A block and a half away from the Naval Observatory, the rows of embassies, and the homes of diplomats one can find, hidden behind the overgrown trees lining the sidewalks, Slate Wine Bar & Bistro. Unassuming in appearance, and small in size, Slate is quietly working to shirk the poor reputation it had acquired two years ago when Elizabeth Banker first opened its doors. Initially focused on “family-owned, small production, sustainable wineries and ‘non-interventionist’ winemakers”, diners were unable to reconcile the restaurant’s intent with its haphazard team, and a chef that couldn’t deliver. However, every once in awhile second chances should be graciously given.
With the front of the wine bar more attractive than the back, we admittedly felt like chastised children being seated in the back corner. Dimly lit with mismatched exposed light bulbs, visible layers of previous paint jobs (Com’on guys, paint around the security light.), an uncovered large portion of ducting running the length of the opposite wall, and dingy mirrors left us wondering if we had just walked into inevitable disappointment. We resolved to keep our expectations low. On the flip side we adored the framed cork screws found on nearly every wall, the rustic rough cut wood elongating the ceiling and tying together the interior and exterior, and thought the white table linens to be a classy touch. It was a glimpse of the upstairs balcony with seating that finally tipped our opinions of the interior back into the positive.
Now, Banker is back working full time as a lawyer, and her husband Daniel Lledó – owner of Fancy Hospitality LLC - has taken over the reigns with a very hands on approach. Chef Jorge now operates the kitchen as of 9 months ago, with Lledó guiding along the menu creations. In fact, Lledó has developed about a third of the current menu himself, and is meticulous when it comes to flavor perfection. One will find anything and everything on the menu; from egg-rolls and tempura to steaks and risotto. And, while we initially thought it was a bit daunting and not even close to cohesive, we decided that this isn’t a fashion show. The collection doesn’t have to match. What it does need to do is pair well with the wine. We believe Slate knew exactly what it was doing when formulating their food offerings.
We had the opportunity to sample, two cocktails, three small plates, two entrees, and two desserts from the dinner menu – each dish with it’s own suggested wine pairing. Coming from a family of wine makers and chefs, Lledó engaged us with his knowledge and ability to easily and accessibly answer any questions we had. While we enjoy wine, we’re far from snobs. We appreciated Lledó’s dedication to only serving what he considers as quality wine. Your least expensive bottle option is a 2012 EGEO Verdejo Rueda, Spain for $28, and the 2013 Las Colinas del Ebro Garnatxa Blanca Terra Alta, Spain, a non-house by the glass option for $10. In addition, a private collection of wines are available to choose from, but because in such limited quantities you’ll have to ask your waiter for the updated list as it changes often. (You won’t find it online.)
We began our meal the way we have come to realize is more habitual than anything – with a cocktail. This time, with two: the Valencian Gin & Tonic (Tanqueray, Azahar Honey, Orange Zest, Q Tonic) and the BLT (Bulleit Bourbon, Lemon, Q Tonic). Gin is not our thing, so after a sip we immediately had to pass on the Valencian. However, the BLT hit the spot if you’re looking for what we’d consider a more traditional, masculine cocktail. We did find the cocktail selections in general a little underwhelming although well made, we felt the selection of wine was quite impressive and we were grateful that Lledó was willing to take the time to guide and teach us about each individual wine we tried.
Out of the kitchen first came Slate’s Ahi Tuna Poke (Avocado, Scallions, Won Ton Chips) paired with Lagar de Costa Albarinho, Rias Biaxas, Spain, followed by Pan Seared Scallops (Bacon & Corn Cream Sauce) paired with Bovale Red Wine (Bobal grape variety), Utiel-Requena, Spain, and then Duck Breast Egg Rolls (Spicy Soy Sauce, Honey Mustard) paired with Forest Estate Pinot Noir, New Zealand. The poke, a refined “bar bite” in our opinion, completely blew our expectations away and we slowly began to realize we were in for a potential treat. A fantastic combination of textures and flavors we wished we had 100 more to nosh on. We were mildly disappointed that the scallop dish didn’t appear to contain bacon pieces, but the smokey flavor came through in subtlety via the cream sauce. We discussed that this particular dish could have possibly done well with the addition of pasta, however still delicious. A true testament for a dish (we’re referring to the egg roll) comes when it convinces even the pickiest of eaters to eat and enjoy something they typically avoid. We have an egg roll convert here folks! Served with a new spicy sort of soy sauce for dipping, and the usual honey mustard, we loved the duo of choices, and hope both continue to be served simultaneously.
Moving on from the small bites and onto the entrees, Lledó informed us that while a hardcore paella man himself (we have a feeling he makes a wicked good one), it took him awhile to come around to loving risotto. He changed his mind once he tried Slate’s. Now, we’ve had some fantastic risotto in the District, but Slate’s Seasonal Risotto (seasonal vegetables, truffle oil, parmesan) has probably topped the list of our favorite. Made with zucchini and summer squash, one does have the option of adding a protein to beef up the dish – pun intended – however we absolutely adored the strictly veggie version. The truffle oil was a brilliant addition giving the creamy rice a nice rich, earthy flavor complimenting the squash. Lledó surprised us with a treat from his private wine collection with a half bottle of Merry Edwards Pinot Noir, Sonoma, easily our favorite red of the evening.
Our last entree was the Pan Seared Duck Breast (dried cherry sauce, seasonal vegetables, jasmine rice). While we typically love anything duck, this was probably our least favorite dish of the evening compared to everything else we had sampled. (Not to mention living up to that risotto was almost an impossible task.) The duck was slightly over cooked, and while one of us enjoyed the dried cherry sauce, the other didn’t, and overall we felt that it reminded us of a fancy Thanksgiving dinner. Mostly what it came down to was personal preference, however we thought the presentation was beautiful.
It was Slate’s desserts that solidified our love. Out came a duo of Chef Jorge’s Tres Leches Cake & Elizabeth’s Warm Fudge Brownie served à la mode served with a trio of dessert wines: Silvano Garcia Moscatel & Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain and Buitiful Sparkling Rose Cava, Requena, Spain. We will almost always opt for a brownie and ice cream over cake…because brownie. However the cake, similar in texture to a pound cake, had our hearts and stomachs in a love triangle and we found ourselves alternating bites of dessert. The brownie is no joke either. Lightly crispy on top, and fudge-y (but not overly so) in the middle, we couldn’t get enough of it especially with the addition of caramel and chocolate sauce.
We are thrilled to see how far Slate has come in the last year, and we hope anyone who had a bad experience takes a chance and gives them a well deserved second chance. There’s a quality wine for everyone’s tastes and budgets, and don’t forget to ask for the private collection menu. And the food… well, the food is what will get us back into the door. We hadn’t had a meal that satisfying in a long time.
Slate Wine Bar & Bistro
2404 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington DC 20007
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