A Washington, DC Sampler Plate

Posted by
Andrew Kaplan
The author enjoyed an out-of-this-world meal at Jose Andres’ Oyamel Cocina Mexicana restaurant in Washington, DC

rachaelray.com contributor Andrew Kaplan escaped from New York and headed down to Washingon, DC to explore our nation's capital's food scene.

With the summer nearing its end, it seemed the perfect time to enjoy a short weekend trip to Washington, DC with my girlfriend, Katy. Usually it’s more work than play when I’m in DC, but during this trip, we were happy to cruise around the city and taste a little of what it had to offer.

We started our weekend back at one of my favorites, Chef Art Smith’s Art & Soul restaurant, on the Hill. Unlike the famed goat cheese biscuits at Smith’s Table 52 in Chicago, here in DC, they serve an equally addictive pull-apart bread to get things going. We started with one of their signature hoecakes, the Picnic Basket Hoecake. This corncake-like flatbread was topped with barbecued beans, pulled pork, cole slaw and a baby corn on the cob. Continuing the southern theme, we added the Pork Ribs with vinegar slaw, which were loaded with zesty flavor and had a spicy kick to them. The chef was then so generous as to give us a taste of a new menu item, a Seared Foie Gras with homemade fig jam on top of a mini biscuit. It was simple but clever and the flavors complemented each other perfectly. For our entrées, Katy chose the Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Spring Vegetables, while I ordered the Trio of Maryland Crab, composed of a nearly perfect crab cake, a crispy soft shell crab and a crab and grits-stuffed Anaheim chile. As you might imagine, there was no room for dessert! But it was yet another tremendous dining experience at one of Art Smith’s establishments.

(Art and Soul Restaurant, 415 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, DC 202-393-7777 www.artandsouldc.com

The next morning, we woke up early to check out the recently reopened Eastern Market. We were determined to wait out the 100 person deep line for the blueberry pancakes, but we just couldn’t do it. Instead, we wound up eating across the street at Tunnicliff’s, a little tavern with a standard brunch menu. Katy had an omelet stuffed with bacon, cheese and mashed potatoes – yes, mashed potatoes! I ordered a childhood favorite, chocolate chip pancakes, light on the chips. Energized by our breakfast, what better way to follow it up than to head over to the Smithsonian to check out Julia Child’s kitchen on display! 

(Tunnicliff’s Tavern, 222 7th Street SE, Washington, DC 202-544-5680)

That evening we were both ecstatic to try Jose Andres’ Oyamel restaurant. When I tell you this dinner was madness, I mean it was madness. I had been to his Café Atlantico once before and knew that I would be a fan of any of his restaurants. As I talk about this menu, please note that while I tried each and every dish mentioned, I did not consume it all!

We started with chips, salsa and guacamole. The guacamole had chopped tomatillos mixed in and queso fresco on top. Taking advantage of squash blossom festival time, Katy tried the Squash Blossom Soup, enjoying its light, earthy flavor. For my appetizer, I ordered the Ceviche de atun Pacifico (Tuna Ceviche), which came highly recommended by the server. Truthfully, I am not a big tuna fan, but this was one of the best tuna dishes I have ever had. Next, we had a pork rind and tomato salad with squash blossom and oregano epazote vinaigrette – fine-tuned flavors at their finest. Along with that was a stuffed squash blossom with goat cheese, epazote and a Veracruz sauce. Simple, perfectly executed and delicious. I guess it was quite obvious that we loved food, so our server brought us out the Codoroniz con Salsa Sikil P'ak, grilled quail with a traditional Mayan sauce of toasted pumpkin seeds, cilantro, tomato and habanero chile. I probably sound a bit effusive, but again, it was one of the best quail dishes I have ever had. Katy added the Tamal Verde to the table, which had chicken in the middle and a bright green sauce on top. As for me, I chose the Cayo de Hacha con Pipián de Chile Pasilla, seared scallops with a pasilla chile and pumpkin seed sauce as well as Costillas de Cordero a la Parrilla, two grilled lamb chops with green sauce of cilantro, parsley and garlic. 

The food continued to come from every direction, thankfully in small portions so that we could sample. Next was the Arroz de Huitlacoche con Queso Fresco, rice sautéed with black Mexican corn truffles, “double cream” cheese from Chiapas and epazote herb oil. Last (well, kind of) but certainly not least was a taco sampling. We tried the Tinga Poblana, a stew of shredded chicken with potatoes, chorizo, and chipotle, topped with red onion and served on a handmade corn tortilla. We somehow made room for dessert, a fruity passion fruit ice cream and coconut ice cream served with crumbled shortbread and goat milk caramel. After this incredible meal, we returned back to our hotel with little conversation along the way, as food coma set in. 

(Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, 401 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 202- 628-1005 www.oyamel.com

The next morning, with food still left in our bellies from the night before, we headed to the Georgetown area to take a stroll and enjoyed a late brunch at Café Bonaparte. Katy ordered their Egg & Cheese Sandwich on a croissant and I had the traditional Eggs Benedict. Not only was the restaurant charming, but there was a great-looking homemade ice cream chop across the street called Thomas Sweet. Katy selected their cookie dough ice cream while I tried half chocolate malt and half café au lait – all fantastic choices.

(Café Bonaparte, 1522 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 202-333-8830  www.cafebonaparte.com

(Thomas Sweet, 3214 P Street NW between N. 32nd Street & N. Wisconsin Avenue, Washington, DC 202-337-0616)

I love visiting Washington, DC because there are so many talented chefs and local spots to enjoy. Perhaps overlooked for its neighbor to the north, from the Hill to Georgetown and everywhere in between, the DC food scene is certainly worthy of exploring.