Food

January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

No. 68: Buck’s Fishing & Camping

When she’s inspired, chef Carole Greenwood can make you believe in her almost religious devotion to well-sourced ingredients. Her gazpacho is a chunky pileup of perfect tomatoes, kernels of milky corn, disks of purple-and-white Chioggia beet, and ribbons of fresh-picked basil. It’s a dish of striking purity, its local products shown off to brilliant effect. So you’d expect the handmade mozzarella with a balsamic roasted peach plucked from fashionable Toigo Orchard to be similarly transporting. But it’s a dull dish that even precious grains of fleur de sel can’t save.

So it often goes at this softly lit haunt in upper Northwest DC, where unevenness is regarded as an inevitable byproduct of a restless artistic mind. The cooking doesn’t aspire to the kind of greatness that would justify such an approach, and the menu is so tiny as to sometimes feel stinting, but in every meal there is a glimpse—sometimes several—of what is possible. The crispy soft-shell crabs are greaseless, meaty, and beautifully fried, the accompanying slaw nicely runny and tart. The wood-grilled, dry-aged Prime sirloin, dipped in soy sauce, is as hefty and full of savor as anything you’d find in the steak emporiums around town. A whole wood-grilled branzino, stuffed only with herbs and drizzled with olive oil, can be sublime. And the house-made ice creams are often exquisite.

James Alefantis, Greenwood’s partner, came aboard to help smooth the disconnect between the persnickety chef and her customers, and he works the dining room with aplomb, topping off pours and troubleshooting the inevitable complaints.

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