901 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20001 (https://arrozbymic.com/)
*** and 1/2 (Excellent/Outstanding)
“Life moves pretty fast…” at least according to Ferris Bueller. I initially intended for this blog to detail dining adventures on a regular basis. But life has a tendency of throwing curveballs, and we’ve been busy as of late…just not eating our way through the DMV. However, with a recent chance to celebrate my birthday, I jumped at the opportunity to head to the well reviewed Arroz. Mike Isabella continues to spread his wings: this time delving into the flavors of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. Spoiler alert: I hope to find these flavor profiles in more places within reach. If Isabella is able to execute this well as his empire continues to grow, the DMV will be that much luckier.
Arroz is the centerpiece restaurant of the Marriott Marquis in downtown D.C. While the hotel lobby is rather grand, the restaurant manages to keep pace. Hotel guests, tourists, and residents alike are in for a treat. In addition to a visually calming dining room (a neutral palette with pops of bold color, and fun patterns throughout), the food is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.
Service, as is expected at a fine dining establishment, is precise and well executed. But the wait staff is not just polished, they manage the delicate balance of being personable without hovering. There is a a buzzy atmosphere at the restaurant, and the noise level can get a bit loud. For the most part, however, our table is able to hold conversations without yelling.
A great atmosphere and fantastic service is topped by the even better food and drink. We share a couple of pitchers of the Rose Sangria which balances the wine with elderflower, lychee, and grapefruit. It’s a refreshing beverage, even in the chill of winter. The menu is broken down into three main sections: Plates, Larger, and Bomba Rice. Our table also opts for several plates – which are served tapas-style – and a Bomba Rice to share.
On the recommendation of our server, we begin with the Burnt Eggplant which is possibly a perfect dish. I’m not typically a
huge fan of eggplant, but here the smoky vegetable is given a punch from black garlic, crunch from pine nuts, and a bright pop from pickled Fresno chiles. The dip is paired with Moroccan flatbread sprinkled with the Middle Eastern spice blend called Za’atar. The flatbread would be a fantastic dish on itsown, so if you’re sharing the eggplant, ensure you order extra. We follow up with the Fried Cauliflower, a dish with great contrast. The fried florets provide the heft of the dish, while pickled cauliflower stems give a pop of acidity, and crispy pig ears add a fantastic textural element.
Fideo Noodles were a showcase for seafood. Meaty pieces of lobster mixed into a sea urchin espuma (foam) were nicely paired with a spicy linguica sausage. Although the dish had a richly intense seafood flavor, it lacked a textural note (crispy garlic on top failed to deliver enough crunch) to really round it out. Our final plate, Crispy Potato Tortilla was a nice riff on the classic Tortilla Española, with layers of potato and egg. The
dish was well executed, but failed to wow given our other offerings. The best part of the dish: the smoky chorizo aioli that accompanied the tortilla which would I could serve on almost anything.
The pièce de résistance of the meal, fittingly, was the finale. If the eggplant was near perfect, the Aged Duck Bomba was perfection. The Bombas, rice dishes similar to traditional Spanish paella, all highlighted different proteins, and the duck was spectacular. Slices of perfectly roasted duck breast were scattered atop the rice, along with a confit leg and slow roasted carrots. Our suggestion: use the lime wedges for a citrus note that balances the richness of the duck, the heat of the harissa, and the sweetness of the caramelized onion labne. And whatever you do, make sure you scrape the bottom of the pan for that socarrat (or crust) that’s built up!
Although we did not order dessert, our server graciously provided a serving of the Mango & Passion Fruit Sorbet as a small birthday gratis. The sorbet was full flavored – balancing the tropical fruits – and provided a sweet ending to an already fantastic meal.
Mike Isabella’s list of DMV area restaurants is expanding: both in numbers as well as offerings. His first foray into the Spanish peninsula is a resound success, with top end service, locale, and food. Based on this recent meal, I look forward to giving his original successes a try. Bottom line: in one of our best meals in recent memory, Arroz more than lives up to the hype.
Atmosphere: The restaurant serves as the fine dining option in the Marriott Marquis right down the street from the Convention Center. Although hotel restaurants often get a bad rap, Arroz has the feel of a standalone venue. Banquettes set inside cutouts evoking Morocco, along with wooden tables and chairs throughout provide for a warm and cozy feel. Tables have decent spacing between them, but nothing to write home about. Service is exceptional: polished while friendly; available without hovering (shoutout to Marvin!).
Noise: Moderately Loud. Though there are plenty of soft fabrics floating around the spacious dining room, the sheer number of guests on a weekend ensures for a lively dining experience. We didn’t have too many issues holding a conversation, but it’s certainly not a hushed environment.
Recommended Dishes: Burnt Eggplant, Fried Cauliflower, Fideo Noodles, Aged Duck Bomba, Mango & Passion Fruit Sorbet
Reservations: Recommended. Being the headliner restaurant in the Marriott Marquis makes for quite the packed locale. Reservations should not be too difficult to obtain with proper planning, so make sure to lock in a table.
$$$$ – $100 to $150 for dinner for two