There are funny little ways in which you realize you’re growing up sometimes. Maybe it’s when you find yourself in a restaurant’s “wine library” and commit to yourself in your head that you really need to start investing more time (and money) in learning about pinot noir and its intricacies rather than picking a bottle based on the attractiveness of a label and how much cash is in your wallet. Or maybe it’s when you find yourself cleaning a plate of beets–and actually craving more–that you realize you and your palate are maturing in ways you didn’t realize were happening. About five tasting courses into dinner at Food, Wine & Co. I thought, “Maybe growing up isn’t so bad after all.”
If you’re not paying attention driving up Wisconsin Avenue navigating rush hour traffic, you could easily pass by the Bethesda restaurant without knowing you’re missing out on a great restaurant. Food, Wine & Co., which opened in late 2010, has found its groove as the neighborhood bistro its been branding itself as, despite some early growing pains. There’s a lively crowd on a weekday night in the main dining room, and if I were you, I’d take advantage of their small outdoor seating as the weather cools down.
The restaurant’s namesake combines three key ingredients for a solid meal, which is exactly what you’ll get (though you’re in charge of providing the good company part, folks). There are more than 250 wines available, 16 draft beers and 70 beers available in cans or bottles. The dinner menu has standard American fare such as burgers and seasonal pizzas, though I would suggest branching out to get a full taste of what executive chef Michael Harr has to offer. Like a true neighborhood joint, Food, Wine & Co. won’t be a meal that you have to have after a paycheck has freshly hit your bank account–appetizers range from $6 to $14 and most entrees are in the $20 range.
Playing with the bounty of fruits and vegetables available in the height of summer, Harr’s tomato-watermelon gazpacho as well as the heirloom tomato salad with watermelon, croutons and a pure, bright green basil emulsion, strike a balance of letting the freshness of the ingredients speak for themselves while dressing up the summer produce. Intensely sweet beets countered by savory whipped goat cheese finally sealed the deal that I have grown up to enjoy the root vegetable rich in vitamins. Slivers of silky fried artichokes are dressed with a lemony sauce gribiche can start the meal off right. But if you’re feeling too constricted by the confines of adulthood and want something that your younger taste buds would have lapped up eagerly, go with the tater tots filled with gooey, melted gruyere and paired with spicy ketchup. And if it’s on the menu, you can’t go wrong with a braised beef brisket with slaw on a doughy Parker House roll.
Even if you’re full, don’t skip dessert at Food, Wine & Co. In July, Jason Gehring became the restaurant’s pastry chef. Gehring was most recently the pastry chef at Fiola, where his zuppa inglese dessert was named one of the “101 Best Desserts in America” in 2011 by New York Magazine. Various ice creams grace several dishes on the dessert menu for the summer–a mojito sorbet plays a cool accompaniment to a madeleine with muddled blueberries and a mint syrup, while a sweet and spicy Mexican chocolate shake comes with crunchy churros. For a true splurge, go with the candy bar with layers of white and dark chocolate mousses and a hazelnut cake/meringue (that’s a dacquoise for those of you savvy dessert diners). The candy bar dessert also features miniature chewy caramels and a creamy peanut butter ice cream.
On your walk back home, to metro or to the car you can take advantage of being of age and head to Food, Wine & Co.’s beer and wine shop also appropriately named, Beer, Wine & Co. If you time it right, you can snag a bottle or two of some off-the-beaten-path beers that Food, Wine & Co. features in the restaurant. Though some of the limited quantities sell out fast, the staff member while I was there was full of recommendations for beers and wines based on different people’s tastes. You won’t go thirsty or empty-handed, in addition to already being full from Food, Wine & Co.
Food, Wine & Co. is located at 7272 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, MD. Beer, Wine & Co. is located at 7029 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD.