I've now been to DGS Delicatessen three times: December 23rd (when I ran into an old friend at the bar), December 24th (with my favorite dining companion in the whole, wide world), and January 7th (with Mark Slater, to celebrate his new job at Bastille (which has been silently lurking just behind Restaurant Eve in the Dining Guide for a long, long time, and now it's certainly time for some more visits to Bastille - congratulations, Mark!))
On Monday, I picked up Mark, who looks terrific (and who managed to keep his new job a secret from me, the dirty dog!), and we were escorted up to what must surely be the best table in the restaurant: the "deuce" by the window on the top floor, overlooking 18th Street - which reminds me of the similar table at Komi overlooking 17th Street. All three times I've been to DGS, I was fingered by Brian Zipin, and all three times, Barry Koslow was there, working away - now that Tom Sietsema's review is out, I hope they'll take a well-deserved vacation. I'd say congratulations to the crew at DGS, but I suspect they're quite disappointed with their two-star rating, and without having talked to anyone, I have to say that I respectfully disagree with that rating myself - I think the restaurant deserves a higher mark, and that it is one of the best restaurants that Dupont Circle has ever seen. That said, Tom recently wrote something about grade inflation and how it has become a problem, so perhaps he's going to become a bit more stringent in general (this is pure speculation on my part). I'll mention one more thing about that later, but for now, allow me to write my own thoughts.
Mark generally enjoys a cocktail at the beginning of a relaxing dinner, and we started out with a Mazel Tov Cocktail ($11), one of the funniest names I've ever heard for a cocktail (think about it). A refreshing, non-cloying drink that's a perfect aperitif, it's made with champagne, Averell plum gin, lavender syrup, and lime.
The dean of area sommeliers ordered the white wine, a 2011 Schloss Gobelsberg Grüner Veltliner ($38), a perfect match for the lighter dishes here that's also available by the glass for $10. At my behest, we started with the Chopped Liver ($8) which I've had before, and is the greatest chopped liver I've ever had in my life - it comes served on a radicchio leaf, topped with red onion marmalade, gribenes ("Jewish pork rinds" made with chicken skin), and double-baked rye bread. For all first-time visitors to DGS, this is your must order, especially at the price - it's plenty for two people to share. And this time, I learned a little secret: when you're just about out of chopped liver, take the radicchio leave, fold it into a "wrap," and enjoy an astounding little pleasure, with the bitterness of the radicchio acting as a palate cleanser. I'm not sure if this is polite or not, but I don't care - it's a home-run idea and a fine combination of flavors.
At Mark's urging, we also had the Smoked Salmon Pastrami Sandwich ($11) which Mark claimed was his favorite item from his previous visit. It was astounding - a frozen St. Viateur Bagel from Montreal, topped with labneh, the smoke salmon pastrami, and a mound of pickled mustard seed along with cucumber salad. This is the first St. Viateur bagel I've had since my final evening in Montreal, when I got two bagels at St. Viateur, a pound of smoked meat from Schwartz's a bottle of Côtes du Rhone from a local wine store, then went back to my hotel room and had a two-sandwich dinner that was as memorable as you could possibly imagine.
As a transition course at the end of the white wine, and the beginning of the red wine, we split a pasta course, the Kreplach ($17), bacalao (salt cod and potato) ravioli with roasted tomatoes, garlic, and Za'atar spice. Although the menu doesn't say so, this dish is decadent due to its buttery sauce which worked so well with the Grüner Veltliner.
I chose the red based on the sample sip I had on my previous visit - the 2005 Viña Aberdi La Rioja Alta Reserva ($46), a classic, unmistakable Rioja that's worth every penny, and is also available by the glass for $12. (With more than one person, it's almost *always* better to purchase wine by the bottle, both price-wise, and quality-wise because you never know how long the wine has been sitting open).
The Knish ($8) is strongly in red wine territory, with Sephardic, North African influences: lamb merguez, lentils, and raisin mustard, baked into an astonishing filo-like pastry. This is the type of dish that Joan Nathan might knock (and, in fact, did, because my friend overheard her knocking it), but the Jewish people, as far as I'm aware, live in other countries besides Israel and New York. A double-sauced dish, this is a powerful, spice-driven knish that is quite assertive.
Long after we threw in the towel, out came the Flanken ($21), yeah, we kind of over-ordered, braised short ribs (*not* cooked sous-vide) with Tunisian spices, figs, spinach and fresh mint. The Potato Latkes ($7), with crême fraiche and DGS apple preserves, looked like nothing special at all, but were much better this time than the last time I had them.
Around this time, we were about sprawled out on the floor, especially me, because I'm trying eat slower, less, lighter. So of course Barry sent out a slice of DC Style Cheesecake ($7) with cranberry compote. I have yet to have a dessert at DGS that wasn't fantastic, and I've just about had them all now.
After one read of Tom's review, I have two strong agreements, and two strong disagreements: I think he's right about too much mustard seed on the smoked salmon pastrami, and also that the sauce in the Holishkes is a bit too sweet; I think he's wrong about comparing the knish to an Indian samosa, and of course with the overall star rating. But it was an interesting and thoughtful review, if a bit too harsh.
I suspect these folks are going to take a vacation day or two now that review season is over, so you may want to wait a week before heading to DGS Delicatessen. But when you do go, I can pretty much assure you that you're going to be very, very impressed with this restaurant.
PS - Not that he's entirely objective, but Brian Zipin swears to me that DGS Delicatessen has the best brunch in town.