“I Could Live Like This”

I remember a long lunch I had several years ago in the al fresco restaurant at the top of the old Hotel Washington, which had one of the best views in the city: You looked down on the White House, and out over the Washington Monument and the west Mall.

It was one of those perfect spring days, and none of us was eager to go back to work. As I sat there, I said to myself, “I could live like this.” And then I had the epiphany: I do live like this!

This evening was another one of those “I could live like this” nights. Around 7:30, I walked up 18th Street to have dinner in the sidewalk cafe section of the L’Enfant Café & Bar.

I started with a duck confit over white beans and thyme, served in a small mason jar, followed by steak frites with ruby port butter, matchstick fries and chipotle cumin ketchup for dipping.  The food was all right, but, except for the Grand Marnier and caramel dessert crepe, not particularly memorable.  (No pictures.  It was dark, and I don’t use a flash in restaurants except in v special cases.)

What was memorable was the atmosphere. As the menu made clear:

Welcome to L’Enfant, your piece of Paris
right here in DC …. True to Parisian café style,
we have a small & intimate dining space
catered from a petit kitchen. Please be
patient with your order during busy times.
Instead, relax and enjoy the view of the
surrounding crowd—we attract some of the
most interesting people around.

The service was…French.  My waitress was charming and unrushed.  Steak frites is about as simple a dish as you can make, but the kitchen took so long that the waitress comped me for a second glass of Bordeaux Rouge.  And it was perfectly all right–it reminded me of long, leisurely meals in cafes in Paris, where they point is to enjoy the experience rather than to get in and out as quickly as possible (as is often the case in a certain large, North American country which will not be named here.)

In so many ways, Europeans live better than we do.

 

Krakow – La Fontaine

And now we get to La Fontaine, and one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten.

A note here:  I use natural light for my restaurant picture, and never ever ever use a flash, to avoid disturbing my fellow patrons.  I made an exception for La Fontaine, because I had the room to myself, and because the meal was incredible.


La Fontaine

Not an overwhelming first impression, is it?  But incredible thing happen inside.

My Dining Room at La Fontaine

The Amuse Bouche

Raw vegetables and olives w/a rich dipping sauce.

My appetizer was a group of small tapas-like dishes.

Filet et Escalope de Foie Gras de Canard a la Plancha, Pommes Pont Neuf

This was amazing.  Perfectly grilled breast of duck and superb foie gras (I know.  Go away.) w/cranberries and a selection of sauces.  “Pommes Pont Neuf”, not pictured, are simply thick french fries.  Note the “plate”–it’s a slab.

Krakow – Figa z Makiem

Before I left for Poland, I’d read a lot of reviews of most of the restaurants I visited. I was on my way to another restaurant when I read the game-rich menu for Figa z Makiem, and I decided to take a chance on it.

It paid off beautifully. Excellent meal!

Figa z Makiem

Figa z Makiem Interior

The decor gave a subtle hint that Figa z Makiem served hearty meals.

Carrot and Coriander Cream Soup

Goulash of Wild Boar w/Mushrooms, Buckwheat, and Pickled Cucumber

Krakow – Aperitif

Most of the restaurants I visited were within a few blocks of t/k, Krakow’s 800-year-old Market Square. My first full meal was at a rustic little place called Aperitif.

The web site for Aperitif is quite good, and includes some great 360 shots.

The bread came w/a wonderfully light Cucumber Dill dip

Pork Tenderloin w/Fresh Srawberries and Raspberries in Vanilla Sauce

Roasted Trout in Almonds w/Tomato, Sprouts, and Potatoes

Krakow – The Food

One of the great secrets about Eastern Europe is that you can dine brilliantly for v little money.  I enjoyed 2 or 3 of what will probably be my favorite meals of 2012 for not much more than the cost of a blue cheese Ciao Downburger, fries, and a Coke at my favorite Dupont Circle burger joint.

In Krakow, I started most days w/the excellent complimentary breakfast at my hotel.

From the buffet at the Hotel Columbus

Cheap Eats

After the adventures of January’s Restaurant Weeks, I visited a couple of my old Cheap Eats favorites: Sabroso in Silver Spring and BGR at Dupont Circle.  They both offer first-rate lunches for less than $10.

