Birthday Dinner at The Atlas Room

My birthday meal is something I take very seriously. I spend weeks researching what new restaurant I want to try and what would provide a lively atmosphere, good drinks, and delicious food. Last year I chose brunch at Birch & Barley since my birthday was on a Sunday, aka the Official Day of  Brunching, IMO.  This year, I narrowed my choices to Estadio, a return visit to Graffiato, and The Atlas Room. J chose The Atlas Room.

We arrived early for our reservation, so we settled in at the small bar at the back of the tiny restaurant. I ordered the Pisco Sour (Macchu Pisco, Fresh Lime Juice, Egg White), and J selected the  Blue Point Toaster Lager, which he loved. The cocktail was perfectly frothy, sour and light.

I took the time while sipping on the cocktail and waiting for our table to glance around the restaurant. Although I found the atmosphere to be a little stuffy (I’d much prefer a silent basketball game on the bar tv than calming landscape images), and the clientele much older than what you’d normally find on hip H Street, the restaurant still offered a certain charm with its coziness and decor of various maps.

The menu at The Atlas Room is unlike any I have ever seen. It is split into sections by main ingredients, with three size plates for each- basically appetizer, small plate & entree. So you can pick & choose depending on what type of meal you want to have. J & I ended up sharing 1 appetizer, 1 small plate, 1 entree and 1 dessert, which was the perfect amount of food. Okay, maybe we didn’t need dessert, but it was my birthday!

Seared Tuna & Hush Puppies

We started with a seared tuna accompanied with hushpuppies.  While I’m not sure the two really belong together, I enjoyed both enough not to care. Our next two dishes came out together. The entree of beef two ways (braised short rib, flatiron steak with parsnip potato puree, lentils, roasted baby beets and red wine sauce). And the small plate portion of grilled vegetable gratin, composed of fontina cheese, couscous, grilled veggies & tomato.

Beef Two Ways

For me, the flatiron steak was the highlight of the entree, particularly when dipped in the wine sauce. The short ribs tasted like pot roast to me, which unfortunately I have never been a fan of. Similarly, I would rather my potatoes be a little on the chunky side rather than pureed, so these were not my favorite either. I’m thinking maybe I would have been more happy with our choice if I had just paid better attention to the description of the entree. I did enjoy the cheesy vegetable gratin and the unexpected texture the couscous brought to the dish.

The desserts are recited by the waiter, rather than listed on the menu. I chose the one chocolate dish, which was essentially a fudgy mousse dish. It was nice to end the meal on a high note after a somewhat disappointing main course.

All in all, I was slightly underwhelmed by our meal at The Atlas Room, but could see having a totally different experience another time if ordering different dishes. Part of The Atlas Room’s appeal is that it features dishes inspired from all different parts of the world, so it would be possible for a subsequent visit to have a much different flavor.

J’s overall take: I thought it was overall well done, but at the same time as I ate, I didn’t feel there was anything there I couldn’t get anywhere else for a better price and more convenient location.

Check out The Atlas Room at 1015 H Street, NE, Washington, DC.Open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner, and Sundays for brunch.


Bayou on Penn

A couple of weekends ago several of my friends from college came to visit to celebrate my birthday and a friend’s birthday. This was a convergence of several major challenges which are sometimes faced when dining out in DC- 1). Find a fun but tasty restaurant to celebrate a special occasion 2). A place that takes reservations and for a decent-sized group (8 in this case) on a Saturday night and 3). Moderate prices.

Luckily Bayou on Penn was there to save the day. I had been to Bayou twice before for dancing and dessert, but not for a full meal, so this was the perfect opportunity.  I started with the Pimm’s Citrus Cup, which unfortunately did not live up to my recent pimm cup at Policy.  The grapefruit overpowered the cucumber, making it more bitter than cool and refreshing. We were served bread with a delicious butter, and our waiter was kind enough to give us all pickleback shots. Or unkind IMO, given that I am not a fan of pickles or shots, but others at my table were happy. Our meal did seem to take a little longer than I would have hoped, so that may have been the reason for the free shots.



For our entrees, J & I ordered the shrimp and grits and the Marigny
po-boy (½ and ½ shrimp and oysters) with sides of mac & cheese and collards (my favorites!). Interestingly, my po-boy was split so literally  1/2 was shrimp and the other 1/2 was oysters (rather than mixed together).  Given the ginormous size of the po-boy and the generous offering of sides, I pretty much only ate the shrimp half. I forgot to ask for no pickle, but it was a subtle pickle flavor that went well with the slight spiciness of the remoulade. The collards were perfectly vinegary with ham mixed in, and the mac & cheese was creamy, but maybe not quite cheesy enough (my friend’s looked cheesier).

Shrimp & Grits

J’s take on the shrimp and grits (with Andouille sausage, tomatoes, sauteed spinach, and jalapeño cheddar grits):  Usually, shrimp and grits come with about five shrimp, which always feels a bit low for me. In this case, they overcame that with slices of the andouille sausage on the side. The spicy gravy that accompanied it masked up the ‘grittiness’ of the grits, but made the dish a touch more soupy than I think any connoisseur of Cajun food would expect.

 Overall, Bayou proved to be a great place for a fun and celebratory dinner with friends. The only slight negative was service was a little slow, which may have just been an off-night for the eatery. We’re looking forward to heading back to try out the rest of the menu, which has changed for the season since our visit.

Check out Bayou on Penn, located at 2519 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest near Foggy Bottom metro.  Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday; Brunch served Saturdays and Sundays.