Would you pay money for an ordinarily free restaurant reservation? It’s a hot topic in the industry right now, thanks to the proliferation of third-party reservation systems like Resy and Shout that offer seats at popular restaurants for a fee.
Washington gets its first such service with the arrival of Table8, a San Francisco company that launched Monday with 17 local partners, including Fiola Mare, Zaytinya, Osteria Morini, and Del Campo (see the full list here). The app is free, as are reservations at participating restaurants if there’s plenty of space available, or if the diner is picking an off-peak time. Otherwise, the booking costs $25 for a two-person table or $45 for four, and the money is split by the restaurant and Table8. The number of spaces set aside for users varies, but most eateries only hold one or two tables, while others set aside up to five.
It’s worth noting that all the local participants offer free reservations otherwise. The service is geared toward last-minute diners looking for a hot seat. So what do you think—is a reservation worth the price?
More restaurant week: The official Metropolitan Restaurant Week is over, but Alexandria Restaurant Week continues through Sunday. Participating spots offer either three-course dinners for $35 or a meal for two at the same price. A number of eateries also serve discounted lunches.
Meat week: Seven days of carnivorous eating have begun. DC Meat Week runs through Sunday, with nightly gatherings like all-you-can-eat barbecue at Hill Country on Monday and a barbecue-eating relay at Pork Barrel on Tuesday. Specials vary by restaurant, so check out the full lineup.
Happy Birthday to the Boss: Anyone craving fried chicken and/or $1 whiskey shots can head to Boss Shepherd’s on Monday for a special celebrating Alexander “Boss” Shepherd. The politician was born in 1873, so you’ll find a fried chicken dinner for $18.73 through Saturday.
Burns dinner: Mad Fox Brewing Company hosts a Robbie Burns dinner on Monday; the culinary tradition honors Scottish poet Robert Burns. The reception begins at 6:30 followed by a five-course meal that includes riffs on traditional Scottish dishes such as haggis, plus beer pairings ($75 per person). The brewery also offers à-la-carte specials throughout the evening, Scotch tastings, and a bagpipe player.
Taste of Napa: Blue Duck Tavern hosts two California winemaker dinners this week. First up on Tuesday is Peter Franus of Peter Franus Winery. Then on Thursday, Michael Mondavi visits the restaurant and pairs his wines. Both meals are four courses, start at 7, and are $155 per person.
Carb-tastic: Paleos need not apply to Osteria Morini’s beer and pasta dinner, happening Thursday at 6:30. The Italian restaurant teams up with DC Brau for a reception and three-course pasta meal paired with the local brews, plus warm chocolate cake and Penn Quarter Porter to finish. The meal is $85 per person; reservations can be booked by e-mailing Alice Mayeron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeing stars: Michelin-starred Italian chef Stefano Cerveni from Ristorante Due Colombe prepares a collaborative wine dinner at Fiola on Thursday. The five-course dinner is paired with wines from Ca’ del Bosco, and features dishes like red prawn crudo with purple potatoes, “sparkling” risotto, and olive oil-poached beef ($200 per person). Call the restaurant for reservations.
Pop-up pizza: Timber Pizza Co., which operates a mobile wood-fired pizza operation, sets up shop at the Dolezza Factory on Friday for a special dinner. Guests can try the pizzas during the five-course meal, paired with DC Brau brews ($65 per person). The later seating is sold out, but spaces remain for 6 PM.
Ballston’s growing restaurant scene gets its newest addition on Tuesday with the opening of Kapnos Taverna. The Mike Isabella eatery is a spinoff of Kapnos on 14th Street, with a wholly new menu and a focus on island-style Greek cuisine. Diners can head in for lunch this week, and dinner beginning Monday, February 2. Here’s what to look for when you go.
The best seat in the house: Guests have 165 spots to choose from in the Mediterranean-styled restaurant, including bar-like seating in front of the open kitchen; you might recognize executive chef George Pagonis from his recent stint on Top Chef. The “VIP table,” as Isabella calls it, is slightly apart from the show, tucked away in a corner with a good view of chefs at work, but still plenty of privacy. Want to catch all the action? Pick a table on the second-floor mezzanine, which overlooks the entire dining room.
