I found myself planning a last minute trip into the depths of Washington DC this past Thursday. The last time I was in the city, I was but a wee pup, and the lures of spirit and food were but a flicker in my eye. Not this time, however. I fully intended to hit as many cocktail and dining establishments as time allowed. After a perfect weekend, I return to State College giddy, full, and with mystical potions swirling around in my head.
But back to Thursday… I knew I needed to form a plan ahead of time (though as you’ll see later, throwing plans out the window and going on a whim also produces a good time), so I tapped into fellow cocktail bloggers and sent out out feelers on eGullet. I got a good response, and planned from there.
A short note: All of the pictures and many of the cocktail notes come courtesy of Char, the lovely and super fun woman I spent the weekend with. She did a fine job of keeping me in line… you know, making sure we didn’t forget 2nd dinner or a midday potion.
I was lucky enough to snag reservations for Michel Richard’s restaurant, Citronelle, and it’s always a treat to dress up and go out for a prix fixe that lasts three hours. I normally don’t touch on food on Kaiser Penguin, but I think this trip deserves exception. We started off with a mojito and pear sangria, the two most interesting items on the cocktail menu. Both were spot on and a great start. The pear sangria had unobtrusive, perfectly diced cubes of pear and a delicate, slightly sweet taste. The mojito was a delicious swamp of mint and rum, and the inclusion of pure cane sugar was quite welcome.
We decided to go with the wine pairing for the ten course meal, which turned out to be a mistake. Not because all the wines were not delicious, but because we didn’t expect to be served ten glasses of wine, port, and champagne. I’ll pull out some highlights:
- A small cup of potato chips fried in clarified butter was doused with vichyssoise and served, to our surprise, with a glass of Vya dry vermouth. The pairing was at once strange and completely satisfying. Our sommelier was cordial, funny, and quite knowledgeable, so we made sure he stuck by the table as much as we could keep him.
- The strawberry “cocktail” was like a wizard’s potion, layered with deliciously soaked strawberries, a mysteriously scented cream, a mint ice, and topped with a sugar-crusted strawberry stick. We were served a crazy wine that was distilled into a half-brandy, produced by a small distiller and fairly exclusive. I wish I knew more about it, because it was really good.
- Check out the full menu.
Bar Pilar and Cork
The next adventure the following evening led us to two spots, the first being Bar Pilar. Char all but put herself in my hands for which cocktails to order, though there was definitely a good bit of discussion and sharing of potions. We ordered a Bee’s Knees and a Daiquiri made with Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc. The Bee’s Knees was a bit tart, but still quite good. The Daiquiri was a real treat, especially with such a flavorful rum. Both were well made, single-strained, refreshing and went amusingly well with the chicken liver pate.
One block south and we were at Cork, a trendy, hip, way too loud and crowded wine bar. I won’t touch on the food, as it was mostly unexciting (especially the pea soup with a hint of mint, or “pea soup mouthwash” as we came to call it). The highlight, however, was a batch of deliciously prepared sloe gin fizzes. Fresh egg whites, Plymouth sloe gin, and lemon juice. Yum.
Before visiting the hippos, naked mole rats, seals, and various other happy animals at the zoo, we stopped at a little Indian restaurant for lunch. A couple of cocktails washed down delicious tandoori grilled quail, crab fritters, and naan accompanied by at least 5 dips and sauces. A pomegranate martini which was a fairly simple blend including pomegranate juice instead of liqueur was quite refreshing. I ordered a Camparitini (oh how it pained me to type that), which was a surprisingly delicious blend of Campari, Cointreau, and lime juice. Both cocktails offered a buzz that made the zoo all the more interesting. Especially the elephants.
On our final evening, we spent about 45 minutes trying to pick out a dining destination, then we found Proof and discarded all previous ideas. We were turned on by the fact that Proof hosted DC’s Cocktail Week Celebration in May, where many of the fine bartenders from the city gathered in support of The Museum of the American Cocktail. This turned out to be the highlight of the weekend, in food, drink, atmosphere and location. Of all the places we visited, if I had to pick one to return to, it would be Proof. Wanting to avoid the onslaught of 10 wines with the tasting menu, we opted for a couple rounds of cocktails.
The menu was split into traditional and modern drinks, so we ordered two from each. We started off with an Aviation made with creme de violette. The aroma and subtle taste of the violette enhanced the already delicious cocktail. Along with the aviation we ordered the Coquette which is a mix of Rangpur (Tanqueray’s lime-flavored gin), elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit bitters. I had never had Rangpur before, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised, at least in this combination.
Our first bite was a delicate raft of brioche topped with proscuitto and arugula; a perfect amuse bouche. Next came a sorrel soup garnished with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. As our third course came out, so did the next round of cocktails. The Corpse Reviver #2 arrived at the table. It was red. The waiter commented that they had run out of Lillet blanc and used the rouge. I thought, “what the hell?” It was actually quite good, though quite different. Our other attempt was the Duchess, a mix of limoncello, coconut milk, snow queen vodka, and egg white. Yes, we ordered vodka … it was good. Honest! Ok, I’ll blame that one on Char. :)
Our third course was a small stack of heirloom tomatoes beautifully dressed and topped with a fried squash blossom filled with goat cheese. A couple of other courses included a wonderful duck with long beans and a pomegranate sauce and a pink peppercorn short cake with strawberries and vanilla ice cream.
Though not the cocktail mecca of the world, DC put forth a good showing. I know we missed tons of bars and eateries that would delight, and I welcome a future trip to our nation’s capital. Though I think I’ll use mapquest instead of Google Maps for directions next time …
- What restaurants and drinkeries did we miss?
- Has anyone else had Rangpur? In a good cocktail?