up.