Review: Del Campo

22 July 2014

I was running around Washington DC the morning of last Tuesday getting a few things done before an upcoming roadtrip. But it was rather humid, and my tolerance of DC’s summer weather was diminishing by the millisecond. So looking at a few of the places I wanted to try in the area, I settled on Del Campo.

It wasn’t too busy, but I opted to sit at the bar. A nice space, one that would have an astronomical cost in NYC, with high ceilings and so forth. Bar was comfortable and I looked at the menu. I had things to do in the afternoon, so decided to be responsible. Kept myself to a cocktail called jamon de melon — a strange concoction with smoked cantaloupe syrup and the glass ringed with flakes of prosciutto. Not bad, refreshing.

I ordered a nice solid lunch, the bone-in shortribs, with a side of greens.

shortribs_marrow

As it came out I ordered a glass of wine and looked at this excellent dish. They comped me a nice piece of marrow as well. The meat was excellent, as you can almost feel the herb smoked flavour. This is a big thing, as they have a smoker and they smoke just about everything — meats, veg, even cocktail ingredients. Excellent item, didn’t need any sauce at all. The marrow was just a nice touch.

I was actually happy enough to order another cocktail, this time the “Admiral Benbow” which was rum-based with more smoked stuff. Then got even smokier with a “bottled” old fashioned, which they also smoked the glass during the prep. They do like their smoke here…

By this point I realised I was drinking too much and not gonna be able to finish my errands, so I just stayed to drink another few cocktails before taking my leave. I dragged myself back to the Metro and as I was about to walk into my apartment, I turned and went drinking boilermakers nearby for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Needless to say no need to write that part of my day in this review…needless to say a bit of it was a blur…

But Del Campo was a pleasant surprise, and definitely a nice place to eat and/or drink. I now know a good place close to Metro Center to eat, excellent.

Del Campo
777 I Street NW
Washington, DC

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Richmond, oh Richmond…

8 July 2014
Richmond

I decided to take a few days off South despite the weather, a hot and humid typical mid-Atlantic mess. But I have been out of car for awhile, so needed to run….so I took a few days to Richmond. Yes, you saw 2 reviews already, but this puts the trip together…

It was a short drive, less than 1.5hrs down (my beloved Audi…), and I headed to my hotel downtown. I then immediately headed out before the lunch period closed at a nearly place I was told to check out, Comfort.

I sat and had a lot of nice bourbon for lunch and a pork chop…

blackened_pork_chop

Well, it was actually pretty awful…jeez…WTF? The bourbon was good but the food was awful. Pork chop was sliced into sawdust… Beyond overcooked…flavoured okay, but geez… I was a bit out of it thinking of lunch… A dried hickory slice, tho the drink was good… Headed back to my hotel a little distressed how this trip started…

I enjoyed watching Germany thrash Brazil during the first half of the World Cup match so I walked out to a place called Postbellum to watch the 2nd half and to have dinner. Well, so-so move. The menu looked excellent, and the cracklins were nice to start, but…

fried_sprouts

This was awful, the brussel sprouts starter… Nuts, nuts, nuts… I love nuts, but this was a damn mess. And worse? They brought the main when I was still working on it…and the main?

smoked_ribeye

What I thought was good…smoked ribeye. Well, nope. Not that good.

Not sure what to say, but that was a pretty mediocre meal. I went to Postbellum for its reputation as a new good place, but execution is definitely not there…a sad and normal story… Poor execution and poor service. Bringing my main when I was working on my starter is a huge no-no… I wouldn’t come back…

Next day I headed to lunch at a tested place, and went to Pasture. It was a cousin of yesterday’s not-so-great Comfort, but I was told it was good. And it was dead-on right.

green_beans-meatballs-ham_ribs

Lunch consisted of meatballs, which were scrumtious; ham ribs (in them unique Alabama “white sauce”) which were succulent, and some string beans. Darn these are nice. Nice healthy and big meatballs, the ribs were awesome too. An excellent lunch! Comfort for drinks, Pasture for food!

