When I first heard about The Smith, a trendy New York City transplant to Penn Quarter downtown, it peaked my interest. An American-styled brasserie with an industrial feel, and updated takes on classics: it sounded like a perfect take on the modern restaurant. The Smith looks and feels like a bustling NYC restaurant (be prepared to yell and be yelled out during a table conversation). But while the concept is sound, the food is just a bit underwhelming. Throughout our meal, however, there are moments of fantastic cookery, if you know where to look.
As we were making our way around in city a cab, I remarked to my wife that you would probably be able to eat at a different restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire year straight, and still have plenty of untapped locations for the future. And so it goes in New York City. According to the all-knowing interwebs, Manhattan alone is home to around 24,000 different restaurants, with constant openings and closings. Factor in surrounding boroughs like the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, and that number skyrockets. Long story short: NYC is, without a doubt, the biggest eating hub in the country. There’s no shortage of options, regardless of what you’re craving.
Our first experience with The Riggsby, Michael Schlow’s throwback Americana restaurant in DuPont, was disappointing to say the least. The reviews may have been glowing, but the food was lackluster, and the service felt more pushy than polished. However, a recent return trip demonstrated why the restaurant had been so lauded since its inception.
The Riggsby still has that lair-like and exclusive feel: warm banquettes, wood throughout,
and dim lighting. Service felt even warmer: informative, friendly, and efficient. And this
time around, the quality of our dinner matched the quality of the decor. A dish of Sautéed Calamari was beautifully cooked, and given a punch of acidity from tomatoes and olives. Crispy Brussels Sprouts also showcased a deftly balanced hand in the kitchen. The sprouts, crunchy from the fryer, were given a yin-yang combination of umami from a fish sauce reduction, and a sweet-sour counterbalance from pomegranate seeds.
For our entrees, we opted for the Veal Cheeks, which were fork
tender, rich and unctuous. They were paired with a creamy puree of celery root, and made for a fantastic contemporary take on a meat and potatoes dish. Heritage Farms Pork Chops
were given some additional porky oomph from homemade sausage, as well as a pop of heat and vinegar from hot cherry peppers. Meanwhile, our dinner companions raved about the Roasted Chicken and a take on Seared Scallops (the one carryover dish from our first outing; though paired with new accoutrements this time around). The one absurdity of the menu: a $70 duck special…which was carried a rather ordinary description, and (according to our server) was rightfully passed over.
The ending to the evening, a trio of desserts, left a sweet impression. Although Key Lime Pie had a nicely tart filling, it was not a standout. The Riggsby Ice Cream Sundae, on the other hand, with crushed, salted peanuts, was a nice play on the classic. But the star of the show was a simple Cookie Plate. Four different cookies provided plenty of options, but if the Peanut Butter cookie is part of the selection, consider this a lock for your order.
Key Lime Pie
Riggsby Ice Cream Sundae
What a difference a year can make. Not all that long ago, I sat, puzzled, after our dinner to The Riggsby. The accolades and raves seemed unjustified, as if we had gone to a completely different establishment. But our return outing displayed the promise of that early praise. Bottom line: for a distinctly updated take on American classics, The Riggsby is a destination worthy of your time.
Atmosphere: The restaurant sits on the ground floor of The Carlyle Dupont Circle, and features comfortable banquettes, warm woods, and fun pops of color. It is a swanky place to grab a drink and a snack at the bar. Service is attentive, friendly, and well trained.
Noise: Lively. The restaurant continues to be full of hustle and bustle. Similarly, while we have been to louder restaurants, the hum at The Riggsby ensures that a raised voice will come into play here and there.
Our first encounter with chef Fabio Trabocchi was last summer at his original, and superb, restaurant Fiola. When I heard about his latest entry into the D.C. dining scene: the pasta-centric Sfoglina, I was intrigued. Sfoglina, the Italian word used to describe the traditional female pasta makers who roll out pasta sheets by hand, rightfully spotlights different pasta varieties throughout its menu. Spending a recent evening out with the family noshing, expectations may have been a little high given our previous Trabocchi restaurant experience. And while it may have been impossible to match the luxury of the original, we found the newest addition to Van Ness a welcome change to the neighborhood.
