Dining Notes

May 2019

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On Barracks Row, the rooftop bar atop Tortuga (formerly Tio Javier), provides a stunning view of the surrounding neighborhood.

Caribbean vibes are permeating our neighborhood. On Barracks Row, we recently supped at Tortuga (formerly Tio Javier), 514 Eighth St. SE. Chefs Lauren Hunter and Brian Guy create ceviche, fried plantains, octopus and whole fried snapper. Parent company is Hill Restaurant Group, which operates other nearby enterprises.

Tortuga’s crispy calamari, savored with a frosty margarita, makes a satisfying repast.

Seated outside, we ordered a “classic” margarita poured into a handsome salt-rimmed glass. Peter’s dynamite Key Lime mojito is the best we’ve sipped north of Tampa. There’s also an extensive rum listing. Since Tortuga was new, the kitchen did not have certain items (including conch fritters) so I settled on crispy calamari. Delicious. Peter’s Crab cake sandwich, while flavorful, was rather mushy. But we were satisfied overall. Lunch for two, with a drink apiece, came to about $50 before tip. Call 202-543-1445 or visit www.tortugadc.com.

More Caribbean
On the other side of Capitol Hill: Cane (as in sugarcane), Peter Prime’s Caribbean hot spot, debuted last month in the Atlas District. Prime showcases “street food” like jerk chicken wings, fry bread, and “doubles,” often eaten for breakfast in his native Trinidad. Doubles are similar to tacos, but the curried chickpea/spicy relish filling is wrapped in frybread instead of tortillas. (A painting on the wall depicts Barack Obama eating one.) Brisket slices are served on freshly baked hops bread (soft rolls); whole snapper is deep fried and tossed with peppers. A soft serve machine churns out smoked coconut ice cream with flavors like Guinness beer and rum raisin.

Caribbean cuisine is heavily influenced by African enslaved people who worked the sugar cane fields, and indentured workers from India (think curries) who arrived during British rule. Located at 403 H St. NE, Cane is open nightly Wednesday through Sunday. Call 202-675-2011 or visit www.cane-dc.com.

Down the street, Valor Brewpub, 723 Eighth St. SE, is launching a month-long pop-up in Union Market. The veteran-owned pub will showcase its house-brewed beer lineup created by Greg Maddrey. Executive chef Ryan Hackney will provide “beer bites” like smoked cheddar pimento cheese and chicken salad, served on Lyon Bakery ciabatta rolls. The pop-up goes through July 1. Closed Mondays, Union Market is at 1309 5th Street NE.

Kabob & More, near Frager’s Hardware, prepares generous platters with Afghan bread. All photos by Celeste McCall

Kabobs and—Pizza?
On the way home from Frager’s, we got caught in a torrential downpour. Lacking umbrellas, we ducked into Kabob & More, 1123 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, formerly Pizza Lole. We returned for lunch. Seated in the barebones dining area, we perused the largely Afghan menu. Meat is Halal, processed according to Islamic law.

Kabobs are threaded with beef, chicken, veggies and combos, but I settled on a Greek-style gyro sandwich, swathed in Afghan bread, an international melding. Peter chose a chicken breast kabob (you can also get thighs). The moist white meat skewer was escorted by fragrant rice, chickpeas and spinach, along with Afghan bread. The latter resembles an oblong pizza crust. In fact, I took it home and piled on pizza goodies and baked it. My gyro, accompanied by a tangy yogurt sauce, was hefty enough to feed two. To drink: sodas and tea; no booze. Kabob & More is open daily, plus carryout and catering. Call 202-544-0910 or email KababMore18@gmail.com.

Beyond Beer & Brats
Dacha, a high-end spinoff of Shaw’s outdoor beer garden, has opened in the Navy Yard near Nationals Park. Russian-born partners Dmitri Chekaldin and Ilya Alter tapped executive chef Taylor Burlingame after sampling his confit duck cassoulet with smoked bacon.

Also emerging from Burlingame’s “modern American” kitchen are escargot, lobster linguine, scallops-and-grits, Muscovy duck. A far cry from Shaw’s beer-and-brats format. No worries;  customers may sip a beer before or after games on the spacious patio. Located at 79 Potomac Ave. SE, Navy Yard Dacha is open nightly; weekend brunch to follow; call 202-919-3800.

Nearby, starting June 15: Smorgasburg, an outdoor market at Tingey Plaza. At the Brooklyn-based pop-up, local vendors will sling yakitori skewers, wood-fired pizzas, Japanese-Hawaiian rice balls and more. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays until at least October. Admission is free.

Wine in Hine plus Burgers
Coming soon: The Eastern, a dressy wine bar on Seventh St. SE, in the 700 Penn development. Due to open this summer, The Eastern will also serve a “limited food menu” and will be open daily…. Nearby BRGZ, a “burger joint,” hopes to arrive later this year at 250 Seventh St. SE.

India meets Italy
Near Union Station, Duet finally arrived at 601 Second St. NE. A culinary marriage of India and Italy, the two-story newcomer replaces Toscana Cafewhich closed last summer after a 10-year run.  Owner Atul Bhola is retaining the Italian theme while importing Indian favorites from his Masala Art restaurants in Tenleytown and Southwest DC. The menu is NOT fusion, he emphasized. “We have two clear-cut menus.”

On the Italian side are bruschetta, calamari, Tuscan shrimp and scallop pasta. At a recent al fresco lunch, I savored a panini filled with grilled chicken, mozzarella and aioli, served with a lightly dressed green salad. Heading the Indian list are kebabs, stuffed baby eggplant, lamb and chicken biryani. Butter chicken arrives in a bowl of what resembles a spicy soup with generous chunks of white meat. Duet is open daily for lunch and dinner, plus happy hour. Call 202-560-5049 or visitwww.duetne.com….Coming soon to 201 Mass. Ave. NE: Pho 79 Vietnamese Restaurant, replacing Kyoto Sushi.

Pizza Pronto
Not far away, in Union Station’s lower level food court, home town chain &pizza has installed a prototype of a compact cube kiosk. It’s open on all sides, shop leader Tyler Shipman explained as I gawked at the contraption that churns out 300 pizzas in about an hour. Five other cube models are on the drawing boards, with locations to be announced. &pizza CEO Michael Lastoria has been looking for space in Union Station for five years, but was put off by high costs.

Culinary Honors
Congratulations to restaurateur Virginia Rollins Ali, recipient of the 2019 Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award, presented by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW). Ali is the widow of Ben’s Chili Bowl founder Ben Ali. In 1958, the couple launched Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1213 U St. NW.  Since then, Ben’s has spawned spinoffs, including Ben’s Next Door, another Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1001 H St. NE (and Ben’s Upstairs).

La Loma Says Goodbye
After 21 years of dispensing fajitas, tacos and margaritas near Union Station, La Loma, the Tex-Mex restaurant at 316 Mass. Ave. NE, has closed. A sign in the window suggests visiting “our original restaurant, La Lomita.” You’ll find it at 1330 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.