Monday, July 18, 2011

Adour at the St. Regis, Washington DC

When Adour at the St. Regis, a restaurant in the Alain Ducasse empire, debuted in DC two years ago, critics weren’t wowed. A beautiful dining room, good service, and a plate of delicious macarons with the check couldn’t make up for frequently bland and uninspired cooking. But when The Washingtonian changed its tune this past January, ranking Adour #5 on its list of top DC restaurants, I knew it was time to go. Was this chef—known for excellence in the fine dining world—finally delivering on his promise in DC?

We began with the foie gras, which the waiter described as an interesting take on the classic “foie and something sweet.” Instead of fruit or jam, the chef was using fresh corn and ground corn (almost like polenta but more refined). It was a good move: the foie gras was savory with a touch of savory-sweetness on the side so that it wasn’t cloying. My mom and I split a portion, and we each had plenty of foie.

As a note, I split the appetizer and entrée portions with my mom, so these are all half sizes.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse at the entrée. All three of us ordered the cod on the waiter’s recommendation. The buttery fish served with vegetables was exactly what we had heard about Adour’s early days—bland and uninspired. Of course, we didn’t have any other entrees to compare it to. However, when I ate this dish I found myself wondering whether fish could ever be as transcendent at meat. Which is not what I should be wondering at a top 5 restaurant.

Things improved with dessert, but I wasn’t surprised because we all had the hazelnut soufflé, which has been lauded by critics since Adour’s earliest days. Towering and gorgeous with a scoop of orange sorbet on the side, the soufflé was a nice alternative to the usual chocolate or grand marnier versions. Unfortunately, if it weren’t for the soufflé, I don’t know what dessert I would have ordered. The menu was missing a standard “chocolate dessert” to appeal to every diner—a risky move (in my dessert-biased opinion), considering that there still seem to be a few flaws on the food menu.

Adour at the St. Regis
923 16th Street Northwest
Washington D.C., DC 20005
(202) 509-8000

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mussel Bar, Bethesda MD

I have always had a theory that it is nearly impossible for a restaurant on Bethesda Row to go out of business.  Between the sheer foot traffic, the lack of good restaurant competition, and did I mention the most amazing foot traffic (?!?) you would literally have to be serving rat poison to not make money.

Apparently Levante’s was serving rat poison.  Good riddance. 

Especially because in its place, there is now Mussel Bar.

Mussel Bar is the latest venture of Robert Wiedmaier, whose fancy restaurant Marcel’s is so good I want to see shows at the Kennedy Center just so that I have an excuse to eat there.  He also owns Brasserie Beck, a more casual brasserie serving Belgian cuisine, which can be a little heavy but is also very good.

Compared to Beck, the interior of Mussel Bar (MB) is unpleasant.   Whereas Beck’s vaguely nautical interior reminds you of a chic ocean liner, MB’s dark wood paneling is cold and the acoustics are terrible—don’t go if you want to chat.  Fortunately, I was able to get a seat outside, which means I had the benefit of a quiet conversation and premium Bethesda people watching.

Perhaps you are supposed to order mussels at the Mussel Bar, but what I really wanted was a wood-fired tart/Belgian pizza.  You can get pizzas at another Wiedmaier restaurant, Brabo Tasting Room in Alexandria, but not at Beck.  So I was glad to see it on the menu.

This is a pizza with pork belly, mussel, tomato, and gruyere cheese (see how he managed to get the mussel in there?)  It’s a rich, melt-in-your-mouth, surf and turf pizza with a really nice chewy bread crust.  It’s kind of perfect.

There are only 3 options for dessert:  Crème Brûlée, Chocolate Bread Pudding, and Gelato/Sorbet.  I had an excellent bread pudding at Beck once, so the choice was easy:

As you can see, that is a very large hunk of bread pudding.  While it was good, I sense from the limited offerings that Mussel Bar just isn’t trying very hard with their desserts.  It’s too bad, because the pear tart and chocolate cake at Beck are excellent.  But I suppose with Georgetown Cupcake around the corner they don’t really need to try harder.

Honestly, on Bethesda Row, they hardly have to try at all.

Mussel Bar
7262 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814

(301) 215-7817

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


According to the website of Graffit restaurant, the definition of “graffit” is 1. (noun) A fusion of unconventional art and food/a mixture of textures, flavors, colors, and volumes, and 2. (verb)  To eat, enjoy, taste, and discover/socialize around a table of food.