We tend to have good luck when it comes to Baltimore restaurateurs. Spike and Amy Gjerde, and their fantastic tandem: Woodberry Kitchen and Parts & Labor (and the excellent Artifact Coffee), have always served us well in Clipper Mill/Hampden/Charles Village. But for restaurateurs in Harbor East, look no further than Foreman-Wolf, the duo behind many of the city’s best, including the excellent Charleston, and the newly-opened Bar Vasquez. So when our friends recommended trying the newest venture from Chef Wolf, we gladly accepted. With the most recent Wolf-helmed dinner under our belts, I think it’s safe to say that our lucky streak continues.
Sometimes restaurant hype can be difficult to live up to. With high expectations, even a so-so meal can bring everything crashing back down to earth in a hurry. So when the braintrust behind Red Hen opened up the pizza-centric All-Purpose right down the street from the Convention Center, it was no surprise that the initial word was positive. After Tom Sietsema proclaimed All-Purpose his favorite D.C. restaurant in the Washington Post Fall Dining Guide, my expectations started to get a little out of hand. But there are occasions where restaurants justify the hype. And after securing two dinners recently, I can say without hesitation that All-Purpose is slinging the best pizzas in the District; and some of the best pies I’ve had, anywhere.
Pressure had to have been high for Chef Tim Ma. He left the comforts of Arlington, Virginia, where his original restaurant Water & Wall had been receiving positive reviews, to start up a new venture in D.C. While Water & Wall remains under Ma’s supervision, he added the much-anticipated Kyirisan to the continually expanding Shaw District. Kyirisan, which describes its menu as Chinese-French, blends seemingly disparate techniques and ingredients into harmonious and, most importantly, delicious food. If our meal was any indication of Ma’s skill, he made the right choice in expanding: I have no doubt that the District will continue to flock to Kyirisan.
The first time I came across Chef Sean Brock was on the beloved PBS Show, The Mind of a Chef. Here was this bearded, bespectacled fella, giggling along with Chef David Chang as they ate way-too spicy Kentucky Hot Chicken and then pounded whiskey at a distillery. But then he started talking about heritage cooking and utilizing South Carolina ingredients that were long forgotten; some of which nearly disappeared. The pride he showed in describing his love of food was inspiring. It was while watching this passionate side of Brock, that I made sure to make a mental note to put his flagship restaurant, Husk, on my list of must-try restaurants. So when my wife and I were searching for a honeymoon destination in the U.S., I threw out Charleston as a possibility. Spoiler alert: between the views and the food, Charleston did not disappoint.
Fiola, the Italian fine dining bastion from Chef Fabio Trabocchi, has been well established for some years now. Recently, however, the original DC establishment from Chef Trabocchi has had much of its press stolen by his newest restaurant, the seafood-heavy, Fiola Mare. But, we may be seeing a resurgence from the former. With its supposed top-notch pasta and seafood, along with a recent shining review from Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post, Fiola was among the top choices in searching for a location for my mom’s milestone birthday celebration. And after our dining experience, there is no denying that the Trabocchi original continues to shine bright.
New Orleans will always hold a very special place in my heart. My earliest recollections of New Orleans are not of the city itself; they are of the food. And those food memories are mostly of Emeril Lagasse, the larger-than-life chef on the Food Network, spouting all that Cajun and Creole cuisine had to offer. Watching Emeril – back when the Food Network produced shows where chefs actually cooked – was fundamental in developing my love of food. It got me interested in cooking which eventually turned into a love of researching, visiting, and now writing about, great restaurants. When I really sit down and think about it, much of this food love comes back to New Orleans.
So my one – and, thus far, only – trip to the Crescent City had to be perfect. There would be food, of course. But in an ironic twist, the food of New Orleans took a back seat to the real star of the trip. You see, the city where food is first, is also where Chew, Party of Two got its start, so to speak. New Orleans will always be, first and foremost, where I proposed to my wife.