Fall Favorites: Poca Madre, Fancy Radish, Himitsu, Bresca, Gravitas

“Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund.” Anthony Bourdain

When asked about my favorite DC restaurants, I consider those that get my heart pumping.  I seek out innovation, favoring restaurants where the featured cuisine or concept is a starting point for the chef to turn things upside down, sideways, and inside out.

This post highlights some of the restaurants that I’m loving right now.  They feature food that is seared in my memory, and the ability to rekindle my affection with a post of an Instagram photo that sheds light on a new dish. These restaurants are a perfect fit for a celebratory night out, but also fit the bill for an uplifting, out-of-the-ordinary weeknight dinner.

Poca Madre, 777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

Chef Victor Albisu recently converted his Chinatown restaurant Del Campo into two distinct spaces: the fourth location of his popular taqueria Taco Bamba, and a handsome modern Mexican restaurant he named Poca Madre. It’s kind of a reverse mullet approach- party in the front, business in the back.

At Poca Madre, Albisu tosses preconceived notions of traditional Mexican food aside and focuses on creating seductive dishes with bold flavors, exotic ingredients, and textural surprises. Say hello to shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche, crispy octopus with ink pepper jam, and “not guacamole” a fanciful meshing of tempura avocado, shishito peppers, epazote and citrus. Don’t expect chips with this one, but this means you’ll be left wondering how best to sop up the delectable liquid remnants.

Fried chicken lavished with a dense mole sauce and sweetened with chili agave grabs my attention and holds it. The melding of crunchy, sweet, and spicy is sensational.

Poca Madre fried chicken

I am equally captivated by a dessert called Suspiro (Spanish for sigh) Mexicano.  Sigh indeed- custard, ash, caramel corn, and slabs of meringue is  the perfect finishing touch to the eclectic food that precedes it.

Poca Madre suspiro

Artistry extends from the food to the décor, with a design that incorporates greenery and a meaningful depiction of a freestanding open door on the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s inspired by a real-life installation erected by Richard Lou in 1988. Poca Madre means “little mother” which translates to cool, awesome, and interesting.  The name is a perfect fit.

Fancy Radish, 600 H Street, NE, Washington, DC

I jump for joy when I learn that Philadelphia-based chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby are bringing a version of their James Beard-nominated vegan restaurant, Vedge, to DC.  My family has food restrictions ranging from kosher, gluten-free, soy free, and pescatarian, so it’s next to impossible to find a fancy restaurant where we can all dine together.

Fancy Radish is a successful merger of diverse elements. The design is primarily industrial but alluring twinkle lights add just a touch of elegance. Plant-based dishes step up to the plate in wondrous ways, a blend of cuisines and cooking styles. Za’atar grilled summer squash is accessorized with whipped leek tahini, pistachio and a very spicy zhoug.  Smoked carrots are uplifted by pastrami spice and sauerkraut puree.  Charred beets take an interesting turn with a niçoise preparation incorporating pole beans and black olives.

Is there a vegan restaurant in existence that doesn’t offer meaty mushroom dishes? It’s de rigeur, but done well is oh so satisfying.  At Fancy Radish maitake mushrooms are seared and served with a snappy smoked remoulade and trumpet mushrooms are highlighted with tomato and basil.

Prices for the small plates range from $12 to $18, with portion sizes that vary. The only head-scratcher for me is Peruvian potatoes tossed with spicy aji amarillo for $12. Delicious to be sure, but it’s a hefty price for a diminutive dish.

Still, Fancy Restaurant is a delightful restaurant that amplifies vegetables in eclectic ways and puts them  right where they deserve to be- center stage.  And that’s not small potatoes.

Za’atar grilled summer squash

Himitsu Monday Night Supper, 828 Upshur Street, NW, Washington, DC 20011

Ask any avid DC restaurant goer to name their favorite dining destinations and Himitsu will surely be on the list.  Accolades include being named one of America’s 50 Best New Restaurants in 2017 by Bon Appetit. Chef Kevin Tien and co-owner/beverage director Carlie Steiner have created a Japanese-inspired restaurant that thrills.  Himitsu is a restaurant showcasing serious talent, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The only downside: no reservations and just 24 seats.

Hold everything- or at least your Monday nights.  Himitsu now offers Monday Night Suppers, a reservations-taken, multi-course, fixed-price tasting menu with an optional beverage pairing.  It’s simply a blast to be part of Tien’s culinary experimentation. Don’t look for anything you see on the standard menu. We enjoy dishes like chickpea and meyer lemon tofu over cauliflower puree, shiu mai with spicy sausage, tartless tomato tart, and forbidden rice pudding with tropical fruit.  It’s a food parade that has me cheering. If you can snag a seat at the counter, do it.  It’s well worth watching the choreography required in such a tiny kitchen. The menu will be updated soon, with Chef Tien planning to focus on Vietnamese cuisine. Stay tuned.

Meyer lemon tofu with cauliflower puree

P.S.  I’ve been a fan of Chef Tien and the Himitsu staff since the beginning but recently they actually became real superheroes.  Read the story here.  

Bresca, 1906 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

My second visit to Bresca confirms what I learn from the first.  Chef Ryan Ratino is a force to be reckoned with. His food is inspired and inspiring.  The Michelin Guide agrees, awarding Bresca one star in the 2019 Guide. It’s quite an accomplishment for a restaurant just completing its first year of operation. Ratino is passionate about foraging, and the restaurant’s rooftop herb garden accessorizes the food with a hyper-local focus.  The restaurant hashtag #seasonthemoment is further evidence of the commitment.

My approach to ordering here is process of elimination. I identify the few dishes with ingredients that don’t resonate with me, and proceed to order the rest.  Don’t miss sea urchin linguine, an umami-laden dish, redolent with truffles  or burrata and baby carrots with figs

Bresca sea urchin linguini

Burrata and baby carrots with figs, blue basil, chamomile, and pumpkin seed is another example of a chef who cares deeply about the appeal of his creations.

The historic contraption doing all the work — along with chef Ryan Ratino, who taught himself how to operate it — was invented in 19th-century Paris. The starring dish is prepared with a metal device dubbed canard à la rouennaise (or, “duck in blood sauce”). At Bresca, up to four ducks per night will be sent through a large crank and a wheel that compacts the featured birds…. Ratino dresses up the production by taking care of everything tableside on a rolling cart pushed up right next to adventurous diners.

The duck is $125, which includes a variety of accompaniments and serves 4-6.

Semifreddo is a breathtaking dessert featuring sugar cured egg yolk and blueberries prepared two ways.  What a way to close out a star-studded meal.

 

Gravitas, 1401 Okie St NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

My list of fall favorites must include Gravitas by Chef Matt Baker.  I wrote about my visit in mid-August, and you can read the full post here. I’m anxious to return to see what autumn brings to the table, and plan to check out the 15-course tasting menu sometime soon.

Gravitas gruyere agnolotti


Links to My Fall Favorites

Poca Madre, 777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

Fancy Radish, 600 H Street, NE | Washington, DC

Bresca1906 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009

Himitsu,  828 Upshure Street, NW, Washington, DC 20011

Gravitas, 1401 Okie St NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

 

Bresca: Bee-witching

I have an embarrassing confession. Until last weekend, I had never eaten food prepared by Chef Ryan Ratino. This may be inconsequential to many of my readers, but I can almost hear the gasps among those who keep abreast of DC restaurants. Ratino was named Rising Culinary Star of 2017 by the Restaurant Association of […]

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