Pound the Hill

Location: Capitol Hill

Price: $$

Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary: A fantastic coffee house that still has ways to go as a restaurant

Pound the HillAlthough 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-madeDuck-Fat Tater Tots BBQ sauce. Despite the menu’s inflated description, these tater tots taste no different than any other that we’ve Hummus Platterordered 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 Shrimp Platefew 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 Farmhouse Pastabutternut 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 Slow-roasted Short Ribjus, 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.

Warm Autumn Spice DoughnutsDespite 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 Nutella Lattedc. 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.

Pound the Hill on Urbanspoon

Duffy’s Irish Pub

** “Need a Drink” Monday Special **

Location: U Street

Summary: With plenty of great drink specials and superb wings, the last person Duffy’s is trying to impress is you

Tucked away from the more popular area of the U Street strip, Duffy’s Irish Pub is an unassuming and uncommoningly common bar that gives you exactly what you need when you come into a bar: great drink specials and a decent menu without the hype or the pretentious atmosphere of many other bars in DC. This is not the place you bring someone to be impressed. This is the place you bring someone to have a good time with buddies.

The beer menu isn’t the most expansive in the area, but a library of brands isn’t why you walked in the door of Duffy’s. The available beers range from the lightest of light to local DC favorites, each usually with a special attached to it on one night or another. The food menu is what you would expect from most booze-focused establishments with a few notable exceptions, like the magnificent wings (the chesapeake rub and hot sauce combo is recommended) or the occasionally available Irish burrito. Although you may be tempted to try Duffy’s Monster Burger, a 1/2 lb. burger with bacon, grilled onions and two grilled cheeses serving as a bun, we suggest you save yourself the trouble, the combination of four slices of bread giving you a doughier mouthful than anyone would want in a sandwich.

While we have tried to list below all of the many different specials Duffy’s offers, your best bet is to show up on Tuesday (1/2 price wings) or any gameday. The great thing about this place is not the menu or even the specials. The reason we’ll be coming back is that once you walk through the door you might as well be in your best buddy’s garage, the casual atmosphere and take-it-for-what-it-is attitude refreshing in a city full of bars that bend over backwards to convince you on how to best enjoy yourself.

What’s the deal?

Weekly Specials

  • Tuesday – 1/2 price wings
  • Wednesday – Trivia Night
  • Thursday – 1/2 price fried pickles
  • Sunday – $2 tall boys after 10pm

Mon – Fri, 4pm – 7pm

  • House Wines by the Glass $3
  • $3 Tall Boys PBR | Schlitz | High Life
  • $3 16oz Draft Miller Lite
  • $4 16oz Draft Sam and Sam Seasonal
  • $3 Bottles of Miller Lite | Budweiser
  • $10 Pitchers Miller Lite and PBR
  • $5 Jim Beam and coke
  • $5 16oz Hurricanes
  • $4 Rail Drinks
  • 1/2 Price Chicken or Veggie Quesadillas

All Night

  • $10 Pitchers of Miller Lite and PBR
  • $16 Buckets of PBR and Schlitz Tall Boys (5)
  • $3 Natty Boh
  • $20 Pitchers of Sam Seasonal or Boston Lager
  • $20 Pitchers of Chocolate City Copper or ESB

NFL Specials every Sunday, Monday and Thursday During Games

  • $18 Heineken Pitchers
  • $18 Blue Moon Pitchers
  • $10 Miller Lite Pitchers
  • $16 Buckets (5) of 16oz aluminum bottles of Miller lite or Coors Light

College football Specials All Day Saturday

  • $18 Heineken Pitchers
  • $18 Blue Moon Pitchers
  • $10 Miller Lite Pitchers

Duffy's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

The Chesapeake Room

Location: Eastern Market

Price: $$$$

Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: A superb showcase of the area’s best seasonal flavors with minor mis-steps in execution 

As the blue crab season winds down, we were glad to have finally made our way to The Chesapeake Room, one of few restaurants we hadn’t sampled on Barrack’s Row. Usually when we’re on 8th St, we have a different restaurant in mind or look at the menu and opt for a cheaper option (there are plenty around). Yet, the open-aired seating at the bar and cozy atmosphere of the back patio complimented the night’s weather so well that we couldn’t resist. In hindsight, we can’t imagine why it took us so long to make the trip.

