Capital Chefs, Food and Drink, The Features

Capital Chefs: Mike Friedman of The Red Hen

Chef Mike Friedman at The Red Hen

Chef Mike Friedman at The Red Hen

We’re revisiting our Capital Chefs feature with a series by music reporter Mickey McCarter. A lot has been happening recently in kitchens in D.C. restaurants, and Mickey takes a look into them from his usual seat at the bar in this series, which runs weekly on Thursdays.

Positively embarrassed that I had not yet eaten at The Red Hen by the time it picked up a few RAMMY Awards last month, I recently slipped up to the 18-seat bar that dominates the room for dinner and a chat with Chef Mike Friedman.

Like myself, Friedman often enjoys eating at bars. It’s more casual and you can talk to the bartender and the people around you. Stroll in for a pasta and a glass of wine and you’ve struck gold. On this particular visit, I’m also very happy to hear David Bowie and the Talking Heads on the restaurant’s sound system, which makes me feel right at home. Friedman’s business partners Michael O’Malley and Sebastian Zutant decide what’s on the radio at the restaurant, he told me.

While good music does indeed make for a comfortable bar experience, there’s way more to The Red Hen, of course.

“Bars drive business to a certain extent. We didn’t want to have a restaurant that was a bar. We wanted to have a restaurant that was a restaurant,” Friedman said. “There is a central bar at The Red Hen where everybody dines. It’s the overflow for people that can’t get tables. It’s rare that you see it three seats back. We usually send people around the corner to Boundary Stone, which is our local bar. And they wait until they get a text from us saying that their table is ready.”

DC restaurants generally have been getting back to basics when it comes to food, Friedman said. And good neighborhood places have been able to excel by taking a more casual approach than some fancier DC staples.

Friedman compared the latest wave of DC restaurants to the scene in Paris some six years ago, when sous chefs were leaving Michelin-starred restaurants to open small bistros of their own.

“We are not at that level Paris was at, but certainly here you are seeing that new wave coming,” Friedman said.

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Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Food

We Love Food: Vace Italian Delicatessen

Photo courtesy of
‘Vace Italian Deli’
courtesy of ‘Mr. T in DC’

Vace in Cleveland Park isn’t just an Italian market, it’s a way of life. The best way to explain this is with this little story. A friend of mine loved the pizza from Vace so much that every time he ordered it, he never made it home without eating a good portion of his order mid-commute. Not so interesting? Well, let me set the actual scene. He would order a large pizza while on the train at Metro Center, head up to Cleveland Park and spend the walk down Connecticut Avenue to his place in Woodley Park chowing down on half his pizza. I certainly hope some tourists leaving the zoo snapped a picture of this crazy dude, box top askew with pizza down his face. Now THAT is love.

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We Love Food

First Look: Carmine’s


When I first started with We Love DC, we had 11 authors. (I also hiked to school uphill both ways.) Now, we have a food and drink team of seven writers, and more fabulous authors than I can name in a sitting. We’ve grown into a big family, and so we were invited to Carmine’s for a dinner for eight, it was only fitting that we go together as a team, and make it a faux-thanksgiving feast.

Carmine’s is, as you’ve heard I’m sure, the largest restaurant in DC right now. So inviting a raucous gaggle of WLDC writers meant only one thing: we’d be loud. Luckily, Carmine’s is built for loud, large groups, and so we feasted on pasta, pasta, wine, pasta and a cannoli or two or five. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features

First Look: Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca

Photo courtesy of
‘Bibiana Outside Vertical’
courtesy of ‘needlessspaces’

I took a calculated risk eating at Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca on Labor Day Monday. First off, it’s Monday, the notoriously worst day of the week to eat out. Second off, Bibiana only opened on Friday. Third off, it’s Labor Day. No Chef will be working. But (isn’t there always a but?) I had a friend in need of a totally new, fresh place for dinner, so crossing my fingers and holding my breath, I suggested Bibiana. Plus, I’m currently in the middle of reading former New York Times food critic Mimi Sheraton’s memoir Eating My Words, where she argues, “As for reviewing an establishment too soon, my feeling is that as soon as a restaurant is open and full prices are being charged it is fair game.” Touche, Mimi. So with Mimi on my side, we struck out to discover Ashok Bajaj’s seventh restaurant in the DC area.

