We had planned to visit Mike Isabella's new Georgetown hotspot just 2 miles from our house several weeks ago and I was quite shocked to see Tom Sietsema's scathing review in Sunday's Washington Post!
He was kind to most of the food but called the place a black dungeon sounding like a power mower.
Well, he was truly unkind in the decor description. The bar is kind of cute with Georgia O'Keefe cow skulls and matching skull storage bottles for some of the liquor, but isn't the black hole he describes. The tables are dark wood and the decor is indeed dark, but the lighting is fine and reading is not a pain, as it can be in some places.
On the other hand, as Mr. Sietsema says, talking is nary impossible. We arrived for an early dinner at 6:30pm and the place was reasonably quiet, so we could easily hear our delightful server, Holly's, spiel. Within an hour the place was heaving and we declared, "The Georgetown crowd has taken over the city!" There are too many noisy places these days, and this might be the worst. Add the cackling ladies at the next table with high voices and we were unable to converse after 830pm.
That said, we did listen to Mr. Sietsema's suggestions and even more to Holly, who is truly a food fanatic and knows her dining 'round the world quite well!
The drinks here are fun and I started with the CASA EN FUEGO Margarita made from habanero infused tequila, Patron Citronage, strawberry and lime; cool, but very hot & spicy. Will said he had never had a PISCO SOUR, and declared he really does not like them, although it was very well made with a superb egg white foam and lime.
We moved on and Will tried the ZAMBADA GARCIA Margarita of Cabo Wabo Silver, Patron Citronage, Lime & Fidencio Mezcal Float which was nice, but pricey at $13.00. I loved my EL CAPO with Fidenzio Mezcal, Campari, Carpano Antica and 2 dashes Laphroig, but again at $14.00 it's gone fast and a bit overpriced.
We enjoyed these as we munched the roasted corn nuts (no bread here) and ordered the first salsa called SIKIL PAK. This is a must signature dish here made from pumpkin seed, jalapeno and orange; call it a pumpkin orange tapenade with a twist. It is served with tasty corn chips (you can actually taste the corn!), but last night the chicharones that are supposed to come with it were missing and Holly declared the chef felt they were not up to par that night- a true shame. I asked the guy who brought the dish what "sikil pak" meant and he said it's an ancient Mayan pumpkin seed dip; I pressed for more asking for a literal translation, but he came back empty handed from the kitchen. Smart phones are great as mine told me that "sikil" is pumpkin and " pak" is orange in Mayan, so he was pretty correct, but now all the staff knew the literal translation. Whatever, you do, ORDER THIS!
We ordered each set of dishes as the evening progressed, trying not to overindulge and also not wanting everything to come out fast, so often an issue in these "tapas" type places. First was the TAQUITOS, one of tuna, toasted sesame seeds & sweet potato (which was negligible in the overall taste) and the sublime BLUE CRAB with coconut, red chili & purple potato. These were both imbued with Indonesian sambal, a very spicy condiment that I happen to adore. In the crab taquito it allowed the crab to come through with a huge explosion followed by a nice spice--divine!
We finished our drinks and moved on to a bottle of MALBEC 2009 Vista Alba Blend B from Argentina that is 75% Malbec and 25% Cab; it works very well with the spices. We had a quick taste of the wimpy TANNAT (Cata Mayor 2010) from Uruguay and moved on to what Holly suggested; good idea.
We split the TOMATILLO & AVOCADO GAZPACHO which had Mezcal marinated watermelon and orange with an overal salty, sweet and tart taste that vied at our mouths and really was a pleasure.
The soft tortilla type TACOS are also great here and come with many fillings. The Roasted ASPARAGUS with Spinach & Beet Salsa is a nice veggie option but needs something more to bind it like an aioli or spicy mayo; just a tad would have done the trick. The SKIRT STEAK with refried beans, avocado, salsa (with a kick) & crsipy onions was a juicy treat and full of all the flavors we expected.
The EMPANADA here is another veggie treat made with corn, potato, jack cheese & poblano escabche. The cheese gives it a slight richness and the marinated peppers are in a sauce on the plate to dip and fork up. The crust is the hit here and the dough is flaky and tender; lots of love in this batter!
SOPES are topped with Lamb picadillo, chipotle goat cheese and a slice each of jalapeno and fresco chili. They have a bite, but not intense, only the sopes was a bit hard and very difficult should you decide to split the dish between two people (there are three sopes per portion).
There are several side veggies and we chose the CRAZY CORN which is indeed CRAZY. The Roasted Corn cob (there are three portion about 3 inches long each) is on a stick and encrusted with Corn Nuts and Chile Cheese. Holly suggested we squeeze the lime provided on each cob to (a) keep the crust on and (b) give it a bit more flavor. She was oh so right and the dish was fun, but next time I might try something else.
Two shot glasses of complimentary Corralejo Anejo Tequila followed and sipped the warm smooth and flavorful liquor. We could not even think of dessert, and headed home more than full...next time we order less for sure. Will there be a next time. I am sure, but perhaps we will wait until a snowstorm hits DC and we know the place will be quieter!