Hushpuppies slathered with honey butter keep us going back to Food Wine & Co. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
Over the years, servers often have regarded my restaurant orders as over the top, at times insanely gluttonous. My waiter at Food Wine & Co. one recent evening looked like he leaned toward a verdict of insanity. "I'll have the fried calamari, the fried artichokes, an order of fries, the tater tots, and the hushpuppies," I said. By my last visit to the Bethesda bistro, I'd learned one thing: Focus on the fryer. Despite its pale celadon booths and glossy-rustic setting, this is not a place to eat delicately. This is a place to eat like Paula Deen.
The restaurant has had a bumpy ride since it opened more than a year ago. The first chef left after four months. Then it was announced that Carole Greenwood, who had bolted from Buck's Fishing & Camping and Comet Ping Pong, would take over. She lasted one night. Owner Francis Namin finally brought on Michael Harr, the talented chef who won acclaim at the now-closed Butterfield 9.
Harr might not be turning out the elaborate creations--a four-part "study" of goat; foie gras with French toast and candied blueberries--that made his reputation at Butterfield 9, but he's smart to keep things approachable here. The fried stuff, especially that calamari, strewn with chili-lime emulsion and brightened with pickled peppers, is a draw, but it isn't the only reason to make a reservation (most nights, you'll need one). A terrific lamb burger is perfectly seasoned and topped with harissa-tomato confit and a rich roasted-garlic/aleppo-pepper mayo. The hickory burger is piled with bacon, laden with cheddar, and sized for a linebacker. It's a glorious mess. Mustardy deviled eggs and mac and cheese gooey with Gruyère round out a calorie bender. Other dishes, such as a coconut-and-lime-sauced ceviche of yellowtail tuna and a big skillet of mussels with surprisingly kicky curry, are good too, but more respectful of the arteries.
Unexpectedly, Harr stumbles on the more ambitious dishes. A thin, plate-size pork blade steak smothered in too-sweet sauce arrived just past rare and, after I sent it back, returned closer to well done. Despite a four-hour cure in kosher salt, the roasted beets with goat-cheese espuma was one of the duller versions of the salad I've tasted. Flimsy-crusted, floury pizzas are skippable, as are the achingly sweet desserts.
Which means one thing: another round of hushpuppies.
This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.