Thursday, February 11, 2010

Might as well stop eating now.

I'm going to tell you a little story. And it might make you roll your eyes a little, and it might make you take me a little less seriously, but it will most certainly put the events of a certain evening at Fruition into perspective.

The first night Kevin and I ate together, I knew I would probably keep dating him because he traded plates with me halfway through the meal. This is an odd thing on which to base a relationship. I'll admit that. But food is really, really important to me.

Flash forward a few dinner dates. Somewhere around TAG. Kevin and I come to the realization that we need to talk about our entree choices because we usually end up wanting the same thing. His mom thought it was hilarious. (I can see your eyes rolling. HANG IN THERE.)

Fast forward again. It's a Friday and we've got a very rare 6:45 reservation at Fruition. The maitre d' is charming. He wears a bow tie. He tells me he likes my dress, says women don't dress up enough in Colorado. I appreciate this.

(Sidebar: you may remember that the maitre d' at Six89 had a bow tie. Then we had an excellent meal. Fruition's maitre d': bow tie. Fruition's food: mind blowing. Coincidence? I think not. I'm thinking of adopting this as a litmus test for restaurants I visit, similar to how I usually buy bottles of wine based on their labels. It hasn't let me down yet.)

Anyhow, the restaurant was busy, and had the feeling of a friendly bustle for the entire time we wee there (nearly 2.5 hours). Our seating wasn't perfect (a bit closer to the draft from the door than I might have liked), but I think we were just happy to have a table...and I was happy to watch the bow-tied maitre d'.

The crowd skewed slightly older, but there was a diverse mix. Midway through our meal, a couple seated at the table next to us were celebrating a birthday dinner. One of the diners gave his partner a first edition copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Seriously. Click that link. I think that is a pretty good indicator of how seriously people who eat at Fruition take their food.

This wine list was extensive, though the selection of wines by the glass was somewhat limited. Understandable, because this is the kind of place where you want to linger with a bottle of wine. I ordered a pinot (big surprise) and Kevin ordered a zinfandel. One of the rotating cast of characters that served as erstwhile waiters (while ours was...I don;t know...practicing his maddeningly vague accent?) brought bread, with butter, sea salt and herbs.

Round One: Starters

Winner: Kevin

Veal cheek pot pie, in the cutest little cast iron pot I've ever seen. Kevin said he wished he had about five more. Or a giant one. Or five giant ones. The puff pastry was flaky, the vegetables perfect (not too mushy). Of course, i can't accurately speak to the wonders of this dish, as I only got about one bite of it. This was very abnormal behavior for my dinner date.

I had a microgreen and winter vegetable salad with hazel vinaigrette and prosciutto. It was delightful. But I really wanted that pot pie.

Round Two: Entrees

Winner: Sara

Both of us wanted to order one of two things: confit pork shoulder, or beef culottes. I (maybe a little sneakily) ordered first so I could get the pork, and it was the best selfish decision I've ever made. Confit pork shoulder (click here for a definition) served over sweet potato polenta, with a salad of pears, candied walnuts, red grapes and microgreens. This dish was an example of how simplicity can sing - how the fruit brought out the sweetness int he slow-cooked pork; the bitterness of the walnuts balanced the richness of the polenta. I almost cried a little. I reluctantly parted with two bites. Very strange behavior indeed.

Kevin ordered the beef, and it was excellent. I had some. There were potatoes and carrots involved. It was beautifully cooked. But I just don't remember it. Sometimes, the best things in life overshadow even the really good ones. (See also: Pirate's Booty vs. Cheetos).

Round Three: After Dinner Drinks

Winner: Depends on how you define "winner"

I ordered a Muscat. Kevin ordered Scotch. I really enjoyed my dessert wine. Kevin really enjoyed his Scotch. So much so, in fact, that he wondered why I do not enjoy Scotch. So I tried some, and very nearly died. I think he was punishing me for not sharing more pork. It was worth it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I have a thing for hipster bars

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I've been really hard on the DC restaurant scene in the past. Seems to me like they're contrite because they have to appeal to both left (communist) and right (boring) sensibilities in a town like Washington.

So that seems to be the problem with the "nice" restaurants. Every place that's no-frills, or cheap, has been at least decent, and a couple have been really good.

I was in DC this weekend for work. My twin brother, who is much a more talented writer than I, and better looking to boot, lives in DC with his wife Javi. The three of us get along for lots of reasons - a shared mistrust of politicians, a desire for the snow to go away, and a love for food that some would call perverse.

Anyway, they fed me a couple of times and gave me a couch to sleep on one night.

Before I get to the restaurant portion of this blog, I must tell you of one place that's starting to feel like home to me in DC - the Capitol Lounge, at 229 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. We've been a handful of times, and their pub fare is decent, affordable and touts the right amount of grease. Also, they have Dale's Pale Ale on tap, and that makes me feel right at home.

It's apparently a Michigan State bar, and that's okay, because while I might prefer U of M, most of the people inside are nice folks, a welcome relief from the DC bar scene.

Anyway, food. On Sunday night, we ended up at a place called Bar Pilar. Everything about this place screams hip, and when we sat down and had an immediate problem with our waitress, I was thinking, "Here we go, again." After receiving our drinks, the place started to fill up and our waitress went from late to absent. But that's DC, so I won't mention her again. We tipped her well, cause God Bless Her, SHE WAS TRYING SO HARD, but there's only so much of being ignored you can take.

I was pleasantly surprised at the food, though. We all shared plates, and the portions, while small, were reasonably priced. Javi: Cremini mushrooms that reminded me of the county fair and a Shrimp risotto that only I liked. (Andrew said it was too creamy. Javi didn't say much about it at all, which means she just wasn't a big fan.) Andrew: Caramelized Exotic mushrooms that were really earthy and meaty. Duck Confit in a homemade dijon mustard, cooked fantastically with a crispy outside and juicy in. Me: Roasted potatoes with rosemary and a lemon-garlic aioli. The potatoes were cooked well and flash fried in what tasted to me like a thinned down bacon fat. And I also had suckling pig that almost caused me to forget how far I was from home.

They both loved it, and so did I, aside from the minor freakout I had about almost losing my wallet. "The food's probably the best I've had in DC so far," Andrew said.

I second that emotion. It's sort of close to one of the many bad parts of town, and in the middle of being gentrified. Dangerous! But it's worth the drive to NW, and it's worth wading through the scarf-wearing, tight-jeaned, let's-drink-PBR crowd. Lots of times, these people will eat any old thing if it's moderately priced and they hear from their dealer that "it's good," but this time, these hipsters are lucky that the chef of Bar Pilar actually cares about the food he's serving to a bunch of ironic JD Salinger disciples. Me included.