Lucky us. Haneeth — halal lamb spiced with cumin and cardamom and cooked low and slow in a clay oven — is a singular sensation, splayed on fragrant basmati rice and garnished with caramelized onions. Too rich? One of the best soups around is a dusky bowl of lamb broth, fortified with everything that makes the haneeth such a draw — cinnamon, turmeric and cilantro included.
The best time to visit is Friday lunch, from 1 to 5 p.m. That’s when Alsheikh and company serve a buffet of a dozen or so dishes, beautifully presented as if for company. The dishes and prices change, depending on what meats are featured; a recent visit found me returning for seconds of melting, tomato-sauced eggplant; succulent chicken stained gold with turmeric; a tangy, mint-green buttermilk soup served with thin pancakes reminiscent of injera; and lovely little pastries that had me rethinking my allegiance to Middle Eastern bakeries.
On the walls: decorative daggers and paintings from an artist in Dubai. At the tables: diners speaking multiple languages. On my calendar: more dates with this fabulous food.
6981 Hechinger Dr., Springfield. 703-376-3388. maribrestaurant.com. Friday lunch buffet $16 to $20 per person.
When it comes to naming places, Erik Bruner-Yang says he has to have an emotional connection to his restaurants. The chef’s latest project, in the tony Novel South Capitol apartment complex, was the result of scouting possible sites with his young daughter, Amara, who often rode a toy horse that helped teach her the alphabet.
Hence ABC Pony. It’s an Asian-Italian destination that makes sense once you bite into skinny lumpia, filled with creamy burrata and sausage, or twirl some spaghetti, lit with umami-rich XO sauce and crunchy with lemony bread crumbs. The restaurant, composed of trim banquettes and oyster colors, benefits from two talented chefs: Paolo Dungca, late of Kaliwa, and Chris Yates, previously with Elle. Cold weather demands you order egg drop soup, a bowl of chicken broth sharpened with fresh ginger, green with snow pea tips and finished with celery root “noodles,” along with the traditional web of egg. (The deeply satisfying soup originated with Yates, whose inspiration was his mother’s stracciatella alla romana.) Gen Xers will smile at the sight of VHS tapes on a shelf, and checks dropped off in cassette-tape cases.
The menu is just a dozen dishes long. Why so brief, boss? Bruner-Yang points to his team’s tiny workspace, equipped with one fryer, a four-burner stove and a three-foot plancha, or griddle — “an old-school city kitchen,” says the chef.
2 I St. SE. 202-913-8155. abcpony.com. Small plates, $9 to $19.
The successor to Solis’s Cuban venue adds something fresh to the mix: a focus on seafood preparations from around Mexico. A web of cotija and Parmesan cheese decorates a display of grilled oysters and sweet crab, a heady combination jazzed up with jalapeño butter. Sputtering en route to your table, camarones sound off like fajitas; the sensory pleasures of the grill-striped shrimp and pineapple extend to their sweet flavor and juicy texture. There are tacos, too, including fried mahi-mahi sharing a tortilla with shredded red cabbage and zesty chipotle aioli.
No problem if you don’t do seafood. Solis, who shares an open kitchen with his sister, co-owner Jessica, is just as adept with meat (love the herby lamb chops) and vegetables (thinly sliced fried yuca are crisp as potato chips). Anafre references the charcoal-fueled clay pots the owner recalls his grandmother using outside his native Mexico City. The walls of his latest restaurant share the same burnt-orange color as the little stoves. Every course is worth your time. Flan fans will find a dense, delicious and darker-than-usual custard. Solis spikes the dessert with espresso: coffee and dessert in every spoonful.
3704 14th St. NW. 202-758-2127. anafredc.com. Entrees, $12 to $25.
Chez Billy Sud
Brendan L’Etoile says his model French onion soup starts with sweet yellow onions, cooked slowly over low heat, with browning coming just toward the end. To retain the texture of the onion, “I don’t caramelize aggressively,” says the chef at this Georgetown restaurant.
As for the broth, its depth of flavor comes from roasted chicken and duck bones, along with madeira, fresh thyme and black peppercorns. To finish, a molten cap of Gruyere, which L’Etoile likes for its nutty funk and “stringiness.” After the bowl is plucked from the restaurant’s 600-degree broiler, the soup is allowed to rest, ensuring the crust sets up and the broth goes from blistering to merely hot.
Which is an épique explanation for why you want to order the classic comfort here, one of the dreamiest interiors around. There’s linen on the tables, flattering illumination, mint-colored walls and a coffered ceiling. Did I mention the old-fashioned is bold with armagnac, the skin of the duck confit shatters like glass, and the waiters go about their duties with breezy efficiency? Really, the only reason you know you’re not in Paris is because everyone around you is speaking anglais.
1039 31st St. NW. 202-965-2606. chezbillysud.com. Dinner entrees $24 to $38.
