Monday, February 18, 2008


We walked into BlackSalt through one of two doors that are only a few feet apart. It wasn't immediately clear that we had walked through the right door because we walked into the fish market portion of the restaurant. The seafood was fully on display on a bed of shaved ice. Several times while we were having a drink at the bar I noticed kitchen staff walking to the market for a patron's dinner.

Something that was immediately apparent when we walked into BlackSalt was that it is filled with regulars. Given its location in the Palisades far from most public transportation that is not surprising. Several groups welcomed each other and there were approximately 5 people sitting by themselves eating at the bar, all of whom seemed to know the bartenders.

Though we didn't sit until about 25 minutes after our 9pm reservation the service was excellent. Our waiter seemed almost overzealous, seemingly staying at the table a few beats longer than he should have. I started with the tuna tartare which was unlike any tartare I had before. It was served on a crispy rice that was just a little crispy on the outside and warm enough that it went perfectly with the coolness of the tartare. The soy-anise sauce provided a nice flavor to tie it all together. My main course of Cataplana seafood stew was a beautiful medley of the Portugese fish, baby clams, mussels, and braised pork in a saffron-tomato broth. The borth gave the stew the perfect amount of spice and after getting my face as close to the borth as possible I couldn't believe none of it ended up on my shirt.

The real treat came during dessert though. The three of us decided on two desserts: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake with carmelized bananas and pieces of peanu brittle stuck in the top of the cake. An excellent dessert no doubt but it was completely overshadowed by the Butterscotch Pot de Creme. I had never heard of this dessert but the three of us attacked it like it was our last meal. The bottom was a layer of butterscotch, topped by a layer of fudge, topped by vanilla ice cream and a scotched milkshake. Overally a wonderful meal though I don't know if we'll find our way back there.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Last week was Restaurant Week in Washington DC. The girl and I almost always take advantage of this promotion where you can get a 3-course dinner for $30.08. In recent years the promotion has gotten more and more popular prompting a backlash of sorts. Many people who go out to dinner frequently see this as a the week to stay home while all the riff-raff partake in restaurants they would never otherwise go to. Servers are often quoted online in various forums complaining that people undertip or don't know how to act or they are so slammed that patrons don't get the whole experience. The idea is that restaurant goers can choose from one app, one entree and one desert. There are often complaints from patrons that too many restaurants skimp on the available choices. I am of the mind that unless a restaurant has a chance to gain a return customer if they are treated right. The girl and I try to search out restaurants that offer a good portion of their whole menu. We are frequent restaurant eaters but use Restaurant Week to eat at places we might not be able to afford. With all this in mind we went with another couple to Vidalia on Friday night.

The experience as a whole was extremely underwhelming. It is a southern restaurant that was named #8 in Washingtonian's list of Top 100 Restaurants.
The problems started that afternoon when the girl went online and saw that at least half of the choices for all three costs had upcharges of at least $8. This is a new phenomenon for Restaurant Week where restaurants offer a lot of their menu but charge more for it. I felt bad but it was too late to change the plans. The setting is very nice, a wide open space down a staircase with very minimalist decorating. The bar looks like it would fit a lot of people and the noise would be contained.

I started with the wild mushroom soup with shoat pancetta which had a pretty flat flavor, nothing really there. It didn't taste bad, it just didn't taste. The girl had the new frontier bison carpaccio and tartare. She doesn't usually like raw meat so I know this was good becuase it was gone from her plate quickly. For the entree I had black foot pork casolulet which was 98% fat. It was flavorful but the sausage was way too rich. For dessert I had a choclate panna cotta that I made the mistake of ordering because the choclate was too rich for me. The girl had the vegetable medley and the vanilla bean cake, which she said was good.

Service was hit and miss, the ugy was literally in and out, and never asked us if we wanted another glass of wine. We had better southern food and the now defunct Indigo Landing. Just a completely unerwhelming experience.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Crawfish Mountain

Today on the train ride home I finished Crawfish Mountain by Ken Wells. It was a short book -- about 360 pages and an easy read because most chapters were 8 pages or less. In the past couple of years I've become a big fan of Carl Hiassen and there is a quote on the front of Crawfish Mountain from Tom Wolfe calling Wells the cajun Carl Hiassen. This is generally an accurate statement, but the big difference is that Hiassen fully fleshes out his characters and his endings are strong. Wells presents a wonderful book for 345 pages but jumps to the ending almost out of nowhere. In one of the last scenes a character enters that made me wonder where he had been and why he was even involved at all. Seeing how everything ended there was no need for the character at all.

Overall the book was a nice read in between some of the heavier reads I have been hitting up, including Richard Russo's Bridge of Sighs, and I would recommend for someone looking for a light read who has a love of Louisiana culture. I'm undecided on whether to read another Wells book but I might explore it. I have a lot of books to read so I probably won't get to one soon. I would like to write about Bridge of Sighs because that was one of the best books I have read in a while so we'll see.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Al Crostino

So I've decided to put some of my thoughts on restaurants in the D.C. area and some of the books that I've read recently. These are two of my passions so I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts.

Last Friday night the girlfriend and I went to Al Crostino with her newly engaged former classmate and fiance. U Street is an area where we go quite frequently owing to the fact that a lot of our friends live in the area. We had walked past Al Crostino and its next door neighbor Creme several times but had never been in.

When we walked in I noticed immediately that it is a very small space (maybe 25 tables) with three distinct areas. The bar is 8-10 seats and when the girl and I sat down to order a drink (our dinnermates had to go stand somewhere else to make room) the bartender didn't seem to have time for us. The girl requested the house red (something most Italian restaurants have) but the bartender looked at her like she had 3 heads. No sooner had we gotten our glasses of wine then hostess said she needed the two seats so people could eat. So where the hell should we stand and why are you kicking people out of bar seats? Doesn't really make your restaurant that hospitable.

The main courses were okay. I ate the beef carpaccio which was underseasoned and over oily. I've had the dish many times before and there was almost no flavor to this except a lot of olive oil. I think that the cheese should have been sharper and much less oil.

The girl had a sauteed squid salad that looked excellent. If I wasn't such a gentleman I would have ordered before her and ordered that but alas chilvary is not dead.

For the entree I ordered the ostrich special. I have never had ostrich before so I can't compare it a previous dish. It was simply prepared (grilled) but had a very nice kick. (Not sure if thats natural or built in). Not overwhelming or underwhelming but a nice dish.

As I was starting this post the girl wanted me to mention that the service was unusual. The server was attentive but there was a comfort level that only he was aware of. He was definitely friendlier with the women than the men, which is typical of older Italian men, but it seemed that he was more involved in other tables upstairs, especially the group of 4 gay men at the table next to us. Probably not his fault as the head of the table asked a question about each menu item.

Overall a decent meal but we've had better at that prices -- $110 for two, appetizers and entrees, two glasses of wine, no dessert, and tip. The space was underwhelming, the services was on the rude signed and the food just kind of was plus the menu was limited in its options. A nice night for the four of us but the meal and the experience was not anything special. I wouldn't seek Al Crostino out again, but if someone wanted to meet for a glass of wine and an appetizer I would do that.