Firefly‘s gotten a lot of mention around here but we’ve never done a comprehensive review. When I had to pick a place to meet an out-of-town friend who was staying off Scott Circle, Firefly seemed like a no-brainer selection. My darling wife and I met her and another dining companion on a Thursday night expecting a highly enjoyable experience.
We did not get exactly what we expected.
The big shock was the volume of the place. When Katie mentioned Firefly as a possible Mother’s day brunch location earlier in the year she said “it’s so cute and quiet (a requirement in our family, nowhere deafening, please.)” but that couldn’t be farther from our experience. Perhaps it was an abnormal night, or a fluke of the location we were seated in – on the edge of the alcove you can see in the photo above, but with the doors closed to the outside. It’s possible having those doors open to the outside that makes a world of difference, but the night we were there would have driven Tom “earplugs, please” Sietsema to stab himself in the ear with a fondue fork.
In most cases I think “loud” is subjective, but this was really off the charts. You could stand in the middle of Penn Ave at rush hour and the sound wouldn’t be as loud. If you’ve had an identical or opposite experience, please chime in on the comments – is this a situation where the restaurant is reasonably quiet but very sensitive to over-crowding?
Food was a much more positive experience, though I was left a little underwhelmed. We opted to wander around the menu and go for the urban picnic (fun to share, or not) concept that’s placed in the middle of the menu. The only problem we had with it conceptually is that the selections don’t make a very well-rounded picnic. Out of six of the listed items, two revolve around cheese, one is chopped chicken liver and none do much in the way of meeting your daily veggie requirements. Personally I’d have loved to try the chicken liver but most people are liver-averse, even if it’s purely out of ignorance.
I’d have liked to have seen that picnic menu idea fleshed out a little better but there’s no shortage of other small plates and sides to supplement them. In the end three of us shared the shrimp & grits, little bacon meatballs, cheddar & beer fondue, and the sautéed swiss chard with roast garlic. We’d have liked to have gone for another veggie option but we surprised – for a restaurant that emphasizes locally sourced food – that the pickings seemed kind of slim as far as green choices go.
It would be a challenging restaurant for a vegetarian to order off the menu, though I’m sure they’d accommodate you in other ways. The current dinner menu[pdf], for example has only one veg entree and half the sides are potato, cheese, or both.
Given the apparent love of meat & potatoes, perhaps it’s no surprise that the big standout for us was the bacon meatballs. Tasty and delicate, they sat on a bed of thin potato strings which were just the right amount of crispy. The shrimp and grits were good, if unexceptional, and the swiss chard was heavy on the garlic and oil. That was just fine with us, but if you don’t worship the clove as we do you might find it a touch strong.
The biggest let-down for me was the fondue. The love of meat was indicated here as well, which you can see in the picture above – that’s before we’ve touched the broccoli, apples, and half-smoke pieces for dipping. The fruit and vegetable containers are a little low but the sausage is over the rim. More problematic was how thin the cheese was. After a few dips I blew out the heat source in the hopes that the fondue would thicken as it cooled, but it helped very little. It was tasty enough that at the end of the meal we went after what was left with some of the table bread, but it was one of the few times in my life I found myself wishing for less beer.
Earlier I speculated that our noise level might be a question of over-crowding, and part of the reason I wonder that is that I had the chair with a back to the middle aisle. Once I started counting I added up five times that a food runner sharply banged into my chair as he headed back to the kitchen after dropping off some food. The space didn’t seem overly tight when I turned around to look, but perhaps management needs to reconsider the arrangement of tables in that alcove. Our four-top put my back towards a larger round table and it might just be too confined in that area – given the 3 walls when the door is closed and the low ceilings – for that many people.
That seems like a lot of quibbles, but they actually add up to less than the sum of their parts. I wouldn’t hesitate to go again, though I might opt to check out the noise level and have one of the excellent selections of beer at the bar before committing to dinner. I’m hoping that as we head into summer we’ll see a more exciting and diverse vegetable selection on the menu.
Firefly is located at 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Closest Metro stop: Dupont Circle (Red line). For more information call (202) 861-1310.