Food

Time for a Tune-up: Sixth Engine

Sixth Engine has its cocktails-and-beer roster down, but its kitchen is sputtering.
Sixth Engine has taken over a 157-year-old Mount Vernon Square firehouse. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Sixth Engine has taken over a 157-year-old Mount Vernon Square firehouse. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Slideshow: Inside Sixth Engine

The best dish I tried at Sixth Engine, a new bar and restaurant
near DC’s Mount Vernon Square, was the scrapple, in which chopped duck
confit is sweetened with applejack gastrique and topped with a
poached egg. Savory, sweet, unctuous, rich—it evokes both fine-dining
dinners and Grandma’s breakfast table: gastropub grub at its
best.

If only everything at this handsome new spot, carved into a
157-year-old firehouse, were so good. Since the place opened in February,
chef Paul Madrid—whose food may be familiar from Sixth Engine’s Glover
Park sister bar, Town Hall—has jettisoned his most popular entrée, a
chicken stew over waffles. Madrid says the kitchen struggled to execute
the dish given the unexpected demand.

That could be evidence of a larger problem: The menu at Sixth
Engine is full of enticing, enterprising options, but it may add up to a
bigger bite than its staff can chew. I couldn’t wait to dig into the
shrimp cocktail, with its lovely alternating stripes of house-made
cocktail sauce and gribiche (a mayo-like sauce done up with
capers and herbs), but the shrimp on top were woefully overdone.
Ham-and-cheese beignets—dense and very salty—were another disappointment.
Even the cheeseburger was disappointing, smothered by mustard and
accompanied by cold, mealy fries.

Some things work. The restaurant’s take on a McDonald’s McRib
sandwich—the Mac Rib—hit the sweet-and-smoky mark, and the goat-cheese mac
and cheese had a vivid tartness. Served with crostini, the lovely
beef-carpaccio appetizer is a smart choice for a warm-weather menu—the
sort of simple but elegant snack that Sixth Engine could use more
of.

The beer list features the likes of Hita-chino Nest’s citrusy
white ale, and cocktails are good, too. The Prescription Julep (rye
whiskey, cognac, muddled mint, and a float of Gosling’s rum) shows off the
bar’s commitment to balance—juleps elsewhere are often too sweet—and would
be the perfect thing to sip on the patio this summer.

Sixth Engine is a great place to drink. Here’s hoping it’ll
evolve into a great place to eat, too.

This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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