Likable Boundary Road has its limits
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Boundary Road is the friend with the milk moustache, the pal with lint on his lapel. I want to reach out and help the promising upstart make a better impression.
Introduced in February, Boundary Road had me at hello -- or at least first sight. Like many new dining spots, this one involves lots of bricks and clever lighting. The combination feels more dramatic on H Street NE, however, given walls that shoot up two floors high and light that filters through an antique spring mattress. Fill the loftlike space with young neighbors, and you’ve got an intoxicating brew.
Speaking of drinks, they’re good here. By now, of course, that’s almost a law for new restaurants. Bourbon doesn’t have a light reputation, but the way the spirit is swirled with Cointreau, sparkling wine and bitters makes the cocktail called Seelbach refreshing. Punch is ladled out at brunch, from a glass bowl that might contain an eye-popper of red wine, whiskey, lemon juice and sparkling water.
The single sheet of paper reads like a roll call for food fashions. For locavores, there’s Maryland crab soup, and for dumpling freaks, cheese-stuffed pierogi. On the organ front: veal sweetbreads. Hanger steak arrives with potatoes fried in duck fat, the grease du jour. Trend trackers won’t be the only happy demographic. So will the budget-minded: No entree costs more than $24. More new restaurants than not forgo serving gratis bread; this diner is pleased to report that dinner at Boundary Road opens with tender, old-fashioned Parker House rolls.
My beef, then? The food. Too much of the cooking tastes as if it passed through a salt mine on its way to the table. A server’s reaction to my complaint about an especially overseasoned dinner was to offer me dessert on the house, but what I really want is duck leg confit that doesn’t smack of being sponsored by Morton’s. No meal escapes the problem. An otherwise satisfying smoked bluefish salad (think tuna salad, but nobler) is minimized by a glossy green salad with ribbons of carrot that tastes more of salt than vegetable.
A heavy hand with the salt shaker isn’t the kitchen’s only drawback. For a chef who has toiled as a line cook at Fiola, Cashion’s Eat Place, Proof and Central Michel Richard, Brad Walker, 33, puts out some food that borders on the sloppy, as if he were operating in a mess hall. Oil, like salt, is over-applied here.
Start with a salad and make it chopped endive and iceberg lettuce tossed with toasted walnuts and a creamy binder of
Stilton cheese. It's a little bitter, a touch sweet and a lot pleasant. Crisp sweetbreads arranged over purple potatoes and Swiss chard and draped with a sunny Huancaina sauce is another appealing beginning. The Peruvian sauce gets its color and kick from aji chili peppers.
Ramps and asparagus are two of my favorite ways to experience spring, but their seasonal charms are lost in a mushroom appetizer that finds them in too much oil on a cushion of grilled bread. As for that Maryland crab soup, sweet with seafood and chockablock with carrots, an overdose of black pepper keeps my spoon at bay.
Those pierogi come with family support; Walker bases his recipe on a richer version from his mother-in-law in Pennsylvania. Sparked with black pepper and filled with quark instead of mama’s sour cream, the floppy kerchiefs at Boundary Road are offered as both a (meatless) starter and main event.
Chicken cooked beneath a brick pushes all the right buttons, too. The meaty main course is served on a soft nest of shaved Brussels sprouts, celery root, farro and beet greens. Fun fact: Walker says he uses an actual brick from the building -- “washed, of course” -- to press the brined bird on the grill and make it crisp. Hanger steak reveals a rosy blush and a rich curtain of Choron sauce (a.k.a. bearnaise tinted with tomato).
The name of the restaurant explains the menu’s international mix. There are no boundaries, the chef likes to say. Arepas the size of pancakes come with a moat of white beans that could use an injection of flavor (dare I say ... salt?). A Spanish-influenced seafood stew crammed with the usual suspects -- mussels, clams -- is most interesting for the roasted halibut. Chewy, dry octopus in the mix drags the entree down, however. We wash back the mistake with, among the affordable wines on the list, a spicy Rioja (made with the grape Graciano) for $38.
“Damn Fine Pie” isn’t hyperbole. The combination of not-too-sweet apples and thin, buttery crust served with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream makes me want to shout. Another dessert that doesn’t stick around long after it lands is a bowl of hot, sugar-dusted Italian doughnuts, or zeppole.
Boundary Road has good bones, good drinks and a nurturing staff. All it needs is more TLC from the kitchen and a cease-and-desist order from the salt police.
Boundary Road now on bargoers' map
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Mar. 30, 2012
When Boundary Road opened in mid-February, I was excited about this under-the-radar neighborhood gem. It's an H Street spot with rough-hewn brick walls, a quality cocktail program and a menu crafted by a chef with Fiola and Cashion's on his resume, but it sits near Fifth and H streets NE - at the less-populated end of that strip of bars and restaurants.
Off the beaten path, more chances to get in without having to wait, right?
President Obama and wife Michelle dropped in for dinner within its first month, making Boundary Road an essential stop for the foodies who follow the first couple's every culinary adventure. And the president is not the only politico in the reservations book. Last week, while I was at the bar surveying a packed dining room and sipping the dreamy Praha City Represent - vodka, cinnamon-spicy Becherovka liqueur from the Czech Republic, rosemary, ginger beer - Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia came to meet friends for dinner.
Fine. The secret's out on my new favorite after-work/after-concert drinking destination. But it's still worth your time to visit.
Boundary Road has a playfulness and coziness you can't reinvent downtown: Grooves from old boards are still visible in the walls, and a full-size mattress is repurposed as a chandelier in the airy front half of the dining room. There are about 20 stools at the long bar, which faces a first-come, first-seated communal table. Staff are friendly, even at their most harried.
When I'm thirsty here, I lean toward the short-but-tight cocktail list. I'm Thinking About Getting a Vespa, true to its Italophile name, is a glamorous drink featuring Italian aperitifs (Cocchi Americano and Aperol), blood orange juice and sparkling wine. El Luchador goes south of the border, as a fiery jalapeno-and-lemongrass syrup punches up tequila and lime.
Nine microbrews are on draft - including several locals - and there are 15 wines by the glass, mostly from France and Italy. Happy hour, which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, features one beer and one wine for $4 each, and a four-ounce taster of any beer for $1, instead of the usual $6-$8 per glass.
Late night, Boundary Road shifts gears with a rotating menu of small plates (crostini, charcuterie) served from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., and after 11 p.m., there's a $5 shot-and-a-beer special.
Mr. President, the next round is on me.