Petworth Citizen looks good, but doesn’t the neighborhood deserve better food?


The best of a bad lot: The chorizo burger and fries served at Petworth Citizen, which specializes in drinks and bar food. (Mark Gail/For The Washington Post)
November 22, 2013

Fact: Petworth needs more places to eat.

Fact: Neighbors applauded the arrival of Petworth Citizen, a 75-seater from one of the owners of Room 11 in Columbia Heights.

Reaction, after three visits: The check can’t come soon enough.

Let’s start with what’s right about this picture. The interior is a winner. Behind the facade — so black at night, you can’t spot it from across the street — is a long room dressed with broad teal booths, a pressed-tin ceiling and iron accents. Also, if you like your servers on the breezy side, Petworth Citizen is your watering hole.

Makoto Hamamura is the guy in charge of the short menu, and Kristi Green is responsible for what leaves the bar. On paper, those résumé details whet my appetite. The chef worked as a sous-chef at the four-star CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental for six years, and the drinks maker comes from the cheery Firefly in Dupont Circle. Named for a community newspaper published during World War I, Petworth Citizen was created to serve bar food with some twists.

There are few small plates I’d want to try again. Whipped Gorgonzola Crostini is a combination you’d whip up if someone dropped over unexpectedly and all you had in stock was some cold cheese and dry little rounds of packaged croutons. Chicken wings are crisp but scrawny, dull despite their marinade of ginger, garlic and soy sauce. Indeed, they’re the kind of grub you might expect to see at a bowling alley or a breast-aurant, but hardly in a contemporary city setting. Slicing into the beef short ribs with grilled romaine is as easy as mining a cave with a plastic knife. The meat is dense as lead.

By default, the chorizo burger gets my vote. The patty is zesty, and the sandwich comes with a handful of french fries that carry sincere potato flavor.

Maybe brunch is better? Maybe not. One of the silliest reasons to leave your bed on the weekend is a skillet of eggs, crab, pasta and chorizo — a dense mishmash that smacks of a frat-house cure for a hangover. Even the OJ is sub-par.

There’s no drinking away the cooking, by the way; the cocktails lack balance. Call me spoiled, but a good bar does not punish its Manhattans with maraschino cherries anymore.

Owner Paul Ruppert plans to stage another, more intimate restaurant on the same block in the new year. Fingers crossed, the intended “fine dining” venue from Hamamura will be nothing like the disappointment preceding it.

829 Upshur St. NW. 202-722-2939. Entrees, $10 to $16.

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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