Like most people, I was excited to try out Sixth Engine, with a lot of the appeal coming from its setting: a historic firehouse house built in 1855 and the oldest in Washington, DC. Located north of Chinatown in the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood, Sixth Engine serves modern American cuisine and comes to us from the team behind Capitol Hill’s The Dubliner Irish Pub.
I went there last week and even though it was freezing outside, the place was packed. Owner Gavin Coleman and team did a great job with the decor, though I wish the second floor didn’t feel so separate from the first: think doors, steps, and more doors. The industrial feel was appreciated albeit expected, and the furnishings and fixtures added to that historic appeal.
The food different story. Before I get to the negatives, the wine menu was uninspired and pricey, so I went for a regular cocktail instead and everything I tried was pretty good, so maybe the trick is to treat Sixth Engine more like a bar. The menu had many different options — it isn’t often that you see spaetzle on the same menu as a linguine. The prices were average (still on the high side) for the neighborhood, though more than worth it if the food turned out to be stellar. Unfortunately, that was far from the case.
A tip: I had the complimentary chips and dip - skip that and ask nicely for bread instead.
I’m a lover of pork belly. It’s supposed to be a cut of fatty meat, which is not what I had on my plate. Instead of a juicy piece of pork, I was presented with a hunk of meat difficult to tear apart, overcooked, and bland. There was no sauce from the cut, and just this cream cheese based topping that didn’t help much.The Spaetzle appetizer suffered the exact same trouble. While perhaps a good effort, I could barely taste the ricotta on the dish, and it was saved only by the salt shaker on the table. The dish was, again, bland and flavorless. The almonds were the highlight.
I order scallops wherever I go, and thought I set myself up for disappointment based on how the appetizers held up. I was actually very pleased. They were plump and grilled perfectly. The problem was that they were served with nothing save a small puree and a few mushrooms on top. For that, the dish was not worth more than $20. Still, I would be happy to go back and order this dish again.
What I had noticed by this point is that all the dishes looked beautiful, garnering a wonderful grade in presentation, but the taste never truly matched the look. The Pot Roast looked quite appetizing, but was again bland and dry. The carrots were actually more flavorful than the beef, which was again severely overcooked.
Being that I always have to try everything, I also had the Apple Fritters. The dessert was the best part of the meal. But, to be fair, I went to the restaurant on the second day that it had officially been open. I’m a fan of Chef Paul Madrid’s and hopefully some dishes will be improved soon.
I can’t end this without mentioning the service. It was impeccable. Keep that up and you will have me there.
Sixth Engine is located at 438 Massachusetts Ave NW. The closest metro station is Gallery Place-Chinatown (Green, Yellow, Red Lines). For more information, call 202-506-2455.