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Reservations Recommended

Savoring Sabores

It’s an uptown kind of place — cool, just a bit off mainstream, and definitely hip — serving Nuevo Latino fare. Problem is, unless you know just where to look, you won’t find Sabores easily.

Opening last fall to very little fanfare, Sabores is another one of those undiscovered and uncelebrated DC gems that hasn’t garnered much more than passing mention and a brief listing by some DC media. It’s hard to say why, though it’s a safe bet that without the media trumpet call, most city folk may not even know it exists.

No neon arrows or flashing lights point the way, but it’s just a stroll around the corner from Connecticut on Ordway Street. There, Sabores, with its outdoor seating looks so very European: it’s sidewalk eating with the convenience of a see-through ceiling and plenty of protection from bad weather.

True, it’s a quirky place, part restaurant and part lounge, the latter of which apparently means going downstairs for some after-hours fun. But for foodies, however, who care more about pleasing the palate than about laid-back lounging, the menu deserves a serious study. For the most part, it’s based on the tapas concept of shared small- and large-sized hot and cold plates.

For the small plates, you can order the white bean stew or lamb tacos of cubed lamb wrapped up with red onions and radishes in corn tortillas; split a wild mushroom quesadilla; divvy up portions of a Brazilian chopped salad (hearts of palm, baby beets, carrots, plus more; and sort out halves of a Cubano sandwich, a Salvadorean chicken sandwich, and the rather wacky torta loca, a robust Mexican sandwich of a long roll stuffed with chorizo, ham, jalapeños, lettuce, and, as a final touch, a fried egg. This last sandwich you may want all for yourself.

What more could you ask for? Well, to start, at least a bowl or two of its white bean stew, carefully crafted with deft seasoning so that the white beans puréed with plum tomatoes have just a hint of thyme and cumin. Garnished by a sliced picante chorizo grilled until crisp and bursting with flavor, this soup makes white beans a lively entrée choice. Actually, while this is called a stew, the menu lists it as a small hot plate — and you’ll need that second dish.

For the lunch crowd eating on the run, few might flip the menu over to the larger plates section, those that are sharable, but also are likely full entrée size. Many are worth exploring with time on one’s hands: why not make a meal of the small-plate patatas bravas, or fiery crisped potatoes, followed by one or all of these large plates: a roasted pork chop with sautéed spinach and chorizo; a chile relleno en nogada, which means the chile cooks in a walnut sauce, and this version is filled with veal and pork; the Brazilian national dish, the feijoada, a complex stew with many savory ingredients, and not something you’ll whip up at home; and, finally, the braised lamb shank served with Mexican seasonings. There’s more, of course, and that’s not even including the sides of mashed potatoes, black beans and rice, and honey-roasted plantains.

In keeping with its image of a hang-loose place that’s sort of a bar scene, Sabores offers loads of drinks, from a rather interesting wine list of Chilean, Spanish, Californian, Argentinean, and French wines to the list of imported beers, and the varios fruity cocktails. Don’t drink? Ask for one of the very invigorating fresh fruit drinks, a soothing and icy beverage tailor-made for a sticky summer day. Note: The lemonade is particularly spirit-lifting, a sweet-tangy combo over plenty of ice cubes.

In fact, shaking ice cubes may be the first sounds you hear in the pleasantly sociable setting. That and the sounds of conversation and the nearby noise of Wisconsin Avenue bring you back to earth, reminding you that instead of ordering the flan, mil hojas, or mojito sherbet for dessert, you’d better get back to work or home to the kiddies. There’s just so much reverie one can pack into a single hour or two in DC.

Sabores / 3435-B Conn. Ave. (enter on Ordway St.), NW; (202) 244-7196; www.saboresdc.com. Hours: Lunch, Mon.,-Sat., 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Sun.-Wed., 5-10pm & to 11pm Thu.-Sat., Brunch, Sat. & Sun., 10am-2pm. Entrée price range: large plates, $15-$45. All credit cards.

Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.