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The Atlas Room Shines on H Street

1 Aug

It seems like yesterday when Granville Moore’s and The Argonaut were the pioneers of the rapidly developing Atlas District back in 2006. Flash forward five years: H Street is now lined with sushi shops, biergartens, and concert venues. It has truly become a neighborhood of its own within a few short years. The Atlas Room might be the gem of the block.

Rachel and I have been meaning to try The Atlas Room since they first opened last November after hearing friends rave about the place. We felt it was an ideal place to go with friends, including some who were visiting from New York City. The six of us made a reservation for Saturday night after spending the day as tourists, which was capped by a stunning view from the top of the Old Post Office Pavilion (highly recommended by the way, DC resident or not).

Short Rib Ravioli

If you have never been to The Atlas Room before, it’s easy to miss. Granted, it has more signage than Granville Moore’s, but it is one of the smaller restaurants you’ll find in the District. In fact, they only have seven tables (with seating up to 28) in their dinning room according to their website. There was a bar in the back left corner of the space which had some additional seating as well.

Speaking of the bar, we started the evening off with some pre-Prohibition style cocktails. I ordered the Ward 8, which was made with bourbon, orange juice, lemon juice, and grenadine. Props to the bartender as this was one tasty beverage – it went down smooth without being overly tart. Rachel ordered a Pisco Sour, which featured Macchu Pisco, lime juice, and egg whites. It was sweet and frothy and was a great hint of what was to come in terms of creativity.

Macchu Pisco

The menu at The Atlas Room is different from most restaurants as dishes are categorized by their main ingredient (chicken, pork, beef, etc.) and then broken down into three sizes (small plate, appetizer, entrée). Our waiter helped explained the structure of the menu and provided a very helpful method on how to order.

He suggested that the plates be broken down into a points system, where the small plate is equivalent to one point, the appetizer is equivalent to two, and the entrée is equivalent to three. He recommended that each diner should order four points worth of dishes for dinner.

Roasted Free Range Chicken Breast

I decided on the short rib ravioli and roasted free-range chicken breast after following the waiter’s advice. The former sounded delicious just from its description while the latter was an appealing main course without the red meat double-dipping.

The ravioli was indeed excellent, and even then some. Between the tender short rib, al dente pasta, and outstanding demi-glace, it was a marvelous dish. While the plate only came with three ravioli, I tried to ration them as much as I could. In fact, at least half of our table ordered it and had the same glowing response as I did. If there’s one dish I would wholeheartedly recommend at The Atlas Room, this would be it.

That’s not to say the chicken wasn’t great, because it most certainly was, it was just a hard act to follow. Nonetheless, it was a generous amount of food for $19. The plate came with a breast and thigh as well as roasted potatoes, grilled spring onions, sautéed oyster mushrooms, and a rosemary jus. Chicken is typically difficult to pull off given the potential dryness, but Chef Beard executed it wonderfully. The meat was juicy, the skin was crispy, but it was the rosemary jus that really brought the flavor out and made it a more memorable dish.

Beet Salad

Rachel went with two small plates and one appetizer. First up was a beet salad, which was one of the day’s specials, and consisted of mixed greens, fresh heirloom tomatoes, balsamic, and fresh beets. You could tell the produce was straight from the market as it was a great, fresh summer salad, but it didn’t particularly wow her.

She had heard from friends that we had to order the chicken wonton soup, and it may have been her favorite dish of the night. The soup featured chicken dumplings, shitake mushrooms, and a savoy cabbage broth with crispy onions. If wonton soups were prepared like this in Chinese restaurants she would order them all the time.

Her last dish was the grilled seafood salad and was prepared with chilled mussels, calamari, and shrimp over Israeli cous cous. You could tell that this was meant to be a small plate in that it felt like a dish that would build to bigger flavor profiles. There was definitely enough food and she felt full after these three plates, but Rachel wondered if she would have been better off just trying one of their main entrees (with the wonton soup, of course).

Pineapple cake topped with hazelnut ice cream

We split two desserts amongst the six of us. The first was an upside-down pineapple cake topped with hazelnut ice cream while the other was a chocolate cake topped with lavender ice cream. Looking back, we probably should have ordered the ricotta fritters as we didn’t need two ice cream-topped pastries, but I digress.

The pineapple cake proved to be the favorite between the two given how refreshing it was. The hazelnut ice cream was a nice touch and complemented the pineapple flavor without overwhelming the cake. The chocolate cake was clearly the more decadent of the two desserts as the chocolate was topped with an almond cookie which was then topped with hazelnut ice cream! I really enjoyed it but I think it was too a little heavy for some of our tablemates.

Chocolate Cake

Overall, we were very impressed with The Atlas Room not only because of the great service (our waiter was extremely accommodating), but also because of the excellent food. Our entire party was very happy with the entire experience and left The Atlas Room full and content. It really is H Street’s finest.

Atlas Room on Urbanspoon

Opening Week Dinner at Smith Commons

12 Jan

The Atlas District continues to revitalize the Northeast neighborhood with the addition of another restaurant, this time in the form of a gorgeous three-story bistro dubbed Smith Commons.

We were very enthusiastic about Smith Commons’ opening not only because it provides the area with another eatery, but also because of its diverse food and beverage menu, particularly their impressive beer selection.

Confit of Duck Leg

Speaking of beer, we arrived half an hour early for our reservation and took a seat at the bar. Their list of will certainly grab a beer connoisseur’s attention as they offered a range of microbrews. Furthermore, because it was “Smith Hour”, all drafts were just $5. Hell of a deal if you ask me.

