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Restaurant Week is a food writer’s chance to slow down and observe train wrecks. Schadenfreude is often the best part of a critic’s RW experience: You get to witness some of the accidents, but you also get to tally the surprising number of harmonious hookups that occur despite the odds. I ate three dinners (at Galileo, David Greggory, and Poste) and one lunch (IndeBleu) and sandwiched brief visits to nearby restaurants in between each meal; my goal was to take RW’s temperature and see if it’s running hot, cold, or, as I expected, sort of lukewarm.
Galileo Is Hot: Roberto Donna and his staff probably can’t flee to Crystal City fast enough. As their current space undergoes renovations, there isn’t a whiff of central air in the restaurant. To cool things off, management has installed portable AC units, snaking white air ducts throughout the main dining room, which seemed to keep the temperature down during RW. In the Laboratorio, however, they relied on a few taxed units tucked into corners. It didn’t work. Men doffed their jackets upon entering the room, even as the wait staff soldiered on in their black suits. By 10 p.m., every server looked as if he’d walked through a car wash.
Road Hard and Put Up Wet: On Monday, Aug. 14, as opening day came to a close, I wandered over to Vidalia to sit at the bar and eavesdrop. Chef R.J. Cooper, his face as red as a boiled lobster, wobbled over and tried to pull himself a draft, but got mostly foam. Frustrated, he turned to the bartender for a cold one. When I inquired whether RW’s first day had turned Cooper into the scorched, sweaty specimen before me, he said his exhaustion was mostly due to the fact he had just returned from a 1,600-mile trip to South Dakota for the 66th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Compounding his troubles, Cooper’s hog broke down just outside Omaha, Neb.
Size Matters: During a promotion when restaurants often use the skimpy price to justify skimpy portions, David Greggory made no attempt to shrink its servings. Two entrees—a grilled pork chop and an Asian-themed grilled tuna—were ample enough to satisfy any D.C. fat cat. Granted, the tuna came with a $2 surcharge and the chop with a $3 one, but at least I didn’t feel the need to stop at McDonald’s after dinner. That’s more than I can say about Galileo, where the entrees were lost in a sea of white china. The sautéed pork wrapped in pancetta was not much larger than a bacon-wrapped Tootsie Roll. The servings were so small that my dining companion, before digging into her Band-Aid-sized portion of sea bass, quoted a line from L.A. Story: “I’m already finished, and I don’t remember eating.”
Drinking Problem: Instead of loading our bill with pricey wines by the glass, my friend and I each ordered a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA with our dinner at Poste, Robert Weland’s aggressive brasserie in the Hotel Monaco. When the bill arrived, we were pissed off to see that Poste had charged $9.50 each for the brews, which was pricier than some of the wine choices. A day later, I wandered into R.F.D. Washington for a reality check; the Chinatown temple of suds was serving the same beer on draft for $5.50. When I told the bartender at R.F.D. what Poste charged for a 60 Minute, he calculated the markup, made a funny face, and said, “That is a little steep.”
Disappointment of the Week: the arugula salad at Poste. The appetizer was supposed to balance bitter notes (arugula greens and marigold blossoms) with sweet (figs) and creamy-salty (Parmesan) ones. But the salad was all dissonance, a pile of dry lettuces with only a streak of the advertised aged-sherry vinaigrette. I understand the desire not to overdress a salad, but Weland’s mostly astringent mound of greens reminded me that, unless a chef actively combats it, nature designs many leaves to prevent you from eating them. I followed nature’s orders.
Missing in Action: The dish billed as “sautéed Mediterranean sea bass crusted with orange zest” at Galileo was delicious, save for one minor detail: It had no orange zest. Not a single little shard of rind. When I complained, the server explained that one of the cooks was staging a miniprotest over the recipe. The cook, the waiter said, told him, “Orange zest is not Italiano!”
Dish of the Week: the grilled pork chop with maple Dijon glaze at David Greggory. The Frenched rib chop, pink and moist and perfectly seasoned, was one of those rare meats that required no sauce to give it deep, succulent flavor. But because I couldn’t help myself, I combined the pork not only with the sweet-sour sauce but also with the five-cheese macaroni for a forkful of nouveau-soul-food decadence. Runners-up (both, interestingly enough, touched with the flavor of mustard seeds): the bhel puri salad with tamarind-mustard dressing at IndeBleu and the chilled gazpacho with a dollop of Dijon-mustard ice cream at Poste.
Who Needs RW? I stopped by the downtown Jaleo late on Friday, Aug. 18, to see how José Andrés’ place was handling the rush. The restaurant was packed, the bar was bustling, and the wait for a table stretched to 25 minutes. Yet when I talked to the bartender, he said it was slow. It seems that Restaurant Week actually works in reverse at Jaleo: The promotion siphons off customers, who apparently don’t consider loading up on tapas for $30 to be a good deal. Truth be told, it isn’t.—Tim Carman
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