Dining on a Shoestring: Surfside

Surf’s up at this tasty Glover Park oasis.

Surfside looks like a beach shack but it has surprising culinary life. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

The Tabard Inn’s crackling fireplace is a cozy retreat and ACKC Cocoa Bar’s lavender-scented hot chocolate is marvelously warming, but there may be no better cure for a case of winter blues than a trip to Surfside.

The Glover Park cafe summons a Caribbean beach shack in peak season: Peter Tosh wails on the speakers, ginger beer from Bermuda and margaritas are served in plastic cups, and rows of limes sizzle on the grill. It may be 30 degrees outside, but ceiling fans are spinning.

At first glance, Surfside looks like not much more than a place to grab a Pacifico and a bowl of chips and salsa—a refuge for the recent college grads who live nearby. But note the guy running things behind the counter: No bandanna and blissed-out smile there.

David Scribner wears a white chef’s coat and a look as focused as any serious-minded chef in the city. Two summers ago, you’d have found him at Dahlia, his neighborhood restaurant in Spring Valley, sending out $20-plus plates, such as his scallops with cider and brown butter. Before that, the 40-year-old chef collected good reviews running the kitchens at Smith Point and Felix and worked under veteran chef Carole Greenwood at her eponymous restaurant and Buck’s Fishing & Camping.

Now he’s serving up takeout-friendly Cali-Mex tacos and burritos, plus some of the city’s best guacamole ($4.95 to $7.95), with his business partner, Smith Point owner Bo Blair. (Yes, the man behind some of the toughest door policies in town is eagerly delivering dishes to customers.) The pair also run the Nantucket-themed sandwich shop Jetties in DC’s Palisades.

At Surfside, the four kinds of tacos ($7.95 to $9.95)—wrapped in double-ply corn or flour tortillas—are overstuffed, messy, and often delicious. Grilled shrimp is paired with pineapple salsa and yellow rice, while hunks of chicken are smothered in an intensely fragrant mole. The standout, though, is the Maui, loaded with grilled—not Baja-style fried—fish (usually mahi-mahi), black beans, and corn.

Burritos ($8.95 to $9.95) offer many of the same fillings but are one of the few misfires—I’ve had one too many starchy bites of plain rice with thickly folded tortilla. Quesadillas ($8.95 to $9.95) come with a cup of lime sour cream so tasty it almost doesn’t matter what variety you choose (the veggie version, with zucchini, mushrooms, and spinach, is the surprise winner); they’re just a vehicle for the sauce. Same with the salads ($9.95 to $11.95). No matter how many creative toppings you choose—grilled portobellos, charred corn, snow peas—it’s hard to pay attention to anything but the terrific green-goddess and honey-peanut dressings.

More ambitious—and expensive—are larger entrées such as sliced flank steak with tangy chimichurri ($14.95) and grilled shrimp over a lovely pilaf studded with roasted peanuts and cilantro ($14.95). Then there’s the specials board, which one night offered a New England–style clam chowder ($4.95), equal parts brothy and creamy; a filet of blackened swordfish ($16.95); and a welcome surprise: Scribner’s much-praised scallops with tangy cider and brown butter ($16.95). The wintry version of the dish, with six beautifully crusted sea scallops served over wilted spinach and whipped sweet potatoes, breaks the tropical spell, but it might leave you thinking the cold season isn’t so bad after all.

Surfside, 2444 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-337-0004. Open daily for lunch (brunch Sunday) and dinner.

This review appeared in the January, 2009 issue of The Washingtonian.  

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.