The go-to dish: The shellfish tower. Washington may be swimming with raw-bar plateaus, from Le Diplomate to Fiola Mare, but Isabella offers the first Greek version. The platter can include freshly shucked oysters, lobster, marinated mussels, salmon tartare, cracked crab, and more, served with dipping sauces like tomato-ouzo cocktail, lemony yogurt, and an herb-packed mignonette.
Out-of-the-water options: While the menu draws heavily from the ocean, meat eaters and vegetarians still have plenty to pick from. The stellar dips and spreads like smoky feta or charred eggplant, served with warm flatbread, are among the few carryovers from Kapnos; carnivores will also find the signature spit-roasted chicken and lamb with ancient-grain salad and tzatziki. Many new options include more traditional mezze such as spanokopita and falafel, and a lunch menu with five different gyros (a wallet-friendly combo includes a sandwich, spread or salad, and drink for $15).
That wonderful smell: Dried herbs and flowers. A garden’s worth of lavender and eucalyptus hangs from an installation above the bar area, infusing the room with scents familiar to the Greek islands.
Drink like Mike: Barkeep Taha Ismail is behind the cocktails, which are often infused with Mediterranean spices, peppers, and honey. If you’re going with a shellfish tower, Isabella recommends keeping it classy with a gin martini (vodka is also an option), stirred here with floral Dolin blanc vermouth and orange bitters. The wine list is fittingly three-quarters Greek, and you’ll also find at least one beer from the country, Mythos lager.
In the future: Brunch, and a big patio. Saturday and Sunday brunch will launch in a few weeks; the 60-seat outdoor space is planned for the spring. This year is also a big one for Isabella in the Ballston neighborhood, with the Mexican cantina Pepita and Yona Noodle Bar coming soon.
Kapnos Taverna. 4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-243-4400. Open for lunch, Monday through Friday 11:30 to 5. Dinner (starting Monday, February 2): Sunday through Wednesday 5 to 10, Thursday 5 to 11, Friday and Saturday 5 to midnight. Brunch (coming soon): Saturday and Sunday 11:30 to 3.
Happy Monday, food truck followers! The snowy weather is keeping many trucks from the road, but you'll still find warming eats like macaroni and cheese at CapMac, or pizza and tater tots from DC Slices.
Pork-belly bao bun at China Chilcano
There's much to like about José Andrés's newest restaurant, a Peruvian spot in Penn Quarter. The place has energy, and not just the hype and crowds of any big opening. You feel it in the decor—which pops with bright pillows and winding red lights—the staff, and the menu.
Perhaps the eclectic nature of Peruvian cooking lends a natural liveliness to the concept. Influences from Spain, China, and Japan meld with native South American ingredients and traditions, making for a cuisine that's interesting to explore from a chef's perspective, and eat from the diner's.
The menu is fairly large, and a meal for two feels like a brief introduction—earthy squash and rocoto pepper dumplings; a bright ceviche studded with corn and sweet potato; "airport" fried rice with 20 vegetables, some fashioned into tiny planes. The best item came from the "dim sum" section of the menu: a pork bao bun. I’ve ordered the dish dozens of times—who doesn’t love a steamed bun stuffed with a slab of hoisin-glazed pork belly?—but this version is the most unusual, and one of the tastiest. In addition to the rich meat, Andrés adds puréed sweet potato, miso, citrusy ají limo peppers, and a slice of pickled daikon. The bun itself is lightly fried at the end for a crisp exterior, lending layers of texture.
One bun comes per order. I’d suggested adding a few.
Mole poblano at Taqueria El Mexicano, Hyattsville
This is one of my favorite dishes in the world, and this memorable preparation is the best I’ve had in years.
The taqueria’s owners, Bernard and Claire Lucero, hail from the state of Puebla, which some culinarians regard as the birthplace of mole poblano. Some, not all—many centuries later, its origins remain in dispute. In any event, Pueblans are passionate and fiercely particular about their mole poblano, which some culinarians (some) believe to be the national dish of Mexico.
