A quick survey of D.C.’s food scene suggests that 2013 was the year of the doughnut. Or was it the taco? And what was up with all those smoke-themed restaurants? One thing’s for sure: The past 352 days have ushered in some of the most inventive dishes the District has ever tasted from a crop of eager-to-impress newcomers. (More than 30 restaurants opened this year in the 14th Street corridor alone.) Below, we present a day planner filled with the best dishes introduced in 2013, chosen for their creativity, deliciousness and “What IS this?!” factor. Check them off before 2014 hits and we’ll play favorites all over again next year.
Maple Custard with Hazelnut Crumble at The Red Hen
1822 First St. NW; 202-525-3021, theredhendc.com
Start things off on a sweet note. Chef Mike Friedman modeled his irresistible confection ($8) after a creme brulee, topping it with hazelnuts tossed in walnut liquor, cinnamon, allspice and brown sugar instead of the traditional scorched sugar. “It’s sweet but not overpowering,” Friedman says. “I wanted to have a nice overtone of maple.” Get it while you can: The dish is only on the menu through March.
Friday, Dec. 20
Spiced Baby Goat Sandwich at G
2201 14th St. NW; 202-234-5015, gbymikeisabella.com
Mike Isabella conceived of G as a way to make use of leftover meat from Kapnos, his whole-animal restaurant next door. Today, the sandwich shop is so popular he has to cook extra meat to keep up with demand. The spiced baby goat sandwich ($13) may be the culprit. “It’s a twist on the gyro,” Isabella says. In place of French fries, Isabella adds potatoes roasted in the rotisserie’s drip pan to hunks of tender meat and tucks it all into pillowy bread smeared with harissa.
Trout Salad at Mockingbird Hill
1843 Seventh St. NW; 202-316-9396, drinkmoresherry.com
Though he bills Mockingbird Hill as a ham and sherry joint, Derek Brown thought outside the boar at his new Shaw bar. The smoked trout salad ($9) earns points for the way it stands up to a glass of sherry. Much like the dish, “Sherry is tart, but rich,” Brown says. Made with cured trout, baby new potatoes, mayonnaise, sherry vinegar and radishes, the tangy salad is topped with a pickled quail egg and trout roe.
Sunday, Dec. 22
Spezzatino at Ghibellina
1610 14th St. NW; 202-803-2389, ghibellina.com
Short of hopping on a plane to Italia, you’re unlikely to find a more authentic spezzatino than Ghibellina’s ($14). The tender, stewlike dish is made from veal neck braised for three hours in white wine, rosemary, garlic, chili flakes, lemon zest, salt and pepper. “I learned how to make it by watching the chefs at Trattoria Mario,” says executive chef Jonathan Copland, who, prior to joining Ghibellina, spent a week in Florence researching flavors at the city’s most lauded restaurants. (Poor thing.)
Pork Sausage, Habanero and Lychee Salad at Rose’s Luxury
717 Eighth St. SE; 202-580-8889, rosesluxury.com
The recipe for chef Aaron Silverman’s pork sausage salad ($13) is elaborate enough to make even the most seasoned chef dizzy. Yet the 14 ingredients — which include peanuts, cilantro, coconut milk powder and lychees — combine seamlessly. “Most of our dishes have only three to four ingredients,” Silverman says. “But we connected the dots with this one and everything just worked.”
Tuesday, Dec. 24
Grilled Octopus Causa at Del Campo
777 I St. NW; 202-289-7377, delcampodc.com
“Don’t get me wrong. Causas are delicious,” chef Victor Albisu says of the classic Peruvian dish traditionally served with layers of seafood, potatoes and gobs of mayonnaise. “But they’re big and creamy.” For his refined interpretation ($18), Albisu balances charred Spanish octopus, grilled potatoes, grilled avocados, pickled leeks, olives, piquillo peppers and preserved tuna atop a scallion-potato puree and an aji Amarillo puree.
Later that evening …
2190 Pimmit Drive, Falls Church; 703-639-0505, tacobambarestaurant.com
To fully appreciate chef Albisu’s range as a chef, grab another one of his seafood dishes at Taco Bamba, the strip-mall taqueria he opened in June. Our pick? The Black Pearl taco with deep-fried tilapia, napa cabbage slaw, grilled avocado, pickled onions and squid ink aioli ($4). “The squid ink adds a dramatic color and adds a seawater flavor to the dish,” Albisu says.
Wednesday, Dec. 25
Take a much-needed day off. Call your mother to wish her a merry Christmas or to tell her that nobody cooks better than her.
Thursday, Dec. 26
Roasted Cauliflower Pizza at Etto
1541 14th St. NW; 202-232-0920, ettodc.com
2Amys’ pizza has long been touted for its Naples-worthy crust. So it was shocking to learn the dough at Etto — co-owned by Peter Pastan of 2Amys — would be prepared differently. “I didn’t want to be bored,” Pastan says. The results are a bit chewier and, in the case of Etto’s strongest pie, topped with roasted cauliflower, capers, anchovies and breadcrumbs ($17).
Gemelli with Rabbit at Iron Gate
1734 N St. NW; 202-524-5202, irongaterestaurantdc.com
“Rabbit is a very mild, sweet meat,” chef/partner Anthony Chittum says. “I knew I wanted to do a pasta dish with it.” When it’s braised in white wine and tossed with tangy mustard, acidic tomatoes, buttery house-made pasta and Parmesan cheese ($21), can you blame him?
Saturday, Dec. 28
Brussels Sprouts at DCity Smokehouse
8 Florida Ave. NW; 202-733-1919, dcitysmokehouse.com
You may be wondering why something as quotidian as Brussels sprouts made this list. That’s probably because you’ve never tried Rob Sonderman’s ($3). The pit master at DCity Smokehouse — a hidden BBQ joint that’s only 200 square feet — shaves his greens on a mandolin slicer before flash-frying them and dusting them with brown sugar, chili powder, chipotle powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. “They come out nice and fluffy,” Sonderman says.
Gaeng Par Hed at Doi Moi
1800 14th St. NW; 202-733-5131, doimoidc.com
One of the spicier offerings at Doi Moi, the Gaeng Par Hed (tofu in wild mushroom curry, $13) is also one of the most time-consuming to make. “We make the tofu ourselves,” chef Haidar Karoum says. “It takes about two hours, but it’s worth it.” The semi-firm tofu is then mixed with young ginger, lime leaves, green peppercorns, Thai chili, mushroom soy, cherry tomatoes and a seasonal vegetable for a completely vegan dish.
Monday, Dec. 30
Grilled Avocado at Daikaya
705 Sixth St. NW; 202-589-1600, daikaya.com
The chief element in Daikaya’s grilled avocado dish ($6.50) isn’t so much the avocado, but the grill. “We use an infrared grill, so you don’t get that kerosene flavor,” executive chef Katsuya Fukushima says. The succulent, almost meatlike result gets drizzled with a house-made ponzu (basically a citrusy soy sauce) and is served with a slice of lemon, sea salt and dried seaweed.
Doissant at Chocolate Crust
5830 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-291-2595, chocolatecrust.com
Hybrid pastries are having a moment. Blame it on Dominique Ansel, the New York pastry chef responsible for the cronut. Robert Cabeca, owner of Chocolate Crust, threw his chef’s hat into the ring with his interpretation: the doissant ($4.50 each). Cabeca deep-fries chocolate croissant dough, pipes in flavored cream and tops it with a sugary glaze.