Kuya Ja's Lechon Belly
Two words compel me to order a dish these days. If I see “crab butter” on a menu, I jump on whatever it enriches. Consider the fried rice at one of my favorite Filipino destinations. Whipped up using the obvious grains, loads of garlic, coins of pink chorizo and crab fat combined with cumin, my new favorite dish at Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly is an elaborate riff on the chorizo fried rice the owner’s father made for him as a kid, says Javier Fernandez. “He was a big influence.”
So was the young chef’s mom, whose recipe for fresh lumpia Fernandez features on weekends in his small storefront in Rockville. By “fresh,” I mean it’s not fried, per usual. Instead, the pleasing filling (ground shrimp, chicken, jicama, carrots and more) is served in a soft white crepe made tender with cake flour. The headliner, roast pork, remains every bit as garlicky and noisy as I remember it — ycan hear the mahogany skin crackle — and the pastry case has been expanded to include a pale-green, super-moist cake tinted green with pandan, a tropical plant with a flavor similar to vanilla. Looking ahead, Fernandez says he’s scouting locations in Montgomery County for his next project: a source for rotisserie chicken. Given the chef’s track record, all I can say is, hurry, Javier, hurry!
5268-H Nicholson Lane, Rockville. 240-669-4383. kuyajas.com. Sandwiches, bowls and combination meals, $6.99 to $12.59.
Danny Meyer laughs when he talks about one of his favorite dishes — a fish version of veal Milanese — at his first full-service restaurant outside Manhattan. Instead of taking a fat chop and pounding it into thinness, the hospitality ace asks, “Why not take something that was born flat?” Enter skate wing, served beneath a carpet of golden herbed bread crumbs. The entree is one of many reasons you want to check into the Roman-inspired, seafood-leaning trattoria within the fledgling Thompson hotel in the Navy Yard.
While the menu covers familiar territory, the execution makes it feel distinctive. Executive chef Rose Noel, a veteran of Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, goes by the mantra “simple food, done well,” a sentiment that sums up the crisp, greaseless fried baby artichokes and supple fettuccine partnered with ruby red shrimp in the restaurant’s opening weeks. (You might also want to order something with pork in it here. Maialino translates to “little pig.”)
The pleasing cooking is accompanied by good cheer in the dining room, hospitality being a signature of all Meyer’s establishments. Some of us appreciate not having to calculate a tip after a meal. Like at his New York restaurants, Maialino Mare builds the cost of service into the bill.
221 Tingey St. SE. 202-508-5249. maialinomare.com. Dinner entrees, $24 to $74 (for suckling pig for two).
Jill Tyler is handling the hospitality, Bill Jensen is selecting the wine, and Jon Sybert is whipping up snacks and pasta. The names alone should send you straight to Resy. Long story short, the owners of the popular Tail Up Goat have opened another place to eat and drink in Adams Morgan. They’ve christened the bar and dining room Reveler’s Hour, and already, it’s as tough a reservation as their original dining destination around the corner.
Little skewers of crisp-from-the-fire pork arrive on rings of honey, fired up with fish pepper. Pastas include rib-sticking casarecce tossed with chopped collards and chewy little Sea Island red peas — my idea of Southern comfort. Jensen plans to change the wine list every season; right now, the spotlight embraces labels from central Italy, lesser-seen varietals from California and juice made by friends. Except for the prevalence of T-shirts among staff members, the newcomer isn’t quite as casual as the owners make it out to be (see: the bill), but there’s no denying that their second venue is a first-rate effort.
1775 Columbia Rd. NW. 202-588-1616. revelershour.com. Pastas, $24 to $27.
The Girl and the Vine
It’s a cafe! It’s a watering hole! It’s a food shop that stocks wine, chocolate chip cookies and Sriracha!
Every neighborhood should be so lucky to claim a spot like this one in Takoma Park, the all-purpose creation of married couple Jocelyne DeHaas and David Fritzler plus Rob Theriot, hospitality veterans who met when they worked for Tryst Trading Co.
Head to the upstairs bar and cafe for a sandwich and a glass of wine, maybe a juicy chicken schnitzel BLT served on an onion bun and best knocked back with a rosé from South Africa. Then again, the autumnal union of sweet potato, beet and apple between slices of nutty-tasting bread is quietly satisfying, too. But I could also make a meal of just the crisp nachos showered with shaved roast pork, sharp red onions and chopped cilantro. A curtain of zippy melted cheese provides the perfect bond.
Sit at the bar if you want to be waited on; otherwise, join the inevitable line in front of the nearby counter to place your order. “We didn’t want to be a full-service restaurant,” says DeHaas. “We’re not fancy.” Fine by me. A deli downstairs from the food shop sells chunky, tarragon-brightened chicken salad and fluffy curried couscous laced with slivered almonds and tart cranberries. Mmm, mmm good.
The tidy and light-filled storefront, which doubles its 60-seat capacity when the front patio is used, sports clean lines and blue walls. DeHaas says the best compliment she hears is when customers tell her “it feels like vacation in here.” Yep.
7071 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park. 301-272-1230. thegirlandthevine.com. Sandwiches and salads $8 to $12.