After two visits to Tico I’m still talking about the tasty tacos, tantalizing tequilas, and tender tongue. In fact, the Latin-influenced Tico is now on my regular rotation of restaurants.
If I’m going too heavy on the alliteration, blame it on Tico chef/owner Michael Schlow. The chef, who brings Tico to DC from its Boston location, says his goal is for diners to have fun. I’m responding with some word play. It’s a good thing I didn’t write this after my first visit to Tico, which came just days after dinner at Toro, Toro.
Tico, which opened in June, joins the proliferation of restaurants that line DC’s 14th Street. The primarily small plates menu encourages food play. I find this works best by ordering a combination of dishes to share, and some I keep all to myself. It’s fair to say that Tico brings out my selfish side.
Homemade chorizo with chimichurri may not speak to anyone else at my table, but that’s just fine. The bite-sized pieces of meat are brimming with bold flavor.
And I don’t mind that my friends aren’t attracted to spicy watermelon salad with queso fresco and serrano ham. I’m smitten by the perfectly portioned pieces of fruit and the delicately sliced slivers of meat.
On one visit I fly solo on scallop ceviche with avocado dressing and crispy rice. I enjoy the taste and texture, but recommend this dish as perfectly suited for sharing. After awhile I tire of the richness of the creamy avocado coating.
Tacos top the list of musts at Tico. Two Texture Beef Tacos playfully marry crisp and tender pieces of meat. Duck cracklings provide the crunch in duck tacos, while charred serranos and papaya salsa bring on the sweet and heat.
Roasted cauliflower with chipotle, fava beans, and cotija cheese is plentiful enough for two. Since the dish elicits oohs and ahs before the plate even hits our table of six, I respond by ordering another. Once we taste it, I’m tempted to order more. Could this find its way on a list of DC’s most memorable dishes? It’s certainly possible.
Beyond the cauliflower, vegetarians will value the variety of options. Eating shishito peppers with crispy shallots, lime zest and sea salt is like a game of Russian roulette. This can be entertaining depending on your tolerance for peppers. Some are searingly hot and others fairly mild.
On one of our visits an entree special is striped bass with quinoa, asparagus, and heirloom tomatoes. It’s a departure from many of the small plates enhanced with a Spanish accent, but its a welcome one for my husband.
Tico’s tequilas are tempting, particularly since there are more than 140 to choose from. The nuances are lost on me, but it’s impossible not to be impressed.
Don’t desert Tico without dessert. A plate of cookies features chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin (my favorite), and peanut-butter, and is served with a glass of cold milk. It’s amusing and irresistible.
Tico’s lively atmosphere intrigues and entices with edgy surrealistic paintings, created by Chef Schlow’s wife. Efforts have been made to reduce the noise level, but we’ve noticed as the evening progresses that the lights go dimmer and the music grows louder. Still, it’s not impossible to hear your companions.
Chef/owner Michael Schlow and Executive Chef George Rodrigues may encourage diners to play, but they are delivering seriously flavorful food And that makes Tico totally terrific for a fun night out.
Tico, 1926 14th Street, Washington DC
Washington Post Tom Sietsema review: “With Tico, chef Michael Schlow makes trek from Boston to DC”
Washingtonian Ann Limpert review: “Tico: All Over the Map”
Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2015, #80