Proof, Sidebar, and Fire Works Pizza: The Needle

Every month, we take the pulse of three area restaurants.

At restaurants such as this lively Penn Quarter wine den—where a call for a reservation is usually answered, “We have tables at 5 or 10:30”—it’s not uncommon for the food to slip. Management is pulling double duty, overseeing the white-hot Estadio in Logan Circle, but judging by a recent knockout meal—from a well-balanced Root cocktail to veal sweetbreads with pickled mushrooms, grapes, and a poached egg—the team is doing well. Even the simplest dishes, such as a side of cauliflower with mint and tahini, confirm that the customers who pack the place aren’t there just for the scene.

This no-frills bar next to Jackie’s Restaurant is one of Montgomery County’s best-kept dining secrets—a place to eat adventurously without spending a lot. Chef Diana Davila-Boldin’s small plates show the same imagination that distinguishes her work at the big-sister operation—be it a mini-burger with a quail egg, perfect chicken nuggets, or more complex fare such as “rabbit-stuffed rabbit” atop a carrot purée. The cocktails kick off a meal in style—the mujer verde, with gin and two kinds of Chartreuse, is like a high-octane lemonade.

Fire Works Pizza
At this Courthouse spinoff of Leesburg’s upscale pizza-and-beer joint, we went beyond our usual order—the Smokey Blue pizza, with Gorgonzola and balsamic—and tried a few other pies. The Fire Cracker, with pepperoni and olives, was a welcome addition to the table, but the Segundo, with apples and an Alfredo-like sauce, was heavy and bland. Starters were erratic: Blue-cheese risotto fritters were flavorless, but creamy spinach dip and spicy-sweet wings were the stuff bar-food dreams are made of.

This article appears in the August 2011 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 Petworth.