A Flashy Import with Humbler Offerings

THE SMITH

901 F Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004 (http://thesmithrestaurant.com/)

* and 1/2 (Satisfactory/Good)

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.

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Still Room to Grow

SFOGLINA

4445 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (http://www.sfoglinadc.com/)

** (Good)

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.

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Believe the Hype

ALL-PURPOSE PIZZERIA

1250 9th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001 (http://allpurposedc.com/)

*** and 1/2 (Excellent/Outstanding)

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.

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Asian Food Meets French Technique

KYIRISAN

1924 8th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001 (http://www.kyirisandc.com/)

** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)

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.

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A Pillar of Penn Quarter

FIOLA

601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004 (http://fioladc.com/)

*** and 1/2 (Excellent/Outstanding)

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.

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Mid-Atlantic Focus; Flawless Execution

THE DABNEY

122 Blagden Alley, NW, Washington, DC 20001 (http://thedabney.com/)

*** (Excellent)

When my wife and I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina (a post is still in the works, promise!), one of the meals that I was most excited about was Husk. Chef Sean Brock’s restaurant did not disappoint, and I look forward to returning again soon. So when word first got out about the opening of The Dabney, a restaurant helmed by one of Brock’s protégées, Jeremiah Langhorne, my interest was peaked. When I read that Langhorne would, as his mentor did for Southern foods and crops, be sourcing and spotlighting ingredients from the Mid-Atlantic, I was intrigued. And when I heard that Langhorne had found a local friend and teacher in Baltimore’s Spike Gjerde, I knew I had to go. The Dabney, I’m happy to report, lived up to and exceeded my lofty expectations.

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A Once Elusive Chef Plants Roots

PETER CHANG

20A Maryland Avenue, Rockville, MD 20850 (http://peterchangarlington.com/)

** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)

Chef Peter Chang used to be a difficult man to track down. His story, at this point, is relatively well known. Once the chef to the Chinese Ambassador in Washington, D.C., Chang took his show on the road – and on the run – to various small restaurants up and down Virginia, constantly moving out of fear of being caught. Word would quickly spread of his whereabouts, crowds would follow, and – poof – Chang would move on. After many years, Chang has finally settled down and opened up several restaurants, including two eponymous locations in Arlington, Virginia and Rockville, Maryland. A recent familial outing at the Rockville location for my dad’s birthday revealed that the rumors of Chang’s skill are without a doubt true; and that his restaurant offers the best Chinese food to be had in the DMV.

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Little Brother…All Grown Up

PARTS & LABOR

2600 N. Howard Street, Baltimore, MD 21218 (http://partsandlaborbutchery.com/)

** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)

Spike Gjerde is fast becoming synonymous with Baltimore. The chef-owner of Woodberry Kitchen, the locally-sourced restaurant in Clipper Mill, opened his most recent offering, Parts & Labor, in Charles Village back in 2014. Little brother is housed in a former garage, features an open-flame hearth as the heart of the kitchen, and a retail shop which sells house-made sandwiches and fresh cuts of meat during the day. Parts & Labor, which butchers its own meat and serves in the same capacity for Woodberry, knows its way around the various cuts. It is this respect for meat-centric dishes, and the quality of the execution, which makes one legitimately question whether Parts & Labor is catching up to its well-reviewed sibling.

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Unassuming…and Delicious

DC NOODLES

1412 U Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20009 (http://dcnoodles.com/)

** and 1/2 (Good/Very Good)

“I don’t know about this,” I distinctly remember telling my wife when she led me into DC Noodles for the first time. The small, almost unnoticed restaurant sits on U Street in Northwest Washington, just down the street from the constantly bustling U Street and 14th Street corridors. Given the popularity of the restaurants up and down those streets, I was more than a little nervous about the empty dining room at Noodles. Several meals later, I’m not afraid to say I was wrong. DC Noodles packs some delicious flavors into their dishes; whether serving a sparsely populated dining room, or a full house.

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Elegance in an Unexpected Place

ROYAL TAJ

8335 Benson Drive, Columbia, MD 21211 (http://royaltajmd.com/)

** (Good)

When I first mentioned to a good friend of mine that I was starting up a food blog, we happened to be sitting and chatting about restaurants in the area to try. One of the recommendations for my new endeavor: Royal Taj, a Columbia restaurant tucked away in a small commercial center in a former Applebee’s. A little over a month later, my wife and I headed over on a whim for a Tuesday evening dinner. Though I went in expecting a solid Indian meal, after the showing by Royal Taj, I plan on returning with expectations of so much more.

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