Sabroso

Pollo a la Brasa, with Fries, Black Beans and RicePollo a la Brasa, with Fries, Black Beans and Rice

Pollo a la Brasa is probably better known in the States as Peruvian Chicken.  It’s marinated, either with spices or just salt, and then cooked over charcoal.  Big thick fries like the ones in the picture traditionally accompany the chicken.  If you want to go for authenticity, treat the chicken and fries as finger food.  Sabroso serves the dish with mild aioli and spicy jalapeno dipping sauces.

BGR

BGR

Bleu Cheeseburger and FriesBleu Cheeseburger and Fries

Basic, but v good, burger, with a huge side of fries.  As a bonus, BGR has one of those 21st Century soft drink dispensers that let you to customize your soda.  This is the only place I know that offers diet raspberry coke.

 

Willow Restaurant – Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Monocle is a Washington institution.  It opened in 1960, and it has survived 10 administrations.  The Monocle serves upscale comfort food, which used to be known as “food”.

The restaurant is close to the Senate side of the Capitol, so it attracts a good number of political types.  I’m notoriously oblivious to celebrities, but I couldn’t help but notice that Sam Donaldson was sitting at the next table.

Spicy Lamb Meatballs in Creamy Yogurt Sauce, Winter Vegetable Cous-Cous Pilaf

Beef Stroganoff – Mushrooms, Pearl Onions, Baby Carrots & Herbed Spaetzel in a Sour Cream Sauce

Blood Orange and Ginger Cheesecake – Ginger Cheesecake with Ginger Snap Crust and Blood Orange Sauce

 

Kinkead’s – Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Monocle is a Washington institution.  It opened in 1960, and it has survived 10 administrations.  The Monocle serves upscale comfort food, which used to be known as “food”.

The restaurant is close to the Senate side of the Capitol, so it attracts a good number of political types.  I’m notoriously oblivious to celebrities, but I couldn’t help but notice that Sam Donaldson was sitting at the next table.

The Monocle RestaurantThe Monocle

Shellfish BisqueShellfish Bisque

Nice starter, and perfect for a cool day like today.

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine SauceBraised Short Ribs with Red Wine Sauce

Good stuff! I haven’t had scalloped potatoes in years.

Chocolate Triomphe Cake with Crème AnglaiseChocolate Triomphe Cake with Crème Anglaise

Monocle – Friday, 13 January 2012

The Monocle is a Washington institution.  It opened in 1960, and it has survived 10 administrations.  The Monocle serves upscale comfort food, which used to be known as “food”.

The restaurant is close to the Senate side of the Capitol, so it attracts a good number of political types.  I’m notoriously oblivious to celebrities, but I couldn’t help but notice that Sam Donaldson was sitting at the next table.

The Monocle RestaurantThe Monocle

Shellfish BisqueShellfish Bisque

Nice starter, and perfect for a cool day like today.

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine SauceBraised Short Ribs with Red Wine Sauce

Good stuff! I haven’t had scalloped potatoes in years.

Chocolate Triomphe Cake with Crème AnglaiseChocolate Triomphe Cake with Crème Anglaise

BlackSalt – Wednesday, 11 January 2012

BlackSalt, which is on the Washingtonian‘s “100 Very Best” list, was my second Winter Restaurant Week stop.  You enter the restaurant through a small market stocked with wonderful fresh fish.  The dining area is rather small, and, since BlackSalt is v popular,  the noise level can get a bit high.  Minimalist decor, and an exposed kitchen.

BlacksaltBlacksalt

BlackSalt is in the Palisades neighborhood of Washington, at 4883 MacArthur Boulevard.

Rhode Island Calamari with Chipotle RemouladeRhode Island Calamari with Chipotle Remoulade

A few years ago, I made a resolution not to order calamari as an appetizer, for the simple reason that I was always ordering calamari as an appetizer.  Another resolution down the drain.  This was good.

Provencal Seafood Stew - Market Catch, Gulf Shrimp, Blue Shell Mussels, and Saffr

Provencal Seafood Stew – Market Catch, Gulf Shrimp, Blue Shell Mussels, and Saffron

Key Lime Pie with Blueberry Compote and Whipped Cream

Key Lime Pie with Blueberry Compote and Whipped Cream

This wins the “Best Dessert Award” by a mile!