Shrimp dumpling soup at Full Key
I know for a fact that if the restaurant were industrial and don’t-give-a-damn and tucked into some buzzy pocket of the city, every DC foodie blogger would be hyperventilating about this the way every New York foodie blogger has been go-tell-it-on-a-mountaining about the cronut.
But because it’s Wheaton, and because the dining room is old-school nondescript, and because Full Key has been around seemingly forever—nothing.
Well, their profound loss, because this might be one of the ten best dishes in the entire city. Still. After almost 20 years.
The broth has a clear beauty that tells you how methodically it’s been strained, and the flavorings are subtle (dried shrimp, white pepper) but unmistakable. The dumplings are more delicate than their plumpness would indicate. Their centers bulge with scallion, mushroom, pork, and shrimp.
About those shrimp—not at all the rubbery texture you have sort of been conditioned to expect when the shrimp are, after all, slipping into a filling with other assertive tastes and textures to, presumably, cover for them. Cooked to that delicate midpoint between translucence and overfirmness, they pop when you bite down.
Every time I come here, I think the exact same thing when I’m done: “I could eat this soup every night of the week.”
One more thing to move you to urgency, if you’re not feeling urgent already: It’s seven bucks for a large bowl.
London dry gin and tonic at Jaleo
I’m always in search of the ideal day drink—in summer, that means a cocktail that is easy drinking but not overly sweet, and not so potent that I’m sleeping off a headache by 4 PM. Often, it also means gin is involved. Already in my canon: the orange-and-thyme gin and tonic at Estadio, the elderflower-laced cucumber Collins at Ris, and the sparkling, crème de violette-tinted Fleur 75 at Pearl Dive. The drink I had yesterday at Jaleo—home of G&T obsessive José Andrés—easily lands in that top tier. It’s made with Tanqueray, a curl of grapefruit rind, a tiny bunch of mint, and a few white peppercorns. It looked so elemental I thought maybe I could replicate it at home, but then I saw the bartender add a brown liquid from an unmarked bottle. “Quinine,” he said. “We make our own tonic.” I think I’ll just find an excuse to come back this week—and the next, and the next.
Chicken and waffles at Woodward Table
The other morning I found myself downtown, hungry, and totally lost. Not geographically lost—the city works on a grid, in case you hadn’t heard—but lost because my iPhone battery had died, leaving me as mentally defenseless as an abandoned puppy. What was open? What was closed? Which of my Facebook friends had dressed their babies in novelty onesies that morning?
To ward off the existential meltdown, I figured I’d head to WTF and finally try the infamous chicken biscuit. But of course, WTF is shuttered on weekends, a fact I had once known, and one that would have remained in my memory had I not discarded said memory—thinking it excess baggage—sometime around the advent of the iPhone 3.
Seeing my dismay, a friendly host suggested I take advantage of the Restaurant Week brunch at the adjoining sit-down spot Woodward Table. Three courses. Alone. No iPhone. No reading material at all, as it happened. Also: Restaurant Week, a thing of which I am certainly wary. Still, I went for it. If something scares you, you should probably try it, right? Whether that be climbing Everest or spending an hour alone in a restaurant without your Apple device. Same difference, really.
Had the meal been bad, it would have been excruciating. But it was delicious—from the starter salad of heirloom carrots and beets to the light dessert of berries topped with cream, it was a truly great brunch. Jeffrey Buben’s menu mixes healthy options with indulgent ones in such a smart and appetizing way. The best part was the main event: a crispy-fried chicken breast atop the fluffiest, most perfect waffle, with a few asparagus spears and some bacon—not crunchy, but tender and bubbly. I dipped every bite into a peppery gravy—just a little bit, like when you pop your nigiri into a bowl of soy sauce. Conclusions: Woodward Table is underrated, and I should probably spend some time off the grid.
Grilled ricotta ñoquis at Del Campo
Almost every cuisine boasts a form of dumpling, some more common than others. I’ve sampled many plates of gnocchi over the years, but ñoquis—the dish’s South American cousin—are a far less common treat, at least in Washington. Pronounced similarly, the dumplings migrated to countries like Argentina and Uruguay with the flocks of Italian immigrants and remain popular in the cuisine today. The dough for both is notoriously tricky to master, even by professional chefs; rubbery, sinker-dense balls are more frequent than their expertly crafted, airy counterparts. Victor Albisu’s version fall in the latter category. The creamy pillows are fashioned from ricotta, poached, and then—like most everything in his Penn Quarter churrascaria—given a quick turn on the wood grill for smokiness. The flavor is enhanced with a sauce made from smoked and grilled peak-of-season tomatoes, lightly charred corn, and a dusting of Parmesan, sage, and fried corn silk. The plate is pure summer—sweet corn, an almost barbecue-like tomato sauce—but, like the ñoquis, themselves, unexpected.