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  1. Friends and I had dinner last night at the newly opened Maydan. I hadn't realized that it was opening night; the bf had sent a Post write-up to our group when we negotiating dinner options, but somehow I'd missed the timing. Front of house is still working out kinks -- more on that below -- but the food is already strong. So, the good first: the six of us ate our way through much of the menu's small plates, and everything was good or better. Hummus (tahina, chickpeas, lemon) was classic, and the baba ghanoush (eggplant, tahina, garlic) was nicely smokey. (Smokiness is pervasive -- unsurprising, given the giant hearth on which everything is cooked -- but many dishes also had a bit of sourness, which created a nice balance.) The pillowy flatbread was delicious, and while we were initially a bit skeptical that we were only given two rounds for the six of us, servers were diligent about circling with warm refills. Our favorite spread was the beet borani (yogurt, dill, black sesame), a vividly purple, bright, creamy puree. Baby eggplant (Georgian walnut sauce, pomegranate) was interestingly nutty, pleasantly a bit sour, and laced with softened onions. (I love onions.) Rounds of eggplant (orange blossom water, honey, vinegar, red onion) were nicely balanced sweet-sour-a bit of char. Halloumi (Dukkah (Egyptian spice blend), honey) was very tasty -- halloumi lovers, among whom I count myself, will be happy -- but like the hummus, on the classic end. Grilled carrots (lemon, harissa) were probably the spicest dish, enjoyable but a bit one note as a result. Shrimp and squid, both marinated in charmoula (lemon, garlic, parsley, saffron) and accompanied by lemon wedges, were well-cooked and appropriately charred. (The squid had the tender, fudgey texture that I associate with cooking sous vide before grilling.) Our carnivorous friends seemed to enjoy lamb and tenderloin (although some other cut was substituted in the prep that night) kebabs. Our server suggested that we order all the condiments (which are only $1 each), but we went with five of the seven: charmoula, zhough (parsley, cilantro, cumin, serrano), ezme (tomato, onion, peppers, pomegranate molasses), toum (garlic, oil, lemon), tomato jam (sesame, cinnamon), passing on the more familiar tahina and harissa. The most memorable were the toum, which was whipped -- I vaguely recall a mention of egg whites -- into a light mousse that reminded me of the texture of Nostos's excellent taramasalata, and the tomato jam, which was delicious but sweeter and more cinnamon-heavy than when I make my own, and consequently tasted less clearly of tomato. Interesting cabbage (olive oil, lemon, mint) arrived as an afterthought when I mentioned at the end of our savory dishes that we hadn't yet received it, where it served as a nice palate cleanser, like a mint-heavy (and mayo free, of course) cabbage slaw. (I bet it would have been excellent alongside some lamb.) We ordered the two desserts (there's no dessert menu), both very good: a delicious rose-water soaked cake, and honey-drizzled, phyllo-encrusted mozzarella dusted with pistachios, which sounds odd but worked (think bizarro brie en croute). Three people opted for the Filfuli (Pepper) with Ilegal joven mezcal, blood orange, ginger, paprika, honey, and soda; it tasted like a refreshing artisanal orange soda that I could enjoy drinking all day in the summer. Two ordered the Jnayney (Garden), with Greenhat gin, cucumber, fennel, dill, lemon, and arak; it was very herbal, with a primary fennel-seed flavor. I was the only one to opt for wine instead of a cocktail, going with the Georgian Vino Terra (Rkatsiteli), the only by-the-glass option of five wines in the "skin contact" category. I love skin contact wines -- be they refined or a deep amber glass of barnyard funk -- and consequently this was quite disappointing. It looked totally white (not disqualifying as a satisfying skin-contact exemplar, as I love SP68), but I would never have guessed it had any contact from the taste. (Overall, the wine list seem kind of expensive relative to food prices. While there was one white, one rose, and two reds in the $30-$38 range, everything else jumped to $51 and higher. The Vino Terra was $51 a bottle, and the next cheapest in that category is $67 before heading into the $80s. Not a list designed to introduce diners to the pleasures of orange wine. Contra Red Hen, which has six or seven orange bottles in the $45-65 range.) They were definitely experiencing new restaurant issues. The restaurant itself is at the end of an alley just east of La Colombe, but there is no signage on the street or even on the restaurant to indicate where to go -- it's not even obvious that a restaurant could be at the end of the alley from the sidewalk -- which led to a lot of confusion in finding the place. (When I mentioned it, I was told a sign will ultimately be put up.) I'd made a reservation online, but we weren't ultimately seated until forty minutes after our reservation time, while we stood around the vestibule and watched staff (as many as four people at one point) huddle around an iPad attempting to figure out what to do with us. We were eventually told that