Wednesday, August 31, 2016

TapaBar review - Bethesda

I finally had a chance to try TapaBar yesterday, the new venture from the brothers who brought you Bold Bite next door. Chef Alonso Roche pushes simple favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers to the limit at Bold Bite, with an emphasis on quality meats and high-end, fresh and housemade toppings and sauces. Now what he hinted at in the fast casual setting is being more fully explored at the inviting tapas bar he and brother Alvaro recently opened in the old BlackFinn space, at 4901-A Fairmont Avenue.
Start off with a refreshing cocktail, like one of four gin-and-tonic variations with housemade tonics. I tried the standard El Retiro, with Hendrick's gin and a slice of cucumber. The drink was bursting with flavor, the best cocktail I've had in a while.

My favorites of the tapas I tried were the earthy, cheesy rich croquetas de setas, mushroom croquettes; gambas al aljillo, a delicious shrimp classic; the butifarra, which has a type of blue cheese mixed into the sausage, and is made locally by MeatCrafters in Landover; and the perfectly-cooked asaparagus and cauliflower. Vegetarians will definitely want to give Tapabar a try.

Alonso Roche's enthusiasm and passion for cooking come through in every dish, whether it's a perfectly-fried and plated egg atop the Smoky Beef Tartare, or the current fish special, Pil Pil. A traditional Basque dish, the gelatin of the salted cod is used in the sauce. Roche is using Norwegian cod, because it has a higher gelatin content. It's not easy to prepare, and not easily found in local restaurants, so stop in this week while it's still on the menu. I would expect more unusual dishes like this in the months ahead at TapaBar.

For Bethesda skeptics like Tom Sietsema, I suggest planning a trip to TapaBar immediately. In fact, I suggest it to everyone. For freshness, quality, flavor and creativity, TapaBar earns a five-star rating from me. The good news is, the prices are not five-star level.
Step up to the bar
El Retiro
Cucumber slice
Embutidos board with
house-pickled vegetables
Quesos board
Smoky Beef Tartare, topped
with perfectly fried quail eggs
and truffle oil
A closer look
Panceta de cerdo, a new addition
to the menu as fall approaches, is
white wine-braised pork belly in
piquillo sauce
Vegetarians won't be left
behind with roasted cauliflower
on piquillo puree
Salmon curado en casa
is house-cured salmon on 
toast with fennel salad and
A well-placed mirror really
opens up the front of the room
Dine at the bar
...or at a table
Sample a glass or bottle
from the wine list like
this Pingao from Rioja Alta,
made with 100%
Tempranillo grapes
Another perfectly-cooked
vegetable choice, the
Croquetas de setas are
mushroom croquettes
A look inside one
A pour of the Pingao
Gambas al aljillo,
a true classic

Valdeon Blue Cheese Butifarra
with pear shallot jam rioja and
A close-up
Pulpo (smoked octopus)
A limited-time special:
Pil Pil

City Perch review - Pike & Rose in North Bethesda

Much of the buzz around City Perch, the aptly-named restaurant that sits over Pike & Rose's busiest street, has been generated by its epic bread board, decadent desserts and creative, handcrafted cocktails with high-end ingredients. A recent visit finds that all to be true, but with main courses holding their own against the carbohydrates and booze.

WATCH video review: City Perch at Pike & Rose

After you ascend the escalator up to the iPic Theaters, of which City Perch is a part, you'll first be struck by three things - the peaceful, lounge-like space between the host stand and the bar, the wraparound bar itself, and the view from the outdoor "infinity terrace" and windows. That view will get even better once the skeletal frames of buildings rising nearby become part of the finished urban streetscape below the restaurant.

The basic culinary theme is classic American dishes, but many have a twist that either adds a hint of another cuisine. Popovers get a dash of cayenne pepper, and classic dinner rolls get a Chinese spin.

You'll want to start with something to drink, and in this case, it was a Flying Dog Numero Uno from Frederick, Maryland. Highly carbonated, easy to drink and citrus-enhanced, it will hit the spot while temperatures remain in the 90s. I give this beer 5 stars in its category.
But let's get to the main event - the bread board. My favorite was the Chinese Butter Buns. Imagine an upscale version of the best dinner roll you ever had - and then imagine adding whipped Trickling Springs butter to it.

