The following review appears in The Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide.
Tail Up Goat
Carbs are your friends here in Adams Morgan, where bread gets a course of its own and pasta is as sure as death on “Game of Thrones.” Long story short: A raft of grilled sourdough almost upstages its carpet of summery tomatoes and house-made Thousand Island dressing, and if cavatelli with pork sausage and juicy grapes — a rustic vintner’s lunch — is among the specials, order it. The sociable service might remind you of Komi: no surprise, given that the owners are veterans of the modern Greek standard-bearer. Leave it to beverage director Bill Jensen to pick just the right wine to carry you through dinner, which ought to include chef Jon Sybert’s roast chicken cloaked in creamy hot sauce and festooned with dandelion greens and fried rosemary — truly a bird of a different feather in a city chockablock with great chicken dishes.
Tail Up Goat: 1827 Adams Mill Rd. NW. 202-986-9600. tailupgoat.com .
Prices: Mains $16-$27.
Sound check: 75 decibels / Must speak with raised voice.
The following review was originally published May 2, 2016.
Tail Up Goat review: Expert hosts turn dinner into a flavorful party
Students of restaurants have been absorbing some great lessons of late. Spend a little time with the new players, in particular, and you can’t miss the many ways they’re filling voids, listening to diners or otherwise embellishing your meals away from home.
Espita Mezcaleria lavishes attention on a misunderstood spirit, Mulebone fuses food with fashion and Convivial has banished small plates in favor of portions that hover between appetizers and entrees.
All the fun isn’t relegated to “Hamilton”-hot Shaw, or 14th Street, either. Witness, for instance, the way guests at the new Tail Up Goat in Adams Morgan are greeted. Shortly after they’re seated, everyone in the party gets a shot glass filled with a shrub (an acidulated drink).
“Something to wake up the taste buds,” a server says as she introduces the liquid amuse bouche, a rejuvenating blend of apple, pickled rhubarb juice, ginger and fizzy water.
Consider us roused. And our eyes massaged, thanks to a swell of A-listers and others packing a dining room that hints of the sea with a watery mural, chairs trimmed in blue and what look like the ribs of a boat overhead.
Did we expect anything less? The three 30-something owners hail from the Johnny Monis school of hospitality, which ought to be a course of study for anyone aspiring to greatness in the industry. Monis is the James Beard Award-winning chef and co-owner of the great Greek restaurant Komi and the eccentric Thai thriller Little Serow,
both in Dupont Circle. The principals at Tail Up Goat — chef Jon Sybert; his wife, Jill Tyler; and their pal Bill Jensen — bring some of the same fun and discipline practiced by their former employer.
First, the answer to the obvious question: Tail Up Goat takes its quirky name from Tyler’s time in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where locals distinguish goats and sheep by the position of their tails.
Pair your shrub with some poetry, maybe a coin of rabbit sausage, citrus-marinated radicchio and sticky fennel mostarda, four little skewers coaxed into a teepee on their plate. Each bite mingles snap, bitter and sweet.
Bread gets its own course at Tail Up Goat. Sybert and crew bake up to 30 loaves a day, all of them distinctive and delicious. A thick slice of seaweed sourdough becomes a cushion for peppery mashed pork festooned with pickled celery, the fat and the tang duking it out for your favor. Chocolate-rye bread with salt-crusted sardines? Inspired. Brown rice bread slathered with Greek yogurt and decked out with sliced radishes — some raw, some fermented — is tasty, too, but probably the messiest of the trio. I’ve never seen anyone eat the stack and not end up with a yogurt moustache.
The middle of the menu revels in salads and pastas. Sybert serves the most alluring potato salad in town, braised potato slices sprinkled with espelette pepper and shimmering with trout roe. Adding to the charm quotient are fresh dill and creme fraiche. Most of the pastas show flair as well. Spring introduced tender ravioli filled with carrot puree and garnished with ramp greens, the soft textures of the dish countered with a crumble of coriander, fennel seeds, pistachios and more. (Chef, consider bottling and selling the blend. I’d buy.)
The underperformer in the cast sounds like a triumph but eats like a mystery. If there’s goat in the high-rise lasagna built with kale and draped with chunky tomato sauce, no one at my table is sleuth enough to detect it. At least when I tried the dish, the edges of the pasta produced a disconcerting crunch, as if the construction had languished beneath a broiler.
Tail Up Goat serves several dishes designed for two or more, an early hit being a platter piled with lamb ribs. “Use your hands,” coaches a server when the heap arrives. “Get messy,” she teases, leaving us with a plate of wet wipes. The meat, seasoned in part with sumac, falls easily from the bones and is meant to be followed with a swipe of yogurt, cilantro and onions. (Some nights yield excessively fatty meat, other evenings lean.) Slightly neater is whole porgy, topped with soft sunchokes and stuffed with chopped ramps, capers and spinach. It’s a sublime piece of fish that reinforces the restaurant’s subtle seaside feel.
There’s nothing wrong with sliced pork over creamy polenta other than the fact that scores of other restaurants trot out the combination, and some of the competition is superior.
That shrub starts dinner on a high, a sensation you’ll repeat if you move on to cocktails or wine — or better yet, both. The bar, set off with a web of ropes, pours some pleasing libations, among them honest daiquiris and negronis rejiggered with mezcal. No need to dive deep into the wine list. With Jensen in the house, I feel comfortable giving him a price range, sometimes the name of a country I’m curious about, and trusting him to return with something thoughtful. Here’s your chance to fall for a distinguished pinot noir from Germany or a sparkling orange wine from Greece.
There are just three desserts. Two of them, a homey almond pound cake draped with rhubarb jam and mascarpone and a butterscotch pudding capped with soft marshmallow and strewn with candied pistachios, enjoy mass appeal (the latter is served in a ramekin about as big as a hummingbird’s bath). More of an experiment is the roasted pineapple float made with the fermented juice of pineapple rinds. The first sip makes you think “huh.” So does the second.
Here’s the obligatory part of my review where I stand on my soap box and shake a finger at the owners for not trying to mute the volume before, rather than after, opening their restaurant. (Your ears will thank you for dining earlier rather than later.)
In more than one way, though, Tail Up Goat is a blast.