Before we had even started our dining experience, it was obvious that one of the highlights of The Chesapeake Room was the ambiance. The open air seating was lovely, the deep, atlantic blue walls and rich wood moulding offset by the candles. The atmosphere was casual, but refined. We sat on the patio, complete with ceiling fans and rolling upholstered arm chairs. Our server bent over backwards to find the right bottle of wine to match our first thoughts for entrees and sold us on more than one of our ultimate selections.

Our first order was the Cucumber soup, freshly pureed cucumber with sour cream and parsley. Crisp and light, the soup had a surprisingly full body for that with a cucumber-base. This was thanks in part to the addition of sour cream that also lent some pleasant tang without dominating the cucumber flavor. The aftertaste had a slight spice and brought out a great finish on the soup. If you usually don’t partake in sour cream, we recommend you simply ignore the fact that it’s there and enjoy the combination, only a slight tang from the cream catching on our tongues. Besides enjoying the soup itself, it was refreshing to have a chilled soup that didn’t have a tomato base and reminded us what we loved best about summer.

For our second order, we chose the Cream of crap soup, a creamy mix of lump crab and cayenne pepper. While there wasn’t a large amount of actual crab in the soup, the crustacean’s flavor shown through brightly and what crab we did enjoy was wonderfully delicate. WIth a full body that didn’t weigh down our palate, this was one of the better versions of this classic dish that we have encountered this summer.

With the name Chesapeake Room, we would have been remised not to have ordered the Maryland crab cakes, two cakes of lump crab topped with a small amount of whole grain mustard creme and served with a watercress salad, house slaw and house mac-n-cheese. The crab cakes had little filler and were bound by a a black pepper and mayo combination, allowing the succulent flavor of the  quality crab to boldly shine through without any extras getting in the way. The mustard creme topping the cakes complimented the crab well and thankfully the amount of sauce didn’t drown out the fresh crustacean.  Unfortunately, everything else of the plate seemed like a throw-away after thought, the mac-n-cheese having a grainy texture and very thin body. While we appreciated the attention given to the crab, too often restaurants follow this pattern of serving two crab cakes and leaving you with nothing else on the plate to look forward to.

For our final plate, we decided on the Eastern shore bourbon & honey glazed farmhouse chicken, served with a mix of jasmine rice, sautéed green apples, white raisins, arugula and topped with a honey curry sauce. Served bone-in, the chicken was tender and a joy to eat, the glazing on the skin highlighting the sweetness of the chicken with notes of honey. The honey curry sauce covering the bird seemed like a forced combination and, while the chicken tasted well enough with the it, each aspect of the sauce seemed to compete with each other. The jasmine rice mixed with small pieces of green apple and red onion gave the dish a soft, sweet/tart mixed character that we had seen attempted before, but not successfully executed until now.

The Chesapeake Room prides itself on bringing an organic, sustainable & free range dining experience while bringing to life the natural & fresh taste of each season. Everything we were served whole-heartily supported their boast and, combined with on of the most inviting atmospheres in the area, put it in our minds as one of the better restaurants available on Barracks row. Although some items on the plates could be improved or given more attention, the meal overall sold us on the idea of coming back again before the end of the blue crab season. It may not be the cheapest option on 8th St, but it’s hard to argue that you don’t get your money’s worth.

The Chesapeake Room on Urbanspoon

Star and Shamrock Tavern & Deli

Location: H St NE

Price: $$

Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary: Hundreds of years of Irish and Jewish culture collaborate together to create one of the best places in DC to both cause and cure a hangover

It is important to start by saying we never intended to review Star and Shamrock Tavern & Deli. After the advice of a friend and a haunting hunger for corn beef, we made our way to the H St NE bar. We have been firm believers that when going into a restaurant or bar, you have to set your expectations accordingly. Don’t expect $50 steak when you walk into a deli. Don’t expect the half price happy hour food at the local bar to impress. We went to Star and Shamrock looking for a reuben and a pint. What we were reminded of is that good food is good food and can come from anywhere, even in an unusual form.

