Arroz: Mem’ries

It is impossible to write about every restaurant I visit.  Sometimes great ones get past me because I don’t have time, and the details slowly slip away. (This is the case with Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, a restaurant I absolutely went crazy over, and highly recommend.) It’s been more than a month since I dined at Arroz by Mike Isabella.  I have every intention of foregoing a post, but the lyrics to “The Way We Were” keep floating into my brain.

      Mem’ries, light the corners of my mind…

So while a month is a long lapse between fork and keypad, I’m compelled to write.

Arroz is a modern Spanish/Moroccan restaurant located in DC’s Marriott Marquis in Mt. Vernon Square.  Entrance to the restaurant is through the hotel lobby and then a long, dark pathway, which serves to heighten the anticipation. Once inside the décor is bright and airy, with vibrant colors and architectural touches that evoke Southern Spain and Morocco.

Our visit is on the second night of service, a potentially risky move. A hostess gives us a brief tour of the space.  Owner Mike Isabella, who is becoming one of DC’s most prolific restaurateurs, is seated comfortably at the bar. He seems completely at ease as a bystander, while Executive Chef Michael Rafidi takes the lead in the kitchen. I’m initially surprised to see Isabella’s casual stance just two nights in. By the end of the evening, it’s clear that he can rest easy.  Arroz is in great hands, and early reviews are glowing.

The menu divides into four sections:  meats and cheeses, plates, large, and bomba rice. My party of six strives to tackle as much of the menu as possible, and we do a respectable job.

Big eye tuna crudo delightfully combines green apple, cucumber, smoked serrano broth, and wild herbs.

Arroz Big Eye Tuna

Chermoula lamb ribs are compelling with their dressing up of spring onions, tahini, and coriander honey.  Fried cauliflower is adorned with grilled ramps and mitmita lebne, but veers away from being a vegetarian dish with an accompaniment of crispy pig tails.

Arroz Fried Cauliflower

Saffron fideo noodles with cockles, razor clams, linguica sausage, and sea urchin espuma is a dish that’s both briny and slightly sweet from the cream sauce.

Arroz saffron fideo noodles

Lovely spring vegetables with carrot tahini, garlic streusel, and charred baby beets are flavored with kalamansi vinaigrette.

Arroz spring vegetables

There is nothing like the foie gras parfait with salted honey butter, pickled kumquat, sesame praline, and ras el hanout which – in case it’s not rich enough- is served with a doughnut. I am not the biggest fan of foie, but it’s imperative to indulge in a bite or even two to fully experience the brilliance of Arroz.

Arroz foie gras parfait

Smoky burnt eggplant is served with Moroccan flat bread which is dusted with za’atar. I expect flaws from a brand new restaurant, but my only quibble is not having enough of this bread. Our server wisely takes note of our party’s dismay, and retrieves more from the kitchen.

The flavors of the dishes are so vibrant, that I work myself into a food frenzy.  By the time we are served duck rice bomba, I dive onto the table to dig in. Arroz literally means rice, and this is a signature dish.  Duck Bomba combines duck breast, a confit leg, spicy fennel, burnt cucumber, and spring onion lebne.  The bomba is served in a pan with the rice forming a crispy layer on the bottom.  There are crab and vegetable bombas available as well.

There are multiple posts about servers at Arroz who are too enthusiastic. Our waiter can be described as overly zealous and definitely quirky, particularly as he calls more than one dish “sexy.”  I find him amusing.

Beverage Director Taha Ismail has crafted a list of cocktails that feature sangria and sherry. Rosé sangria with vodka, elderflower, lychee, grapefruit, and agave is pretty terrific. Chocolate tagine with slivers of fried katafi phyllo, macerated cherry, and brandied cherry ice cream is a supremely satisfying conclusion.

Arroz chocolate tagine

We don’t finish the bomba, and although I am in the midst of a conference and staying overnight in a hotel, I have the dish packed up for future enjoyment.  I’m halfway home before I realize that the bomba is still in the mini-fridge in my hotel room.

     Scattered pictures
     Of the smiles we left behind
     Smiles we gave to one another
     For the way we were   

But the saddest part is that I don’t even have photos of the bomba to assuage my sorrow.  Fortunately there are numerous online photos for me to ogle.

     Can it be that it was all so simple then?
     Or has time re-written every line?
     If we had the chance to do it all again
     Tell me, would we? Could we?

Let’s do it again Arroz.  Before those misty colored mem’ries fade completely.

Arroz901 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001

Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post names Arroz #4 on his list of the Top 10 New Restaurants


Arroz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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