2005 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Magazine
Sunday, October 16, 2005
One waiter shows up with a stone bowl containing a bubbling mass of cheese, beef strips and velvety poblano peppers, trailed by another carrying an earthenware dish of warm tortillas. Curious diners on both sides of me lean in and ask what I've ordered. "Queso fundido," I tell them as I dig into one of the many crowd-pleasers at Ceiba (pronounced SAY-bah). The fun in this whimsical tribute to Central and South America takes place in a series of rooms, some with pale blue "skies" overhead and big tropical plants in the windows; my favorite claims a barrel-vaulted ceiling and sight of the busy kitchen. Launch an evening with a tart margarita, continue with duck-stuffed empanadas or craggy crab fritters, and move on to the strapping pork feijoada, framed by a confetti of dark kale, beans and rice, or shrimp threaded on skewers of sugar cane and brightened with pineapple salsa. Not everything is great -- striped-bass seviche with corn nuts and sweet potato tastes flat -- but enough is.
Pastry chef David Guas practically dares you not to order dessert, with seductions like dulce de leche cheesecake with tiny slices of pineapple poundcake, or chocolate Cuban coffee cake spiked with a chili custard sauce. With your bill comes another sweet touch: caramel corn spilling out of a paper sleeve.
Nights Out: Cocktails at Ceiba
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, February 24, 2006
Foodies are fans of Jeff Tunks's restaurants DC Coast, Ceiba, Ten Penh and Acadiana. I'm not sure why these dining destinations don't get the same love from cocktail drinkers. Just as the kitchens manage to capture the flavors of the bayou at Acadiana and Asian fusion at Ten Penh, so do the restaurants' respective bar menus: Sazerac cocktails at Acadiana, Singapore slings at Ten Penh.
When I'm asked to meet friends after work downtown or pick a spot for cocktails near McPherson Square, I've been turning to the underutilized bar at Ceiba, which boasts cocktails from South America and the Caribbean at surprisingly affordable prices.
It's no secret that the cost of a cocktail has been skyrocketing in recent years: $10 for a martini at Blue Gin, $12 for spirits mixed with fresh fruit purees at IndeBleu, $15 for house-infused rums at Oya. In the face of such competition, Ceiba's bar is truly a novelty: Every one of the house drinks is $8. (Until inflation hit in 2005, they'd been $7 for a few years.) Ceiba's crowd has always struck me as a little odd: The place can be lively right after work, or you can arrive at 6:30 on a Friday to find empty seats at the bar and the wide counter that runs along the wall. More often than not, it's a holding area for diners awaiting their tables. Part of this could be because of the building itself: The dogleg bar area isn't as festive or quirky as the other rooms -- no tropical plants or fancy murals of birds in flight. Sheets of canvas make a patchwork ceiling, and the dark wood furnishings are somber to the point of dullness. It's left to the Latin-flavored drink menu to spice things up.
Most bars make their mojitos with rum, sugar and muddled mint and lime. At Ceiba, the staff uses a special press to crush sugar cane stalks and extract the raw, earthy sugar water known as guarapo , which goes into a glass with dark rum, mint-infused simple syrup, limes and a handful of mint leaves. The result isn't as sweet as the version that has captured the public's attention, but it has real texture and zip.
A step up -- but costing the same -- is the Hemingway mojito, which adds Mount Gay's sharp, full-bodied XO (Extra Old) rum to the mint and guarapo, forgoing the soda water for a splash of Gruet sparkling wine. (I'm fairly certain Ernest would have preferred his with real French champagne, though.) More exotic drinks are the reason to keep exploring: Batida, a thick tropical fruit punch with tart tamarind, passion fruit and cachaca, a Brazilian sugar cane liqueur, goes down easy. When was the last time you saw a traditional Peruvian pisco sour, which mixes brandy-like pisco with house-made sour mix, bits of egg white and more of that guarapo?
The Dark and Stormy, with dark rum and the pleasant bite of ginger beer, and a thick mango margarita, which smells of fresh mango puree, don't disappoint, either.
Frozen drinks aren't usually found in upscale restaurants, but Ceiba boasts two: the highlight is the Playa Del Sol, a refreshing coconut-based drink similar to a pina colada that a friend loved because it was "pleasantly sweet and girly." The other is a Yucatan Sunset, which tastes really sweet.
Throw in a large appetizer -- don't miss the queso fundido, a bubbling, fondue-like lava-stone bowl of melted cheese, chilis and steak -- and you've got an after-work cocktail date for less than $30.