Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cure Bar & Bistro: A Pleasant Surprise

Back in DC, we were on our way downtown to see a movie at E Street Cinema on Saturday night (a big night out for us). Passing up the usual suspects like Rasika and Jaleo in the service of this blog, I remembered hearing some favorable reports on a place called Cure, and made a reservation. We checked out the menu on line: smoked meats, cheese, small plates...what could be bad? Sounded like a perfect place to graze lightly before a movie.

Since it was snowing lightly and we didn't want to worry about parking, we hopped on Metro, which was a bit more involved than we had guessed what with track work and all...given the delays, it probably would have been faster to drive around downtown looking for a parking space! But we eventually emerged from Metro Center and found our way to the restaurant.

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way right up front. Cure is in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt. Not only that, but it looks like it is in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt. The place is divided into three areas on three levels...first a conventional looking bar area with couches and other casual seating, then an area down a flight of steps with small bar-like tables, and finally an area down yet more steps with more conventional dining-sized tables. It was this last area to which we were ushered -- I inferred from a comment by the hostess that this area was reserved for folks that were there to dine, as opposed to just drinking and grazing.

Unfortunately, this is the least attractive part of the facility and you definitely feel like you are sitting in a hotel lobby, complete with an escalator going by about 5 feet away, the rather garish lighting scheme (fine for a lobby, not so good for dining) and all that. While there is no doubt something the Hyatt could do to make this area somewhat less lobby-like, they have not done it yet, so for the time being I would suggest asking to be seated in one of the other two areas.

Happily, although Cure gets a "D" for ambiance, it gets an "A" for food. And wine. We each ordered a quartino of wine from the very intelligent and reasonably priced list...Michael had the St Supery Sauvignon Blanc that he favors and I had a South African Cabernet that I had not encountered before -- like trying new restaurants, I always like to try new wines when it doesn't involve a major commitment. Along with that, we started off with a couple of cheeses - a Bonne Bouche and a "constant bliss" cow's milk cheese (if only constant bliss could just be ordered off a menu). Both were creamy and delicious, especially the Bonne Bouche. The portions were small but at $4 each, what do you expect. They were served with some sort of jam, which frankly didn't do much for us, excellent bread, and roasted nuts.

Just after the cheese arrived, our extremely professional server, Ken (more about this later) brought over another basket of bread, along with some unsalted butter and a small plate containing no less than four different salts...two white ones that I didn't pay much attention to (Michael reported that one of them was "extremely salty", which I suppose is to be expected), a pink Hawaiian salt, and a brown smoked salt from Maine. We looked at each other with surprise, as this restaurant was turning out to be a lot more serious than we had expected. Four kinds of salt? Loving all sorts of smoked stuff, I fell in love with the smoked salt and even Michael, who does not usually love smoked foods, found it delicious.

Since we were on a bit of a deadline to make our movie, we had ordered a number of other dishes which soon started arriving. The first to arrive was a duck leg confit style on a bed of arugula. It was one of the best duck dishes we have had in a long time. In fact it landed in front of Michael (the table was, at this point, getting rather crowded) and I thought I was going to have to armwrestle him for it as he was very reluctant to give it up. It was a generous portion. The duck was succulent and tasty and the lightly dressed arugula provided a nice foil for the richness.

We also had a plate of mixed smoked meats (prosciutto, Jamon-style ham, regular ham, and smoked garlic sausage) which was an extremely generous portion for $12. Probably as hefty as the charcuterie plate at Central which if I remember right is about twice the price. All of the hams were extremely tasty. We also, at Ken's recommendation, had the Maryland Blue Crab pie. It was, as Michael pointed out, more of a gratin than a pie...a rather shallow little skillet full of crab nuggets with corn and under a cracker crust. It is hard to make a bad dish containing blue crab and this was a good one. It was so rich that the modest size of the dish, compared to some of the other offerings, turned out to be just right.

In the interest of making our movie, and staying awake through it, we called it quits at that point. Since the room was only half full, we had the chance to chat a little bit with Ken, who has come over from another restaurant in town and appears to be in charge of Cure. He has put together the wine list and as noted earlier, has done an extremely good job of getting some interesting names that you don't see every day (along with some more familiar ones for those who aren't feeling adventurous). He clearly takes pride in what has been accomplished at Cure and he has every right to do so. It was one of the nicest surprises we have encountered on the Washington dining scene for quite some time. Our bill, at about $100 before tax and tip, was very reasonable given the amount of food we had -- and a screaming bargain given the quality of the offerings.

The next time we're headed downtown, we will definitely make a beeline for Cure...but next time we'll try to sit in the bar!

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