April 27, 2011

A New Favorite Place on 14th Street

A local cafe, restaurant, or bar is important part of what brings life to a city neighborhood. This is the place people meet; it's a neighborhood living room. I always prefer to go to local places to relax, eat, and people watch whether I’m traveling or in my hometown. Here in Washington DC there are several cozy cafes, restaurants, and bars along 14th Street between Logan Circle and the U Street Corridor. Among these is one of my new favorite places - Bar Pilar.

This bar and restaurant occupies a narrow space on the east side of 14th Street between S and T Streets. Inside there is a long bar and several tables packed into this fairly small restaurant. There is dark wood paneling along the walls and the light from the windows gets muted as you go further back into the room. Bar Pilar is often crowded with standing room only for those that arrive later in the evening. During the warmer months a few tables and patrons spill onto the sidewalk, creating space for a few more patrons.

In addition to the neighborhood atmosphere and good wine, the food is one of the reasons I enjoy visiting to Bar Pilar. The menu is mostly small plates and features creative dishes made with local ingredients. Jonathan and I have come here for dinner and snacks about a few times recently and as I write this I am looking forward to eating there again soon! Some of the tasty dishes we have tried are the mushrooms, a radish salad, warm baby chard with blue cheese, grilled calamari with tomato basil sauce, mussels cooked in white wine with garlic and herbs, Spanish tortilla, and some cheeses. (Jonathan has ordered - and devoured - several of the meat options on the menu.)

Bar Pilar is one of those places you could go, get a glass of wine, and watch the world go by. The fact that they also serve excellent food is bonus. But arrive early, you'll want to get a seat before they fill up!

April 17, 2011

A Neighborhood Room

Situated on a quiet corner in our neighborhood - Columbia Heights - is Room 11. An unpretentious wine bar, this place is like a small little sanctuary of good wine and food. Inside is small with an L-shaped bar, a few tables, and a counter with stools along the window facing the bar's namesake, 11th Street. In the warmer months the seating area is almost doubled with tables scattered about an outside patio.

From the first time I noticed it, Room 11 looked a cute place. However, we had been living in the neighborhood for about half a year before Jonathan and I had an opportunity have dinner here. The first day we went was a chilly fall evening and we grabbed a seat at the counter by the window. (Since our first visit we have returned several times.)

This is a homey, neighborhood wine bar. In the laid back atmosphere friends and neighbors come to have a drink, talk, and enjoy some good food.

And let’s talk about the food at Room 11. On our first visit to accompany our wine I ordered haloumi cheese and a house salad and Jonathan ordered mac and cheese with scallops and braised short ribs. On other visits we have tried baby octopus, fish, pork belly, gnocchi, cheeses, and warm cauliflower salad. I have also tried their chocolate pot de creme with ancho chili and an espresso shortbread cookie. It is a lovely dessert - the heat of the chili is a perfect addition to the creamy chocolate. The wine and food is always excellent - and at the same time the atmosphere is that of a comforting neighborhood place.

Room 11 has quickly becoming my favorite neighborhood restaurant.

April 13, 2011

April 10, 2011

A Taste of Paris in Washington

So, this winter we spent over two weeks in Europe. For Jonathan it was a time to experience new cultures and appreciate the European lifestyle. For me, it was a time to become reacquainted with a place I love and share it with the most important person in my life, my husband. Now, we are back in Washington DC and are both missing the food and atmosphere we experienced in London and Paris. Since we cannot jet back across the Atlantic at any time, we decided to see if any of the French bistros in DC had a bit of that elusive Parisian cafe culture.

There are several French restaurants, cafes, and bakeries in Washington DC. Since returning from Paris, I have had the opportunity to have lunch at Patisserie Poupon and dinner at Bistrot la Bonne and Bistrot du Coin. This is the beginning, but definitely not my final conclusion, of my quest to find an oasis of French cafe culture in my own backyard.

