Restaurant Week Miniseries, Part I: Vinoteca

For those of you who don't know, last week was restaurant week in the DC-NoVA area. For those of you don't know what I'm talking about, RW is a week where you don't feel guilty about eating out three times at nice places, and simultaneously somehow feel like you're contributing to something. To what, I don't know. Culture? The economy? Our waistbands?

Well, no matter the reason, we ended up going to three very different RW venues to sample the cheap(er) fare that some of the finest area restaurants were offering. For the next three days, I will highlight these three places -- Vinoteca in the U Street area of DC, Kaz Sushi Bistro near Farragut Square in DC, and Dan & Brad's in the Arlington Hilton in Ballston -- within and without the context of Restaurant Week. I hope it will help to determine whether you should go to these places and/or Restaurant Week in general in the future.

Part I, Vinoteca

When Rebecca (not of Becca's housewarming) invited us out with her friends to celebrate her birthday and the choice was Vinoteca, I was pretty excited. However, I needed to look at the RW menu before I could get fully excited, as my last RW experience was in New York City last year and was skimpy, limited and forgettable. To my pleasant delight, this RW menu looked fabulous, and after looking at it with Becca (of Becca's HW) I couldn't wait to go, and Becca even made a plan to go later in the week.

Full disclosure: we've been to Vinoteca before, but it was only for wine and cheese. And as I've clearly established before, I don't review wine, especially sans food. So this was my first official dinner there. The menu had always looked interesting to me, with a mix of comfort food updates and upscale Euro, and I had always been looking forward to trying their highly spoken of dinner fare.

This wine bar/restaurant has kind of a rustic, hole-in-the-wall look from the street, near the corner of U and 11th, but is actually pretty new and has that feeling inside. Besides the onesey bathrooms with barely-there locks (oh my!), everything about the place feels pretty chic and comfortable.

RESTAURANT WEEK MENU -- $35.08, prix fixe before non-included wine, tax and tip


The first course was a raw oyster in a white wine mignonette-like sauce with cucumber foam, all in spoon, accompanied by a glass of a decent and unnamed sparkling wine. It was pretty tasty, but didn’t seem too well-liked around the table. For our table of 7, we also ordered a bottle of Zardetto Prosecco and a bottle of the “three ranches” Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were enjoyable, but neither was paired with anything in particular, so I suppose there's not much to say. Vinoteca has a nice selection of wines, but even as a total wine novice, the menu doesn't seem anymore in-depth than most classy restaurants, and the prices were quite high.


After the oyster and some underwhelming bread and olive oil came the first course. Julia had a mesclun green salad dressed lightly with vinaigrette, shallots and shaved celery root. I sampled some and found it to be a very tasty and elegant salad, but a little ordinary considering the other first course offerings were slightly pricier on the regular menu. I bypassed that and the choice B of the first course, the chilled split pea soup, and chose the cured salmon Carpaccio salad. It was gravlax sliced tracing-paper thin, with a great fennel oil, shallots and shaved fennel. It was a terrific salad nouveau, with a great look and such an intricate, slightly salty flavor. The salmon really melted away inside my mouth, and I was quite pleased.


The offerings for the entrée course consisted of homemade pasta with truffle butter sauce and greens, seared scallops and prosciutto, shrimp & grits with fried green tomato, and a bison hanger steak with potato croquettes. I chose the shrimp and grits and found it incredibly warming and tasty. It was garnished with some jalapeño and jack cheese sauce and had chunks of shrimp under the fried green tomato and a full jumbo shrimp on top. It appeared brilliant on the plate and it was even fun to eat. The grits were buttery and excellent, the shrimp was very fresh and not too salty, and the fried green tomato was spicy and well, sinfully good. As if to verify that my entrée was indeed the best of the four, I took an opportunity to taste Julia’s truffle butter homemade bowtie pasta with micro greens and Reggiano parmesano – and was quite literally floored. This was probably the most deep and developed taste I have tried since I have been in DC. Perfectly textured pasta with just a little pepper from the greens, mixed with the Reggiano, the truffle and the butter flavors. It was so simple and yet heavenly. I actually kept eating, and she had to push me off so she could continue enjoying. I could not imagine a better set of two entrées, which is why I never bothered to notice the other two less interesting-looking selections.


This course was the chef’s cheese course, which was the American cheese flight on the regular Vinoteca menu. Each person received maybe half an ounce each of Pepato, a tangy cheese with peppercorns, Winchester super-aged Gouda and a very soft and creamy Humboldt Fog. They were paired with about the same-sized portions of walnuts, blueberries and speck, a German prosciutto-like cured meat. It was nice that the first three courses were high on flavor but more medium in size, because it was fun to be able to try the different cheeses with everyone and still enjoy them. I quite liked the flight and actually thought the soft Humboldt was the most enjoyable. I would highly recommend the Vinoteca cheese and charcuterie – it’s diverse and actually pretty reasonable in price.


We finished off our evening at Vinoteca with dessert, and everyone had a choice between the lavender chocolate cake and the white chocolate bread pudding with macadamia nuts and caramel. The table seemed to order the cake and enjoy the bread pudding more, with myself ordering the pudding and enjoying the cake more. I usually don’t like chocolate cakes, but found this one beautifully soft, moist and not too sweet. The lavender was strong but seemed to go well. Apparently for the rest of my table, they thought the lavender was way too strong (“it tastes like you’re eating the plant,” remarked one) and preferred the more home-style pudding. I thought the pudding was okay, but a little one-dimensional after the caramel layer and that the hard nuts were a little off-putting in the middle of a bread pudding. I managed to squeeze down at least a few bites of each, so it couldn’t have been that bad, right?

In all, the experience at Vinoteca was very nice. For $35 a head for 5 courses, I was quite pleased. My high expectations for the menu were pretty much satisfied and reaffirmed my feeling that I would return any time for just the cheese, olives and charcuterie, and would ask them to improve the boring, small bits of bread they give you. But I think I would now return as well for a gravlax salad, truffle butter pasta and American cheese flight every so often, so maybe restaurant week did do its job?

Stay tuned tomorrow for my second of three Restaurant Week installments, as I delve into my lunch experience at Kaz Sushi Bistro.

Check out my reviews of these places in even more detail at Menuism.com!

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