Is it my imagination or has the term “craft cocktails” exploded recently? Creative drinks with foam, exotic juices, and hand-carved ice are cropping up everywhere, and I must say that they’ve captured my attention. I was never a fan of a simple gin and tonic, and have always been content with a glass of wine or an occasional fruity martini at the beginning of a meal. But now that drinks are becoming more complex in taste and texture, many of my meals commence with a fancy liquid libation.
This brings me to Quench in the Traville Road area of Rockville. As described on its website:
Quench™ is a neighborhood bar, updated and made for people whose days of buckets of beer and ‘sex-on-the-beach shooters’ are in their rearview mirror.
I never was one for buckets of beer and sex-on-the beach shooters, but I’m intrigued just the same. The fact that I don’t have to trudge downtown is an added bonus. My first visit to Quench is in late December. My take: I like the cocktails, but am not enthused about the food. I don’t really see myself returning. On the other hand, my dining companion raves about the corn beignets and loves the shrimp and grits. She sends me photos of our dishes and encourages me to write a blog post. I’m heading off on vacation and promise to to write when I return.
Soon after I learn that Quench has made changes in the kitchen, and so anything I write will no longer be relevant. I am off the hook. “We’ll have to go again,” she counters. I don’t argue, as I really do like the cocktail menu, so we invite another friend to join us in giving Quench another shot.
My first visit to Quench has me sipping “50 Shadz of Grey.” Yes, I pick it mostly for the name. But this Grey Goose based cocktail with cayenned mango puree, blood orange juice, vanilla syrup, lime and prosecco float is spanking good. On my second visit I order “Tropic of Cider” which is served warm and made with tequila, white cranberry, guava nectar, lemon juice, and fall spices. The thick warm liquid seems perfect for a cold night, but it’s too sweet and a touch too powerful for me. I drink about half, and while I keep thinking I’ll have another sip, I can’t bring myself to do so. I wish I had ordered “Sex in the Burbs,” “Honey Boo Boo,” or “Gangnam Style” instead. It’s not too late, but if truth be told I am really just a one-drink kind of gal.
I am ready to move on to the food. There are other places to go for a drink if I’m only interested in quenching my thirst. My friend, still reminiscing about our previous visit, is eager for a round of corn fritters. Thankfully, they live up to the memory of the past. Lightly fried and drizzled with a touch of honey, they are irresistible.
The Super Bowl has left me with an insatiable craving for chicken wings. The DC Wings at Quench do their job in satisfying my desire, with an appropriate outer layer of crunch, a touch of sweet, and a spicy finish. It is the bowl of light and creamy blue cheese vinaigrette dipping sauce that makes me stop and say whoa. So often the blue cheese sauce that accompanies wings is thick, lumpy, and overpowering. This sauce takes a different tack with it’s smooth texture and more subtle flavor.
When the pan seared mahi mahi is delivered the table, I now have no doubt that the food at Quench is far more than a sidekick to delicious cocktails. Nor is this “food that you would find on an Applebee’s menu,” as noted by a former Quench chef in a recent Washingtonian article. Far from it. Because if Applebee’s is serving dishes like these, it’s time I give the chain I try. The mahi mahi with roasted fingerling potatoes, bok choy, pea shoots, carrots, red peppers, lotus root, and wasabi beurre blanc is off the charts, perfectly prepared and presented.
My entree of Mediterranean lamb salad with chopped romaine, kalamata olive dust, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncini jelly, and buttermilk feta dressing is no ordinary salad. I’m thinking, who is this in the kitchen? These dishes are the work of a chef with some technique going on!
I tweet “beautiful pan roasted mahi mahi @quenchnation. Expecting bar food. This is far beyond.” Seconds later Quench owner Michael Holstein is at our table. He recognizes my Twitter name from an unfortunate incident months earlier, when I try to dine at Quench and it is closed for a private party. I was not happy and he promises to make it up to me another time. I’m impressed that he remembers.
Holstein describes the recent history of Quench including the hiring of not one but two new chefs, both with impressive credentials. Corporate Chef Wade Hoo Fatt, formerly of Equinox, Watershed, and a long-time caterer is in charge of catering and future expansion (Las Vegas and Atlantic City are possibilities). There also may be a Quench Market down the line. Chef de cuisine Chris Mack comes to Quench from Roy’s in Hawaii, Policy in DC, and has worked with RJ Cooper at Citronelle and Bryan Voltaggio at Volt. He’s works on menu development and execution.
Chef Mack comes by our table to chat. Our praise of the meal fuels his enthusiasm and he regales us with details about his history with food, some of the techniques he employs, and shares ideas for menu items as new seasonal ingredients become available. We are gifted with two desserts: chai panna cotta and apple rum raisin cobbler with ice cream. I try to listen to Chef Mack’s every word, but my attention keeps drifting towards those desserts. The cobbler in particular is sinfully good, what I would describe as a destination-worthy dessert. (Admittedly, I’m only coming from here from just off Rockville Pike, but I’m just saying.)
It’s easy to write off a restaurant and move on. I do it all the time. I’m grateful that I happened to catch the news about changes at Quench, and that my friend saw enough merit in our first visit to encourage a return. I’m ready to give Quench another shot in the near future. In fact, I just might make it a double.
Quench, 9712 Traville Gateway Drive Rockville, MD
Review of Quench brunch by “Bitches Who Brunch.” They give it an A+.