As preparation for drafting this article I reviewed so many of the articles I have written in the last several years, and I have to say, it has been an epic decade of dining. It was a nearly impossible feat to keep this list to only 10 dishes, but here it is…
- The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm’s Okra Griddle Cakes
The picturesque Patowmack farm opened in 1986, and the restaurant on the farm followed soon after. In 2015, when I was dining at the venue for brunch to celebrate my sixth wedding anniversary, they served one of their most memorable vegetarian dishes: okra griddle cakes. Never in my life did I think I would eat okra pancakes, and never in my life did I think I would find them to be the best pancakes I had ever tasted. The okra laden griddle cakes came topped with sweet creamed corn and smoked parmesan; the trifecta of sweet and savory and smoky was breathtaking, and the okra and corn were bizarre compliments of each other. Fingers crossed it appears on their menu again.
- Compass Rose’s Khachapuri
Compass Rose brought a unique concept to the DC dining scene when it opened in 2014 – a menu comprised entirely of international street food fare. One of the dishes on the debut menu, the Georgian khachapuri, has always been the most popular item at the restaurant. While the menu changes often, the khachapuri is a permanent resident, both on the brunch and dinner menus, so you can indulge in it no matter when you go. It is as epic as everyone says it is. Having been to Russia (where they eat quite a lot of their neighboring country’s cuisine), I can attest that this khachapuri is pretty damn authentic. The crispy bread is smothered in butter and cheese and herbs, and then topped with an egg yolk which is then mixed in and cooked by the hot cheese. Need I say more?
- Lapis’ Aushak
The cuisine at Lapis is as stunning as the gemstone for which the restaurant is named. The dishes, drinks and dessert highlight the flavors and ingredients of Afghan food, which is where the owners hail from. The best dish on the menu is the aushak, plump, perfect Afghan dumplings filled with sautéed leeks, drizzled with a split pea and tomato sauce, crowned with dollops of silky strained yogurt and dusted with fresh herbs. I love dumplings. All dumplings. But none more than these. They are heartier than most Asian dumplings, and have more flavor than most as well. Chewy, onion-y, and earthy, these are the dumplings of your dreams.
- Blue Duck Tavern’s Vegetable Pot Pie
Blue Duck Tavern is a D.C. institution. While always a fan, I have been begging Blue Duck for a vegetarian entree since I first became a food writer in 2012. Not a pasta but something hearty and earthy and in line with the fresh, seasonal American theme of the restaurant. Lo and behold, they finally devised the most perfect vegetarian entrée last year: a vegetable pot pie. Local veggies come in a cast iron dish, swimming in a velvety, savory gravy, and crowned with a circle of pastry that is then embellished with feathery wisps of black truffle. It is the vegetable pot pie of your childhood, 2.0.
- Oyamel’s Squash Blossom Quesadilla
Jose Andres is a D.C. icon, known not only for his philanthropic endeavors but also for his restaurant empire, which includes Oyamel. Oyamel opened in 2007 in Gallery Place, and has been D.C.’s go-to spot for Mexican street food since that date. Oyamel hosts a number of yearly festivals, including a mezcal festival, a day of the dead festival, and a squash blossom festival. The dish was served during the squash blossom festival a few years ago; it features earthy house made tortillas stuffed with with Chihuahua cheese and delicate, floral squash blossoms. Dunk the triangles into the sour green salsa that comes with the dish and all your troubles will disappear.
- Himitsu’s Panisse
Panisse are these insanely delightful fried chickpea dumplings, which are rarely used by chefs but should be on every restaurant’s menu as a dynamite vegetarian option. Chef Kevin Tien piles his panisse onto a bed of creamy cauliflower puree, the perfect dipping sauce for the panisse. I can still remember the crispy shell and soft and velvety center of his panisse, almost like a fried gnocchi but with the nuttier, earthier flavor of chickpeas. Sichuan peppercorns added heat and depth of flavor. As we all know, Himitsu is now closed, but perhaps we can convince Chef Kevin to add these to his menu at Emilie’s….
- Q by Peter Chang’s Tofu Skin Salad
I visit Q often, and this is the only dish that I have to get every single time I go. If you don’t like tofu, this is the dish that will convert you. The dish is really a culinary marvel; tofu is shredded so fine it looks like cabbage and taste like noodles. The chewy, thin sheets of tofu are drenched in a spicy chili sauce, adorned with herbs and served at room temperature. Swirl that tofu around your fork, stuff it in your mouth, and accept the fact that you are now a fan of tofu.
- Centrolina’s Polpette
Amy Brandwein is known for irresistible pastas. Her Italian restaurant Centrolina is one of my absolute favorites in town. But in addition to pasta, she makes all kinds of creative appetizers, (I am sure you have heard me rave about her chips and “dip” aka freshly fried baby potato chips and burrata) one of which is her vegetarian polpette. Made with shitake mushrooms these “meatballs” are so hearty and savory and delicious even meat eaters will choose them instead of regular meatballs.
- The Source’s Dan Dan Noodles
The Source has some of the best Chinese food in town. Most people don’t know that. Last year when I was writing an article on dishes that use impossible meat, I stumbled upon the Source’s dan dan noodles, complete with impossible meat instead of pork. The dish features noodles swirled in a bold, fragrant, garlicky and soy sauce infused sauce, topped with impossible meat and slices of fresh cucumber. It is meaty and succulent.
- Rasika West End’s Gujarati Lasagne
Rasika is perhaps the restaurant that D.C. is most famous for. It is a restaurant I recommend to everyone, and that epitomizes Indian fine dining. Rasika opened in 2005, but its sister restaurant, Rasika West End didn’t open until 2012. In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Washington D.C. on an official visit and Rasika’s Chef, Vikram Sunderam, was tapped to devise the menu. One of those dishes, a Gujarati lasagna, the coolest marriage of Italian and Indian flavors possible, made it on to Rasika West End’s menu. The dish is one of the most memorable you could ever eat. The lasgane noodles are made of khandvi, which is an Indian snack made of gram flour. The lasagne filling is a spice-infused eggplant-zucchini-tomato concoction, and the glistening gravy is khadi, an Indian sauce made of chickpea flour, yogurt, and mustard seeds. While the dish will blow your mind with its flavor and creativity, it really should come as no surprise that the ultimate comfort food dish would combine concepts from Italy and India, the two cuisines that represent comfort food the best in the world.