Insatiable

Booming Bloomingdale

Costa Brava’s meltingly tender beef skewers with bright, bitter chimichuri.

Remember when there were a few hip restaurants on distant frontier of H Street NE? When pioneers moved in and discovered the wilds of Shaw? With both of those neighborhoods true dining destinations, it seems Bloomingdale is next. New openings on the frontier of North Capitol extend the Rhode Island and First Street corridor developing what could be DC’s next dining neighborhood. My husband Jason, urging me to take a break from writing my next cookbook (“If I have to eat another farm-fresh, seasonal anything…!”), convinced me to walk over and enjoy a few beautiful early summer evenings.

 

Old Engine 12: A little bit of everything

Watching Old Engine 12 (oldengine12restaurant.com, 1626 North Capitol St. NW) open I hoped it would be a place we could visit often. Cozily nestled into a former firehouse, it was within easy walking distance, had a great patio and would be the perfect spot to drop in on those nights when you just don’t feel like cooking. Looking at their menu, they had the same idea.

They serve up modern-diner friendly takes on comfort classics. Let’s say you feel like mussels, or pizza, a steak, burger or lasagna. Good news, it’s all on the menu. And it’s all good. Some of it even shined.

Jason and I started with the tomato bread, a favorite Spanish small plate of crisp bread rubbed with garlic and spread with tomato pulp, drizzled with oil and a pinch of salt. The tomato was spread thickly, fresh and delicious. The char from the grill added nice depth although the 2”thick bread hadn’t toasted through and could have been a bit crisper.

The three preparations for pots of mussels were all intriguing and we settled on Vietnamese, pairing the shellfish with rockfish, fresh herbs, the heat of jalapeño and bright star anise. The mussels were good, creamy and sweet. The broth with basil and cilantro was fresh and we sopped up as much as we could with a basket full of bread.

At our server’s recommendation we tucked into the salmon burger and Charcuterie pizza. The salmon was well-cooked, the bread tender - a perfect choice. It was topped with sweet potato fries and jalapeño mayo offering nice texture and a little heat to cut through the rich meat.

The pizza was certainly our favorite. The quality of the cured meats was excellent, the crust super thin and just the right kick from sliced pepperoncini and thinly sliced red onion.

We certainly enjoyed what we ate and there’s plenty to dive into on our next stop in.

 

Costa Brava: Cozy Catalan

Costa Brava (costabravadc.com, 1837 1st St, NW) is tucked into two stories of a row house, friendly with the warm hue of terra-cotta. As the sun went down, we sat on the small patio and dined on classic Spanish small plates with a bottle of Cava.

The first two plates were a surprise, a departure from the typical pan con tomate - or tomato bread - and patatas bravas - Spanish fries. The bread was pleasantly toothy, lightly charred and nicely crisp, rubbed with a fresh bite of garlic. However, the tomato, typically bright and acidic, was more jammy with the sweet taste of onions and buttery oil. While unexpected it was certainly tasty and fresh.

Jason, who has never met a fried potato he didn’t like, was disappointed in the patatas bravas, which lacked the usual bite of pimentón heat and garlicky aioli. Though the fresh herbs and oil certainly tasted good, they would not be our first choice on a return visit.

All was quickly forgiven with the arrival of our second two plates. My mouth is still watering over the Pinxtos de carne, or skewers of beef with chimichurri. The beef was beautifully seared and meltingly tender. The chimichurri, a classic Argentinean sauce of garlic, parsley, oregano and red wine vinegar was bright and fresh, the garlic sharp and the herbs pleasantly bitter. I could eat this dish every day.

Even better, it was followed by empanadas with rich chicken and sweet peppers enclosed in tender, flaky pastry. The herbed lime mayonnaise added a perfect tart, grassy balance.

 

The Pub and the People

We have in at the Pub and the People (thepubandthepeople.com, 1648 North Capitol St. NW) several times. This latest addition to Bloomingdale has become quickly popular. When we hit it on a quieter Monday night, we learned why.

The small dining room is cozy, evenly sharing space with a long bar. The atmosphere was relaxed, friends catching up after a day at the office. Jason ordered from a well put-together list of locally brewed beers on tap. I took a recommendation from our server and ordered a Rouge and Rosemary off the cocktail list.

While I have poked relentless, good-humored fun at Jason in the past for ordering bright pink, sorority-girl cocktails off the menu, this rose-colored concoction was anything but. Fresh and crisp with the sweet acidity of pink grapefruit and the piney bitterness of rosemary, it is everything I want to drink on a hot, still summer night.

We ordered light: the scallops with corn and peas, and the Báhn Mì. Like Old Engine 12, the menu feels like a sampler, designed by asking, “What do you feel like eating tonight?”over the course of a month. The scallops were tender and sweet, perfect cooked. The peas were fresh as sweet, as was the corn. Pea tendrils kept the dish light with a mild grassy note.

Before I rate our sandwich, think about your perfect Báhn Mì. Truly fusion from France’s colonial occupation of Vietnam, it pairs crisp-crusted bread and rich, delicate chicken liver mousse with tender fatty pork, something pickled and sweet, crunchy carrots. That’s what we were served. Pickled daikon radish, crisp and acidic, and fresh, tender sprigs of cilantro balanced the rich pork and mousse. If I wanted to get really nitpicky, I’d enjoy just a little more crunch to the bread, but now we’re getting down to personal preference. I’m truly in love.

In fact, while eating the big-as-your-head ice cream sandwich between two buttery, chocolaty cookies at the end of the meal, I kept thinking, I’d trade this for another Bánh Mì- after one more bite.

 

Back to the Kitchen

Now it’s back to my kitchen and laptop to finish this book. My second cookbook, Seasons to Taste, will be out in time for the 2015 holiday season. If you want to try some of the recipes, stop by the Bloomingdale Farm Market on Sunday, July 19th for my cooking demo. And, once I’ve got the book off to the printer in a couple of weeks, you’ll probably see Jason and I out more - enjoying our new food destination neighborhood.

Jonathan Bardzik is a cook, storyteller and author living in Washington, DC. Known for his regular live cooking demos at Eastern Market, Jonathan loves cooking fresh ingredients as much as seeking them out in DCs exciting restaurant scene. His first cookbook, Simple Summer: A Recipe for Cooking and Entertaining with Easeis available now on Amazon. His second cookbook, Seasons to Taste, will be available for holiday 2015. Grab a copy and find out what Jonathan is cooking at www.jonathanbardzik.comor his Facebook page Jonathan Bardzik.Need some foodporn? Follow @JonathanBardzik on Twitter and Instagram.