With a crispy snap to the exterior and moist citrus cake inside, the orange sage biscuit gets the most complex spread on the board, maple bourbon pecan butter.
You can see how moist the honey-dipped corn bread is before you even take into account the goat cheese on top.
Finally, there is the aforementioned Cayenne Parmesan Popover, where the pepper provides more flavor than heat. This is great example of how what could have been a five-star flaky, buttery popover is enhanced with an unexpected flavor. The bread board, and each item on it, receive five stars from me. In an age when a chunk of hard, crusty bread that might land you in the dentist's chair the next day is the norm, the City Perch bread selection is the best in the County - outstanding.
So notoriously Bethesda-averse Tom Sietsema agrees with me on that point. But how did he miss the Brioche-Crusted Maryland Blue Crab Cakes? Once again bread takes center stage with the rich brioche exterior. While it doesn't emphasize jumbo lumps of crab, there is plenty of crab in there, and contrary to the Washingtonian review, the meat is flavorful. Standard seafood restaurant enhancements get an upscale boost here, as well. Tartar sauce is replaced with an Old Bay remoulade that you won't leave a trace of on the plate, and coleslaw cedes the plate to frisèe-citrus salad with yuzu vinaigrette. Hey, we are at Pike & Rose, right? This is one appetizer you won't have to share, and with melt in your mouth crab cakes like this, you won't want to. Five stars.
One dish you will want to share is the French classic pommes aligot. Much like the butter buns, think of the richest mashed potatoes you've had, and then add melted white cheddar, gouda and mozzarella cheeses. This five star side dish will serve two or more.
An unexpected bit of peppery spice elevated the more-than-solid Mac & Cheese to four stars.
Vegetarians and meat lovers alike will want to order the Crispy Brussels Sprouts. Sprouts that are cooked just right get a hearty, downright meaty flavor from miso, shaved pecorino cheese, crushed peanuts, and orchard-fresh caramelized apples. They're topped off with togarashi, and I'm delighted to report that this is the second time in a month I've encountered that Japanese spice on a Montgomery County menu - it's officially a trend.
The grilled shrimp is just what it sounds like. Plenty of smoke flavor, and the shrimp are huge. With the simple kale and tomato garnish underneath, those not eating light will want to add a side dish to this nice 3 star entree.
Another view so you can
see how thick that shrimp is
My personal choice was the Braised Beef Short Ribs. Again, the chef starts off with a well-executed meat centerpiece that you can slice with your fork. You'd go home thinking that was a satisfying four-star chunk of beef that delivered exactly what you order short ribs for. But switching out the ubiquitous red skin mashed potatoes and undercooked green beans that often join short ribs at many restaurants earned this an overall five star rating. Instead, you get rich and tender creamed spinach, and a massive, crispy and fluffy potato pancake. Absolutely delicious.
It's hard to pick just one dessert from this menu. But considering how rare it is to find Baked Alaska on menus around here, I had to order it. The torched, towering meringue swirl on top tastes a lot like a toasted marshmallow. Cutting against that very sugary exterior is the lemon gelato inside, which has a real bite to it. Blueberries fit in between the two on the sweetness spectrum, and there are many of them in there. All of this is on top of a triple-gingerbread crumble. I give this five stars.
If nothing else, you'll want to stop by for a bread board before a movie at iPic, or ask the bartender what's new on the cocktail list. But staying for dinner is an excellent choice also, with a menu that will please picky or unadventurous diners as much as those looking for a roasted Long Island duck, or an unexpected twist on an American classic.

Outdoor dining vs. pedestrians in downtown Bethesda?

One of the crown jewels of the Lot 31 project in Bethesda was the signing of Silver as a restaurant tenant in the Flats at Bethesda Avenue luxury apartment building on the site. Attempts by developers StonebridgeCarras and PN Hoffman to accommodate the outdoor seating needs of the restaurant led to a pedestrian right-of-way along Woodmont Avenue narrower than proscribed by the Lot 31 site plan. A nearby resident has questioned Montgomery County Planning Department staff for nearly a year about why the exception was being allowed. The developers, meanwhile, argue that the exception was tacitly granted by the County when it issued the relevant permit with full knowledge of Silver's patio configuration needs.

