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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Hidden Amongst the Homes

SALT

2127 E. Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21231 (http://www.salttavern.com/)

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

For a decade now, the quiet neighborhood of Butchers Hill, located on the northeastern border of Patterson Park, has housed a small restaurant tucked away in a mostly residential area. Salt, which features brick walls, warm wooden tables, and a friendly staff, gives reason for searching out the remote location. My wife, ever the adventurer, happened to stumble across the restaurant a couple of years back. We’ve managed to dine there on several occasions over the years, but I wanted a chance to see whether Salt is continuing to deliver during its ten year anniversary.

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Moments of Promise, But Work to be Done

THE RIGGSBY

1731 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20009 (http://www.theriggsby.com/)

* and 1/2 (Satisfactory/Good)

Expectations were high heading into dinner at The Riggsby, Boston-based Chef Michael Schlow’s newest addition to his D.C. contingent (Schlow also owns Tico, the well-reviewed restaurant on 14th Street). My go-to food source, Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post, had high praise for The Riggsby. The Washingtonian had fond words. Friends were excited and noted all the positive reviews being heaped on the restaurant. Located on the bottom floor of The Carlyle, a swanky Kimpton Hotel nestled a few blocks from Dupont Circle, the restaurant had prime real estate and a very cool vibe. If only the quality of the food matched the digs, I too, would be singing the praises of The Riggsby.

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Pizza, Beer, and So Much More

BIRROTECA

1520 Clipper Road, Baltimore, MD 21211 (http://www.bmorebirroteca.com/home)

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

Growing up in the suburbs of the DMV, whenever we made the trek up to Baltimore, there were only two destinations: the Inner Harbor/Aquarium or Camden Yards. In recent years, however, Baltimore has seen a real resurgence within its dining scene: Mid-Atlantic-centric menus (Spike Gjerde), big name chefs (Michael Mina), and neighbors expanding into the city (Bryan Voltaggio). So during a recent outing with my family, when I decided to break them out of their comfort zone and head toward the Hampden/Clipper Mill area and Birroteca, I received more than one puzzled look. But, by the time the meal was over, everyone seemed to understand that there was a lot more to Charm City than the Inner Harbor.

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Still Reliable Over a Decade In

MATCHBOX

Multiple Locations in DC, MD, and VA (http://www.matchboxrestaurants.com/)

* and 1/2 (Satisfactory/Good)

Matchbox, the original, opened in Chinatown in 2002. That original location remains today; now with six sister restaurants spread throughout the District, Maryland, and Virginia (with a single outpost in Palm Springs, California). The 14th Street outpost, where our most recent dinner took place, maintains strong influences from the original: a long countertop bar, plenty of wood accents and tables, and an open kitchen featuring a wood burning oven. Similar still: the consistency of the food; holding strong more than a decade after the original.

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A Fine Dining Beacon in Baltimore

CHARLESTON

1000 Lancaster Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 (http://www.charlestonrestaurant.com/)

*** (Very Good)

Cindy Wolf, the longtime chef of Charleston, has been a part of Baltimore’s food scene since the mid 1990s. If Spike Gjerde, the proprietor of Woodberry Kitchen and Parts & Labor, is helping to lead the revitalization of the Baltimore restaurant scene, then Wolf has long been its matriarch. Along with business partner Tony Foreman, Wolf also owns Pazo, Cinghiale, Petit Louis Bistro, and Johnny’s around the city. Their flagship, Charleston, opened up in 1997 as a fine dining establishment, sitting in the heart of what is now considered the Harbor East neighborhood. And if our most recent meal is any indication, Charleston continues to flourish almost 20 years later.

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