Yes, I know that I owe you all Part II to this story, but I’ve been a bit too lazy busy to finish writing it. Until that happens, I am cleaning taking this post from the drafts and making it live. Mini Restaurant Reviews and a couple of updates:
I have previously written that The Reef offers food that is “better than it has to be” given the fact that most people consider this a great place for consuming copious amounts of high quality beer. That assumption changed with my two most recent visits. The always dependable bison burger was grossly over cooked and generally lacking in juiciness. The mac n’ cheese that accompanied the burger was simply bad on every level. I know The Reef is committed to using high quality ingredients, but this cheese tasted like it could have come from a can. Salt was conspicuously absent, as was an appropriate amount of cream. Two bites seemed to be calories and cash wasted.
The muscles were even more problematic. The first bowl arrived with five of eleven shellfish closed. I sent it back, and they graciously prepared another – with a shocking four of eleven closed. The fact that a bowl of muscles arrives with less than a dozen is problematic in and of itself, when better than a third are closed is a food safety issue and one that anyone who gets paid to serve food to the public should notice… especially the second time. Still atop my list for beer, Sunday-Funday, and casual rooftop dining, but the Reef is off the food list.
Speaking of dining in Adams Morgan, there are many factors which make that neighborhood’s culinary landscape difficult for restaurants to navigate, most notably is the general and normally accurate perception that good food is not easily found there and even when it is discovered, that it doesn’t rise to a level that compensates for the congestion, limited parking, and weekend party goers. Evolve may not shatter that perception but they certainly challenge it. I have dined there three times in recent months and each time found very satisfying and homey dishes. The lamb burger was perfectly cooked, densely packed, and has a bun that sops and shines. The French Fries are clearly dusted with some illicit and addictive substance because I couldn’t stop eating them and in what may be the highest compliment given to a French Fry – they’re really tasty even when cold. Calamari comes with a crispy shell and tender interior with just the right amount of chewy.
Evolve may not be a place worthy of destination designation, but if you’re in the area, want a place to have a couple of drinks and nosh, it does that very well.
Frank Ruta is a James Beard Award Winning Chef, Palena is a top five choice in the Washingtonian Best of List, and both may somehow still be underrated. All of this makes me extremely conflicted when I dine there and order the Roast Chicken and the Truffled Cheeseburger, but that conflict didn’t stop me a couple of weeks ago. Add the fry plate, and a delightfully cheeky rosé and it was a perfect late summer dinner.
Some restaurants may find it a backhanded compliment to refer to them as a “light” version of another place, but when I refer to New Heights as Palena-Light I mean that in the most flattering sense of the phrase. Chef Logan Cox is serving intricate and very precise food without pretense or affectation. On my latest visit, I constructed a meal of three small plates and each was more delicious than the one it preceded. House Smoked Salmon with a red onion chutney was silken in texture and a lovely foil for my glass of sparkling rosé. The Fried Risotto Cake was creamy, cheesy, Arborio perfection. I was a bit hesitant to order the Braised Pork Belly, Mussels & Octopus soup as that dish seemed more appropriate for cold weather dining, but the bartender gave me a knowing look when I mentioned this dish. I was not disappointed. It was rich without being heavy. The fat of the pork was nicely rendered, and the whole thing was balanced with a broth that had its share of smoke. Finishing my meal with a five cheese board (for a preposterously low price of eleven dollars) that was served at the right temperature made me want to do my happy dance.
My one complaint: The option to order half glasses of wine would have been really nice.