According to Merriam Webster, however, “graffit” is not a word.  It’s really just graffiti without the “i” because there was already a restaurant called Graffiti in New York.  But the real problem with graffit is not this definition—in fact, the restaurant manages to live up to all four of these descriptions.  The problem is that Graffit has managed to be all of these things without being  5. (adj) delicious.

Which means that graffit may have been the most beautiful, technically impressive, memorable, not so great meal of my life.

Do you see this?

This is a savory carrot cake, and it’s a concept that has so much potential:  a savory cake, inspired by a sweet cake, inspired by a vegetable.  Unfortunately, this “cake” was actually just pureed carrots with cheese on top.  It might qualify as baby food. 

This dish, entitled “Not Your Average Egg,” was better, but not as good as it should have been given how hard it was to make.  The waitress described some insanely laborious process by which the chef removed certain parts of the egg, replaced them with parts of something that wasn’t an egg,  and then put it back together in an egg shape.  But do you know what it tasted like?  An egg.  Sort of like how the savory carrot cake just tasted like carrots.

Things improved with the entrees.  My pork belly was nice; the best parts of the dish were another runny egg, perfect for dipping the meat in, and a “chorizo powder” (the orange concoction on top on the right).  The plate even included some regular chorizo so that I could see how similar the powder tasted.  However, there was definitely some gratuitous gastronomy involved.  I'm not sure what that green block was made of, but it didn't taste like anything.

Surprisingly, the desserts at Graffit were the most successful dishes of the night.  The first, “corn and whiskey,” included a whiskey cake, a creamy and surprisingly decadent corn puree, and fried goat cheese—who knew this would work so well?

As for my dessert, I ordered something called “Caramel.”  It included a dulce de leche flan, a chocolate olive oil mousse, caramelized bread (which tasted like a caramel wafer), and a spiced chocolate sauce-mousse.  Every component was delicious and unusual, and unlike with the entrees, it brought something to the table.

At Graffit, each time a plate goes by your table you will turn your head to gawk at it. Each dish is a miniature work worthy of a museum.  Honestly, the restaurant might as well have been one.  When I left, my belly was full, but only my eyes had truly feasted.

141 West 69th Street
New York, NY 10023

(646) 692-8762

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Original DB Burger

DB Bistro Moderne once held the record for the world’s most expensive burger.  The DB Royale Double Truffle burger, available during black truffle season (December-March), consisted of a burger patty, red wine-braised short ribs, foie gras, a mix of root vegetables, preserved black truffle—and more black truffles on top (hence the “double truffle.”)  It was $120-$130.  A single truffle version was about $50.

I remember when this burger was all the rage in the media.  Food fit for celebrities, it became a celebrity in its own right.  I think I saw it on one of those “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”  TV shows.  Although I’m sure that if you really want this burger something could be worked out, the menu mainstay these days is “The Original DB Burger,” which according to the menu, still involves at least some black truffles.  At $32, it’s pricey but no longer astronomical—in the range of my much-loved Central lobster burger ($30), and the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern ($29, to be tackled in a few weeks, stay tuned.)

I’ve actually eaten at DB Bistro Moderne before.  I wasn’t very hungry, so I just had the tomato tatin, but I remember it being lovely.  In fact, this time it was hard to turn down the really delicious fancy offerings here, most of which were around the same price as the burger.

But I had to get the burger.  It was time.

The restaurant serves the burger split in half, so that you can see (and photograph) the artistry right away.  I asked for the pommes soufflés on the side instead of French fries, but they were out.  Not that it mattered in the end.  Next to that burger, they could have served me a bucket full of carrots and I wouldn’t have noticed.

So how was it?  It was meaty.  Delicious, juicy burger meat, short ribs, foie gras…it was like an umami explosion.  The parmesan bun and perfectly ripe tomato (heirloom?  Beefsteak?) were also nice touches.

If you know me, I always save room for dessert.  However, in the middle of this masterpiece, I just said “screw it” and polished off the whole plate.  Maybe it’s because we were heading to Shakespeare in the Park afterwards and we didn’t actually have time for dessert.  But I would do it again.

As for the most expensive burger in the world?  It looks like there’s one that’s $5,000.  
But since the chef couldn’t even pile on enough truffles and foie gras to make it worth that much, he had to throw in a bottle of really expensive wine.

db Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 391-2400