the system had automatically assigned us to a table that they subsequently realized wouldn't comfortably fit a larger group, so they were trying to figure out where else to put us, and then were waiting for one table to finish so that they could push two together somewhere else. (We were told that they didn't want to tell the people to leave, which I wouldn't have expected them to do, but being told that felt a bit like we were to blame for our own impatience thirty minutes after our reservation time.) Our table of lawyers joked after the fact that maybe we should have commandeered the iPad and seen if our LSAT logic game skills could have worked it out. The bar area inside was too narrow and crowded to comfortably stand inside in an attempt to have a drink. While multiple people thanked us for our patience, no one offered to get us drinks while we waited and nothing was taken off the bill in apology, and it never really felt like they were proactively solving the problem. Rather, it felt like they realized they didn't have a table for us despite our reservation, so we were stuck waiting for one to free up. (It's frustrating to feel like the staff's reaction to the situation was an apologetic shrug.) The space itself -- two stories with a giant hearth as the focal point -- is very cozy and cool, and I love the smoke smell that permeates the place (although less so when something obviously burned at one point). (And I wouldn't wear a coat or clothes that you don't want to smell like you've been hanging out near a campfire.) It appears that no one communicated to our (very nice) waitress that we'd been waiting for so long; when we sat down, one friend immediately tried to order hummus and baba ghanoush after a snap glance at the menu only to be told (politely) that the restaurant preferred to take our entire order at one time. When we pointed out that we had been waiting forty minutes to be seated and were starving, she apologized and said she'd put it in right away. Not a huge deal, but the awkward interaction didn't help our moods and could have been avoided. (Even better would have been a preemptive acknowledgement of our wait and query whether we wanted something right away.) Bottom line: everyone was very friendly, and these are the sorts of kinks that I expect time will help them work out. But they should think about how they'll deal with frustrated diners in the future, because there will definitely be times when a table lingers and the restaurant will be in the same boat. Oh, and I'll bet any amount of money that when Sietsema reviews it, he will complain mightily about how loud the music is; not a problem I usually notice, but it did impede conversation here. But once our hanger subsided thanks to hoovering the flatbread and dips, we very much enjoyed our dinner. We'll be happy to return.
  2. I noticed that Piola (Pizza) is opening in Rosslyn next to Cafe Asia. I'm sure it's just some international corporate mess (their other U.S. locations are in Miami and New York), but has anyone ever been who can tell me something more?
  3. Dec 7, 2014 - "At Alphonse Market and Nonna's Kitchen, There are Two Sides to Italian Cooking" by Tom Sietsema on washingtonpost.com From the article: "I wouldn't have predicted it, but recent dinners at Nonna's Kitchen, romantic in red and a mere 24 seats, suggest there's a future for fine dining in the neighborhood." Want to know a secret? Nonna's closed - quietly - at the beginning of August. Supposedly, they were going to reopen, but I tried to get a reservation in September, and cannot. Word on the street is that the market for chefs is crashing in DC, but I don't think too many people want to hear that just yet. *Lots* of young people out there who want to "run a restaurant" but haven't paid their dues ... the market is starting to come into equilibrium, and it's not a pretty sight to see ... when the absurd becomes the norm, you're in a bubble that's about to pop. My advice: If you have a good job right now, clutch onto it with your life: It is *not* a good time to be getting cocky. We are witnessing the end of an up-trend - it happened in 2008, and when the market, ahem, "recovered," the entire landscape of DC Dining changed. Don't worry if you don't remember, because you may well get a chance to see it all over again. cheezepowder's amazing research has provided the public with an important historical document about a subset of Washington, DC's economy. Everyone seems to think Washington, DC is on fire as this booming restaurant town. And it is: It's on fire, and it's about to burn out. Was it George Orwell who said a lunatic is a minority of one? I'm sorry to piss on this party, but the party is winding down.
  4. Set to open July 1st at 14th and U NW. The chef (who, in full disclosure, is shacked up with a good friend of mine) was most recently exec chef at Smith and Wollensky here in DC. I haven't had much of his food, but I can tell you he makes a hell of a cake (made a banana puree filled chocolate thing at our baby shower that was dynamite.) Whether the food is good or not (and here's hoping it is) the deck alone is worth a look. Just looks like a great place to hang...
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