The Washington Post

MXDC, vaguely Mexican and utterly forgettable

MXDC, which opened last month, occupies the space that formerly housed Roberto Donna’s Galileo III. The dull new decor is just as disheartening as some of the food. (Amanda Voisard/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The best part of MXDC, the vaguely Mexican restaurant from out-of-town chef Todd English, is the gratis bowl of chips trailed by a trio of fresh salsas. The scoops are light and crisp. If you like heat, the jalapeño-ginger dip is a tease to please.

After that, I have more reservations than Aeromexico.

English, who previously fed Washington at the late Olives on 16th Street NW, likes to talk up mashed avocados with lime juice, which gets a category of its own on his latest menu. “Do you know anyone who doesn’t like guacamole?” he asks. The idea is better than the execution — at least with the crab guacamole, a green mound dressed with seafood. And grapefruit. And rosemary oil. Uber-rich and creamy on the verge of slick, this guac tastes like a forced marriage.

Scallop seviche is so soupy, I don’t recognize the appetizer when it shows up — at the same time as everything else we’ve ordered, forcing us to give up that crab guacamole to make room on a too-small table. (Not a problem, frankly.) One bite of the seviche, with its heavy heat and off-kilter seasoning, is sufficient. Tacos made with chewy duck confit and red chili peanut pesto taste like warm-overs. Yet another snack you don’t have to try because I took one for the team: the pasty, open-face quesadilla decked out with goat cheese, arugula and smoked chili mayonnaise.

Grilled Chilean sea bass on a beige pool of pureed oysters and red chilies is curious, yet not unpleasant.

Garnishes are repetitious; I can’t recall a dish that didn’t come with cilantro and pickled onion or too much salt. The worst offender was a bowl of Brussels sprouts spackled with cilantro pesto. After tasting the salt-showered side dish, a companion put down his fork and declared, “I’m going to check my blood pressure when I get home.”

You can understand why we passed on dessert.

Food isn’t the only depressing detail at MXDC, which replaces the Italian-themed Galileo III and has been transformed
into what looks like a hotel lobby with its own DJ booth. “Is this a restaurant or a dance club?” a friend shouts across the table.

The only thing clear to me is the exit.

600 14th St. NW. 202-393-1900. Tacos, salads and small plates, $9 to $19; house specials, $32 to $40.

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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