Rachel ordered a glass of Great Lakes Eliot Ness while I went with my beloved Ommegang Witte. We were about to pay the bartender the $10 for the tab when a gentleman stepped in and requested that he pay for the pint of Eliot Ness. Turns out he was a Great Lakes sales rep! We struck up a conversation as he told us about the Cleveland-based brewery. Not a few moments later, I then order an Eliot Ness for myself. It really is one delicious beer.

The two of us decided to get a bite at the bar since we still had some time to kill before dinner, so we ordered an Eggplant Lasagna appetizer. When it was arrived, the presentation definitely confused me.

The bartender served us a small shallow bowl that was topped with greens. At first, I thought it was a complementary side salad. After digging around with my fork, beneath the greens were layers of grilled eggplant along with creamed spinach and goat cheese crumbles. It was such an unorthodox dish but the combination of ingredients worked tremendously well despite its deceptive façade. I have never had lasagna like that but it proved to be a worthwhile starter. They also served bread with it which I thought was supposed to complement the lasagna, but we had already eaten most of it by the time our dish arrived.

Sea Bass

Once our table was ready we were promptly seated and given the restaurant’s limited opening week menu. The restaurant had just open several days ago, so they offered a promotion of 25% off guests’ final checks, excluding alcohol, tax, and tip of course.

We decided to go right for the entrees since we already had an appetizer and drink at the bar. I ordered the Confit of Duck Leg while Rachel went with the Sea Bass.

The duck was beautifully arranged as the port wine sauce was artfully drizzled around the plate. While the menu said the entrée came with sautéed spring mushrooms, it was instead served with fingerling potatoes. Not that I minded, but I’m just assuming this was one of the kinks they were working out in the kitchen.

As for the confit itself, this was the first time I have had it when it wasn’t served boneless. Now there’s no going back as the meat was even more flavorful coming right off the bone.

Rachel decided on the sea bass, since she can never pass up one of her favorite types of fish. It was seriously one of the biggest cuts we have seen of sea bass before, and each bite melted in her mouth. The only complaint would be that the fish could have used a little more sauce or a crust on it, but it was so flavorful on its own that it didn’t really need it. The dish came with grilled greens, capers, a balsamic basil dressing, and two small potatoes. Even I thought the fish was excellent and I’m pretty picky when it comes to what fish I eat.

Crêpe Mikado

The waitress asked fairly quickly if we were done, and at the time we thought we were, so the check came right away, which we paid for. We thought of possibly going somewhere else nearby for dessert such as Toyland, but while we were sitting in the cozy dining room, we decided to just stay and order dessert at Smith Commons instead of venturing back into the cold.

So, we called back our slightly confused waitress and then concluded the evening with coffee and dessert. After some deliberation over the sweets listed on the menu, we eventually decided on the Crêpe Mikado. Between the warm, thin pastry and even warmer Belgian chocolate sauce, not to mention the vanilla ice cream tucked in the center, the crepe was outstanding. The coffee was even served with a French Press which was a very nice touch.

Overall, Smith Commons is a welcome addition to H Street. It is great to see another restaurant offer moderately priced yet upscale food and drinks, along the lines of The Liberty Tree and Granville Moore’s. All it takes is good cuisine and a clean, well-designed space. Smith Commons succeeds in both.

Smith Commons on Urbanspoon

Hanukkah Dinner at Star and Shamrock

7 Dec

Before heading over to the Free Energy show at Rock and Roll Hotel last Wednesday night, we thought to ourselves, what better way to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah than by having a “holiday meal” at nearby Star and Shamrock?

While we have been to the Atlas District countless times, we finally had the opportunity to step foot into H Street’s Jewish deli meets Irish tavern.

Open Face Roast Beef SandwichWe grabbed two seats at the bar and, without hesitation, ordered the latkes. It is Hanukkah, after all.

Just a few minutes later, six huge, freshly fried potato pancakes arrived in a basket with a side of apple sauce. While I wasn’t too crazy about them being deep-fried as opposed to being traditionally cooked in a pan, they were still rather good.

And since I’m the type of person who strays away from having his latkes on the soggy side, I came away impressed with the crispy texture. Just judging from their sheer size alone, these are not definitely your bubbie’s latkes.

For dinner, I ordered the open face roast beef sandwich with gravy, one of the specials Star and Shamrock was offering that night. While the roast beef itself was decent, the bread was ridiculously over-buttered to the point that you could nearly taste the food that was cooking on the griddle earlier that day.

The butter flavor nearly overpowered the sandwich’s contents, and that includes the subpar gravy. While the bread surprisingly did not become too soggy, it was unfortunate the meal took such a dive after the latkes.

Potato Latkes and Matzo Ball SoupRachel, on the other hand, played it safe and went with the traditional matzo ball soup. The matzo ball itself was very large, yet had good density – not too hard but not soggy either. Yes readers, there is a science involved when it comes to matzo balls.

In fact, it was so big that it took up nearly the majority of the bowl. It was difficult to enjoy the broth when you had to cut through so much of the matzo ball. In regards to flavor, it was just average.

All and all, nothing really stood out except for maybe the latkes, and considering we recently cooked some frozen ones from the Golden label a few days ago (which are excellent, by the way), that’s even a stretch.

At least Free Energy put on a great show.

Star and Shamrock on Urbanspoon