Rent, Wicked, The Producers, Book of Mormon, Aida, and Les Miserables are some of my favorites musicals. Next to a good restaurant meal, there is nothing quite like a good Broadway show to get my heart pumping. I’m also a fan of Glee (although it may be jumping the shark). So when I heard that another musical television show was about to debut, it was time to cue the applause. Early reviews of Smash, which is about the creation of a Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe, were promising. I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode. Episode two left me feeling a little bored, and more focused on simultaneous games of “Words with Friends.” Episode three, which aired this past week, had a few too many moments that made me cringe. The acting seemed off and the story lines too predictable. I’ll keep watching (for now), but my level of enthusiasm is diminished.*
Like Smash, anticipation for the recently opened Mintwood Place has been equally high. The chef, Cedric Maupillier, who previously was at the helm of the kitchen at Michel Richard’s Central, is considered a star. Accolades came quickly after the opening. In his early review, Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post writes:
“As far as this diner is concerned, the only thing ablaze is my eagerness to return.”
From Todd Kliman of The Washingtonian‘s online chat on Feb. 22:
“New and not to be missed: Mintwood Place, in Adams Morgan, where Cedric Maupillier (formerly the chef at Central, and before that the chef de cuisine at Citronelle) is doing typically great work — cranking out straight-on bistro classics like cassoulet and steak tartare, as well as offering up some sly, smart takes on tradition (frogs’ legs with black walnut romesco, a lamb tongue moussaka).
There have also been multiple tweets singing the praises of Mintwood Place. Sometimes its advisable to wait for a restaurant to settle in before giving it a shot. I decide this is not one of those times.
Mintwood Place only accepts reservations from 5:30 to 6:30 and after 10:00 pm. One thing I will not do is wait an hour or more for a table, so we go for the 6:30 reservation. Manu of the tables are already filled. There is one small problem. It’s just my husband and I who are dining here, which means I can only taste so much food. The menu isn’t overwhelming, but there are definitely multiple things I would like to try. I resist the urge to order escargot hush puppies, even though this is a dish that has already gained attention. I definitely need to bring a shellfish eater with me next time.
The decor at Mintwood Place is quite an eclectic mix. There is brick; there is wood; there is iron; there are gears; there are lightening rods, etc. Someone had fun scouring antique stores and thrift shops. It all works together to form a cozy- although boisterous- environment.
We begin our meal by sharing goat cheese and beet mountain pie. The crispy on the outside pie is filled with creamy goat cheese. I was expecting the beets to be inside but instead the pie rests atop sliced beets and lightly dressed butter lettuce. I like the texture and the slow ooze of the cheese as I bite into it. For me, a couple of bites is a delicious overture before the heavier dish that follows.
My main course is the hearty and flavorful cassoulet featuring thickly cut pieces of duck, sausage, and pork belly. It’s not a cold night, but this is the kind of dish you wished you had if it was. Todd Kliman says it is “worth going there just for that.” I am actually more enamored of my husband’s dish.
My husband has the whole boneless dorade with braised fennel and picholine olive. The skin is crispy, the inside is moist, and the combination of fennel and olive is stunning. The cassoulet is quite good, but I seriously covet the dorade.
I am seriously full but my husband convinces me to share a slice of apple pie. (it didn’t really happen this way, but it makes to feel better to think it did). The apple pie is not to be missed. It’s got a crispy crust sprinkled with sugar, delicious firm apples, and wonderful ice cream with a touch of caramel sauce. Next time I may have to start with this so I’m not too stuffed to enjoy it.
The service at Mintwood Place is excellent, particularly considering it is still so new and busy. The tables are a little close together, so it’s not ideal for private conversations. It does work if you are up for sharing thoughts about the food with your neighbors- which we do. It’s rewarding to see that an enthusiasm for the cooking is all around us.
Smash and Mintwood Place both had promising openings. Unfortunately, viewership for Smash is dropping while the restaurant continues to gain fans. It’s not easy when expectations are high. You have to maintain the public’s interest and then word of mouth becomes crucial to sustained success. Smash still needs to work on getting all the pieces to fit. Mintwood Place already has the ingredients to be a smashing success.
Mintwood Place, 1813 Columbia Road, NW
My rating (on a 1-5 scale): 4.4
Washington Post review
* This article from Huffington Post says Episode 4 of Smash is the best yet. I’ll be watching.