After months of email exchanges between resident Lilian Burch and County planning and permitting officials, the County Department of Permitting Services served the developers with a Notice of Non-compliance with the site plan on May 9. That is according to Greg Nichols, manager of the DPS Site Plan Enforcement Section, who wrote in an email to Burch on August 9 that the developers then requested a 30-day extension period to respond to the Notice. The extension expired, Nichols wrote, and the violation was then referred to Mark Pfefferle, chief of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission's Development Applications and Regulatory Coordination Division, for enforcement. Nichols said DARC and the Planning Board would then follow procedures to determine any "corrective action and/or penalties."

With that process still playing out, the developers have now filed an application with the planning department to amend the site plan. Their attorneys Bob Dalrymple and Heather Dlhopolsky argue that DPS was aware of the 6' pedestrian space needed for Silver's outdoor seating when it issued Right-of-Way construction permit No. 343891 on September 3, 2015. They acknowledge the site plan called for a 10' right-of-way, but note that 6' is now the countywide DPS standard for sidewalk right-of-way in downtown areas. Therefore, the site plan language is no longer in compliance with the new DPS standard, they say.

Dalrymple and Dlhopolsky say that Silver's outdoor seating currently comprises 30% of the restaurant's capacity. Compliance with the site plan would require removal of 30 of Silver's outdoor seats, and that would make it impossible for Silver to generate enough revenue to meet its obligations and recoup its investment in the construction of the restaurant, they argue.

The importance of the outdoor seating to Silver's business model was specifically the reason the developers so carefully discussed the sidewalk configuration with DPS at the time of permitting, the attorneys say. They state that the owners of Silver clearly indicated to DPS that the narrower 6' pedestrian space between their tables and the building was critical to their business model, and actually a contingency for their agreement to lease at Lot 31.

In addition to reducing the site plan's right-of-way width for pedestrians in front of Silver from 10' to 6', the application also asks to revise grading and the addition of a railing at the southern end of the western side of Woodmont Avenue, and to extend a planting area to accommodate another grade change at the northwestern corner of the property. Dalrymple and Dlhopolsky contend that these are standard revisions often filed after unexpected "scenarios in the field" are encountered during the construction process.

Dalrymple and Dlhopolsky wrote to the planning department that no complaints have been received from the public regarding the outdoor seating at Silver in almost a year of operation. They said they are aware of one resident who has complained to the planning department about the matter. Burch counters that few in the public are aware of the sidewalk issue.

The lack of sidewalk space makes it difficult for people walking dogs to maneuver around waitstaff and doorways in front of the restaurant, Burch wrote. It is also a major pedestrian route for residents beyond Lot 31 who are trying to reach Bethesda Row, she said.

This matter will now go to the Planning Board at a future meeting for review and public comment.

House fire on Persimmon Tree Road in Bethesda

Update 5:22 AM: Firefighter heard via scanner to say fire involved electrical meter only. No extension.

Firefighters are responding to a house fire in the 7000 block of Persimmon Tree Road in Bethesda. The fire was reported shorty after 5:00 AM. Personnel arriving at the scene said smoke was evident from the 2-story house, according to scanner reports. A rapid intervention team was called to the scene. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesperson Pete Piringer reported "fire showing," and said an electrical meter was involved (a smart meter?).

One firefighter later radioed that he now was only seeing smoke but not fire. They have disconnected electricity at the panel, and are opening the walls to check for extension or hotspots. Several references have been made to the possibility that the home is currently under construction. That might suggest why there has been no mention of occupants so far.

Stay tuned for any further details.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

More cars broken into in Chevy Chase, theft at Grosvenor Metro + more - Bethesda crime update

Here's a roundup of crimes reported across Bethesda on August 27, according to crime data:

Theft from vehicle. 7400 block Wisconsin Avenue.

Liquor arrest. 4900 block St. Elmo Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 4300 block Thornapple Street.

Vehicle burglary. 7200 block Oakridge Avenue.

Vehicle burglary. 4400 block Ridge Street.

Vehicle burglary. 4100 block Leland Street.

Theft. 7400 block Meadow Lane.

Theft from vehicle. 5100 block River Road.

Vehicle burglary. 5100 block Brookview Drive (Westhaven).

Theft. Grosvenor Metro station.

Drug arrest. 11100 block Waycross Way.

Burglary. 5800 block Nicholson Lane at 3:56 PM.

Bethesda Water Store closes, leaving some high and dry (Photos)

The Bethesda Water Store cleared out of its 4959 Bethesda Avenue storefront yesterday with no public explanation. I received a message from a reader who said he now cannot get a refund for water he had pre-purchased for later redemption. That customer was not alerted by the business that it would be closing.