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Arroz, Modern Spanish in the Marriott Marquis at 9th and Massachusetts, Mount Vernon Square - Chef Michael Rafidi Has Departed - Closed Dec 27, 2018

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27 minutes ago, Gadarene said:

You and I seem to have very similar tastes.  Wonderful review.

Thank you!  (I've thought the same when reading some of your posts in the past.  Discussing with other like-minded -- or like-tasting? -- folks is one of the pleasures of DR.)

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23 hours ago, jca76 said:

Our server, while competent and very nice, had the sort of overly familiar, intrusive style that I'd bet -- pardon the gross stereotyping -- middle aged ladies and tourists will enjoy, but I can't stand

Sounds like you and Sietsema had the same server. I'll be going at the end of April. One the friends who will be joining me loves this kind of service (me, not so much). So if he's working our table, he can expect a generous tip.

I appreciate the detail in your review. After reading about your experience, I'm starting to wish I were going with 4 people instead of (possibly) 6.

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Had dinner at the newest Mike Isabella concept on Friday.  DC restaurants love to play musical chair with their chefs, so you got to hit them while they still have the opening chef, when they seem most eager to please and impress.

I was duly impressed.  We ordered 6 dishes, asked them to be coursed because I hate a table full of food getting cold.  They arrived 1 by 1, quickly but with enough time for moderately quick eaters to finish up.  Some might think it was too quick...

1.  Salt Cod Croquettes.  The fish was fishy, in a good way.  You know you're eating salt cod.  I've had way too many bacala or bacalao dishes in DC that tastes more like potato than fish.  This beats the versions I've had at Tails Up Goat & Convivial.  

2.  Spanish Red Prawns.  Each order usually has 3 prawns, but our waiter asked if we wanted to even it out.  We said yes and it was as good a decision as pulling out at the right time.  The fried heads were good but the tender torsos were even better.  Prawns can be expensive, at roughly $9 each, these aren't bargains but they're worth the money.

3.  Saffron Fideo Noodles.  Nicely cooked seafood but they're generally drowned out in the sauce, and the noodles were far from al dente.  I'd pass on this dish next time.

4.  Hot Smoked Bone Marrow.  It's bone marrow...

5.  Crispy Sweetbreads.  These were slightly too salty but the texture of the sweetbreads were like tofu.  I can't remember a more tender sweetbread, which reminds me that my mom use to lie to me and told me the pigs brain is tofu.  For sweetbread fans, these are definitely worth trying.

6.  Chermoula Lamb Ribs.  I've had meatier and more tender lamb elsewhere (e.g., Tails Up Goat).  Again, a normal order is 3, and we opted to even it out (but it wasn't necessary).

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Had a good meal here Friday.  The place wasn't packed for a new restaurant and feels like hotel restaurant, though neither my girlfriend or me could pinpoint why.  Our drinks took 10 minutes to come for some reason, so the waiver comped them without us complaining, which was nice (though he forgot to take them off the check, which made for a somewhat awkward conversation later).  I happen to love sherry, so i enjoyed the focus on sherry here.

Onto the food.  We ordered three things: lamb ribs, salt cod croquettes, and veggie bamba.  The lamb ribs were terrific, as one would expect.  They reminded me of the ribs at Tail Up Goat.  The croquettes were not as enjoyable-they tasted too much for my liking like those frozen fishsticks we all know and don't love.  I like very fishy food too (anchovies, herring, etc.), but these didn't do it for me.

The bamba was outstanding.  I wanted the soft shell crab one, but my girlfriend isn't as big of a fan, so we stuck with the veggie.  It was a ton of food, with lots of different veggies of all sorts of different textures (lots of crunchiness).  As others have said, it's like a paella, but I found this more interesting than paellas i've had.  I did notice that the sauce is almost certainly the same as the sauce on the famous cauliflower sandwich at G (which I love).  Does anyone know if bamba is an actual dish served in southern Spain/Morocco, or is this a Mike Isabella twist on paella?

We decided to take some home, so they wrapped it up for us and brought it to the hostess stand, allowing us to pick it up on the way out.  I liked that touch.  In the future, I'd definitely go back, sit at the bar with a glass of sherry, and split a bamba with a friend.