That afternoon I spent some time wandering in Hollywood Cemetery, one of the most historic graveyards of the US. It’s a mess inside and no easy navigation, but I found what I wanted to find.

One of the oddities of the US are presidential tombs of lesser-known presidents. There were 2 at Hollywood Cemetery — the tomb of both President James Monroe (5th — not so unkown), and of President James Tyler (10th).

prez

Now I know Monroe was well-liked for various things, but “Tyler Too” less so… Nevertheless, if you are a historian you’d appreciate this. And just to remind you were in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, there’s also this…

Richmond-Davis_01

Yes, Jefferson Davis. Kept well, with flags. Many Confererate graves are well-kept with flags Much better kept than Monroe or Tyler. Says a lot.

I headed out from the buggy and rainy cemetery soon after for dinner at The Roosevelt, as I chronicled a few days ago. Excellent meal, as I said.

Next day for lunch I enjoyed food at a cute place called Pork Chop & Grits Cafe, an excellent soul food place in downtown. Guess what I ordered?

fried_pork_chop

Yep. This was a juicy pork chop with greens. Excellent! Probably the most honest and solid meal in Richmond, definitely not to miss! Awesome!

Later that evening I meandered to my meal at Lemaire, as I wrote about earlier. I kinda missed the pork chop, you know?

Good time at Richmond despite the heat and humility. After my years in NYC I had forgotten how close Richmond is. I know I will be back again soon.  A cute and learning excursion…

Comfort
200 West Broad Street

Postbellum
1323 West Main Street

Pasture
416 East Grace Street

Pork Chop & Grits Cafe
219 East Clay Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review: Lemaire

10 July 2014
Richmond

My final day in Richmond proved to be a wet and messy one, not surprising considering it’s the middle of July in the mid-Atlantic. At least it drops the humidity a bit. After last night’s excellent dinner at The Roosevelt I picked for this evening’s dining experience the other top-rated place in town, Lemaire.

Now unlike The Roosevelt, Lemaire is an upscale restaurant located in the very posh and historic Jefferson Hotel — one of the nicest hotels you’ll ever visit in the US South. With the former governor appearing in court nearby on a corruption charge, I had expected a busier restaurant and bar — but it was only about half full when I arrived (though the bar was pretty busy and loud).

I bypassed the bar and was seated at a nice centre table. On offer on the drinks menu was a “make your own” Manhattan. This reminds me of the “make your own” Negroni at NYC’s excellent Lincoln, so I happily explored the options. For tonight’s enjoyment I based the cocktail with the smooth Prichard’s Rye, accompanied by the schizophrenic Punt e Mes vermouth. For a special touch, I requested the Fee Brothers Black Walnut Bitters to further bring out the oak in the rye. This made for an excellent balance. Mmm…

I placed my order as I enjoyed my cocktail, relaxing in the classy dining room. One small annoyance as I went through the wine list was the lack of local wines. Virginia has some excellent wines, very underrated. And even in the bottle list it was a little lacking. And with my order, I didn’t want to go by bottle, so had to go by glass.

My starter arrived soon, a half dozen Shooting Point oysters, which came from the Eastern Shore of Virginia (the VA part of the Delmarva Peninsula).

1-oysters

These oysters were tasty, a little more rough than the usual bland ones you get at many oyster bars. Some people may not like these, but it has character. I enjoyed them, especially with some nice chardonnay from the excellent Barboursville Vineyards not far from Richmond. I really wish they had a better selection of wines from there, as I’ve always enjoyed them. But a fabulous Virginia set.

I have to say the service was a little off at times, as it seems they either all crowd in or all disappear. Perhaps they are understaffed during a slow period in Richmond. Oh well. Then my main course was presented.

2-sorghum_loin_pork_chop

This was a thick pork loin chop glazed with sorghum. The flavour was excellent and it wasn’t overcooked, which is very important. The chard and turnips were nice additions to the dish, though the way it was plated it was rather hard to cut without being messy. Excellent, though had to do with a so-so Oregon red.

