By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013
Then: A noisy sausage factory(2010)
Again: Lightened up
Michael Jackson is belting out one of his hits in the background. Slate and steel are the house colors. You can't look up without spotting a wurst. The vibe summons Berlin, but I'm actually in Clarendon at Lyon Hall grazing on the generous charcuterie board set out by chef Liam LaCivita.
One could launch with mussels or a salad, but plenty of cooks can give you those things. LaCivita offers dearer options -- wild boar rillettes, pork en croute -- everything cranked out from scratch and most very appealing. Smoked trout pâté made springy with lemon zest and delivered with a feast of pickled vegetables and other "garnishes" encourages sharing, although you may not want to.
In an earlier life, I lived in Germany. Eating Lyon Hall's hot-smoked, veal-and-pork links spiced with caraway and coriander is like paging through my photo album, only more delicious. Warm red cabbage and Lyonnaise potatoes on the plate add to the comfort.
It's not all about meat on the menu. Among the fresh additions to the lineup are a duck cassoulet that swaps in fava beans and spring peas for the usual white beans, and a bread-less twist on a banh mi. In the chef's elegant homage to the Vietnamese sub sandwich, seared tuna swims to the table on a pool of coconut-lime leaf butter sauce and dressed with vinaigrette-kissed carrots and pea shoots. Shavings of foie gras seal the deal with an indulgent kiss.
Cocktails are surprisingly ordinary, but you can hear yourself clink now, thanks to soundproofing slipped into the ceiling. Lyon Hall competes with sibling Liberty Tavern for a neighbor's attention on Mondays. That's when the American restaurant celebrates fried chicken and the sausage maker promotes fresh oysters for a buck a pop. I cast my vote for ... a shuttle bus between the two dining rooms.
Tapping into D.C.'s thirst for beer
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, May 28, 2010
It wasn't that long ago that beer aficionados who wanted to try an exotic brew had to make a special pilgrimage to a landmark beer bar like the Brickskeller or visit certain restaurants -- say, a Belgian restaurant -- to enjoy unfamiliar Belgian ales.
But then the revolution came, bringing temples of ale such as Birreria Paradiso, ChurchKey and Brasserie Beck. And as more people have tried good beers -- IPAs, English ales, off-the-beaten-path lagers -- there has been a trickle-down effect. Now even laid-back neighborhood spots are likely to have a couple of above-average beers on tap that you can sip while hanging out with friends.
The trend shows no sign of slowing down, and here are three of my recent favorites.
You might expect Lyon Hall, a new Alsatian-inspired brasserie from the owners of Clarendon's Liberty Tavern, to have a Euro-centric beer menu. After all, what washes down rich Lyon sausage or a bacon-and-onion tarte flambe better than a full-bodied Belgian tripel or a fine German lager? But the menu (20 drafts, and almost four times as many bottles) is better than expected.
Grab a seat at the long bar or the parallel counter, and start exploring. (The menu is divided into "Session" beers and high-alcohol "Drink Well" beers.) From Belgium come the fruity Troubadour blonde and smooth Silly Saison. Germany's Hoffbrau Maibock is solid, but upstaged by a Canadian beer: Le Trou du Diable's Weizgripp, a rich, spicy dopplebock with plenty of kick. Hobgoblin, a malty organic ale, is the English standout.
The United States gets in the act with the hoppy Yard's IPA from Philly, one of my favorite regional brews, and Allagash's Curieux, a tripel aged in bourbon barrels to make it sweeter and stronger.
The bar scene is split between beer drinkers and wine drinkers -- Lyon Hall's mostly French by-the-glass list is almost as intriguing as the beers -- and it can get hectic on weekends. (And loud: The bar area is all marble and tile.) Bartenders are fast and friendly, and make the wait go down easy.
Less is more at Lyon Hall
Pared down menu lets food shine
By Tom Sietsema
Sept. 12, 2010
I always suspected there was a good restaurant hiding in Lyon Hall. It just took the place a little time to make its charms visible.
Launched in April by the owners of the neighborly Liberty Tavern, also in Clarendon, Lyon Hall arrived on the scene with street cred and the lure of something different: a menu that spoke to Alsace with tartes flambees, sausage platters and not one but three flavors of sauerkraut.
"I'm guilty of trying to come up with restaurant ideas that offer cuisine that I'm personally passionate about," explains Stephen Fedorchak, a principal in both restaurants.
Lyon Hall also provided engaging servers to describe the food, cocktails that didn't taste like everyone else's and giggles all around whenever anyone returned from the restroom. (Hint: That "mirror" above the sinks isn't what you think it is.)
Several roadblocks stood in the way of my lapping up the place.
One deterrent, oddly enough, was the physical menu. The size of a car mat, it used scratchy type that made reading it a chore. Moreover, the format was so busy that the eyes didn't know where to settle. Mine gravitated to the "sides" in the lower left-hand corner of the broad sheet, certainly not the designer's intention.
