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Reservations Recommended

Lighting Up Dupont = Firefly

Out of sight? Out of mind? No, but Dupont Circle’s Firefly restaurant in the chic Hotel Madera should receive more media hype. Its executive chef, Daniel Bortnick, is a child of the area, a native of Rockville, whose family once owned a grocery store in the District. So not only is he not a stranger to the area, he is no stranger to food. And his deep-seated passion for and knowledge of food — good food — shows up in his cooking.

For starters, don’t ever skip his matzoh ball soup, which the menu points out, is a family recipe and one guesses, a long-held secret of his Mom. It’s clean, clear broth sparkles with a slight orangey hue, contributed, as it turns out, from very finely minced carrots. Of course, Bortnick’s Mom must be mighty proud of how her son creates the matzoh ball, as delicate as a spring breeze, with just enough flavor boost from herbs to transform it to savory mouthfuls.

Another starter to accompany your soup should be the oddly retro deviled eggs, a dish, one guesses, also from his mother’s recipe file. These are so well conceived that you might just want to settle on an order or two of the eggs seasoned with smoked paprika, the matzoh ball soup, and a wedge salad.

Bortnick also specializes in house-curing his meats, and on occasion he has offered a killer Reuben sandwich, overstuffed with juicy, savory pastrami slices that drip with flavor, melted cheese, and a scoop of of wonderfully brined sauerkraut. As a substitute recently, the kitchen offers up a vegetarian version of this classic New York sandwich: slices of marble rye enclose thin slices of the sautéed mushroom held in place by melted Gruyère cheese and seasoned with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. It’s a fact, vegetarians: portobellos are meaty mushrooms, but cannot capture the all-in kick of pastrami.

Another menu disappearance: the chicken liver mousse has gone from the appetizer selection, showing up, instead, on the charcuterie platter. An ex-New York friend stopped in for lunch awhile back, and, of course, ordered the chicken liver. That, she exclaimed, was just like a treat from an 8th Avenue deli.

Bortnick may be rearranging his menu and deleting some of the more obvious New York items, but he can still capture the heart of even the most casual foodie. Take, for example, his hamburger. In his hands this American classic topped with Vermont Cheddar and optional bacon (actually, this is essential for the full effect), the burger is one of the best in the city (for those doing a burger roundup). Accompany this with his truffle fries, and that’s a bit of heaven, lunch or dinner.

Other lighter lunch entrées include a pulled pork sandwich sparked by roasted poblano aioli, a seared yellowfin tuna BLT, and a hog roll with house-made Italian sausages. But if you stop by for big-time eats, roll up your shirtsleeves and tackle his shrimp and bacon mac ‘n cheese, likely a caloric bonanza.

In the evening, Bortnick ramps up menu choices to include heartier fare. With a nod to New York, he includes a mini pot roast and a braised lamb shoulder with pappardelle pasta. Looking to the West Coast, the chef lightens his touch with an offering of roasted organic chicken and pickled wild mushrooms and one of pan-roasted halibut accompanied by green garbanzo bean purée and fiddlehead ferns. Plus, there are plenty of choices in between East and West.

Desserts are suitably eclectic, veering from a velvety Nutella cheesecake with a whipped marshmallow topping to an Apple Brown Betty with maple-cinnamon ice cream and a butterscotch sauce. If you are eating solo and aren’t sharing sweets, take a deep breath and go for it: the cheesecake is one of the best in the city.

Firefly | 1310 New Hamp. Ave., NW; (202-861-1310; www.firefly-dc.com Breakfast, Mon.-Fri. 7-10am; Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Sun.-Thu. 5:30-10pm, Fri. & Sat. to 10:30pm; Brunch, Sat. & Sun., 9am-2pm. Lunch entrée prices: $11-$17.

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.