First Bite review: Bar Charley in Dupont Circle


Bar Charley’s lobster roll pairs the seasoned seafood with slices of buttered brioche, and it arrives accompanied by thick-sliced potato chips, fried in-house. (Jahi Chikwendiu/Washington Post)
September 24, 2013

The question Jackie Greenbaum says that she and Gordon Banks wanted to answer with their latest contribution to the dining scene was: What do we want to eat when we go out?

Dumplings, it turns out. Meatballs, they decided. Grilled fish for two would be an asset, along with great drinks that didn’t cost a fortune. Interesting salads and sandwiches were a given.

Bar Charley in Dupont Circle offers all of the above, and more, for surprisingly little. A quartet of steamed shrimp and pork belly dumplings goes for a mere $6, for instance, while a Sazerac fan probably will do a double-take when he spots the classic being poured for $8.

The successor to Cajun Experience, Bar Charley flashes Banks’s middle name and marks the second watering hole in the city for the restaurateurs, who jointly own El Chucho in Columbia Heights. (Separately, Greenbaum co-owns Jackie’s and Sidebar in Silver Spring.) Kudos to designer Mick Mier for the dashing interior, outfitted with old chandeliers and panels of peacock-patterned wallpaper.

The menu, created by former Jackie’s chef Diana Davila-Boldin and now in the hands of former Redwood chef LaMont Mitchell, is all over the map. Just about every appetite gets addressed. Seafood? Go for the lobster roll, flanked with thick potato chips fried right here. Meat? Consider a neat sloppy Joe. Among the salads, carrots and lentils tossed with almonds and bacon catch my interest. Smoked chicken thigh on dirty rice makes me happy to camp in this cozy roost, too.

The caveat to this deal of a meal: the din that comes with a full house in the low-ceilinged, 65-seat bar and dining room. Bar Charley proved so noisy on opening night, admits Greenbaum, she had to step outside to escape the pain. By the time you read this, however, a solution is expected to muffle the problem: The brown fabric on the ceiling disguises sound absorbers.

1825 18th St NW. 202-627-2183 Bar plates, $5 to $18; entrees for two, $32 to $48.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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