All words: Riley Croghan
All photos: Franz Mahr
I grew up in the DC area, and Bethesda has always had certain connotations to me. In middle school, the Bethesda theater was the place middle school kids begged their parents to drive them, and 6pm on a Friday night was always a reliable time to find a throng of tarted up girls in Disney perfumes. When Survivor was still a thing (it has to have been cancelled by now, right?) Colleen Haskell was one of the few celebrities to have ever hailed from Bethesda, and several friends swore they had seen her on the Metro. More recently, most people probably think of the software developer of Skyrim fame, which was one of Courtney Cox’s first jobs back when they were still actually located in Bethesda.
Food is just not one of the things that immediately comes to mind when you think of the area. The generically-named Food Wine & Co. with its unassuming exterior, and the entrance mostly dominated by its bar, would not appear to be the sort of hidden gem to change that mindset. Ah, but that’s exactly what makes it so surprising. Were the restaurant a twelve-table hole in the wall in the middle of the city, everyone would know about it, and it might just be a little less special.
We had a chance to sample some of Food Wine & Co’s creative newest additions to the menu, and we’re glad we did. Each dish was paired with an appropriate wine, of which the restaurant has an extensive selection: over 400 wines are in house, with the list of available bottles updated weekly.
Highlights from Chef Michael Harr’s menu include the tomato-watermelon gazpacho, topped with candied almonds and liquid-nitrogen chilled goat cheese to bring some texture to the silky soup. The dish is mostly savory tomato-based, with a light touch of sweet watermelon to balance it out.
Leaning closer to traditional bar food, there are tater tots on the menu, which here are giant, puffed up, golden brown bites stuffed with gruyere and parsley. The side of ketchup with a dollop of sriracha adds just the right amount of kick to this grown up take on the childhood classic.
The starter I would most recommend is the roasted beets, shaped in a brilliantly purple medallion and topped with whipped goat cheese and chopped roasted pistachio. I’ve never had pistachio paired with beet before, but I will be sure to try the combination again. The salad tastes light and fresh, and packs all the addictive qualities of eating pistachios by the handful. Just look at it. It tastes even better than it looks.
Also stealing the show are the beef brisket sliders, featuring a healthy slab of beef between slices of Parker House roll. The roll is light and buttery, with a soft core and a thin crispy shell. This might have just made my list of favorite breads, right up there with brioche.
Harr put together a competent and delicious menu, but the desert course ranks among the best I’ve ever had. Pastry Chef Jason Gehring, fresh from a term at Fiola, might just be a genius. The “candy bar” dish, essentially a deconstructed Snickers, features a tower of white and dark chocolate mousses, chewy caramels and a dollop of peanut butter ice cream.
There are also some fanciful ice cream sandwiches, which are slider sized and run the gamut from sweet and tangy blood orange on macaron to salty-savory pistachio ice cream on warm brioche.
The desert I would have been least likely to order but which might be cause enough by itself for me to return to the restaurant was the mojito sorbet. Anything mojito-flavored runs the risk of being a syrupy monstrosity, but the sorbet (served on an elongated madeleine biscuit and topped with muddled blueberries) captures the taste of the real drink—fresh, herbal, and light.
When the table was full to bursting, there was one final surprise round of assorted donuts. If I only ever teach you one thing, let it be this: always say yes to a surprise desert round. The chef’s favorite, and mine as well, are the maple donuts with candied bacon.