Insatiable

A Notable Lack of Resolve

Micho’s Lebanese Grill stuffs pita full of tender, spit-roasted beef, lamb and chicken. House-pickled vegetables and homemade sauces keep it bright and fresh.

Happy New Year! I hope the holidays left your hearts full and your stomach even fuller. After a month of decadent sweets and family favorites, it may be time to drop a few before suiting up for the beach on your winter vacation.

Rather than suffer, this is the season for the time-honored DC tradition of making firm resolutions and then finding loopholes to get around them. This year, however, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor to achieve your goals. Here are three ways to kick off 2015 right while eating out in Washington.

 

Shaws Fishnet serves sushi-quality seafood

The words “fish sandwich in Shaw”may bring up certain connotations. However, at Shaw’s Fishnet (fishnet.com, 1819 7th St. NW), get ready to be surprised. Owner Ferhat Yalçin grew up in Istanbul, spending his summers eating freshly-caught fish sandwiches by the water. Here in DC, he found no high-quality, casual fish options. Sure, there is great sushi and several well-known seafood restaurants, but no one raved about a fish sandwich.

After nine years of working under chef Tom Powers as the general manager at Corduroy, Yalçin decided to open his own restaurant. He started with a fish shop in College Park. Last year, after a lunch at Fishnet’s College Park location, the landlord at a new building in Shaw approached Yalçin about opening a second location.

The result? You can get a fish sandwich or salmon taco made with the same seafood used by Sushi Ko and Sushi Taro. I recently went in to give it a try. Chef Yalçin started me out with a fish taco. The salmon, crisp-crusted and beautifully moist, is ocean-farmed organic with a light flavor, not strong or fishy. Lime-flavored sour cream gives a bright burst fished with a well-dressed slaw.

Next, Yalçin showed off the fresh seasonal vegetables he procures each Sunday at FRESHFARMS Dupont market. I tasted two soups, one parsnip and the other roasted cauliflower. The textures were silky and flavors simple, showing off the winter vegetables - rich, nutty roast cauliflower and a spiced bite of parsnip. Dashi broth added complexity without overpowering.

The highlights of the meal were two dishes Yalçin had served the night before at Fishnook, the four-seat chef’s table overlooking the kitchen. Reservations for one to four seats are available Monday and Tuesday nights with a custom menu featuring the best ingredients Chef Yalçin can find.

The Louisiana shrimp were sweet and crazy over an elegant cauliflower puree. A perfectly seared scallop with a crisp Panko crust was sugary sweet, with a kiss of brine mellowed by the pairing with tender, cabbage-y baby bok choi.

At $55 for the evening meal with $25 wine pairings available, my husband Jason and I plan to attend a Fishnook service soon. Chef Yalçin said the intimate, relaxed setting lends itself to making friends. On a recent evening, two couples who walked in as strangers were exchanging phone numbers at the end of the meal.

Just in case you don’t trust my appraisal of the food, Yalçin has invited in several well-known Shaw chefs, including Chef Powers, to taste the menu, receiving bold praise.

 

Micho’s leaves your belly and wallet full

Nearby on H Street, Micho, the culinary influence behind Micho’s Lebanese Grill (michosgrill.com, 500 H Street NE), brings to DC his Lebanese culinary training and family legacy as the grandson of a famous Lebanese chef and cookbook author. The concept is simple: shawarma Chipotle-style. Thin slices from vertically spit-roasted stacks of beef, lamb and chicken are piled high into pita wraps or rice bowls. You can design your sandwich or bowl choosing meats, sauces and toppings, or order off the menu. My lamb and beef shawarma wrap combines tender meat, crisp on the outside, with fresh parsley and mint. House made pickled turnip is fresh and mustardy with toasted spices. Rich, roasted tahini completes the sandwich.

My friend Eric ordered chicken shawarma over rice. The garlic paste was bright and fresh, the spicy jalapeños balanced by pickled cucumber and cool, fresh mint. The chicken was tender and boldly seasoned.

We started with baba ganoush, think hummus made with roasted eggplant. All bitterness from the eggplant is gone, replaced by a flavor that is smoky and clean with rich, complex spices. The generous stack of pita was plenty to scoop up the entire container, but our server offered us more (bonus points!). Our meal, under $25, left our wallets full, and our stomachs fuller. There was so much we couldn’t even finish the baba ganoush - which we definitely brought home!

 

Puddin’ serves up farm-fresh comfort

Toyin Alli, chef and owner of Puddin’(dcpuddin.com), sources farm-fresh, local ingredients to serve up southern comfort food at DC markets, pop-ups and from her food truck. In December, Alli spent her weekends at a Union Market pop-up location(unionmarketdc.com, 1309 6th St SE), showcasing shrimp and grits, rich, spicy gumbo and, most importantly, her brown butter bourbon bread pudding. It is the perfect winter indulgence; rich, nutty browned butter balanced by a bite of bourbon. Bringing this to brunch or serving it up at the end of Sunday supper, will definitely get you invited back.

Alli is excited to appear at Union Market. She loves the location and its vibe as a center of culinary innovation in DC. It also exposes a new customer base to her food.

All says, “I have multiple customer bases. My downtown food truck connects me with government workers. My weekend tent at Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market (easternmarket-dc.org, 225 7th St SE) connects me with local residents and tourists. This time at Union Market gives me access to a whole new market from Gallaudet students to local foodies. It’s great!”

Her time at Union Market has also added a new variation to her famous dessert recipe. Toyin is now serving up bacon, brown butter, bourbon bread pudding. “I get Benton’s thick-cut bacon from Harvey’s butcher at Union Market. Now, my pudding is salty, sweet, smoky and rich. You don’t know whether you’re eating breakfast or dessert.”Whenever you decide to eat it, Puddin’s pudding is delicious.

While Alli was hoping to extend her Union Market pop-up into the new year, this wasn’t confirmed at press time. You can check out Puddin’s Facebook page for up-to-date info. If you’re jonesing for a little Southern Comfort Wednesday through Friday, check out Twitter @dcpuddin for downtown locations.

 

Have a happy, healthy new year!

I wish you a happy and healthy new year, filled with great meals and shared with good friends. Have a suggestion for a restaurant I should check out? Please send me an email at jonathan@jonathanbardzik.com. Happy New Year!

Chef Ferhat Yalçin, shares the fresh fish of his Istanbul upbringing, and experience working with Tom Powers at Corduroy, with his patrons at Fishnet’s new Shaw location.
Puddin’s rich, southern comfort menu includes po’ boys, shrimp and grits, brown butter, bourbon bread pudding and gumbo.

Jonathan Bardzik is a cook, storyteller and author living in Washington, DC. Known for his weekly, live cooking demos at Eastern Market (Saturdays from March to November), Jonathan loves cooking fresh ingredients as much as seeking them out in DCs growing restaurant scene. His first cookbook, Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Ease is available now (and would make a wonderful gift!). Grab a copy and find out what Jonathan is cooking atwww.jonathanbardzik.comor his Facebook page Jonathan Bardzik.Need some foodporn? Follow @JonathanBardzik on Twitter and Instagram.