Trouble With Toast

Restaurant Week review: DC Coast

August 21, 2006
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Given my stellar experience at Vidalia on Friday night, I was bound to be disappointed by my Saturday night Restaurant Week dinner. The only question in my mind as I walked through the doors at DC Coast was exactly how much I would be disappointed. To be sure, Vidalia is the better restaurant. However, I was pleasantly surprised by DC Coast’s atmosphere, quality, and range, so I was happy that I included it in my RW repertoire.

At first, I was underwhelmed by the space itself—it seemed far too small for a place with such a big reputation—but then Jason and I were escorted upstairs (which actually gave us a great view of the open kitchen and the bustling floor below). The waitress was friendly, but not overly personable, so we quickly ordered both wine and food and moved onto our own conversation.

There were about six appetizer choices—three soups, two salads, and an “other.” Jason went for the soup du jour, which was a corn chowder with tortilla. It had great flavor, but it wasn’t chunky enough to really be a chowder (I would liken it more to a bisque). I went with the “other,” which happened to be a shrimp risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite dishes, and I find it to be very simple and satisfying to make; however, it is easily botched, and it borders on inedible when it’s not prepared properly. This version was perfect—just the right blend of cheese and shrimp, surrounded by creamy, starchy Arborio rice. Yum.

For the entrée, Jason chose the “Tower of Crab,” which consisted of a fried soft shell crab and a seared crab cake, served over a succotash of roasted corn, leeks, tomatoes, and okra, with a Tabasco beurre blanc. He had never eaten soft-shell crab before (I think the concept both fascinated and terrified him), and he thoroughly enjoyed the new experience. The crab cake was well-done, but it didn’t have nearly as much flavor as the one he wolfed down at Acadiana (one of DC Coast’s sister restaurants). The succotash and sauce were fantastic, and a great compliment to the sweetness of the crabmeat. I decided to try the crispy black sea bass filet, which rested on a bed of bulgur pilaf and summer squash, and was served with a light citrus brown butter sauce. The fish was delicious and perfectly cooked, and the bulgur was really tasty, but the highlight of the meal was the goat cheese stuffed roasted tomatoes—wickedly good.

This is where the only real problem starts. While the food was interestingly prepared and presented, it was WAY too rich. By the time we were halfway through our entrées, we felt bloated and tired. So, that’s my main critique—that the folks in the kitchen are a wee bit heavy-handed. Perhaps someone with a bigger appetite would disagree, but it’s not like I’m a waif or anything (I’m usually a card-carrying member of the “Clean Your Plate Club,” as my mother would say).

Dessert was merely a formality, due to the aforementioned fullness. I ordered the lemon verbena creme brulee, which was actually quite lovely. I didn’t try any of the berry jam that accompanied it, because the dish itself was so sweet and flavorful. Jason had the chocolate espresso cake, which didn’t really do anything for me—it was more like a brownie than a cake, and it was a bit too dense and dry for my taste.

On the whole, I would rate DC Coast an 8 out of 10. If the service were a bit more amicable, and if the kitchen would focus a touch more on delicacy and balance, it would surely rank in my top three DC restaurants.

So ends another DC Restaurant Week–we now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Restaurant Week review: Vidalia

August 21, 2006
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It’s official–Vidalia is my favorite restaurant in DC. Both of my previous meals there (one full-price, and one during August 2005 Restaurant Week) were spectacular, but Friday night’s RW dinner truly cemented Vidalia’s lofty status in my culinary pantheon.

From the moment we walked through the door, the experience was perfection. The maitre’d greeted us warmly, like we were regulars (I wish). Instead of begrudgingly telling us about the Restaurant Week menu, our waitress highlighted the wine specials that were chosen to accompany the affordable food. Since Jason was celebrating some good news, we decided to try one of the wine flights, which included 3-ounce tasting pours of four different varieties. More specifically, we had a glass each of a 2005 Verdejo, a 2004 Albariño Blend, a 2005 Hondarrabi Zuri, and a 2005 Syrah (the grouping was called “Spanish Blancos y Uno Rosado”).

For the appetizer course, I chose the fried green tomatoes and Jason went for the pork ‘n beans. I adore fried green tomatoes, and these were the cream of the crop—three delicately fried slices, accompanied with tomato-okra “stew” and topped with a creamy crawfish remoulade. The pork ‘n beans really surprised me; the pork belly was tender and flavorful (and not nearly as fatty and tough as it could have been), and the beans were cooked perfectly in the sweet and tangy barbeque glaze. Jason opined, “This sure isn’t like any pork ‘n beans I’ve ever had before!”

