Location: Capitol Hill
Rating: 3 out of 5
Summary: A fantastic coffee house that still has ways to go as a restaurant
Although we had heard great things about Capitol Hill’s Pound the Hill for breakfast and coffee, our interest to visit for dinner was peaked with a Living Social coupon. Little did we know, at night the coffee house turned into a modern American restaurant. The casual, but intimate atmosphere of the cafe leant itself easily into a fantastic evening dining ambiance. However, it turned out that the restaurant’s kitchen was not able to make the transition as easily. While everything we ordered sounded great on paper, what we were served didn’t match up to our expectations.
Our first small plate was the Duck-fat Tater Tots, garlic parmesan potato tots, served with liquid horseradish and a house-made BBQ sauce. Despite the menu’s inflated description, these tater tots taste no different than any other that we’ve ordered before. Only the addition of the light sprinkle of garlic and parmesan made the tots stand out. The horseradish and BBQ dipping sauces were the real treat of the dish, the homemade BBQ sauce making the dish worth ordering again. Our second small dish was the Hummus platter, creamy chickpeas, Greek feta, Nicoise olives, and served with toasted pita. Much like the first, this plate was nothing out of the ordinary, featuring an average hummus dip and a few pitas cut into slices. Our final appetizer was the Shrimp Plate, butter-sautéed shrimp, roasted garlic olive tapenade, and basil served with truffle-oiled crostini. Following the pattern of the previous small dishes, the shrimp were unremarkable and the flavors from the add-ins did little to boost the shell fish’s character.
Our first entrée was the Farmhouse Pasta, orecchiette pasta with house-made sausage, braised kale, cubed roasted butternut squash, and a sprinkle of pecorino cheese. With better-than-your-average boxed pasta and slightly spicy homemade sausage, the beef broth sauce was the real star of the dish, highlighting the savory yet spicy ground sausage and the choice of shell shaped pasta. Although we are fans of butternut squash, it didn’t combine well with the other flavors in the bowl and turned into an odd addition. The cheese and braised kale were nice additions that elevated the pasta’s profile.
For our second choice, we selected the Slow-Roasted Short Rib, beef short rib sitting on top of herb garlic beef jus, red potato and saffron puree, and roasted rainbow carrots. The meat itself fell apart easily and seemed to be cooked perfectly, but the weak flavor from the roast and sloppy concoction that was billed as red potato and saffron puree took away from the dish. Where usually a rim of fat on the cut highlights the expert quality of a beef rib, it only added to the bodiless texture of the beef and brought no additional flavor to the table. Although some of the execution on the dish may need some tinkering, we doubt it would have solved the very “average” flavors we tasted.
Despite our meal’s shortcomings, we knew that Pound the Hill is best known as a coffee house so we decided to order coffee and dessert. This turned out to be the best decision we had made the entire meal. We ordered the Warm Autumn Spice Doughnuts, small balls of fried dough with a cinnamon-ginger caramel dipping sauce. Missing the typical hole in the middle of the fried dough, these doughnuts were possibly some of the best that we have had in dc. The caramel sauce was more of a drizzle on the donuts, but still worked perfectly with the fried dough. We also ordered a Nutella Latte, a specialty of Pound the Hill that tasted like terrifically composed hazelnut mocha, not too sweet and not overbearing.
Despite a great atmosphere and an impressive dessert, the core of our meal never came together and left us yearning for the dishes we had read about on the menu. Everything we ordered sounded fantastic, yet the execution wasn’t there. Instead, it was a blur of mediocrity. Most of these faults are simple fixes and, with some fine tuning, Pound the Hill could be a great destination for an evening meal on Capitol Hill. Until then, we will stick to the dessert and coffee.