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The drink sounds right out of the Adam Bernbach school of mixology: a classic Paloma prepared with a nod toward history and a concern for quality ingredients. Bar Pilar’s Paloma mixes hibiscus-infused Centenario Rosangel tequila, fresh lime juice, and IZZE sparkling grapefruit soda in a pink salt-rimmed glass.
Everything about this drink makes you want to banish the margarita to some isolated, swine-flu-ridden part of Mexico and permanently adopt the Paloma as your official summer cocktail. Until you take a sip, that is.
Like the ‘rita, this little powerhouse is about the pucker, the unmistakable tartness of grapefruit and lime. The floral qualities of the hibiscus, already minimal to begin with, are all but swallowed up by the ocean of citrus; the hibiscus, in fact, is a red herring, a promise of some subtropical scent that never materializes. The cocktail reminds me that Bernbach is indeed long gone from Bar Pilar.
Fortunately, chef Justin Bittner remains in the kitchen, where he’s turning out some small plates that, despite some small flaws, still deliver big flavor. I’m thinking of his slender lamb dog, all dark and spicy, which comes drowning in what looks like a week-old commercial hot-dog bun. The texture of his chicken liver pate could pass for dessert mousse: It spreads smooth, light, rich, and creamy on a piece of grilled bread, preferring to play down its livery qualities.
One of the best plates here is Bittner’s simple preparation of Spanish white anchovies on grilled bread. Each salty bite is firm, fresh, and clean, a reminder that a chef’s job is sometimes just to find the finest ingredients – and then get out of their way.
Bar Pilar, 1833 14th St. NW, (202) 265-1751