The sauce is the thing—thick, brown-black, dotted with sesame seeds, and with a taste as rich and complex as any of the French master sauces. At the same time, it’s infinitely more idiosyncratic, a sauce that seems to change the way you think about it with each bite: now sweet, now slightly bitter, now spicy, now slightly smoky.
Dark chocolate is the not-so-secret ingredient, and gives the dish its identifiable color, but the strange, mysterious character of mole poblano cannot be chalked up, simply, to the inclusion of chocolate—the mix also includes sweet, smoky guajillo chilies, fried nuts, and raisins, as well as a larder’s worth of toasted, ground spices.
A great mole poblano—and this one qualifies—has such depth that it seems almost impenetrable, unknowable.
Each order comes with two pieces of unexpectedly tender chicken (in most cases, a leg and a piece of meat cut from around the breast), good rice and stewed beans, and—an even bigger surprise—two handmade corn tortillas. (If there’s anybody making tortillas like this in the area, with this perfect, pebbly surface, please let me know; these are fabulous.)
The cost to walk away with a memory: $11.50.
Nicolaki Cocktail at Iron Gate
I start pretty much every weekday morning with some kind of yogurt—whether it’s Fage with chopped apples and honey, a grab-and-go muesli cup from Pret, or rich Noosa swirled with coconut. It’s not so often though, that I end the day with the stuff.
My new favorite cocktail might change that.
When I ordered Jeff Faile’s Nicolaki on a recent heat-lamp-fueled evening inside the surprisingly cozy carriageway at Iron Gate, my friend looked skeptical. Greek yogurt and honey in an alcoholic beverage sounded as potentially heavy as a TGI Friday’s mudslide. But the result—an ethereal shake-up that included vodka, rosemary, and lemon—was wonderfully light and airy, with the slight sweetness and tang of a lassi. It was a lovely prelude to a leisurely dinner. But it went down so easy I’d just as soon order it up with brunch, too.
The doughnut craze isn't over, and if the hype over Sugar Shack is warranted, it may just be getting started. The Richmond shop claims a cult-like following down South, and will open its first Washington branch in Alexandria this weekend.
The rounds differ from your average Krispy Kreme in a few different ways, as does the coffee, made by DC roaster Zeke's. Flavors vary by day (and even hour), ranging from classic vanilla or chocolate-glazed to chai tea, maple-bacon, s'mores, and even rounds made with local Port City Porter or popular breakfast cereals. Fitting for Washington, Virginia House Delegate Rob Krupicka is behind the Alexandria location, and has teamed up with Together We Bake to help staff the labor-intensive kitchen; each doughnut is hand-made without the aid of machines. The local nonprofit provides workforce training for women in need.
A few specials mark the grand opening on Saturday, which begins with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 8 AM. While the "freebie o' the day" sounds nice—customers perform challenges issued over social media for a gratis doughnut—we're more interested in the lazy man's special: the Sugar Cow. Neighboring burger joint Holy Cow has created a beefy version of the Luther, which involves an Angus patty topped with bacon, cheddar, a fried egg, and maple syrup, and sandwiched between two Sugar Shack glazed doughnut "buns." The gut-bomb will only be served through Sunday, so get there quickly and plan to move very slowly after.
Sugar Shack. 804 N. Henry St., Alexandria.; 571-406-4734. Open Monday to Thursday 6 to 10, Friday 6 to 11, Saturday 7 to 11, Sunday 7 to 9.
Does Bethesda really need another higher-end restaurant? That’s the question Newton’s Table chef/owner Dennis Friedman asked himself when deciding whether to go forward with his white-tablecloth concept that had been struggling to draw a regular neighborhood crowd. Ultimately he decided against it, choosing instead to open the Bethesda Barbecue Company. The 100-seat joint takes over the same space, and is in the soft-opening phase now. Here’s what to know before you go.
The look: Rustic. Contrary to earlier reports that Friedman and partner-in-'cue David Smelson are serving brisket on Newton’s former linens, the dining space and bar are undergoing a remodel. The original seats and room’s white columns will be replaced by reclaimed-wood tables, log poles, and vintage barbecue paraphernalia on the walls. Expect the full revamp over the next few weeks.