For the main course, I chose the Carolina mountain trout and Jason tried the shrimp and grits. I didn’t get to try much of the latter, since my man was enjoying it so much, but the grits (which are often either too runny or too hard) were delicious and the shrimp were savory and plump. We both agreed that it was worth every penny of the $8.00 upcharge. The trout was absolutely divine—skin on, which I love (I just think it adds so much flavor and texture to any fish dish), with roasted vidalia onions, fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a pecan and brown butter emulsion. The sauce was delectably sweet, but not at all overpowering, since the potatoes and tomatoes seemed to cut it just a bit.

For dessert, after I ordered an Irish coffee and Jason chose a 20-year tawny port, we decided on dessert—the Chèvre cheesecake for me and the Georgia pecan tart for him. The cheesecake was the smoothest and most decadent I’ve ever had; it literally melted in my mouth. Since I’m not a huge cherry fan, I pushed the fruit to the side of the plate and reveled in the subtle yet rich flavors of the cheese and the almond crust. The pecan tart was served warm, and Jason asserted that it was the greatest dessert he had ever eaten. It really was lovely, and sinfully sweet—in fact, the chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream actually cut the sweetness, which seems counterintuitive.

As I mentioned above, the service was top-notch and (obviously) the food was sublime. Despite the fact that we cleaned our plates for every course, we did not leave feeling stuffed or uncomfortable. When we departed, we felt enriched and happy, pampered and joyful, and ready to go back for our next special occasion (though we may just have to make one up, in order to return more quickly). Vidalia treats Restaurant Week in exactly the right way—as an opportunity to turn a slow week into a busy one, to continue to please existing customers, and to draw in new clientele with exceptional food, service, and atmosphere.

In short (well, too late, really, but oh well)—a perfect ten!

Restaurant Week review: Palette

August 17, 2006
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You know the summer is coming to and end when Restaurant Week reviews start popping up on blogs across the nation. Well, this blog is no different, so here’s my take on DC RW dinner #1 (of four).

I arrived at Palette a few minutes before our 7 PM reservation to get a first impression of the location itself. It is adjacent to (and, I believe, associated with) the Madison Hotel at 15th and M, and the space is really lovely—it feels open but not sparse, and the separation of the lounge from the dining room is a really nice touch.

We were greeted by a friendly older gentleman who asked if we had dined there before (my companion had, but I had not). He gave us our choice of booths, and we took one against the back wall of the dining room, which gave us (well, me, at least) a great vantage point of the remainder of the restaurant. The server followed shortly thereafter with the wine and cocktail menus, and I decided to indulge in a glass of the Toad Hollow Chardonnay. We were presented with a plate of bread, my favorite part of which was a crunchy, herb-tinged quasi-cracker.

Unfortunately, Palette did not have their whole menu available for Restaurant Week; instead, there were three appetizer choices, three entrée choices, and two dessert choices. For the first course, I decided on tiger prawn tempura, which ended up being two HUGE prawns (heads on), lightly fried in crispy tempura batter and served with a lime-chipotle mayonette. The prawns were fine (it’s hard to screw up fried shrimp), but the accompanying sauce was out of this world. My friend opted for the yellow tomato gazpacho, which had a nice tangy flavor but was a bit off in terms of texture (it was quite watery, and I prefer a thick, chunky gazpacho).

For the main course, I chose the crispy skin-on salmon, which was served over a sauce of arugula, lentils, and grapefruit sections. The citrus added great contrast to the rest of the flavors, and I really enjoyed the crunch of the skin. My companion ordered the beef spare rib, and when she asked for it to be cooked medium-well, I started sweating (I rarely order beef cooked any more than…well, rare). Much to my surprise and delight, the meat was so tender that I didn’t need to use my knife. Unfortunately, it was a bit bland, and the accompanying saffron grits were significantly overdone (I did need a knife for that part of the meal).

For dessert, I opted for the berry cobbler and my friend chose the chocolate soufflé tart. I was SO very happy with my choice—strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries baked together under just the right amount of crunchy cobbler topping, with a small scoop of subtle cinnamon ice cream. Yum! My companion’s tart was underwhelming (it was dry and almost chalky), but it came with some refreshing Kahlua ice cream. As if we hadn’t consumed enough sweets, the server brought a bowl of cherry cotton candy to the table (my friend advised me that they did this on her previous visit as well).

I thought that the meal was paced impeccably (we were seated at 7 and departed just before 9) and that the service was coolly friendly. The dining room was nearly empty when we arrived, but filled up quickly with a fairly diverse group of patrons. A mistake on our check was corrected quickly and with apologies.

Overall, there were parts of the experience that shone, but there is definitely room for improvement in some areas. I was fine with spending $30.06 for my meal (and yes, I tipped the waiter as if I had paid full price for my meal), but I would have been very disappointed if I had been paying that amount for my entrée alone. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate Palette a 6.

Next stop: Vidalia (Friday night)!