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I haven't posted here in awhile, but I thought I would share my recent blog with my thoughts on Arroz.  I enjoyed it immensely- lots of unique dishes and bright flavors.

I do agree that it feels like a hotel restaurant and I think that one of the reasons is the bright lighting.  I would like to see it turned down a bit.

Anyway, here's my post, which I titled "Mem'ries."

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I've never been to a Mike Isabella joint, until last night. Perhaps I've been unfairly suspicious of his Food TV background, and assumed he was more poseur than real chef. My bad: Arroz is a really fine restaurant showcasing a versatile chef turning out food with surprising finesse. Dinner last night was the salt cod croquettes, sweetbreads, and veggie bomba rice; I can't add much to what others had said, but my sense is that the small plates are not a great value, but that bombo rice is really terrific, and more than enough for two for $42. Desserts here may seem pricier than some places but they're pretty good sized: Bob's chocolate custard came in a tagine and had many different textures without being overwhelmingly chocolatey; my sundae was a pretty dish with a variety of flavors and textures (mint, white chocolate, meringue, strawberry, rhubarb) that seems odd but came together nicely. The Mencia rosé is terrific, and the Abogado cocktail very nice, but smallish and pricey at $15; the Sour Sherry cocktail ($13) is better--very refreshing. Service was sort of confused--not at all overly friendly, as Sietsema noted, but with odd gaps--the drinks menu was delivered and removed three or four times before dessert. We were lucky to snag a keyhole booth, which cut down some of the hotel-ish atmosphere. All in all, we were impressed, and I'm embarrassed I didn't believe he's the real thing. I was wrong: Isabella put his work into this place and it deserves attention. (BTW, I saw him walk through last night, and I gotta say, he looks like he could use a break. I hope he is not overextending himself into bad health.)

Brief edit: Michael Rafidi, the executive chef, deserves the major credit here. Isabella is hiring some good talent.

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Forgot to mention two things: the Daisy (sherry, lemon, ginger, honey, bitters (?)) is a great cocktail, though I probably think that because it is nearly identical to two of my other favorite cocktails of all time, the Penicillin and Gold Rush.  $15 per non-sherry cocktail is quite high though.

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We went here for brunch for Mothers' Day, and generally had a lovely meal. (And I appreciated that there wasn't a prix fixe brunch for Mothers' Day.)

We all liked the room and the decor. If I went with just one other person, I would ask for the side booths with the keyhole openings.

The flaws were that when we asked the waiter how big the dishes in the "plates" column were, he said small though some larger than others, so we over-ordered, thinking they were tapas sized. The "plates" turned out to be quite large. I also wish that the waiter had explained that the burnt eggplant dish was a dip, as nothing in the description gave that away (other than that it came with flatbread which I guess should have been the tip-off). 

Other than that, service and food were excellent.  

Mostly, my mother and I shared dishes, and my husband had two separate ones and then tastes of ours. We started with jamon serrano, and it was delicious. No bread, though (if you order an entire cured meat and cheese board, it comes with bread), and that would have been good to know. It came with a couple pickles, a couple olives, some pickled turnip that was very interesting (we had to ask what it was and the waiter checked with the chef - he said they change ingredients based on what's good at the market, which is definitely a good thing, but they should keep the waitstaff informed), and a little cauliflower (yellow, but didn't taste curried, maybe just cooked with turmeric).

We had the burnt eggplant with flatbread and liked it, though my mother was disappointed that it turned out to be a dip. The dip itself is a rather odd grey color, but the flavor was unusual and quite good, and the array of spring vegetables on top (also not mentioned on the menu) were really lovely and presented a variety of textures and flavors, all lightly cooked. It was a little awkward to eat on the flatbread as the pieces of vegetables had a tendency to fall when I was trying to spread them on with the dip. The squash was especially nice, tender yet crisp. It was a much larger serving than we anticipated. I liked the flatbread a lot.

