After graduating from The Pennsylvania State University my first job was in the Washington DC area where I lived and worked for two years, and a half decade after moving to Chicago, work took me back to Washington on a semi-regular basis throughout the latter 1980s. The ‘good’ restaurants weren’t always easy to find back then, but I still fondly recall many good meals. Before this current trip, I hadn’t been back there since 1990, and while the town has changed, finding a ‘good’ meal seems to be a challenge still - especially if you are not interested in big hunks of grilled meat or haute French.
For my first foray out into the District of Columbia culinary world, I chose Restaurant Nora, a small establishment that bills itself as “America’s first certified organic restaurant” (April 1999). A stone’s throw away from Dupont Circle, it is a great space with a warm and inviting ambiance. The menu was loaded with goodies, and I went with an all Maine seafood line up including a starter of Maine Peekytoe Crab & Avocado Salad with Red Onion, Cilantro, Ancho Chile Vinaigrette, Crispy Tortillas and a main course of Pan Seared Maine Diver Scallops & Saffron Risotto with Leeks, Fall Squash, Turnips, Tomatoes, Romesco Sauce. (Unfortunately, the restaurant was too dimly lit for my high speed Leica lens, and a flash was out of the question.)
The crab was fresh, fresh, fresh, and the Ancho dressing was excellent, light enough to show its flavors without dominating the delicate crab. I was a tad apprehensive about the risotto - all those vegetables could throw off a lot of water. The scallops were fresh and while I would have liked a bit more of a sear, they were delicious. The risotto looked ‘stiff’ when it came out, but it was far from that, as a matter of fact it was one of the best risottos made with fresh garden vegetables that I have ever been served. Far from being watery, the high quality of the saffron was center stage in the flavor, and all of the vegetables had an al dente crunchiness that I love. A bit of turnip green even added a surprisingly refreshing counterpoint to cap off the dish.
The only disappointment to the meal was the wine service. The wine list had the following note:
In lieu of a wine by the glass selection we offer an interesting choice of half bottles. Whether savored alone or shared with a friend they represent a better value.
I was dining alone, and at 5:30 a half bottle seemed daunting, but I wasn’t about to eat without wine, so I ordered what turned out to be a very good Austrian Riesling, Salomon 2007. Half way through my meal, a couple was seated at the table next to me, and as they looked at the wine list, their waitress - my waitress - described the ‘house’ wines available by the glass!!!