Editors' pick


$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

Restaurant Review

Now dedicated to seasonal small plates
Lincoln returns to Washington
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alan Popovsky says he designed his freshly minted downtown establishment around Abraham Lincoln because the iconic figure stands for "freedom, expression, liberation" - ideals Popovsky hopes are conveyed by the restaurant's decor, which gleams with a penny-paved floor, and by its menu of historically accented small plates.

Popovsky, who also owns the modern-American Hudson in the West End, has yet to award anyone $250 for figuring out how many coins brighten the main room of the restaurant designed by Maggie O'Neill, whose stamp can be seen at Oya, Sei and the controversial Sax (where portraits of politicos in indelicate scenarios were recently painted over). Aside from the copper-covered landing, O'Neill nods to Lincoln with several vivid acrylic paintings and a throne-size white leather chair, a comfier version of the marble rest at the Lincoln Memorial. The Emancipation Room in the back, whose wall is illuminated with Lincoln's call to free slaves, might be my favorite, since its studio-size couches offer glimpses of the rest of the restaurant and its location shields inhabitants from the noise pollution that engulfs the establishment.

Some non-edible advice: Sit next to whomever you like best, because even Ethel Merman would have a hard time being heard in an environment that averages 100 decibels on a weeknight. (Normal conversation hovers around 60 decibels.) "Does it want to be a disco or a restaurant?" one of my guests yelled during the thump, thump, thump of a raucous happy hour.

Popovsky refers to the scenery, which includes Mason jars for drinks and snacks and pickling containers for illumination, as a "contemporary log cabin" that happens to find room for 155 guests.

Corporate chef Demetrio Zavala was joined this spring by Karen Nicolas. Together, the veteran of the South Florida scene and the former executive sous-chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York forge a stronger union.

The team's Civil War-era research revealed that soldiers in the field took their nourishment from glass containers. So the single-page menu opens with snacks served in the same. The idea is more interesting than the actual layering of pureed white beans, tomato jam and watercress, among the trio of muted choices.

The plates are big, the portions petite. Four tender shrimp flecked with red pepper flakes and brightened with lemon slices, and served in a little black skillet, are delicious. It's also gone in four bites. Slices of pink tenderloin arranged on creamed spinach that could use more seasoning looks like a meal built for G.I. Joe rather than a full-scale diner. Similarly doll-size, the dainty chicken potpie places a token cap of pastry over a filling that includes a few nice bites of the expected ingredients. Crisp salmon departs from the same-old by accessorizing with strips of spicy chorizo and fried basil. My point is - and as with a lot of places that offer small plates - you need to order three or more plates here before your stomach acknowledges that it has been acknowledged. (Lincoln does not serve a bread basket.)

A single sample of the calamari fries, long breaded strips of seafood served in a wire cone, is sufficient for me; the appetizer should audition for a role at Red Lobster. And lunch has found some lesser cooking. If you were to eat only the fish and chips and the pastrami sandwich, both blah, you might deem Lincoln just another place to refuel.

But fowl-in-a-blanket, anyone? Juicy duck sausage bound in a crisp wrap of puff pastry and served in slices is a tasty turn on a lowbrow American hors d'oeuvre. Try the snack with a Lady Lincoln, a gin-based cocktail made refreshing with elderflower liqueur, prosecco and lavender, or Honest Abe's Moonshine, which gets its punch from white whiskey and arrives in a Mason jar. The restaurant takes its drinks - if not its quirky wine list, which is heavy on reds - seriously.

The prettiest soft-shell crab I've encountered so far this season is served here. Lincoln's lightly crisp seafood is mounted on a colorful salad of charred corn, tomatoes and lime that announces summer in each forkful. The fun extends to a drift of whipped avocado on the edge of the crab's long white plate.

Lincoln charms herbivores. Eating lengths of roasted eggplant draped with whipped goat cheese puts me in a Middle Eastern frame of mind, while carrot sliced into long ribbons and tossed with Parmesan, pine nuts and lemon is a light and elegant way to pack your diet with beta carotene. Under the quaint heading of "Roughage & Greens," shredded kale tossed with hazelnuts, dried cranberries and a lemony vinaigrette salutes a green that deserves more attention than it gets. Risotto typically is offered a couple of different ways, one of them always meatless. Halved grapes, roasted walnuts and goat cheese made a good impression one night. Another visit, the tang of tomato played well off the creaminess of house-made burrata cheese.

Desserts are simple. Strawberry-rhubarb crisp honors the season and the fruit, as does Lincoln's moist blueberry cake. Fudge cake is true to its word; the slender bar is dense and dreamy. The funnel cake is something you'd spot at a carnival, except a carnival probably wouldn't treat the sweet to orange zest.

Popovsky has more Lincolns in mind. "This kind of restaurant could go anywhere," he says, which is why it's important to "make this the best we can."

He's off to an honest start.

Bar Review

Drinkin’ with Lincoln
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, April 29, 2011

When you want to wind down with a cocktail after a long work-week, try this excellent new option downtown: the two-week-old Lincoln restaurant and lounge at 1110 Vermont Ave. NW, just off Thomas Circle.

Head to the small bar, settle in at one of the comfortable leather stools and say “Lincoln Sour.” You get a heck of a cocktail, airy and frothy from being shaken with egg white. It’s a subtle tribute to our 16th president, made with Knob Creek Bourbon -- Lincoln grew up in Knob Creek, Ky., -- and applejack, a strong fortified cider that was popular in the 19th century. Combined, they yield a lightly sweet apple flavor (helped by the apple bitters) that goes down very smoothly.

That’s just the first of six house drinks developed by mixologists John Hogan and John Miller, the team that owns Annapolis cocktail destination Level. (A few years ago, Hogan served as the head mixologist at Lincoln’s sister restaurant Hudson.) The drinks I’ve tried have been fairly strong in taste and quality, though Honest Abe’s Moonshine -- a mason jar containing only Devil’s Door un-aged white whiskey, lemon juice and bitters -- is just plain strong. The flavors are more subtle in the rotating “monthly feature”: maple-infused Knob Creek mixed with Citronge orange liqueur, maraschino liqueur, fresh lemon juice and a heavily-sugared rim. I thought it might be a little syrupy-saccharine, as some maple drinks have been in the past, but I was impressed with the blend of fruit and bourbon.

Flip the menu over for a list of classic American cocktails: the Mai Tai, Hemmingway Daiquiri, Sazerac and D.C.’s own Shoemaker Rickey. I’ve only had the last one -- a refreshing cooler of Russel’s Reserve 6-year-old rye whiskey topped up with fresh lime and soda water -- but I’m looking forward to trying the rest and bringing a group of friends for a bowl of the Emancipation Punch, which serves six people for $42. (Other cocktails cost $9 or $10.)

Happy hour runs from 4 to 7:30 daily, but it doesn’t include any of the house cocktails. Instead, the “Lincoln Bill Specials” include $5 wines by the glass, $5 bottled beers and $5 mixed drinks using house spirits (Skyy Vodka, Bombay Gin, Jack Daniels, etc.). Don’t miss the snack menu, which features duck sausages in flaky pastry and “calamari fries,” which are three-inch sticks of crispy calamari served in a paper cone.

Discounts are great, but even if the house drinks cost two Lincolns instead of one, they’re worth it. Honest.