Our first choice was the Fried mac and cheese, macaroni and cheese frozen, matzo breaded and fried. Accompanied by a Tabasco-ranch dipping sauce, it had to be some of the better fried food we’ve experienced. The transformation from frozen to creamy was remarkably well done and made us think about expanding our own food preparation styles. Not to be outdone, our second fried selection of Rueben egg rolls also bent the rules of physics by not tasting like a greased abomination. Sauerkraut and corn beef wrapped in a rice wrapper and fried, we had seen examples of this kind of appetizer before, but never done well. The corn beef and sauerkraut still held their form and integrity without any greasy aftertaste. Star and Shamrock boasts to make these by hand daily and we can’t find a reason to doubt it. Our final starter was the Kosher kornies, Hebrew National cocktail franks wrapped in dough and fried. Accompanied with one of their homemade potato latkes (this became a theme during our meal), these were like any typical croissant wrapped franks, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Once we looked at the menu (there were sandwiches and specialty sandwiches), there was little effort in deciding things that we wanted to order. Our first sandwich was the namesake of the restaurant, The Star and Shamrock, hot pastrami, corned beef, and chopped chicken liver stacked together with one of their homemade potato latkes, swiss cheese, russian dressing, and finally two pieces of rye bread to hold this monster together. Easily one of the better sandwiches we’ve had, the different meats worked harmoniously together and brought out a combination of flavors that paired surprisingly well with the latke’s crispy texture. The flavor of the swiss was largely lost with the rest of the filling, but was invaluable in cementing the many ingredients together in the sandwich. The rye bread did its best to keep the Star and Shamrock from busting at the seams, although it was a nearly impossible task. While we would almost never think of going to a pub to cure a hangover, this sandwich gave enough reason for us to come back for that very senario.

Yet, even The Star and Shamrock couldn’t compare to the behemoth that was our second sandwich. The Latke Madness was a combination of three potato pancakes, a generous amount of hot corned beef, griddled sauerkraut, swiss cheese, and russian dressing. Instead of bread, this sandwich relied on latkes and a few deadly sins to produce one of the more exceptional combinations of meat and potatoes we’ve eaten. Like the previous sandwich, the corn beef was savory, the sauerkraut was crisp, and the latkes were house made.This was the kind of sandwich that tasted so good that we knew it was terrible for our bodies. While we would be hard pressed to order this again, it is only because you can eat something this only once in a blue moon. If you have the appetite and enough confidence in your own self worth, we recommend you mark this sandwich on your list of things to eat or at least share.

The histories of the Irish people and those of the Jewish religion are full of strife and hardship. It would be poetic to say that Star and Shamrock somehow managed to rise above those historic pains and the differences between the two cultures to create something for the whole of DC to enjoy. As it turns out, the restaurant was simply the creation of a guy from Jersey who married an Irish girl and wanted a method to feed his own culinary desires. When you walk into this pub, keep in mind that Star and Shamrock bills itself as a “tavern and deli” and you won’t be disappointed. With a great beer selection, live music, and many weekly specials, Star and Shamrock is a great choice whether you need a craving for corn beef, need a quality pint, or just have a haunting hangover.

Star and Shamrock on Urbanspoon

Ping Pong Dim Sum

Location: Chinatown

Price: $$$

Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary: An average meal enhanced by a great deal

While we have little experience in dim sum cuisine, we enjoy small plate dinners and classic chinese dishes as much as the next person, After hearing about Ping Pong Dim Sum’s brunch special of all you could eat dim sum (costing $25) and seasonal mimosas of guava, lychee & mango (and additional $15), we had to make the trip and make our money’s worth. While we had heard about Ping Pong’s exquisite happy hour deals and their dependable dim sum service, we had never actually had the chance to eat at Ping Pong. The excuse of unlimited dim sum and bottomless mimosas sold us on the task of making a reservation.