Was it able to stand up against all the forces it had going against it? You could have told me it was any Friday or Saturday night months from when it opened, you could have fooled me. Everything from the food to the service was absolutely on point. Continue reading

We Love Food

We Love Food: Willow


Willow Bar & Restaurant by Addison H on Flickr

I have been known to insult Ballston from time to time. I have a deep fond love of Arlington, but Ballston seems to me to be all high rises, chain restaurants and it’s kinda got a mall. But places like Willow make me take it all back. Tucked in the bottom level of an office building, Willow is a gem of a restaurant with fresh, local, sophisticated food and perfect service.

I’ve become a regular at Willow. I’ve taken my friends, my parents, I’ve gone there for drinks, for restaurant week dinners. I basically love it for it’s calm refined atmosphere and unblemished menu. The crowd errs on the slightly old to very old side, I see some grey hair every time I go. But then again I’m never there for a scene, so this has never bothered me – if I wanted a scene in Arlington I’d go to Eventide or Liberty Tavern. I come to Willow to take a deep breath. Continue reading

Food and Drink, We Love Food

We Love Food: Dino (II)


Dino Sinage by Shawn.L on flickr

Last August, Tom and Tiff checked out Dino for Restaurant Week. I was jealous. It sounded delicious, and the menu changes seasonally, so a group of girlfriends and I chose Dino as our big Restaurant Week pick this go-round. We certainly weren’t disappointed. Dino, unlike most other places, was offering their entire menu for RW diners, along with crostini and a complimentary glass of grappa, limincello or muscato. It was a truly thrifty deal, and cheesy tasty to boot! Plus I love it when places embrace Restaurant Week for what it is, and make it worth the diners time by allowing us to try anything we want off the main menu. It enables a place to show off, and I always think it’s admirable when a restaurant  decides it can handle whatever the crowds throw at it.

We sat down at Dino and were immediately impressed- the menu is huge, and the choices can be overwhelming. There’s antipasti, oggi, pasta, formaggi, secondi, and plentiful options for dessert. The menu is rustic Italian featuring the flavors of Venice and Southern Tuscany – we were in for a treat. Continue reading

Food and Drink, We Love Food

We Love Food: Posto

"artwork" by ustreetgirl, on Flickr

"artwork" by ustreetgirl, on Flickr

“A modern Italian place to meet” is Posto‘s motto, and indeed its Logan Circle neighborhood has been eagerly waiting to meet it. The newest venture from executive chef Massimo Fabbri, of downtown’s lauded Tosca, it replaces Viridian next to Studio Theatre and has already escalated in popularity, evident by the full dining room on a freezing Monday night.

It’s a relief to find that Posto has warmed-up the walls of a previously minimal and rather chilly atmosphere from Viridian’s days. The decor might strike some as more Napa than Roma, with columns wrapped in glowing natural wood, but the large light installation murals of grapevines and various Italian scenes like Venice’s Campanile set the scene. Somehow these oversized murals, dancing the line between ironic and tacky, end up being rather joyous. And though many have commented on the decibel level, I found that though it was packed, our table of four could still carry on bantering without much problem.

For my first course I tried the Pesce Spada - swordfish carpaccio with tomatoes, capers and olives. I was surprised to have it come out with a heap of frisee on top (not so much a fan of twiggyness in food), but it matched well with the fish, which was delicate and flavorful. A friend pronounced the Granchio – lump crabmeat with peppers – “very yummy” – but another’s Insalata del Posto - arugula salad with fennel – was deemed “overdressed” (then again, he is a very picky German).

I’d heard pasta was the standout here, made in house by chef de cuisine Matteo Venini, and I was not disappointed. Continue reading

Food and Drink, We Love Food

We Love Food: I Ricchi / Sesto Senso

Photo courtesy of daquellamanera
Vela, courtesy of daquella manera

Back during Restaurant Week, my lovely wife hit two dining spots in Dupont Circle. Due to me first losing her review, then forgetting about it, it’s only now just appearing for your reviewing pleasure. I suspect I’ll be taking her out again this weekend to make up for my faux pas

So, here it is – better late than never!

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