The best dish I tried at Sixth Engine, a new bar and restaurant near DC’s Mount Vernon Square, was the scrapple, in which chopped duck confit is sweetened with applejack gastrique and topped with a poached egg. Savory, sweet, unctuous, rich—it evokes both fine-dining dinners and Grandma’s breakfast table: gastropub grub at its best.
If only everything at this handsome new spot, carved into a 157-year-old firehouse, were so good. Since the place opened in February, chef Paul Madrid—whose food may be familiar from Sixth Engine’s Glover Park sister bar, Town Hall—has jettisoned his most popular entrée, a chicken stew over waffles. Madrid says the kitchen struggled to execute the dish given the unexpected demand.
That could be evidence of a larger problem: The menu at Sixth Engine is full of enticing, enterprising options, but it may add up to a bigger bite than its staff can chew. I couldn’t wait to dig into the shrimp cocktail, with its lovely alternating stripes of house-made cocktail sauce and gribiche (a mayo-like sauce done up with capers and herbs), but the shrimp on top were woefully overdone. Ham-and-cheese beignets—dense and very salty—were another disappointment. Even the cheeseburger was disappointing, smothered by mustard and accompanied by cold, mealy fries.
Some things work. The restaurant’s take on a McDonald’s McRib sandwich—the Mac Rib—hit the sweet-and-smoky mark, and the goat-cheese mac and cheese had a vivid tartness. Served with crostini, the lovely beef-carpaccio appetizer is a smart choice for a warm-weather menu—the sort of simple but elegant snack that Sixth Engine could use more of.
The beer list features the likes of Hita-chino Nest’s citrusy white ale, and cocktails are good, too. The Prescription Julep (rye whiskey, cognac, muddled mint, and a float of Gosling’s rum) shows off the bar’s commitment to balance—juleps elsewhere are often too sweet—and would be the perfect thing to sip on the patio this summer.
Sixth Engine is a great place to drink. Here’s hoping it’ll evolve into a great place to eat, too.
This article appears in the July 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.