Best of D.C.: A Confession About Best New Restaurant
Y&H will skip the tears and gnashing of teeth and get right to the confession: If the Best of D.C. issue would have been released next week, I would have selected another place as Best New Restaurant. Unfortunately, I dined at Eventide too late for deadline.
Make no mistake, Inox is deserving of the crown, if based mostly on ambition and its sheer willingness to stretch your imagination and palate as a diner. But for all their originality, chefs Jon Mathieson and Jonathan Krinn are still searching for cohesive flavor combinations to match their creativity. Right now, Eventide toque Miles Vaden is nailing more of his dishes than the dynamic duo over at Inox.
Let me give you one exquisite example: Vaden's bison carpaccio appetizer.
Borrowing perhaps from Michel Richard's justiably gushed-over "Mosaic," Vaden plates thin circles of crimson-bright bison meat in a similar fashion—evenly spread out over a square of white china so that, in this case at least, the dish assumes the air of a monochromatic Pop-Art piece. Little strips of jicama, marinated just long enough in citrus to keep their natural crunch, are distributed willy nilly atop the carpaccio along with small curls of shaved Parmesan. The whole thing is then drizzled with ancho-chocolate mole. By themselves, the raw (unseasoned?) buffalo slices offer nothing more than a moist, plodding meatiness, but when wrapped around those jicama sticks and Parm and then rolled in a little mole, they take their rightful place among the other ingredients, providing soft, cooling counterpoints to the hot sauce and crunchy jicama. The Parm seems to add all the required salt and umami. The dish is borderline brilliant.
While not as jaw-dropping as the carpaccio, other dishes on Vaden's menu show that the kitchen already has a strong command of its chef's cooking. The appetizer of braised rabbit cannelloni is so rich and satisfying, it goes down like pate wrapped in pasta, an illusion that's carried all the way to the clever application of mustard-cream sauce. The bone-in pork chop entree was a tad overcooked, the pink meat limited to a small interior sliver, but the chop still retained its moisture, and just as important, it was paired with this yucca round that reminded me of a fine-dining version of a Chinese scallion pancake. The flavors meshed like young lovers.
My only disappointment really was found on the downstairs' lounge menu, which offers french fries served with truffled fontina fondue, a cliche on the very surface of things. The side dish's execution would seem to confirm the kitchen's boredom with it, the fries soggy and the fondue only adding to the gloppy, fatty excess.
One last point: The upstairs dining room at Eventide, a former meeting hall for the Odd Fellows fraternal organization, strikes a strange, engaging tone, so different from the cool modernity of so many formal dining spaces. The ceiling is high, and the walls have a graying austerity about them. The long elegant drapes and the intimidating emptiness all around you—above your head and between the widely spaced tables—complete the image: You feel like you're dining in some cool medieval castle.
I don't know how much more I can say here, except this: My apologies to Inox for bumping it from the top spot after the fact. And apologies to Eventide for not getting to you earlier. (No apologies necessary for CommonWealth; I'd keep them right where they are, at No. 2, no matter how strange that may seem to you.)
Photo courtesy of Eventide