The Needle: Columbia Firehouse, Grapeseed, Restaurant Nora

What's hot and what's not in the region's dining.

Columbia Firehouse

On paper it sounds good: a firehouse turned restaurant that
crosses pubby conviviality with industrial chic, a menu that gives a nod
to foodie trends. But this multilevel hangout falls short of its promise.
Pacing is a problem—the wait to get a menu can be trying, and our starters
and entrées showed up in tandem. A dazzling kitchen might redeem such
snafus, but rosemary-garlic fries were flabby and a cider-brined pork chop
was puckeringly sour. 109 S. Saint Asaph St., Alexandria;


We often say we could make a nice night of it at this bistro by
supplementing the wines from its excellent stash with a few small plates.
But a recent dinner had us wishing we’d mostly stuck to sipping.
Cornmeal-crusted oysters were a standout, as were pan-seared scallops.
Nothing else sang. Gnocchi were sticky; a pork chop was listless. An off
night? Perhaps. But it’s not as if the out-of-date dining room offers much
compensation. And service was uneven. 4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda;

Restaurant Nora

In the ’70s, chef Nora Pouillon was an early adopter of eating
organic and local—a philosophy that nearly every chef worth his or her
salt has come to embrace. Dining at this renovated 19th-century
grocery—with its artifacts and Amish quilts—feels civilized and urbane.
But while dishes such as Peekytoe crab with avocado and sake-glazed black
cod are pleasant enough, they lack that “wow” factor that turns a good
meal great. 2132 Florida Ave., NW; 202-462-5143.

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.