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Where to Dine in 2014

Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call
Medium Rare’s new Barracks Row location serves up its signature steak frites.

Executive chef Jorge Pimentel, who most recently manned the burners at the Hilton-owned Satellite Room, was tasked with creating the street-foodie menu. Ahead of the opening on Jan. 10, Ian envisioned fielding as many as nine taco selections, including multiple options for pork (al pastor, carnitas, chicharron) and seafood (fish, shrimp-squid medley), as well as a daily special. That roster has already been cut nearly in half.

“There were a few too many tacos on the menu,” a server said of the chaotic scene in the kitchen during opening weekend, hinting that the adobo chicken tacos would probably resurface in the near future.

The remaining tacos are compact (three to four bites, tops) but generously filled. The carnitas version features shredded pork confit freshened by cilantro and radish slices, while grilled fish swims in a zesty chipotle aioli.

Brendan Murphy, the beverage guru who helped put The Gibson on the map, has conjured up a few thirst-quenchers for El Rey. An early favorite is the National Bohemian-fueled michelada, a bubbly blend of cheap beer, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and lime that is muy bueno.

El Rey: 919 U St. NW; 202-506-6418; elreydc.com. Average entrée: under $12 ($). Open for dinner and late-night dining daily.

Medium Rare

Mark Bucher said people tried to lure him over to the burgeoning Yards Park complex. But the seasoned restaurateur held strong to his desire to put down roots in the tightly knit and pedestrian-friendly Capitol Hill community.

“We’ve been looking at Barracks Row for over two years,” he estimated.

His patience will finally pay off on Jan. 20, with the debut of his second Medium Rare restaurant.

Bucher said the renovations, which began back in October, were designed to replicate the look (exposed brick, blonde woods) and feel (paper-lined tables, modern rock on the house stereo) of the flagship property in Cleveland Park. “It will probably be unrecognizable to those who came into Fusion Grill,” he said of the months-long transformation.

As he’s been doing for the past three years on Connecticut Avenue, Bucher has cut out the guesswork of what’s for dinner.

“We only do one thing,” he said of a deliberately Spartan menu centered on cooked-to-order top sirloin cap steaks and house-made fries.

The prix-fixe dinner menu ($19.75 per person) includes a tin of crusty bread accompanied by sea salt-speckled butter, a mixed green salad tossed in vinegary dressing, seared steak topped with signature gravy and crispy shoe-string spuds. Each order is split into two roughly 5-ounce servings of the hearty beef (moderately tender, with a pleasant chew), resulting in an automatic “refill” of meat and potatoes as soon as diners polish off the opening salvo.

Mountainous desserts are farmed out to local bakers, running the gamut from uber-rich cakes (a six-layer carrot cake was incredibly moist and studded with raisins and nuts) to a la mode pies, while brunch opens things up with egg dishes and French toast.

The Barracks Row location is scheduled to conduct its final training sessions (“friends and family service”) Friday through Sunday.

Medium Rare: 515 Eighth St. SE; 202-601-7136; mediumrarerestaurant.com. Average entrée: $13 to $20 ($$). Open for dinner daily, brunch Sunday.

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