Dining Notes – September 2017

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Salt Line specializes in ultra-fresh, sustainably harvested shellfish. Photo: Celeste McCall

Where did the summer go? We finally dined at Sospeso, the Mediterranean charmer that arrived last winter in the Atlas District. Situated across the street from the Atlas Theatre, the newcomer is operated by Italian-American Mike Rosato, who taps recipes from his forebears, adding culinary elements from Turkey and the Mediterranean.

At Sospeso, linguine carbonara is a satisfying entree, enhanced with sweet corn. Photo: Celeste McCall

Sospeso serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, starting with freshly brewed Stumptown coffee, Greek-style yogurt, and simit (sesame seed-crusted Turkish bread ring filled with jam, mascarpone, and other delights). Midday brings porchetta, a Tuscan-style roast pork sandwich. For “hapertivo” (happy hour) the bartender shakes up house-infused vermouth cocktails. For dinner: roast chicken, lamb pilaf, homemade pasta. More about that later.

Sospeso has three levels, with a second-floor bar appointed with bookshelves and a small balcony with benches overlooking H Street. Surprisingly, the top level holds the wine “cellar.” Decor is Mediterranean/industrial, with skylights and rustic elements.

On a quiet midweek evening, we had hoped to dine al fresco, but Sospeso has no outdoor seating. So we perched by the front window. The stools there were uncomfortable, but our server, Turkish-born Hati, promptly supplied us with cushions.

From the small but interesting wine list we sampled an Albanian red which we found too sour, before settling on a wonderfully mellow Spanish tempranillo.

I had my culinary heart set on chef Lauren Sanders’ linguine carbonara, and requested a half portion. Hati relayed my request, but the kitchen could not comply. No problem. But first, an appetizer. Peter, who fancies anything with beets, insisted on the watermelon/beet gazpacho, a refreshing melange of beets, watermelon, pickled grapes, cucumbers, and cilantro.

Watermelon/beet gazpacho is an unusual, refreshing starter at Sospeso. Photo: Celeste McCall

Peter absolutely loved the chilled soup, so I decided to replicate it myself a few days later. I skipped the grapes, tapping watermelon from my freezer along with pickled beets (and their juice) flavored with cloves. My version was a hit.

Back to Sospeso. Yes, I ordered the full portion of pasta carbonara, an off-beat rendition enhanced with late-summer sweet corn. It could have used more garlic. I ate half and took the rest home. Peter’s lamb pilaf was delicious; saffron rice was studded with slow-roasted lamb, raisins, pistachios, and cardamom, crowned with a thatch of crispy onions. We saved room for dessert: baklava ice cream, an unusual concoction of homemade semi-fredo folded with the traditional Greek pastry, further sweetened with honey with a kiss of cinnamon.

The name Sospeso comes from “caffe sospeso” (suspended coffee), a practice of someone anonymously paying for coffee for someone else. Sospeso hopes to carry on that tradition. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (until late), Sospeso is located at 1344 H St. NE. Call 202-827-3123 or visit www.sospesodc.com.

Riverfront News
As Washington’s baseball season enters its homestretch, the surrounding neighborhood has been keeping pace. In the burgeoning Capitol Riverfront, Washington Salt Line Oysters + Ale opened on Memorial Day weekend at 79 Potomac Ave. SE, practically in the shadow of Nationals Park. For a recent Sunday midday repast, we sat outside overlooking the river. We would have enjoyed the indoor nautical, New England decor, with colorful murals and a boat poised over the back dining area, but the air-conditioning had been cranked up to near freezing. Fellow patrons were clustered around the outdoor bar.

Although it opens 90 minutes before Nats home games, Salt Line is not a place for a quick bite beforehand. Instead, go afterwards and celebrate a home-team victory with a leisurely dinner.

As we unrolled our dishtowel napkins, we sipped horseradish-laced bloody Marys and perused chef Kyle Baily’s menu. His lobster roll offers a choice of buttered or dressed with tarragon mayo. Our savvy waiter advised getting the buttered. Since we’re paying $26, he said, we might as well get our money’s worth with more lobster. Good advice. The crunchy roll was overflowing with big lobster chunks. Well worth the money.

Equally good choices were Peter’s appetizer of deep-fried Ipswich clam bellies with homemade tartar sauce and lemon wedges, and the Nashville softshell crab. Why Nashville, hundreds of miles away from any ocean? Our server explained that the Nashville method means griddled white bread and pickled green tomatoes. The seasonal crab itself was dredged in spicy batter and deep-fried.

Salt Line oyster restaurant, near Nats Park, sports a lively outdoor bar. Photo: Celeste McCall

Salt Line delivers yet more good fishy news. Participating in the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the kitchen gathers leftover shells which are picked up each week, ground up, and returned to the water. The menu’s “daily catch” comes from Old Line Fish Co., member of a program connecting small-scale fishermen to our community through sustainable seafood sourcing cooperatives.

We shall return to Salt Line for dinner, when we will sample the New England-style clam chowder, grilled octopus, and cucumber watermelon salad with feta and almonds. Salt Line is open nightly from 5:00 to 10:30 p.m., the raw bar ‘til 11:00 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday brunch (lunch). Call 202-506-2368 or visit www.thesaltline.com.

Future Neighbors
Coming soon to the same Riverfront complex (79 Potomac Ave. SE) is All-Purpose Pizzeria, which operates a sister restaurant in Mount Vernon Triangle near the Washington Convention Center.

At 385 Water St. SE, District Winery is due to open later this year.

Look for another Dacha beer garden nearby. The original Dacha is in Shaw, with a third garden planned for 14th Street NW. However, some folks are opposing it. Stay tuned.

Cava News
Cava Group Inc., which cleaned up at the July 30 RAMMY Awards ceremony (see below), is expanding its empire. Later this year, look for offshoots in Union Station, Navy Yard, and H Street NE (Atlas District). Cava plans 20 new restaurants in 2017, taking their hummus, salads, kebabs, and baklava to more than 40 locations nationwide.

With a new production kitchen in Laurel, a new corporate office in Chinatown, and a home base to test new products, Cava is committed to Washington, the community where its founders and their business have thrived.

Rammy Winners
The results of the 2017 RAMMY Awards, presented by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), were announced too late to make the August “Dining Notes,” so here they are. Cava Group Inc., which operates a tasty outpost on Barracks Row, snagged a pair of wins. Restaurateur(s) of the Year went to Cava Group Inc.’s Ike Grigoropoulos, Dimitri Moshovitis, Ted Xenohristos, and Brett Schulman. Cava Grill – part of Cava Group – took Favorite Fast Bites honors. Other winners on or near Capitol Hill were Charlie Palmer Steak (Wine Program of the Year) and Jemil Cadea of Masseria (Pastry Chef of the Year). Awards were presented on July 30 at a lavish, black-tie gala at the Washington Convention Center.

Tea Leaves and I Scream…
Capital Teas has pulled up stakes on Barracks Row (731 Eighth St. SE) while retaining its other area outposts. Meanwhile, the vacant space is planning ice cream popups, partnering with Ice Cream Jubilee, which has shops at 301 Water St. SE and in Shaw.