The barbecue style: Eclectic. Some joints focus on a particular region, but when it comes to barbecue in Washington, cooks tend to be wary of recreating any “authentic” style. Friedman says the meats coming out of the hickory smoker have roots in North Carolina’s Lexington style, and the house sauce is modeled after the signature vinegary red brew. Diners can also pick a more mustardy North Carolina version for dousing pulled pork, ribs, and brisket, or a sweeter option with an Asian twist. The slow-smoked meats can be ordered as sandwiches or platters, both with sides like slaw, collard greens, or smoky potatoes.
The other eats: Shrimp and grits, grilled flatbreads, hot-smoked salmon, and more. While barbecue is the focus, the menu offers plenty of other options. Friedman particularly likes bacon pops—essentially spice-rubbed pork belly on a stick—that are served with fried pickles, and the mac with Cabot cheddar. And yes, there are also salads topped with chicken or shrimp for lighter eaters.
The boozy drinks: Bartender-designed. The team asked some of Washington’s 'tenders, such as Rogue 24’s Bryan Tetorakis and Taha Ismail of Mike Isabella Concepts for their input. The challenge: Make a drink you’d want for yourself after a long shift. You can bet the results are pretty boozy.
The beer/wine: Affordable. As with the rest of the menu, Friedman aims for a budget-friendly price point (apps run $6 to $12, while entrées hover in the $8 to $16 region). Beers by the can or bottle range from PBR to craft, and like the wines will rest in the $5 to $9 range. Happy hour is also in the works.
Up next: Soon you’ll find a spectrum of services, including carryout, delivery, catering, and, in the near future, a barbecue Super Bowl special. Friedman also hopes to tap into his fine-dining background once the restaurant is up and running, hosting ticketed tasting dinners with guest chefs. In the meantime, settle in with a can or beer and a plate of burnt ends.
Bethesda Barbecue Company. 4917 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-718-0550. Open Monday through Friday 11:30 to 11, Saturday 11:30 to 12:30, Sunday 11:30 to 10.
We always had hope for local cheftestant George Pagonis on Top Chef season 12. The toque already does more than an elimination challenge’s worth of work on a daily basis, heading up three of Mike Isabella’s current and upcoming Greek restaurants: the highly rated Kapnos, Kapnos Taverna opening next week, and the upcoming Kapnos Kouzina in Bethesda. Still, after getting kicked off the first episode, fighting his way back on the show, and landing among the final four, the battle seems to be over. Pagonis was told to pack his knives and go last night, leaving Mei Lin, Melissa King, and Gregory Gourdet to head off to the finale in Mexico.
The final contest in Boston required the chefs to create a dish that was innovative and pushed boundaries, whether in technique, flavor, or a personal challenge. Pagonis’s first disappointment came at Whole Foods, when the butcher counter lacked pork belly to spice up a surf ’n’ turf with octopus. The chef was left with a plain old cephalopod—he’s Greek, after all—but attempted to push the envelope with a plate that combined grilled octopus legs, a crispy croquette made out of the ground head, green apple harissa, lentils, pickled mustard seeds, and a bacon chip.
Sound like one component too many? The judges thought so, as well.
Fellow contender King, who already secured her place in the finale by winning the elimination challenge two episodes prior, won yet again for her seared duck breast over a rich walnut-miso sauce and scored a $10,000 prize in addition to her pre-determined seat. Lin came in a close second with another duck dish, this time with curry and aerated yuzu yoghurt. Gourdet was on the chopping block along with Pagonis for a salmon with Thai tom kha broth and crispy chicken skin. Ultimately Pagonis was sent packing for his unharmonious plate and a too-hard char on the octo that head judge Tom Colicchio found bitter.
So there we have it. Or do we? Colicchio reminds us that Pagonis could come back yet again on Last Chance Kitchen, the side-cooking competition that allowed him back on the show in the first place. Perhaps we’ll see him in Mexico.
Happy Thursday, food truck followers! Take a break from the office and enjoy vegetable pho from Sang on Wheels, steamy chowder at Red Hook Lobster Pound, or pork and brisket sandwiches from Sloppy Mama's.