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.


  1. Kev! You forgot to mention the orgasmically delicious flourless chocolate cake with the hazelnut icecream (which tasted like Ferrero Rochet). Noms.


  2. DC is tough. The entire town feels like a hotel bar. The dearth of neighborhood dives and long-established family-owned restaurants can be a little discouraging. That said, I have found some places I really like:

    Granville Moore's serves better mussels than you'll find just about anywhere, and the beer/bourbon coupled with the fact the place was a 19th century dentist's office make the whole experience that much cooler.

    On the U Street corridor, near Howard, just down the block from the world famous Ben's Chilli Bowl (where only Bill Cosby and the Obamas eat free, according to a sign behind the counter), there's a place called Oohs and Aahs that serves amazing soul food. It's a bit pricy for takeout, but you can split a $15 entree that comes with two sides and bread and still have leftovers.

    The dive bar scene in D.C. is pathetic. Atrocious. The pits. But in Mount Pleasant there's a place called Raven Grill that's been there probably since the 50s, has a great jukebox and, on weeknights, is tolerably quiet. Sure, the tight jeans and ironic mustaches come out on the weekends to pack the place, but during the week you can get some great Latin American eats in the neighborhood on the cheap and then close out a nice evening with friends at the Raven.