The revamped lounge menu at Wolfgang Puck’s DC outpost is an attempt to channel a Japanese izakaya—a small, bustling restaurant that serves noodles, skewered meats, sushi, and other zesty nibbles to promote after-work drinking. It might be gimmicky if not for chef Scott Drewno’s mastery of detail. Most everything sings. The mini–bánh mì is a sublime three-bite Vietnamese sub; the yellowtail sashimi rivals the work of Washington’s best sushi bars; and the udon-noodle soup with oxtail is rich and satisfying. All three can be had at happy hour (Monday through Saturday from 4 to 6) for just $20.10. It’s one of the best, most interesting dining experiences in town right now.
Before wine bars became trendy, chef/restaurateur Jeff Heineman was pouring by the taste, glass, and bottle and changing his menu by the season at his Bethesda bistro. An early-spring dinner showed he’s caught up in another fad: recession cooking. The bread tasted like a holdover from the day before, its airy pockets belied by a leathery texture, and the ramps and mushrooms with gnocchi were meager. But a deeply smoky/spicy broth holding rings of sautéed calamari and coins of chorizo offered a glimpse of the seafood skills Heineman mastered at Kinkead’s. And down-economy dishes can have their upsides, too: Heineman’s deep-fried chicken livers are a preparation even the squeamish should like.
Vermilion has long been a consistent haven in Old Town. But recent visits have been mixed. We pushed a dish of roasted vegetables, lamb summer sausage, and poached egg around the plate. A beef strip loin ordered medium arrived so rare it had to be sent back. And a chocolate bar with olive-oil ice cream was finished with enough coarse salt to render it inedible. Highlights included a golden fritto misto and a ricotta pound cake with sweetened citrus. But with appetizers reaching $14 and entrées topping out at $33, you’re not always getting what you pay for.
This article appears in the May, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.
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