As history buffs (and foodies), we were eager to check out Ottoman Taverna in Mount Vernon Triangle. Highly touted, this Turkish/Mediterranean charmer has been included in the DC Michelin guide. Moreover, Michelle Obama has dined there, dropping by with friends shortly after the restaurant opened about a year ago. The kitchen is halal, meaning it follows Islamic dietary laws.
We sat on the patio, enjoying one of our first nice spring days. We did peer at the interior, a classic Turkish vision of ornate partitions, sparkling light fixtures, and gleaming white tablecloths. Blue and white glass disks, traditionally used to ward off the evil eye, graced a front wall. We savored some history with our kebabs.
Founded by Turkish tribes in Asia Minor, the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful states in the world, spanning more than 600 years and absorbing the cuisine of its myriad regions.
On Ottoman Taverna’s comprehensive menu we discovered Turkish standbys plus a few edgy items. As we sipped a refreshing apricot mimosa and a lip-tingling bloody Mary, we chose a pide – a boat-shaped, Turkish-style pizza studded with lamb, gooey cheese, spices, and tiny arugula shoots. Peter went for the signature favorite, doner kebab: thinly sliced beef and lamb heaped on pita bread with surprisingly good tomatoes for this time of year. Alas, the meat tasted dry and overcooked but still had a nice flavor. Other midday offerings ran the gamut of omelettes, a “Turkish breakfast” with eggs, feta, and olives, salads, and an array of cold mezze. Located at 425 I St. NW, Ottoman Taverna is open daily; call 202-847-0389.
In nearby Blagden Alley, James Beard Award-nominated Columbia Room (124 Blagden Alley NW), continues its spring tasting menu. Known for inventive cocktail and food pairings, Columbia Room whisks guests on a French culinary odyssey. In his three- and five-course pairings, executive chef Johnny Spero combines spring peas with jambon (ham). His version of coq au vin employs chicken skins, mushroom, and red wine.
“Paris has always been a hub for gastronomy,” says Spero. “It’s the source of inspiration for many in the culinary world. With spring, you see the first signs of life after a cold winter. Flowers and trees are blooming and fresh greens are becoming more available.”
Columbia Room’s Spirits Library and Punch Garden also get a seasonal update. The eponymous Tasting Room’s three-course menu is $79 plus tax, and the five-course listing is $108 plus tax. Both include gratuities and may be booked through www.columbiaroomdc.com. The Spirits Library and Punch Garden have open seating, and reservations are not required. The spring menus are available through June.
For more information visit www.columbiaroomdc.com or call 202-316-9396.
Shaw Hot Spot
We’d been hearing good things about Chaplin’s, a 1930s-themed gathering place at 1501 Ninth St. NW. We arrived on a Friday night, as neighborhood millennials queued up, clamoring to get in. Now three years old, this place is hot, and we were grateful for our 8 p.m. reservations. They were handing out free popcorn at the door, but it was too crowded for us to get near the freebies. Just as well, dinner was coming. As our eyes adjusted to the dark interior, we could make out large Charlie Chaplin murals and interesting light fixtures. Upstairs, bar patrons quaffed cocktails while watching vintage silent movies.
Chef Myo Htun’s menu is classic Japanese, focusing on all sorts of ramen, including vegan and gluten-free options, and gyoza (dumplings). “Drunken masters” are dumplings combined with whiskey, vodka, and other spirits. Family-style roasts, ideal for a table, must be ordered in advance. The bar showcases umpteen fancy drinks and as many kinds of sake, the latter served hot or cold. The eclectic wine list includes a pleasant red blend called Wind Blown, from Texas.
We started our repast with yakko, an exotic montage of silky tofu, seaweed, minced cucumber, and bonito flakes napped with a piquant vinaigrette. A ramen favorite is rich broth laced with chicken, scallions, lemongrass, and coconut milk – and oodles of noodles. I chose shrimp gyoza (a half-dozen of the crescent-shaped potstickers), served with a soy-like dipping sauce. (Pork, which appears on many menu items, is humanely and organically raised by Catoctin Mountain Farm in Maryland.)
Chaplin’s service was leisurely, to say the least, but it was a busy Friday night. Dinner for two came to about $60. Chaplin’s is open daily for dinner only, except for weekend brunch. Call 202-644-8806 or visit www.chaplinsrestaurantdc.com.
Sakerum, the new Latin-Asian restaurant in the bustling 14th Street corridor, has launched Social Cigar Night. On Monday, from 7:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., on Sakerum’s 50-seat enclosed rooftop, cigar aficionados may light up. They may also nosh on sushi, Latin-Asian small plates, Japanese whiskey, rum, and scotch. Guests may bring their own cigars for an $8 cutting fee, or purchase stogies from Sakerum’s extensive collection, priced at $12 to $20 each. Open daily, Sakerum is located at 2204 14th St. NW, just three blocks from the U Street-Cardozo Metro station (Green and Yellow lines). For more information call 202-518-2222 or visit www.sakerum.com.
It seems that Shake Shack outlets are popping up everywhere. The latest outpost for this “roadside burger stand” has opened at Logan Circle, 1400 14th St. NW.
Skate wings are flapping into restaurant kitchens and fish markets these days, including Ivy City Smokehouse (1356 Okie St. NE). The odd-looking fish is priced at $5.99 per pound. Similar to a stingray, skate is a type of shark. It has no bones; the “ribs” are actually cartilage and the “wings” are pectoral fins. When you buy the critter, ask the fish guy to remove the skin and spines. To cook, poach it in white wine or stock, or dredge lightly in flour and saute in butter or olive oil until brown. Serve with lemon wedges and capers. Bon appetit!
Wasn’t that a party! Historic Howard Theatre provided the setting for the annual Taste of Shaw Gala on April 25. A fundraiser for Shaw Main Streets’ economic revitalization and preservation, the festive, crowded event celebrated the neighborhood’s diverse, vibrant dining scene. While grooving to mellow live music, guests – who paid $100 each – sipped libations from an open beer and wine bar. They also savored samples from Shaw bars and restaurants. Among dishes we tasted: Tiger Fork’s dan dan noodles; Halfsmoke’s sausage and lip-tingling mac-and-cheese bites; Convivial’s spicy lamb burgers; Dino Grotto’s deviled eggs; El Rey’s shrimp tacos; The Brixton’s potato samosas; Haikan’s Japanese sangria. Whew! Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen (D) was slated to receive the 2017 Shaw Champion Award. For more information, visit www.shawmainstreets.org.