August 12, 2010 | by William George
Busy summer for D.C. foodies

VINOTECA (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Editor’s note: This is the debut of the Blade’s restaurant news column. It will appear every other week. Send news and tips about the local dining scene to writer William George at onefourfiveone@yahoo.com.

After suffering a crippling electrical fire on the morning of June 20, H Street eatery The Argonaut has reopened the upstairs bar area and patio for limited service. During the weeks leading up to the reopening, many members of the Atlas District community banded together to provide assistance to the staff, either in the form of helping clean out the gutted downstairs area, signing petitions to adjust the restaurant’s licensure, or leaving many inspirational messages via Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites.

Two benefits were held for the Argonaut, one at nearby Rock and Roll Hotel (which, incidentally, is the site of the temporary Argonaut kitchen), and the second at H Street nightspot The Palace of Wonders. Proceeds from both benefits went toward an employee assistance fund put in place to provide bridge funding for full-time employees to take care of housing costs and other bills.

Now that the restaurant is open, the menu is slightly different. Standout items include the “PB & N,” made with house peanut butter and Nutella, the creamy hazelnut spread popular in Australia, and a crisp cold gazpacho served with fresh avocado. As the restaurant finds its footing, more items will be added to the menu and the popular themed nights like Wednesday night Pub Quiz will return to drive business.

A projected full scale reopening looks to be at least four months away, taking into account investigations and reconstruction. This week marks Argonaut’s five-year anniversary, and this Sunday the staff will be hosting a birthday party for the restaurant catered by local barbecue house Fat Face BBQ. All week, drinks are $5, from draft beer to top shelf liquor in honor of the event. Hours, menu and an online merchandise store can be found at the restaurant website, argonautdc.com.

Quill Bar, located in the lobby of the super swanky Jefferson Hotel (1200 16th St., N.W.), has crowned a new king of the mixologists in Duane Sylvestre of Bourbon Steak. His winning cocktail, whimsically named “Stained G.L.A.S.S.” incorporates Heavy Water vodka with fresh fruits and herbs from local garden properties in the area. Other highlights included the famed “White Cosmopolitan,” a drink brought to the District from New York’s Upper East Side that showcases white cranberry juice, St. Germain vodka, and, in a spirit of ostentatious decadence, an orchid encased in ice. Sylvestre’s drink will appear on the Quill Bar menu in the near future. (thewashingtonlobbyist.com)

Not to be outdone by its bar, Plume Restaurant, also housed in the Jefferson, has a new feather in its cap. In June, it was voted Best Overall Restaurant in the Washington D.C. area by OpenTable. It holds the top position in Ambiance, Service, and Special Occasion. Executive chef Damon Gordon has put together a series of four-course prix fixe menus for the summer season that change weekly with themes like Tahitian Vanilla, Tamarind, Matcha Green Tea, and Summer Beets. (jeffersondc.com/restaurant-dining/index.cfm)

The Capital Grille in Tysons Corner is in the midst of its 2010 Master Wine Tasting Event. Master Sommelier George Miliotes has hand-selected an incredible list of 21 wines from “the finest wine…regions on Earth.” For $25 you will get an unlimited tasting (with dinner), complete with a guided tour provided by the servers, and, if you’re fortunate, Master Miliotes may stop by himself. The featured regions until Sept. 6 are California, Spain and Australia. Reservations are accepted for dinner service. (tcgdine.com)

Restaurant Week arrives

Monday, Aug. 16 marks the kick-off of the week-long D.C. Summer Restaurant Week. This semi-annual event showcases more than 200 of the area’s restaurants’ finest offerings with both lunch and dinner prix fixe menus. Begun in 2001 as a strategy to boost business after Sept. 11, this event offers diners the opportunity to get a feeling for a restaurant’s signature dishes without the commitment of a full-course meal. Prices are $20.10 for lunch and $35.10 for dinner (not including tax, alcohol or gratuity). The festival lasts until Sunday, Aug. 22, and the full list of participating restaurants can be found at washington.org/restaurantwk.

In food entertainment news, TLC’s brand new show “DC Cupcakes” (Friday 10/9c), centered around the Georgetown bakery, has been renewed for a second season following its six episode summer trial run. The series follows sisters and business partners Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis as they navigate the everyday trials of running an increasingly successful business. In standard reality food show format (think “Cake Boss”), the show aims to shine a light on the relationships between having a family member as your business partner, as well as highlighting the sweets that the pair cranks out every day. It will be interesting to see if the family-owned bakery will survive the big reality TV machine and recover from lukewarm reviews from critics. (tlc.discovery.com)

Food competition juggernaut “Top Chef” continues to bring the drama out of the kitchen and into your living room with a scandal dubbed “Pea-gate 2010.” For those who didn’t watch the July 28 episode, chef Alex Reznik of Hollywood, Calif., won the elimination challenge held in D.C. institution The Palm with an applewood smoked salmon dish served with black forbidden rice and English pea purée. The scandal stems from the fact that Reznik was not shown prepping the purée at any point, but fellow chef Ed Cotton was. On challenge day, Ed was unable to locate his finished purée and ended up having to improvise something else on the spot. It really wouldn’t be so bad if the judges hadn’t praised chef Alex specifically for the purée during judging and awarding him the win based on that component. Chef Ed showed great restraint in not calling Reznik out on the apparent theft, but later that evening the Internet exploded with debates on whether or not Bravo TV is rewarding shady behavior for the sake of ratings.

This week, the chefs undertake one of the most difficult and most anticipated of all the challenges with Restaurant Wars airing Aug. 11. (http://www.bravotv.com)

1 Comment
  • Restaurant week Mmmmmm always a fun-time…however I have one complaint, there is never anything on the lunch menu that seems Mmmm good….Its always the meals that no one really orders during the regular week. Also there are so many restrictions on what, and how much..Im guessing they want your money, but on the other hand they are not going to lose money either.

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