Another problem was noise. Lyon Hall was a blast -- literally. Even if a customer could read lips, he would be uncomfortable dining amid sound levels (100 decibels one Friday night in August) that approximated those of jackhammers and jets taking off.
Then there was the cooking, a mixed bag of the good (pork schnitzel), the bad (dry fruit clafloutis) and the inconsistent.
Chef Liam LaCivita introduced a revised menu last month, and all I can say is, what a difference a font makes. No more straining the eyes to decipher the dishes, and no more wondering where to start ordering.
Me? These days, I'm heading first for oysters, maybe the tiny Kumamotos from Washington state's clear, cold waters, and plump snails cloaked in parsley butter and crackling with bacon. Charcuterie is now flagged on a sheet of its own. Beet-cured Arctic char, poised on a soft potato cake, and chicken liver-foie gras mousse, capped with port-sweetened aspic, are particularly easy to like.
I'm pleased that the potato dumplings with their cores of Armagnac-spiked prunes survived the whittling. The walnut-size bites, similar to gnocchi, are soft and soothing, set off with threads of speck. Fried sage imparts a breeziness to the idea. The dish is filling; an appetizer order could stand in for an entree. Schnitzel, a reminder that Alsace shares a border with Germany, endures on the menu, too, and it tastes as if it has been flown in for the occasion. The crumb coating is light, the pounded meat really smacks of pork, and diced fingerling potatoes tossed with lemony mustard and pickled Swiss chard make a rousing companion to the centerpiece.
Kielbasa packs even more flavor on its plate. Links of the sausage, spiced with coriander and smoked paprika, frame an aromatic alp of bacon-laced sauerkraut. There are lacy shredded fried potatoes (rosti) in the picture, too, and some sweetness to balance the tang, from a sauce made with plums. The entree is a guilty pleasure you'll pay for at the gym tomorrow. But when you're eating the mound, life sure feels better. Bockwurst is less wicked and less fun, but I enjoy its attending ribbons of carrots, zingy with white balsamic vinegar, and squiggly crisped spaeztle. Among the grilled meats, lamb chops napped with a peppery vinaigrette are especially appealing.
Served with foie gras-flavored sabayon, the duck-fat fries sound like pure food porn. Reality, however, is far less titillating; the neatly stacked golden rectangles smack of yesterday's mashed potatoes. I'll stick with the regular french fries, heaped in a metal bowl, thanks.
In a part of Clarendon that sees lots of Sysco traffic, it's encouraging to find a kitchen baking its own bread, turning out its own sausages and rolling out its pastas. The latest menu celebrates summer with a salad combining peach chunks, tomatoes in three colors and croutons; it needed only a dash of salt to lift it.
The bar, too, pays attention to the time of year. In Blood, Sweat and Tears, peach recently replaced blood orange as the fruity element in a fabulous cocktail featuring rye whiskey and elderflower liqueur.
The menu is plenty meaty, but you can be a vegetarian or a pescatarian and feel indulged. Exhibit A is the Provencal tart: sheer tomato slices, olives and a crumble of cheese on a light and flaky disc that is so thin, it almost disappears into its plate. It's served like a pizza and is easy to share. Exhibit B is a perfect piece of halibut set on a fine froth of lemon oil and egg yolks, and accessorized with sugar snap peas that live up to their name (they're sweet and crisp). LaCivita and Lyon Hall's chef de cuisine, Andy Bennett, have an eye for what looks good on a plate.
So does pastry chef Rob Valencia, whose sourdough bread kicks off dinner. His strudel, rethought as spring rolls, arrives with a changing scoop of ice cream (tangy sour cream when I tried it). The dessert should also come with a warning: Be careful when you bite into the tips, as the pressure tends to propel the hot fruit filling out like a cannonball. Just ask my dry cleaner. A more elegant conclusion is the almond-flavored pot de creme, decorated with a crisp tuile and peaches. Black Forest cherry cake is reinterpreted as a dome of white chocolate mousse enclosing cherry puree, trailed by a line of fresh cherries garnished with shaved chocolate. The look isn't classic, but it's pretty. Valencia's chocolate sampler highlights bonbons in such unusual flavors as cardamom and stout.
Narrow and crowded, the bi-level Lyon Hall is not the beauty of its block (lucky diners land on the banquette facing the front window), but the servers make up for that. One night, a ringer for Anne Hathaway guides me through dinner; another evening, a young Stanley Tucci attends to my needs. No matter who is minding my table, though, there's the feeling of people who enjoy what they're doing and want you to have fun, too.
By the time you read this, Lyon Hall's aural assault might be a moot point. The restaurant was expected to close over Labor Day for extensive soundproofing.
Let's hope the buffers work. My next meal, I want to hear the crunch of the kraut, the snap in the sausage -- and the punch lines to my companions' jokes.