Back-to-back incredible multi-course dinners don't occur routinely for me, so this weekend has been a bit of an indulgence, but for good reason. Last night I finally got to Eola, which I've been wanting to try since it opened. Chef Daniel Singhofen recently transitioned the restaurant to a tasting-menu format from a la carte, although he's got three from which to choose: dinner, vegetarian, and offal, for which he first started earning acclaim in the food world. (Also, one Sunday a month--sadly not today--brunch offers a bacon flight, which is also the buzz of the "Everything's better with bacon!" crowd.)
To kick off a celebratory meal, we started with a couple of glasses of cava as we perused the menu. It went nicely with the "first course," which is a series of small amuses of the chef's choice. Tiny bites included 24-Hour Confit of Pig's Heart with Pesto and Crostini; Tomato Gelee on Cucumber with Basil; Crudo of Lamb with Black Truffle, Brioche, and Cress; Smoked Pork Belly on Steamed Bun with Scallion, Pickled Ginger, and Spicy Mayo; and Sorbet of Cuban Hats with Smoked Ham Froth and Peanuts. The first three achieved different levels of success: the pesto was delicious but overwhelmed the sliver of confit, and the gelee was more texture than flavor; the lamb with truffle was not quite enough of a bite to register the intensity of the flavors that were clearly at work there. But the final two bites hinted at what was to come with the rest of the meal--intensely flavorful pork belly, cut with spice and acid, filled the best pork buns I've ever eaten, and the spicy sorbet both cleansed and awakened the palate.
I began with the Stewed Halibut Cheek, porcini, country sausage, spruce, a tender, delicate piece of fish in a light nage with meaty mushrooms, rich sausage, and an herbal aroma that tied it all together. Ed's Stuffed Napa Cabbage, farro, pine-nuts, raisins, fennel sausage-tomato ragout had one of the deepest and richest tomato sauces I've tasted in DC or indeed anywhere, traditional flavors used to full effect.
Next came Sweet Corn Ravioli, dungeness crab, pickled jalapeno, roasted tomato, basil and Free-Form Lasagna, rabbit bolognese, coarse carrot puree, pasta rounds, parmesan. I recently had a similar corn and crab dish at Palena, but this one blew me away: plump ravioli stuffed with perfectly sweet corn, with just enough heat to amp up the sweetness of the crab and corn together, and the smokiness of the tomato highlighting somehow pulling it together. The bolognese also hit all the right traditional notes, with the sweetness of the carrot giving it just a little twist and making it all work.
The Merguez of Border Springs Farm Lamb hummus, curried heirloom pepper slaw, eggplant, and cumin jus presented a panoply of Mediterranean flavor, the sausage not so overly-spiced as to lose the great lamb flavor. This dish begged for all the elements to go together in each bite: creamy, smoky, spicy, crunchy yielded a complete experience in each mouthful. The Cedarbrook Farm Shoal Loin crowder peas, ratatouille, and a smoky jus also blended flavors masterfully. The chef appears to appreciate smokiness, I realize as I write this, but uses it with enough restraint that it was never overwehlming, and merely enhanced the tender shoat with a cracker-crisp skin and nicely cooked seasonal vegetables.
We decided to share a cheese course after dessert, which consisted of Huckleberry-Pine Nut Tart wild ginger custard, burn sugar, and a red-currant gastrique, and "Peaches and Cream" vanilla-poached peaches with sarsaparilla ice cream and a shortbread cookie. Not overly sweet, relying on the fresh fruit and a talented hand at pastry to be refreshing as well as delicious. The cheeses were local sheep's-milk creations, one a blue and one similar to a manchego, that rounded out the meal nicely. (We brought home some of our mignardises at that point!)
A 2007 Laurus Gigondas carried us through the entire meal beautifully, round enough to have a lushness but not so smooth that it abandoned its character. I'm usually a fan of Gigondas, and our server reassured me that this would be food-friendly, which it was. In fact, service was outstanding all through the evening: knowledgable, friendly without being overbearing, and generally an enhancement to the meal rather than an intrusion on it.
Because it's an automatic four-course meal without an a la carte option, the restaurant is certainly a special-occasion go-to spot--one I'd recommend over many restaurants that have long held that status in DC. I'm glad it was our choice for last night, and I hope we can revisit it for special moments in the future. With its focus on deftly-prepared, seasonal (and local) food, with a definitively creative twist, Eola has to be one of my new favorites.