It was a pretty good dinner, perhaps not as good as last night, but solid. I decided to go with the cheese plate as it featured local cheeses. And since they had a nice Tokaji Aszú on the menu I went for it. Unfortunately the cheeses were extremely bland and had little nuance, and it really was a poor selection. So I had another glass of Tokaji to commiserate the really poor cheese.

It was generally a good dinner and a good place for a nice meal, with good oysters and a nicely done pork chop. However, they really should have switched the local focus — forget the cheese, focus on the local wines. I love the featuring of Virginia products in the capital of Virginia. Otherwise, aside from the little hiccups in service, it was a good evening. Last night was still better though.

I headed out and wandered back to my hotel and had a nightcap at the bar before going to crash out. Had thought of going to hit the bars, but having to drive home in the morning the last thing I needed was to be struck down with a nasty bourbon hangover, so…sigh…

Lemaire
101 West Franklin Street
Richmond, Virginia

Review: Roosevelt

9 July 2014
Richmond

When I planned my trip to nearby Richmond, I was studying various menus to see what would be best for my 3 dinners in this charming southern town. And after some disastrous recent experiences with poor execution, I did a bit of online research too. And after all that, the restaurant in Richmond that rose to the top of the list was The Roosevelt.

I had resisted going to places that required driving, as I really do not like to limit my consumption for the purpose of driving sober, but I made an exception for this evening. I arrived for an early booking and happily sat at the bar of this charming little wooden house just east of downtown.

The sun was still peeking into the restaurant as I enjoyed a cocktail to start, what they called “Secession Happens” — playing at the history of this former capital of the Confederacy — a nice spiced rum drink concoction with citrus that really hit the spot on a hot day. I ordered and relaxed.

Soon my first course arrived, the spicy fried pighead with toad-in-the-hole:

1-pigface

Very tasty morsel of pork here, spiced extremely well. The runny egg added to the overall flavour and helped to moderate the spiciness. Excellent stuff, one of the better “pig’s head” dishes I’ve had in awhile, with excellent flavour and texture inside and out. Excellent execution.

I enjoyed some local white during that course and continued into my main course, the catfish.

2-catfish

I usually don’t order catfish as it’s never cooked well (unless fried in a rather decadent way), but something made me choose this today. And it was a good choice. The fish was tender and juicy and plump, fantastic. It sat on a bed of bean succotash with a broth that’s sourced from peppers. An excellent mixture of flavours that complemented the very specific taste of the catfish. Once again, excellent execution.

I decided on a dessert but had to forego the after-dinner drink due to driving (despite the short distance back to downtown, where I was staying — I don’t violate those rules). It wasn’t easy, with the nice selection of bourbons and whiskeys staring at me… But I went for a very rich dessert, the “foie gras” pound cake…

3-foie_poundcake

What is it? It’s a pound cake, but richer — as foie gras was apparently used in its making. I couldn’t really taste it nor discern any difference from a regular pound cake though, but it was a nice dessert. The caramel gelato topping the cake was a nice touch, really balanced this out.

Sadly, I took my leave after this, knowing if I didn’t have to drive I’d be happy to spend more time here enjoying the drinks. But alas, I drove out here, so it’s time to drive back downtown. This was a fantastic meal, and it shows that even in smaller markets a fine menu and excellent execution can result in a meal that blows away some of the “hottest” restaurants in major markets (like the disastrous Bestia of Los Angeles and the rather unpleasant meal at August in New Orleans). The execution here completely blows away that of the aforementioned restaurants and many more. Kudos to the kitchen.

If you ever go down to Richmond, it’s worth it to check out The Roosevelt. It’s cute, comfortable, and excellent. Some of the best execution I’ve enjoyed in months. Will look forward to going back one day when I’m down there again.

The Roosevelt
623 North 25th Street
Richmond, Virginia