Located on Wisconson Avenue in Georgetown, Patisserie Poupon is a cute cafe and bakery. When you walk in there is a glass case filled with French pastry delights and sandwiches on your left and a few tables and a coffee bar towards the back of the shop. My aunt and I stopped here for lunch one afternoon we shopping in the neighborhood.

One of my favorite things to get for lunch at Paris cafes is a baguette sandwich with brie or camembert cheese. Unlike in the United States where there might be mustard or mayonnaise on the bread, in Paris there is butter. It is fantastic - a rich and creamy sandwich. So, I was curious what the baguette sandwiches would be like at Patisserie Poupon. Much to my delight my brie baguette here came with lettuce, tomato, and butter! And the baguette itself was crispy on the outside, moist in the middle, and very tasty. In addition to baguette sandwiches, Patisserie Poupon has lovely pastries and European coffee beverages.

Bistrot la Bonne is located in the middle of the U Street Corridor and is the first French bistrot Jonathan and I went to for dinner after returning from Paris. It was a cold and cloudy Sunday evening... Bistrot la Bonne was fairly quiet when we arrived. We placed our order and waited for the waitress to bring us our wine. There something almost familiar, but just not quite. The wine was good, but was a different year than was on the menu. Bread and butter is an important part of the meal in all of Europe, but especially in France. And, the bread in France is so wonderful and European butter is normally cultured which gives it a more rich buttery flavor than the sweet cream variety we have in the United States. During my European travels I have always appreciated and savored these simple items. At Bistrot la Bonne the bread was good, but the butter was American not European style.

We shared an order of onion soup that was delightful. (No, it was not as good as the onion soup we had les Gourmands de Ile on ile saint louis, but that was exceptional.) For an entree I had a good plate of vegetables Provencal and Jonathan had cassoulet. Both were good - but just that. We had a nice dinner, but it did not transport us back to Paris.

So, a few weeks later we headed out to Bistrot du Coin. Walking into the restaurant my expectations were high. If not here, where could I escape to what I was missing from Paris?

Bistrot du Coin is a bustling bistrot with high ceilings, a balcony with additional seating in the back of the room, vintage French advertizing posters on the walls, and a disco ball hanging from the center in the center of the room. The atmosphere is always festive and there is the dim of people talking that is reminiscent of busy bistrots and brasseries in France. On past visits to Bistrot du Coin I had tried tartines (open face sandwiches), salads, and desserts.

On this visit I ordered la traditionelle mouclade des charentes (mussels in a curry cream sauce) and frites. Jonathan ordered cassoulet and a bottle of wine for us to share. (This classic French dish has became one of his favorites, as well as his bench mark for all French restaurants after our trip to Paris).

After we ordered, our server brought our wine and some bread. I have to admit, the bread and butter at Bistrot du Coin were not as good as what we ate during our travels. Again, the bread was good but the butter was not cultured.

But, I did not despair... Our wine was very good and our food arrived quite quickly. The mussels and fries were excellent - definitely French comfort food! Jonathan enjoyed his cassoulet very much and said this version of the dish came much closer to transporting him back to Paris than Bistrot la Bonne.

So, how would I sum up my quest thus far? I plan to continue my search, but for now Bistrot du Coin is my favorite place for simple French comfort food in a cozy atmosphere that almost transports you to the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, the English menus and din of American accents quickly remind you of your exact geographical location if you start to dream...

April 2, 2011

Jazz in a Parisian Cellar

After finishing all my blog posts about Europe I went back and reviewed the images on my cameras and discovered some video I took one evening in Paris but forgot to download...

One evening in Paris Jonathan and I went to Le Caveau de la Huchette after dinner. Located in the Latin Quarter this jazz club is in two levels of a sixteenth century building at 5 Rue de la Huchette. The upstairs is at street level and has a casual bar and a few tables. The bands play in a small subterranean cellar. The intimate space and cool smell of the stone walls and floor create an atmosphere that is only possible in the old world.

Here is a video of the band that performed the night we were there: