It started during a casual conversation with chef Victor Albisu, right after he opened Del Campo, his South American steakhouse in Penn Quarter. We were talking about the house chivito—the chef’s take on a classic Uruguayan street sandwich. The traditional ’wich layers steak, mozzarella cheese, bacon, mayo, olives, and a fried egg. At Del Campo, however, there are stacks of seared rib eye, ham, mortadella, fried egg, olives, hearts of palm, lettuce, and onion, all inside a brioche bun. And it is one tall drink of water—also pretty fat, and definitely not easy to eat. Watching it wobble as we passed the plate around the table, I joked to Albisu that it would be funny to make a video of customers trying to get their mouths around that massive sandwich. He laughed a little. Then we forgot about it.
Fast-forward a few months, when the Washingtonian food team embarked on a mission to pick Washington’s top 25 sandwiches. The resulting feature in our September issue, now on stands, celebrates one of our favorite ways of eating and calls out some of the best bread-bracketed inventions you’ll find anywhere. To accompany it, we figured why not really see what happened when you asked sandwich enthusiasts to take on the towering chivito? Readers submitted photos of themselves eating sandwiches via Facebook, and the winners were invited for an afternoon of sport eating at the Del Campo asado bar. Check out the video to see how they fared. We hope it makes you laugh—and we’re pretty certain it will make you hungry.
If green beer lacks the class you’re seeking in a St. Patrick’s Day beverage, consider a cocktail made with Irish whiskey. The spirit’s signature smoothness comes from a tradition of triple distillation—much of the world’s whiskey is distilled only twice. The extra step removes impurities but can also rob the beverage of complexity and character, which is why Scotch and bourbon fans sometimes snub it.
“They call it breakfast whiskey,” laughs Bill Thomas, co-owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon in DC’s Adams Morgan. But Thomas stocks some Irish whiskeys that he says will satisfy complexity seekers, including the $65-an-ounce Knappogue Castle 1951 and several brands made at the Cooley distillery on Ireland’s east coast.
When experimenting with Irish whiskey in cocktails, Jack Rose beverage director Rachel Sergi recommends a less pricey product such as Powers Gold Label (about $19 for 750 milliliters at Calvert Woodley Wine & Spirits), which she describes as “caramely with some spice but not too sweet.” She uses it in her own version of the Tipperary—Irish whiskey, green Chartreuse, and sweet vermouth—named for the town in southern Ireland. The Chartreuse lends it a greenish cast, making the drink perfect for Saint Patrick’s Day. Sergi’s recipe—which calls for equal parts of the three ingredients—is virtually foolproof, which should help any St. Paddy’s soiree go smoothly.
$1,000 Ice-Cream Sundae
Serendipity 3 in Georgetown
The Golden Opulence sundae includes everything your average 15-year-old boy—the first DC recipient of the dessert—adores: edible gold leaf, fruit “caviar,”and a Baccarat crystal goblet.
BLT Steak in downtown DC
Just like some of the upper-upper class, the One-Percent burger is over-the-top rich with foie gras, braised short rib, and gold leaf.
$56 Lobster Tail
When it comes to the advertised “jumbo” portion, 15 ounces sounds a lot better than its equivalent, “less than a pound.”
$30 Half Roast Chicken with Potato Confit
Occidental Grill in downtown DC
Because a $60 whole chicken with potatoes would be outrageous.
Photograph by Scott Suchman.
There are a number of ways to gauge the health of the economy. In the restaurant world, you check the bread basket.
Restaurateurs are in a bigger pinch these days than a family-values politician accused of philandering. Rising gas costs mean higher prices on ingredients that are flown and trucked in—ingredients that already are more expensive than they were a few years ago.
What to do? Raise entrée prices and restaurants risk alienating their audience. “You charge more than $30 for a dish,” a high-profile owner told me, “and you lose ’em.”
