Shaw Emerges as DC’s Newest Dining Destination

Ocean flight of Sherry three distinct color tones at Mockingbird Hill. Photo: Andrew Lightman

Earlier this month, my husband, Jason, sent me an email. “Our friend Kyle’s in town. We’re having dinner at 8:00. Can you choose somewhere?” Five minutes later, Alex Padro from Shaw Main Streets blasted “Baby Wale is open,” and I made a reservation.

Starting with that night at Baby Wale, we’ve discovered that right under our noses, a decade of investment from business owners, Shaw Main Streets (www.shawmainstreets.org) and pioneering residents, has poised Shaw to explode as the city’s next dining destination. Fifteen new restaurants and bars --from Burmese to a bakery, Thai to Turkish-- will be joining Ethiopian and American bistros, along with the O Street Market, a revitalized Eastern Market-style food destination.

Corduroy Chef Tom Powers opens Baby Wale

Baby Wale (1124 9th Street NW) is a casual new restaurant and clever play on words from Chef Tom Powers, whose acclaimed Corduroy (1122 9th Street NW), is located next door. Built in a formerly roofless shell of a building, Baby Wale’s skylit ceilings and an upside down tree cum chandelier are as successful as the delicious and budget-friendly menu.

Kyle and Jason ate like pros, allowing us to taste two-thirds of the menu. Silky and smooth, the Neck Corn Soup is blended with lobster stock, and drizzled with Thai basil oil. A brilliant flavor pairing, you can’t tell whether the sweetness and light fresh flavor comes from the delicate starches of fresh corn, or the light sea-saltiness of lobster.

Rich and lightly-crusted, duck pupusas were amazing (though I wouldn’t mind an extra splash of vinegar on the slaw that accompanies it). Each bite of the oversized, Filipino Style Spring Rolls, or lumpia, was perfectly crisp and lightly fatty with a balancing bite from the sweet-sour dipping sauce. The inspiration for the dish came from Tom’s girlfriend who originally taught him how to hand-roll them.

Drinking in the Biergarten at Dacha

(L) The biergarten space at Dacha. Photo: Andrew Lightman.

The next day I saw a Facebook post from our friends Fernando and Will. “Drinking outdoors at Dacha!” Seeing the same post three more times that week, surprised us with their newfound loyalty, if not their drinking schedule (just kidding boys!). We checked it out.

Dacha (1600 7th St NW) set in a formerly vacant lot, has authentic German biergarten tables, great landscaping, and a soon-to-be-unveiled, two-story-tall mural of Elizabeth Taylor. Jason is really the beer drinker in our home, but owners Ilya and Dimitri converted me, though I’m not sure whether it was the high quality or higher alcohol percentage of their carefully curated list of draft German and Belgian beers.

On our first visit (yes, we’ve been back already), I started light and crisp, with a Weihenstephaner Pilsner, which is currently only available on tap, in Washington, DC at Dacha.

On our second, a cooler night, we drank the recently tapped Octoberfestbier. When you think you’ve had your fill, Ilya and Dimitri will ply you with a small glass of Kölsch - it’s light and easy, and the perfect cap to your night.

Eating SUNdeVICH at A&D Bar

After a busy month, with this article nearing deadline, Jason and I hit two Shaw hot spots only to find them both closed on Mondays. As we stood on the sidewalk, poking at our iPhones looking for something to eat, Jason turned around and said, “Why don’t we just go here?”

We pulled up to the bar at A&D (1314 9th St NW), ordered a couple of drinks, and quickly discovered that the cool list of snacks would not make a meal. Our bartender, Lisa, told us that SUNdeVICH, the foodtruck and popular back alley sandwich shop, occupied the same building, and A&D owner Ali Bagheri is more than happy when his patrons grab a sandwich to enjoy at the bar. It made Jason and I pretty happy too.

I pegged Jason for the Havana, a Cuban with Gruyere cheese. But he ordered Madrid, with rich and spicy chorizo, beautifully balanced by a bright, fresh chimichurri. Jason guessed the Moscow, filled with a chicken, egg, potato and pickle salad, for me. I settled on the Istanbul with a super-sized, tender patty of beef and lamb, paired with tart sumac seasoned onions, mellowed by a creamy tzatziki.

Mockingbird Hill wants you to drink more Sherry

The night after our visit to A&D Bar, I ventured out with friends to finish my tour of Shaw. We kicked off the night at Mockingbird Hill (1843 7th St NW), a sherry and ham bar. “It’s a grandma drink,” my friends said. Owner Derek Brown’s selection of more than 60 bottles tells a very different story about this Spanish, fortified wine.

A little overwhelmed by the list, my friend Nancy and I tucked into a flight of three wines inspired by the ocean. The three glasses painted a spectrum from nearly clear to a rich, dark caramel. The first pour was pale, light and dry Fino. The middle pour, an Amontillado, was golden, with flavors of caramel and a hint of salt. The Amoroso, our third glass, was bold and rich.

Needing some food to balance our light buzz from the sherry, we ordered potted pork, rich with fat and balanced by both pickled beets and lightly-dressed, sharp kale. Our second plate featured Firefly Farms’ aged Cabra La Mancha goat cheese. It was mild and creamy, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with coffee grounds. Mockingbird Hill’s delightful flavor combination complemented and illuminated every flavor note in the Hidalgo Napolean Amontillado. It was a perfect pairing, and a perfect way to prepare our palates for our next stop at Thally.

Thally: Save room for dessert

(L) Thally’s Celery Root Panna Cotta. Photo: Andrew Lightman. 

I have never began a review with dessert, but one bite of Thally’s (1316 9th St NE) celery root panna cotta changed that. The elegantly smooth custard, under a thin layer of gelée challenged everything I knew about celery root. Celery root is sharp and earthy, but Chef Ron Tanaka has brought forth sweet herbal notes that taste of fennel and green tea.

My entrée was another first. I ordered the vegetarian plate of earthy swiss chard and rich, creamy tarbais beans topped with roasted fennel. It helped that my four friends allowed me to taste the duck breast in olive sauce with sunchokes, a Delmonico dusted with coffee, rockfish, and branzino. I would gladly pass up the meat (well, maybe not that duck breast) to order the swiss chard again. The flavors were as well developed as the other entrées on the menu, all of which were delicious.

The meal started with crab roulettes - crisp pastry cigars filled with Peekytoe. Recently popular, Peekytoe is a cold water crab, traditionally thrown back from the lobster traps whose bait they would eat. Light and mild, the meat is seasoned with a spicy Old Bay that is complex and hot without overpowering the delicate crab.

Just getting started

With the long slate of openings, we’ll be back to Shaw frequently. Besides, Jason wants to make sure Dacha’s beer stays nice and cold for you. He’s really considerate like that.