We spent Labor Day weekend in DC, luxuriating in a slower pace and some downtime. Oh, and some eating.
Best Happy Hour in DC?
We kicked off labor day weekend with a fun date night on Friday. We started with drinks at Vinoteca, one of my favorite wine bars that has what is possibly the best happy hour deal in town.
They offer several wines by the glass (I can’t recall the exact number, but around 8 to 10 I think) for $5 as well as a page of interesting light fare for $5.
It may not be the cheapest glass of happy hour wine you can find in DC, but the quality is far better than the average “house wine” (aka Beringer or Sutter Home) you get at many other places. And I’m not even hating on Beringer, but if you have a choice, I’d suggest aiming a bit higher. I had a Marsanne-Roussane blend and Tom had a rosé. Both were excellent. I will be back.
Dino’s Grotto 10 Tastes for $35
Tom and I have a long history with this restaurant. We had our second date at the original Dino in Cleveland Park, and spent an inordinate amount of time choosing a bottle of wine to go with our (excellent) dinner. That meal may have been the start of our shared loved for food and wine.
When the restaurant relocated to its new Shaw location, we were there for their soft opening to celebrate, and have returned several times for happy hours, casual dinners in the Grotto bar downstairs and an excellent beer dinner last summer.
So when I saw that they were offering a 10-course dinner for $35, I had to check it out. One of my favorite things about Dino’s Grotto is the wine program, which is adventurous and fun and has something for everyone. In accordance with the dinner deal, they were also offering wine and beer flights for $15 each. I had the Lambrusco flight, while Tom enjoyed a trio of Italian reds – both flights were surprisingly versatile and really enhanced the dining experience.
Any meal at Dino starts out with fresh, crusty focaccia bread served with oil and sea salt. We tried to limit our intake since we knew there was much eating to be done.
Ten courses sounds a little more intense than it really is, as most of the dishes are served family style and in small portions. It’s definitely a lot of food, but you won’t leave miserably stuffed. The first few courses featured a duo of a fried not green tomato topped with green strawberries and grilled nectarines with mascarpone and pancetta, a light and refreshing melon gazpacho and a trio of pastas – a squash blossom risotto, spicy penne with sausage and vegetarian dumplings.
We each got our own gazpacho, but everything else was shared. Standouts from this round for me were the fried tomato, perfectly ripe and juicy topped with tangy green strawberries, such a cheeky spin on the traditional fried green tomato, and the squash blossom risotto, which was garlicky and summery and delightful.
The main courses included a tender, eggplant parmesan alongside braised greens, Tuscan pan-fried chicken and blue catfish Puttanesca.
These dishes really encapsulate the philosophy at Dino, which is sourcing the freshest local ingredients possible and creating dishes that highlight the integrity of the food. I loved that the eggplant was grilled instead of fried, but still soft and almost sweet.
The catfish is an offbeat item, chosen because it is an invasive local species threatening the rockfish population in the Chesapeake Bay. Dean, the restaurant owner, is doing his part to control the blue catfish population by serving them up in his restaurant, cooked expertly with a Puttanesca sauce. Because these fish eat the same diet as rockfish, they don’t taste anything like the muddy water catfish you may be thinking of. I am not a big fish eater, but was very impressed by this delicate and deliberate dish.
The chicken was one of my least favorite dishes of the night, but still very good in its own right – juicy and flavorful and not overly heavy due to the lack of breading.
All of the dishes up to this point were a set menu, although you can inform your server of any allergies or general distastes and they will accommodate you happily.
For dessert, however, the power is yours with a choice of six or so different options. We easily settled on the rhubarb crumble and cinnamon gelato and the saffron panna cotta with blackberry in blackberry shrub.
Both were very good, but neither blew me away. I would have exchanged them both for more green strawberries.
In addition to the delicious food, our service was excellent. There were occasionally gaps between courses, but I didn’t mind as it allowed us more time to digest and discuss the food.
Another of my favorite things about Dino’s Grotto is how invested everyone seems in what they’re doing, from the chefs to the servers to Dean himself. I don’t think we’ve ever been to the restaurant without at least a brief interaction with Dean, who is usually circulating the dining room and the bar to make sure everyone is happy and well fed. That kind of dedication really takes a great meal to the next level.
Dino’s Grotto Not Restaurant Week Menu is running through September 10th, so you still have time to check it out!
Brunch Launch at Scarlet Oak
Scarlet Oak is a new restaurant right down the street from our apartment. We went for a happy hour drink shortly after moving in (good prices, but see above about Beringer happy hour wine) and have been looking for an opportunity to try the food. This weekend was their first brunch service, so we stopped in before a pretty unsuccessful shopping trip over the weekend (rug shopping is hard).
We kept our orders pretty simple, a ham and egg pizza for me (which I shared with Tom because I’m trying to be healthier and whatever) and crab cakes Benedict for him (which he ate all of and some of my pizza and probably lost two pounds before we left the restaurant, but I am not bitter).
The pizza was delicious, although I could have done with one less pork topping. The crush was chewy and the sauce had a good amount of tangy spice. I will be back to try some of their other pizzas in the very near future.
The menu is fairly basic, offering both lunch and breakfast items at very reasonable prices. They also have $15 unlimited mimosas, if you have no rugs to buy later that afternoon. Then again, maybe a pitcher of mimosas would have led to more inspired selections. Perhaps I’ll try that next time.