Lunchbox channels a New York deli with this pastrami-and-Swiss sandwich on marble rye. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Bryan Voltaggio is known nationally for his appearance on Top Chef, but the Frederick native first got regional attention with Volt, his high-end restaurant in his hometown. Now he’s opened his second place—Lunchbox, a sandwich spot—just five blocks away, along the pretty promenade that banks Carroll Creek.
The cafe is aimed mainly at professionals and at young families visiting the nearby library. (The fully stocked changing table in Lunchbox’s restroom is the stuff of new-mom dreams.) Its decor consists of a few framed metal lunchboxes along one wall and a cooler of old-timey soda, including locally made birch beer.
Fabio Trabocchi is best known for the white-tablecloth cuisine at his Penn Quarter dining room, but he does blue-collar classics just as well. His grilled buffalo-mozzarella-with-basil sandwich accompanies a steaming bowl of rustic Tuscan-style tomato soup.
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At Citronelle, a dish of potatoes masquerading as fried rice elevates Chinese-takeout-style cooking. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Travelers often say Chinese food in China is nothing like Chinese food in America. Here, chefs are sometimes inspired to dabble with Szechuan peppercorns and five-spice powder, but they rarely bother with the Americanized stuff. So it was a surprise to encounter a bowl of fried rice with bits of duck jerky on the $120 24-course menu at DC’s Rogue 24, then find wonton soup at Modern American places such as Ris and the Atlas Room.
At Michel Richard’s Citronelle, an entrée of lobster—a $20 surcharge on a $110 prix fixe menu—arrived with fried rice that tasted remarkably similar to the carryout variety. Why is Richard serving something so casual at Citronelle, as opposed to his more relaxed bistro, Central?
Turns out the fried rice—in typical Richard style—is not what it seems. That “rice” is super-finely diced potatoes fried in butter. “It’s a complicated dish,” he says.
This article appears in the March 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.
Wara Wara pairs karaoke with izakaya-style snacks like this pork-belly skewer. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
On weekend evenings at Wara Wara—a karaoke bar and Japanese-style izakaya from the owners of the barbecue destination Honey Pig—most patrons aren’t coming for a feast. They come instead to sip beer and soju (a distilled Korean beverage) and maybe eat a few chicken wings. And they come to sing: Weekend patrons seem to make more use of the karaoke facilities than of the kitchen. One Saturday, just two parties were dining beneath the color-changing bulbs that bathed tables in shades of red and blue.
You never know who you might meet outside the restrooms at Lyon Hall. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
It’s not unusual for restaurants to spend a lot of time designing eye-catching open kitchens, but now many places are devoting resources to another space: the bathroom. Here are seven we think are special.
Current Sushi. The unisex stalls at this Dupont Circle lounge are see-through before you step inside, but close the door and the glass-paned walls become opaque with steam. Finally, the privacy you need to play Hanging With Friends and check your e-mail.
The Duplex Diner. Calling all Madonna fans. Montages of the Material Girl cover the walls around the cool commodes at this Adams Morgan restaurant/bar—from the “Vogue” era to the “Erotica” phase and beyond.
Summon the image of sweetened ripe berries encased in a golden layer of flaky crust and capped with a drift of fresh whipped cream and it’s practically impossible to avoid salivating. Simple, satisfying, deeply comforting: Is there anyone who doesn’t love pie?
Well, on the strength of the available evidence—you.
You, who ought to be among its most ardent champions. When I order pie at an upscale restaurant these days, I brace myself—because I know what’s coming.
And it’s not pie.
Or not recognizably pie.
“I think you’ve made a mistake,” I told the waiter at one of the area’s premier tables as he deposited the pastry chef’s latest “deconstruction.”
“No,” he assured me. “This is the pie you ordered.”
The quotation marks around “blueberry pie” on the menu should have been the tip-off to be prepared for some sort of radical reinterpretation. But how radically could you reinterpret pie?
As it turns out, quite a bit.