Our first round of orders included the Crispy potato cake, fluffy potato with soy beans pancaked with a crisp coating. Tasting like a chinese twice baked potato, the consistency of pureed potato was more mush than mashed. It wasn’t a bad potato cake, but there are better options on the menu. The spicy basil dumpling is a similar story, filled with basil, chili and rice noodles in a riddled wheat flour pastry with vinegar dipping sauce. Spicy and fresh, the rice noodles were a nice touch to the dumpling, but be prepared for a mouth full of steamed basil.

Next was the cleverly named Chicken puff is a puff pastry filled with tender chicken breast, flavored with soy sauce, spring onion, and topped with pineapple. The sweetness of the pineapple paired nicely with the caramelized onions, the minced chicken soaking up the sweetness and the soy sauce. The Chili pork tenderloins, small pork fillets rubbed with chili marinade, were a tad over chewy, but the flavor was spot on, the charred skin and chili sesame sauce coating brighting up the pork’s savoriness.

The Char sui bun was one of the first in our next marathon of dim sum courses, honey-roasted barbecued pork in a wheat flour bun, was by far one of our favorites of the meal. The thick, but delicate texture of the bun holds within a bundle of sweet and shredded BBQ pork. A simple dish, but still a great choice. Another favorite was the Spicy pork dumpling, minced chilies and pork stuffed and steamed in a translucent pastry. A final dim sum not to miss is the Vietnamese shrimp spring roll, shrimp, rice noodles, vegetables wrapped in a rice paper and served with fish sauce, lettuce, and mint. While the wrapper was not the normal translucent skin, the crackle of the rice paper popped on our tongue without sacrificing the light and crisp taste of the filling.

Our first choice of dessert dim sum was the Crispy banana roll with a sichuan chocolate sauce, grilled banana slices rolled up in a thin, wafer-like wrapper. The accompanying semi-sweet sauce of hazelnut and chocolate paired perfectly with the banana roll, the custard-like sauce mellowing out the extremes of the sweetness while preserving the integrity of the crispy banana roll. We also indulged in the Baked ginger cake, drizzled with caramel and served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Although both the cake and ice cream are best enjoyed at the same time, both have a heavy-handed favor and weight. Our final dessert choice was the Roasted coconut and pineapple spring roll served with butterscotch sauce. With flavors similar to a pineapple upside down cake, the butterscotch sauce did wonders to brighten the pineapple and make this dish our favorite dessert.

While we certainly got our money’s worth, we have to reflect on whether we would have actually visited Ping Pong Dim Sum under normal circumstances. Although some of the dishes shone out as great choices, most were average or little more than after thoughts. There was nothing that impressed us or showed us something that we didn’t expect. The brunch deal is worth the trip if you’re looking for something new to try on a weekend or need a place to eat with a large group, but we don’t really see ourselves convincing people to go out of their way for Ping Pong Dim Sum for the food alone.

Ping Pong Dim Sum on Urbanspoon

Potenza

Location: Downtown

Price: $$$

Rating: 3 out of 5

Summary: A restaurant that is stuck somewhere in the middle

While we have been to Potenza before for drinks and bar food, we had never sat down for a meal. With a small but nice tap selection and a satisfying bar menu, we finally decided to sit down for a dinner at this downtown restaurant. What we experienced was little more than the typical Italian ristorante. While featuring nice ingredients and a few menu high points, Potenza did not break from the pack of the many other average Italian restaurants in DC and stand out as something remarkable.

For our appetizer, we chose the Arancini alla Salsiccia di Cinghiale, fried risotto balls stuffed with wild boar sausage and provolone. These lightly breaded balls were some of the best we’ve had of this classic Italian dish, the creamy provolone and risotto combination providing rich flavor without the expected weight. While the amount of wild boar sausage in the aracini was minimal, what was there packed enough of a savory punch to get the message across. The sauce on the plate had a nice hint of lemon that brought extra character to an already excellent appetizer. Deceptively light and incredibly tasty, we recommend this to anyone who steps a foot in Potenza, even if it’s for just a drink at the bar.