The crispy potato "tortilla" was one of my favorite dishes - it had a different texture than the typical tapas tortilla, with egg custard and a crisp-textured bottom and sides. Very tasty. Maybe almost twice as big as the tortilla you get at Jaleo. The accompanying chorizo crema was a pink mayo-textured sauce with small chunks of chorizo inside.

My husband ordered had chermoula lamb ribs and spring vegetable salad, and liked both very much.

Then the bomba rice came, and we had really had enough to eat for a meal. I had ordered the half-order spring vegetable bomba and had added a farm egg on top, forgetting that we had eggs in the tortilla. The waiter had said the half-order was intended for one person but would be enough to share, and indeed it was larger than I expected (maybe the size of a regular dinner plate). It was a terrific dish (though I would have been happy for more crispness in a little of the rice as it was almost all not crisp and the contrast  between some almost burned and the rest swollen with liquid would be good). The vegetables were perfectly cooked, mostly tender-crisp, and in great variety. There were three or four foraged mushrooms (I think maitake) that were luscious, tiny peas in edible pods (a couple of these on the eggplant dish as well - the insides were more like English peas but the peapods were more like sugar snaps, so I wasn't sure exactly what they were other than good), radishes with a little of the tails and/or greens left on, squash, something firm that was cubed (not as firm as jicama, but I couldn't identify it) and other vegetables. The sauce was delicious though a tiny bit too salty, and the egg was lovely (runny inside, firm but not too firm white, and very fresh tasting). 

We took home some leftover bomba and a small piece of the tortilla. They took the leftovers and gave me a coat-check ticket, and then when we left, we presented the ticket at the desk to get our bag of leftovers. Nice.

I did still order dessert as the churros were calling my name. This was a portion of several (maybe five) churros that seemed lighter than usual ones, with little jar of a coconut espuma that had chunks of pineapple (probably roasted) and mango jam. I would like all my churros to come with that jar in future, please. 

I would definitely go back and would get the bomba, but would order less overall. We would probably skip the eggplant next time, as long as we ordered the bomba with the similar vegetables (or the salad).  And we'd skip the ham just because it was a lot of food, but it was excellent quality jamon serrano (comparable to Jaleo and Ser, though it didn't taste exactly the same).

Edit: I forgot a dish! We also had the fried cauliflower with pig tails, grilled ramps, and mitmita lebne. This was closer to a tapas-sized portion but still larger than we expected. Very very tasty - I always like fried or roasted cauliflower but this was a very good version of it. The mitmita was an unusual spice, and I have never been excited about ramps but they were really good, with more of the green part than I expected and even some leaves, I think. The pig tails had given my mom pause about ordering it, but the waiter said they were shredded and not noticeable as tails, and I did not notice them. 

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the food and drinks here are excellent. One thing i really appreciated is that they have a number of mocktails and interesting lemonades, all of which sounded fabulous, and actually more intriguing than the cocktails. 

I agree that the lighting should be turned down, it's actually a pretty space, but the lighting just makes it seem too hotel-ish. 

We really enjoyed the food, though i agree with the earlier poster who said that the small plates are not as good in terms of value. to make the patatas bravas they take paper-thin layers of potato and stack them with butter in between each layer until they are a bit more than an inch high and bake. then they cut them into one inch cubes and fry them, so the edges crisp and separate, like potato chips, while the middle is creamy and buttery. they then top with a great pimenton aioli and micro cilantro. so good! though for $12 you only get 6 one inch cubes. 

The smoked merguez is a small dish filled with a potato leek stew and topped with barely cooked egg and a sausage. i didn't try the sausage (though my husband said it was very good) but i tried a bit of the stew which was fantastic--spicy with a really rich flavor. 

