Dining Notes – February 2017

Chef Daniel Sierra plates a chicken dish in the restaurant’s efficient kitchen. Photo: Under A Bushel Photography

!Viva Espana!
Wow, what a classy intro! The eagerly awaited Joselito Casa de Comidas arrived early last month at 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. We enjoyed a sneak preview featuring an elegant reception and sit-down dinner. After nibbling hors d’oeuvres and sipping oloroso sherry, we dined on richly appointed tables as oversize mirrors gleamed over the marble-topped bar. Spanish tiles, vintage posters, and family photos enhanced the warm ambience. “We did not have the budget for an interior decorator,” co-owner Christiana Campos explained. They didn’t need one.

Among chef David Sierra’s classic Spanish dishes we sampled were consome de pollo con chorizo (elaborately presented chicken broth with chorizo), jamon Iberico (Spanish ham), chicken liver pate, habas con chocos (lima beans with cuttlefish, a family favorite), fork-tender Wagyu beef with chimichurri sauce, Andalusian torrijas (similar to bread pudding only better). Spanish wines flowed. Joselito’s regular menu offers these dishes (and more) in three sizes: tapas (appetizers), media racion (half-portion), racion (full size, ideal for sharing).

Created by Javier Candon, the 70-seat charmer celebrates Javier’s late father Jose, who enjoyed leisurely repasts in a similarly casual, inviting ambiance. “Joselito” was Jose’s childhood nickname, as well as the moniker of a favorite bullfighter, Joselito el Gallo, and a popular Spanish child actor in the 50s (Jose Jimenez Fernandez).

Joselito’s “Hemingway Hour” goes daily from 4 to 7 p.m., when guests may enjoy everything on the menu with a 20 percent discount. (The famous American writer spent many hours in Madrid’s restaurants and watering holes.) Joselito is open daily for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, and 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday. For more information call 202-930-6955 or visit www.joselitoDC.com.

Winter Warming
Le Grenier, the popular Gallic bistro at 502 H St. NE, continues its winter traditions. Wednesday through Sunday, cocktails, glasses of wine, and beer are 50 percent off. Wednesday brings half-priced bottles of (selected) wines. On Thursday, $18.95 gets you all-you-can eat mussels. On Sunday Le Grenier waives its usual $15 per bottle corkage fee. Le Grenier is open daily, including weekend brunch. For more information call 202-544-4999 or visit www.legrenierdc.com.

Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is coming up on Feb. 28, and Bayou Bakery, 901 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital) is gearing up. In honor of the festive season, which kicked off on Jan. 6 with Epiphany (Feast of the Three Kings), Bayou chef/co-owner David Guas – a New Orleans native – is baking traditional king cakes. The ring-shaped confections, similar to coffee cakes, are filled with cream cheese and frosted with purple, green, and gold symbolizing justice, faith and power. A small plastic baby is baked inside each. The cakes are served at parties, and whoever gets the toy infant has to host the next fete. Guas’s king cakes (which serve 12-14 each), along with tricolored Mardi Gras beads and a postcard describing the cake’s history, are $39.95. Order 48-hours in advance (72 hours for Mardi Gras day) by calling 202-664-5307. Pick up the order at Bayou Bakery.

Across the Hill at Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE, at chef Guas’s popup Mardi Gras Headquarters, you may purchase king cakes whole or by the slice, as well as praline-topped sugar cookies with purple, green, and yellow sprinkles. There’s also his own GrasNola (honey-sweetened granola). Bayou’s popup goes through Feb. 28.

Gator Aid
Speaking of the Pelican State, here’s a tidbit for Super Bowl festivities (the big game is on Feb. 5). Ivy City Smokehouse, that lively restaurant/seafood market in the Hecht Development, often sells alligator morsels. Priced at $18.12 per pound, they come from Louisiana, where the deep-fried critters are a popular bar snack. Yes, they taste like chicken. Located at 1356 Okie St. NE (off New York Avenue), Ivy City is closed Monday. Call 202-529-3300.

Turkish Delight
Just around the corner from Ivy City Smokehouse, Pidzza arrived last month at the Hecht Warehouse at Ivy City. Created by Koray Bozkurt, Pidzza showcases “gourmet pizza with Turkish flair.” Guests may choose to compose a salad or pizza with fresh ingredients, or else order from the menu. Two kinds of handmade dough (one is gluten-free) are shaped into signature oval pie shapes and stacked with the likes of ground Angus beef, tomatoes, onions, and a “special spice blend.” Pidzza’s alcohol license is reportedly in the works; meanwhile guests may quaff housemade sodas or ayran, a refreshing, carbonated mint and yogurt drink.

Pidzza has created a giving-back bank, where patrons and management leave extra money for someone’s meal later. Located at 2000 New York Ave. NE (entrance on Okie Street), Pidzza is open daily for lunch and dinner; call 202-635-0890 or visit www.pidzza.com.

Valentine’s at Hank’s
Hank’s Oyster Bar (on the Hill) is taking reservations for a special Valentine’s Day menu on Feb. 14. Starting at 5 p.m., the lineup might encompass chilled seafood, heads-on shrimp and cheddar grits, key lime pie, and much more. Hank’s is at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; for more information call 202-733-1971.

Veggie Hour
Just across the street from Joselito, Beuchert’s Saloon, the former speakeasy at 623 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, offers a happy hour for those once-illegal alcoholic beverages, plus healthy vegetarian dishes. Monday through Friday, from about 5:30 to 10 p.m., you can order assorted veggie small plates for just $5 each. On a chilly Monday evening, our friends Patrick and Marilyn enjoyed roasted cauliflower, spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes. Starting at 4 p.m. you can sip a $4 glass of wine, or a special cocktail or beer for $5. Regularly priced victuals and potables are available as well. Beuchert’s is open daily. For more information call 202-733-1384 or visit www.beuchertssaloon.com.

The food world mourns Michael Birchenall, editor/publisher of regional trade magazine Food Service Monthly, who died on Jan. 9. He was 68. He succumbed to complications following a lung transplant about three years ago. I was privileged to know him and occasionally contribute to his publication.

Nutmeg Man
An old friend of ours, former Hill resident Ed Riner, died of cancer last month in California. He was 78. Ed and neighbors Dan Rumelt and Tony Capaccio were fellow journalists, but Ed moved to Hollywood to pursue an acting career. A gourmet cook, he loved nutmeg. During the holiday season he threw eggnog parties in his Capitol Hill home. He would personally grind the pungent spice on every cup of the rich (and heavily spiked) drink. He even had a collection of nutmeg graters. When his beloved cat Bingo turned 16, Ed made a “tuna cake” of white bread topped with tuna fish and the appropriate number of candles.

Dan Rumelt and wife Kathie Klass (Ed’s DC lifeline for years) flew out West to collect Ed’s things, and we hope they retrieved his nutmeg graters. Ed and his spicy culinary expertise will be missed.

‘Bye for Now
As we do every winter, Dining Notes is heading to warm and sunny (we hope!) Florida. We’ll be back in April.