In beautiful Washington, DC, this week is Restaurant Week. As many cities have, this is when restaurants throughout the area offer prix fixe menus for lunch and/or dinner so diners who might not ordinarily go to a restaurant can have a full experience. Of course, the experiences vary, as some restaurants offer severely restricted menus or hidden charges that can drive costs up. My last trip on Restaurant Week took me to Taberna del Alabardero, a renowned Spanish restaurant, which was frankly a severe disappointment. Spanish aficionados (at least traditionally) might call their flavours muted – I call them non-existent. However, after much deliberation, I took the plunge again at Ceiba, run by the management group that runs a few other well regarded DC spots. (Tenpenh and Acadiana, to name two) Ceiba is a sort of pan-Latino restaurant, that offers a good selection, and a pretty solid Restaurant Week deal, as I had a choice of any of the entrees on its regular menu.
If there is one virtue of Ceiba I could be completely smitten with it was the service. I got to the restaurant at 7:15 for my 7:30 reservation and got all checked in, and got to the bar while waiting for the rest of my party to show up. One of my friends who was not on the intial list was in the neighborhood, and the restaurant accomodated him with no problems. The waiter was patient and offered explanations for any item, and while the service was a little slow, for a good conversational meal, it was no problem at all. It was a wholly pleasant experience.
The overall menu was solid. At the bar, I ordered a Batida, a mixed drink served in a surprisingly girly cocktail presentation, with tamarind extract, pineapple juice, passion fruit puree and Pitu Cachaca. The colour was a not particularly appetizing brown, and the taste was fine but a little too sweet. The Peruvian Summer (Macchu Pisco, passion fruit puree, ginger ale, lime simple syrup) was more refreshing. The appetizer was the Bermuda Fish Chowder, a hearty red chowder served with rum and a sherry pepper sauce. Both the rum and the sauce gave both a good kick and some sweetness. It was a good soup. The beef empenadas saltenas, with olives, eggs and raisins, however, was truly outstanding. It was the one dish that was not just good, but creates that visceral need in my tastebuds, the mental crack that great cuisine offers. The entree I had was the Slow Braised Pork Shank, which sits in a bowl of Cuban beans and rice and collard greens and is accompanied by a habanero chile, bread crumbs and orange. The flavor was deep and very strong, and meat had the tenderness and flavor one’d expect. The rice and beans make a solid pairing.
The only real source of disappointment was the desert. My Espresso Chocolate Cake was a bit dry. It did not have the fudgy melt-in-your mouth quality one’d expect, though the flavor was certainly not bad. However, in a way after thinking about it further, the desert sort of summarized the meal. The individual dishes were pretty good, the service was excellent, and there is nothing I can really complain about. However, aside from those empanadas, there is nothing I can praise to the sky either. It is no orgasm on a plate, that’s for sure. So while Ceiba is a good restaurant, even possibly very good – it still resides in my mind as a measured accomplishment, and not the transcendent life altering meal I was hoping for.