We shared the vegetable bomba which was delicious, perhaps in large part due to the liberal application of that same great pimenton aioli. the texture of the rice was wonderful--completely done, yet with the grains separate and chewy and bathed in sauce. the only thing i wished is that it had been crisped on the bottom at all, which it wasnt. 

the chocolate custard dessert was great--mousse-like custard, topped with pieces of very dark chocolate cake with cherry ice cream drizzled with caramel. 

we had the opposite problem in terms of service--our waiter (actually our second one, one came first then was replaced by a second) didn't mention that half portions of rice were available or the special till prompted (and then by his own admission forgot some of the elements of the special) and then was completely awol during dinner--in fact at one point i would've actually ordered an additional order of patatas, but he never came by, nor did anyone come by to refill my water which emptied halfway through the rice. and we literally waited about 20 min between finishing our entree and being offered dessert. he did, however, start hovering most solicitously right after he brought out the check which was amusing. we didn't get an amuse, but the check did come with two tiny cardamom sandies which was nice. 

overall it was a great meal. when we left at 8:30 saturday the room still wasn't full, which surprised me. 

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Went as a Party of 3 and ordered the foie gras parfait with spiced donut, the crispy potato tortilla and the aged duck bomba. The foie gras gets an A+. The crispy potato tortilla fell a little flat for me. It wasn't very crispy and I thought it was bland. The bomba was outstanding, 'lick your pan' good.

Several folks have mentioned that Arroz feels 'hotel-ish'. I had a similar feeling, but it had less to do with the lighting than the clientele. We ate at 8pm on a Friday night and it felt like most of the diners were hotel guests. We passed three infant carriers on the way to our table, and on our way out there were multiple families donning t-shirts and shorts who looked like they had spent the day touring the Mall. I don't view that as a knock on Arroz (and it won't keep me from going back), but it is something people should keep in mind if they're thinking of a romantic evening out. Also, it's LOUD.

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Pre-Morocco trip dinner to Arroz, to see what I'll be getting into over there ... and my buddy's birthday.

- Cocktails - Abogado - like a Old Fashioned .. tasty

- Patatas bravas - really delish and unique. Expensive for volume, but high quality

- Cured meats board - now that's a good meat board! All kind of porks... 

- Kampachi crudo - delish... fresh fish...

- Burnt eggplant - as desribed by others, a dip, very good, not very much of it; comes with bread

- Fried cauliflower - mmm .. pig tail was a nice touch

- Salt cod croquetas - as one would expect salt cod to taste like, I think 5 of them, about 1.25" cubes

- Octopus la plancha - love me some 'pus... 

- Smoked merguez sausage - one link, made shakshusha style, tasty, probably one of the higher "value" dishes

- Country fried quail - as good as Bangkok Golden's used to be way back when

- Duck Bomba - I liked this one better, seemed more flavorful, a touch salty, rice done well, duck was cooked how I like it, little bit red in the middle

- Pig Bomba - but then this when also tasted better than the duck one, just depended which one I was eating

- Finished with fig liquer made in the Moroccan style in Yonkers, NYC. Not my cup of rakia, if you know what I mean. But cardiologist is from Yonkers and he loves these things.

About $600 for a really fun meal for 7 people. Was full at end of meal. Felt expensive looking at menu, as some small plates were quite small, however Bombas are big, and caps off the meal. If it were two of us, would get one bomba, patatas, merguez, and maybe cauliflower or eggplant - with a few drinks, about $180 - and would have a bit of bomba left over. So, higher value with more people.

Annoyance - I hope MI reads this - we called for 9 people reservation originally, and they said at 9, needed private room/contract/minimum. So, he ended up not inviting a few people and we had 7 people. They seated us at a table for 10 (12 if you are not obese). So, they lost out on 2 customers for a rule that doesn't make sense. You have a 10-12 person table (literally, 10 chairs at table while we dined, 3 empty, it looked like a 1/3 of the table canceled) in the main dining area. It's not private. That's really annoying and dumb. And, 18-20% gratuity is added on anyway.

Special occasion sort of place ... fun for a group, can get quite expensive with cocktails and such.  

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Five friends and I needed a last minute dinner reservation and this was one of the only decent options available same-day.  I had been here a few times before, but not since the chef de cuisine had left.  Our meal was pretty disappointing.  Our service wasn't attentive even though the place was not crowded.  The food was still pretty good but definitely lacked pop, was expensive, and the portions were small.  Our drinks took forever (as they, weirdly, have every single time I've been there), though I really enjoyed mine (it had sherry and brandy and rye I think). 

Overall, this was never the best value proposition, but right now I would just avoid it.

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