Food Diary: Dauphine’s

I haven’t so much as set foot in my office since my entire company was sent home March 12, 2020. In that time I reached two of Capitalist Life’s most notable milestones: getting married and purchasing a house. You’re welcome, America. Here are my tax dollars!

All this time I’ve worked from our home office or the chilly confines of our basement, putting in the requisite amount of effort necessary to remain employed while dreaming of an end to the stubborn pandemic. I’ve more or less forgotten my quotidian in-office rhythms; it only recently occurred to me that I used to walk the dog, shower, eat breakfast, and iron both a work shirt and work pants each day before 7:15 a.m.

Today I snoozed my 7:30 a.m. alarm.

One thing I had totally forgotten were weekly coffee runs to the Blue Bottle coffee shop located on the bottom floor of the Midtown Center development on 15th and L. In late 2019 and early 2020, this development, built where the old Washington Post offices used to stand, offered so much promise to the food curious: a Blue Bottle! A sushi concept! A Greek concept! And all just a handful of blocks from my Farragut Square office.

After 18 months spent washing and rewashing the same five masks all that knowledge was lost.

Hurricane

But as the COVID-19 case counts have decreased (and vaccination rates increased) and restaurants have reopened, I have reemerged into police society, as well. I find the line of argument deployed by some that eating at restaurants helps small businesses a bit haughty and overstated — does the world need another $16 cheeseburger? no. My feeling is less intellectually superior. If diner and chef/server/front of house person feel comfortable coming together for a two-hour exchange of service and sustenance, let it be. If you want to check my vaccine status, that’s fine too. (I know some may take issue with this, and I understand that. This is why this country has its courts system.)

Last weekend, my wife and I ventured downtown to sample the offerings at Dauphine’s, a New Orleans’ inspired sister restaurant to The Salt Line, a restaurant to which I give my Seal of Approval. And wouldn’t you know it, Dauphine’s, which opened in May 2021, occupies a prime ground-floor spot in the Midtown Center. Ah, the memories! Still no word about those sushi or Greek places, sadly.

Oysters Dauphine

My wife’s family hails from Louisiana, so as soon as we heard about this spot it quickly became a must-visit — since Acadiana closed in late 2018, we’ve made too many trips to Bayou Bakery in the Court House neighborhood of Arlington to get our fix. Now that Dauphine’s is alive and kicking, we’ve got another excellent option in our Open Table rolodex.

Truly the first thing you’ll notice about Dauphine’s is just how gorgeous the bar is. I’m not sure the concept of feng shui has made its way to Louisiana, but when you enter the space your eyes are immediately pulled to the immaculate marble bar that is capped with a four-poster wrought-iron topper. And while one half of the bar is for slinging drinks, the backside waterfalls into the sunken dining space and serves as a full raw bar for mid-Atlantic bivalves. The bar is a total show stopped. We arrived five minutes early for our reservation, and I minded little staring at the bar while we waited for a freshly cleaned table.

As we were in Rome, I did as the Romans did and ordered a hurricane, the drink most feared by alcoholic diabetics. Compared to touristy sucrose bombs I’ve had in New Orleans, this version was far superior. The bar, run by native New Orleanian Neal Bodenheimer, approximates a fruit syrup known as fassinola, an infamously lost cocktail ingredient that gives its hurricane added quality. And by quality, I mean I could drink a second one without fearing for my oral health.

Later I graduated to more rarified air and ordered a Sazerac, another NOLA classic. I don’t think its controversial to say that absinthe is the best. We need to lessen these import regulations that limits its hallucinogenic properties. Americans who can’t travel to Europe need to know what Oscar Wilde did.

The only definite plate we’d identified before arriving at Dauphine’s was its eponymous oyster small plate. A mix of spinach, horseradish, pecorino cheese, and meaty oyster chargrilled and served on a plate of rock salt: it was fantastic, the salt balanced out by the cooking method, if not quite photogenic. My only issue is that we got five for the two of us. Imagine a first date where the two parties fight over that last oyster. Chaos!

The head cheese called to me though sadly I did not call back. Rather, we split the beef tartare: chunks of tender beef tossed with smoked oyster aioli, pickled celery, and garnished with house-made salt and vinegar potato chips. The accoutrement gave the dish a definite burger feel, whether intended or not. I’d recommend it, though next time I’ll have the head cheese.

Unbeknownst to me, our dinner was running late. So said our waiter, Isaac, who was full of energy and seemed to affirm every single thing I ordered. You need an Isaac in your life, is what I’m saying.

Thanks to him (or maybe this is just a matter of course) we received a comped pommes soufflé, something I loved and my wife could take or leave. These were puffed potatoes (as the name suggests), crisp on the outside while retaining a creamier (if hallow) center. The dish came with a lush béarnaise sauce for dipping. Hey, it was free so no ill words from me.

The mains on Dauphine’s menu were and are tremendous: gumbo, shrimp remoulade, an oyster po boy, oysters spaghetti, an amandine, cochon de lait, and jambalaya, among others. We could do no wrong, and no wrong was done.

My wife ordered the po boy, as she always does. The oysters came simply dressed and nicely fried, situated on shredded beef (called “beef debris” appetizingly on the menu) topped with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. I had a few bites of this and it was fantastic, in large part due to the Leidenheimer bread — a Louisiana classic.

I went pricier, opting for the cochon de lait. Not quite a whole suckling piggy, Dauphine’s version is a grilled pork neck steak stuffed with collards, served on a mush of spicy red beans and with several dollops of whole-grain mustard. I’m glad I splurged. This was delicious, nicely fatty but cut by the heat of the beans.

There’s enough on the menu, both food and drink, to keep one busy several visits over. And there will be several visits.

Because not only is this place legit, my office is reopening in September, delta variant be dammed. That means I’ll be walking distance from Dauphine’s as much as three times a week. When it’s time for happy hour, that raw bar will be my home.

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