The train to Washington was rolling hell, with me trapped between a family with three noisy young kids and a texting-ignorant businessguy braying out all the dirt on his Newark deal, but the ride back was bliss, with almost no one in the quiet car, WiFi all the way and a luminous lopsided moon out the window. And the difference reflected how my attitude improved in just 36 hours. I saw a whole other side of the city and realized I have never hung out with people who choose to live there; I mostly know exiles from New York, there only for the job. Money has changed everything (except the restaurant situation across the Anacostia River), and it’s a much livelier place — it’s had to believe this was once a city where you would eat heavy French food in a stuffy dining room surrounded by fat cats drinking bourbon.
I was a guest for dinner at Lima, so I’ll be gratefully gracious. Spicy tuna sushi was spicy, and my steak was perfectly cooked. Afterward I was treated to palak chaat and a glass of gruner at the crowded bar at Rasika, the Indian restaurant everyone raves about, and the fried spinach assemblage was lighter than I’d ever had. (I was less impressed by the assholes next to me, a rowdy young couple on about their 16th cocktail who were surely only going to rent the food they finally ordered. At least thanks to them I know what “heads” make — about $60,000 — and that they get profit-sharing.)
I had breakfast (respectable student-baked croissant and scone) and lunch (restaurant samples of clam chowder from Ris, hummus from Lebanese Taverna, spring roll and dumpling from Hollywood East Cafe) at the Dames event out in what friends said was the boonies, then I hitched a ride back into town and walked through the Eastern Market. Which seemed smaller since the fire a few years back but had some great stalls with things I don’t see every day, particularly turkey transformed into pork (ribs, chops etc.) The produce outside, though, made me respect the Greenmarkets here even more for having principles. The day was so weirdly warm that the cherry blossoms and dogwoods are already in full bloom (nice habitat we had here; a shame we chose to ruin it), but it was still weird to see corn on the cob, watermelons, berries and more 10 days before spring even begins.
I knocked back an acceptable iced coffee (with only half-and-half to lighten it, no milk) at Port City Java, where you have to use a gas station-type key to avail yourself of the facilities (at least the ladies room was reasonably clean if not papered). And then I met up with my young genius friend to walk and walk to dinner at Bibiana, which was recommended by no fewer than four people in person and on Twitter. One slipped me her card in case I needed it to get a reservation, but Pam just went on Open Table and we were sitting down at a window table in that dramatic room shortly after 6 (after rejecting a cramped one on a banquette; as always, couples get first dibs on prime seating).
As I suspect I’ve mentioned many times, Italian is the least exciting style of cooking for me (I can’t even call it a cuisine), so I would have been happy settling for one or two twists on classics. But this menu was blowaway, and that was before the charming waiter came over to describe the specials: baby fried eels and a pasta with eel (if we heard right) and bottarga. We shared the dates stuffed with foie gras mousse and topped with crisp spiced almond slices, which Pam was seduced by online, and then one of the most amazing assemblages I’ve encountered in donkey’s years: a “45-minute egg,” poached sous vide, I’m guessing, topped with sautéed wild mushrooms and a crunchy mushroom “crumble” and teamed with a puree made from three kinds of dried mushrooms, reconstituted and blended to silkiness. Conceptually, texturally and flavor-wise I’d give it an A+. The egg was just runny enough to bring all the elements together, and the potato focaccia was perfect for mopping them up.
All the pastas read well and sounded better when the CW described how they were put together. Pam’s “burnt-wheat” cavatelli arrived looking like a salad, with a shower of Tuscan kale and shredded pecorino over the pasta and the coffee-fennel sausage with it. My cannelloni stuffed with braised beef seemed a bit dried out, but I blame us for taking too long with the appetizers while catching up on Pam’s new life in exile. (She likened them to sliders, her favorite.)
Prices were amazing, too: $8 for the four dates, $12 for that egg, $17 and $19 for our pastas. And the wine list was also a deal, to the point that I didn’t mind my Ceretto arneis was not the usual marvelousness — a quartino was only $17. By the time we were ready to haul ass to retrieve my bag at the hotel nearby and speed to Union Station, the place was packed and the CW had gone AWOL. But WIGB? Absolutely. I’ve even persuaded my consort maybe we should make a pleasure trip back just to eat at a few more places from the same owners.