Our first entree was the Brasato di manzo con gnocchi, pan-roasted strip loin, truffled gnocchi, asparagus, and madeira butter sauce. The cut of meat was decent enough and sliced before being plated, as if to encourage a forked-combination of the gnocchi and strip loin. Together, the flavors worked well, both pairing nicely with the maderia butter sauce (cooking wine & browned butter). Separately, we noticed some short comings. The salt added on top of the beef cut out the magnificently savory juices and forced us to scrap the plate for more sauce. The gnocchi was a little tougher than we would have liked, but the lightly-cooked asparagus was still a great contrast to the soft texture of the potato pasta. Although it was a great dish when it came together, we wished that such great items would have been able to stand out better separately.

The second plate we had for dinner was the Rigatoni al Ragu Della Domenica, meatballs, spicy fennel sausage, spare rib, braciole, ricotta combined with marinara and rigatoni pasta. The meatball was a great combination of ground beef with a hint of basil. The spicy fennel sausage lived up to its name and displayed a spice that was wonderfully on the edge of too spicy. The spare rib’s texture was magnificently slow cooked , but its taste, unlike the other meats, was largely overwhelmed by the flavor of the marinara. The quality of rigatoni disappointed and forced us to wonder if it was taken from a box, a sin that could have been forgiven at a restaurant of lesser stature (Potenza boasts rightly an in-house bakery). While there was a lot to like in this dish, it seemed as though the kitchen combined different kinds of meats on a plate with some sauce, pasta and a hope that it worked out for the best.

Finally, our waiter recommended for dessert the Panna cotta al caramello, a toffee panna cotta topped with mint chocolate sauce, whipped cream, candied almonds, and caramelized banana. Even though it was full of plenty rich and sweet ingredients, we never felt like we were eating a spoon full of sugar. The cool panna cotta mellowed out the other members of the dessert without its own toffee flavor being lost the process. The whole combination held its form well, but still had a light texture on the tongue. It was a well executed dessert that gave us a beautifully sweet experience without the impression of having eaten a pound of sugar.

Washington has plenty of Italian restaurants. Few of them are absolutely terrible, but even less of them are absolutely superb. Potenza joins that crowd that fits somewhere in the middle. There were a few dishes that made us crave more, but there were some items on our plates that made us scratch our head. This is not to say anything we ate was unappetizing. It just wasn’t fantastic. We will still head to Potenza for drinks and bar food (aracini balls), but it’s hard to find a reason to steer someone there for dinner unless they’re simply in the area.

On Tap Special: Amrut Whiskey at Jack Rose

On Tap Special: Occasionally we are invited to tastings by DC restaurants. Occasionally we find beers or booze that are magnificent. Occasionally we share them with you.

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We’ve been to Jack Rose before and always enjoyed ourselves, so it wasn’t hard to accept an invitation from them to attend a tasting. We are big fans of whiskey in its many forms and Jack Rose is the holy grail for any spirit enthusiast, boasting the largest collection of single malt whiskey in at least the United States. What made us particularly curious about the event was it showcasing Amrut, the first Indian single malt to hit the U.S. market and its Fusion  single malt boasting placement as the 3rd finest whiskey in the world in Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2010. Although most of their selections are made exclusively with Indian barley. Fusion gets its name for combining Indian barley with Scottish barley and peat.  The result was a complexity of fruit and smoke that we’ve never experience in a Scotch whiskey, the sweet notes working well with the classic flavors. Also offered by Amrut were the Single Malt, Single Malt Peated and Old Ports Rum. Much like the Fusion, each had that sweet undertone and, for better or worse, made the whiskey stand out from other brands we’ve had. We were even lucky enough to gain some insight from Harvey Fry, whose own world renowned collection of single malts was the inspiration for Jack Rose. Harvey offered us a comparison to Amrut’s higher end Cask Strength version of its Single Malt. The smooth, silky body and complex grace in the flavor reminded us why we drink whiskey in the first place. None of us are whiskey experts, but we do enjoy a good snifter of Scotch. If you’re looking for something new, Amrut’s Fusion or (if you’re feeling rich) Cask Strength Single Malt should be on your list to try. If you’re looking for a place that serves great food and is a liquid library of bold & beautiful whiskies, Jack Rose should be your destination this weekend.