Guest Post: Hungry Games: Bandolero, Georgetown, Washington, DC

There’s a new website powered by the Food Network, called CityEats.com.  It features restaurants in Washington, DC, New York City, and Philadelphia, with plans to expand to more cities in the future.  I would describe this new site as Open Table, Yelp and Twitter’s love child. You can book restaurant reservations (and receive rewards), read and write reviews, and follow other users to see what they’re saying about the restaurants in your city.  It also has links to favorite food blogs.

The site was promoting Restaurant Week in Washington, DC, with an offer to send a $20 gift card to anyone who booked a reservation at one of the featured restaurants and wrote a review about it on the site.  So I did it.  I made a reservation at celebrity chef Mike Isabella’s new Mexican restaurant Bandolero, located at 3241 M Street, NW, in Georgetown (next to Tackle Box).  I decided to invite my friend, the Saudi, since he shares my love of delicious food.

The restaurant is definitely very cool looking, with a dark, Day of the Dead theme.  The dim lighting, exposed brick walls, gates between tables, and skeletal décor made me feel like I was in some kind of dangerous and sexy Mexican border town.  The restaurant was packed with a crowd of all ages, from those in their early twenties to those in their fifties—most everyone was dressed for a night on the town.

When the hostess brought us to our table in the upstairs dining room, I was relieved that it was more open and less loud than the room downstairs.  We had a leather couch on one side of our table, which I was eager to sit in (it looked so cool!).  I sunk a little too deep and knew it would be hard to eat being so low to the table, so I was a brat and made the Saudi switch places with me.  If we were only sipping cocktails and not grabbing dinner, I may have been able to make reclining on the couch look hot, but I didn’t want to commit to eating tacos from that spot—too much potential for a messy disaster!

We ordered a series of tapas based on the delicious sounding food descriptions and the recommendations of our waiter.  First came the Tomatillo & Avocado Gazpacho ($11) and the Blue Crab Taquitos ($13).

I wanted to taste the gazpacho to see how it compared to the one I had recently eaten at Green Pig Bistro (which was so delicious!).   The waiter brought out a bowl of diced watermelon and oranges, with a pitcher of gazpacho, which he poured over the fruit.  I liked the theatrical serving of the food!  The gazpacho had a very creamy consistency from the avocado and the tangy flavor of the tomatillo, which was fairly strong.  It tasted great with each spoonful that contained a piece of watermelon or orange.  It became like a treasure hunt for me searching for the little gems of fruit.  But, when all the watermelon was gone, I didn’t really enjoy the flavor of the gazpacho anymore.

The Blue Crab Taquitos were the best thing we ate all night!  The fresh tasting crab meat was served with coconut, red chili, and purple potatoes in a mini crunchy taco shell.  Each bite left me wanting another.

Next to arrive was the Sikil Pak ($6), a dip made of pumpkin seeds, jalapeno and oranges, and served with a basket of chips and pork rinds. The dip didn’t really have much flavor.  The Saudi and I agreed, mostly we just tasted chip (I will confess that I really loved the pork rinds…nice touch!)

Then we had a series of tacos.  We ordered the Chicken Taco ($10) with BBQ chicken, poblano and plantain (not pictured); the Suckling Pig Taco ($13) with shredded pork, green apple, and habanero mustard; and the Skirt Steak Taco ($12) with refried beans, avocado, salsa, and crispy onions.

The Suckling Pig Tacos were definitely the best and most unique of the three, with a nice flavor combination of sweet, spicy and tangy.  The Skirt Steak Tacos and Chicken Tacos were both good, but there was nothing particularly special about them.

The Mole Negro ($12) was short ribs covered in a mole sauce with sesame, and served with papas (fried potatoes).  The Saudi ranked this dish as one of his favorites because of the way the meat fell apart at the touch of his fork, and the flavor of the mole sauce.  I also thought the mole was really nice, but the potatoes were weird, dense and chewy.

The last dish was the Queso Fundido ($14), described by our waiter as a must try signature dish.  The melty manchego cheese comes with duck confit, mushrooms and a sunnyside up egg.  The server instructed us to stir it all together and then scoop it into the accompanying flour tortillas.  The dish looked delicious and had a lot of potential, but the flavor of the cheese was all we could taste (I could feel the duck when I chewed, but otherwise, would never have known it was there….unfortunate!)  The cheese tasted like the Tostitos queso dip you can buy at any grocery store or gas station.  I feel a little mean saying that, but I speak truth.

All in all, I do not understand what the hype is about.  The restaurant was sexy and fun, but the food did not stand out. I probably will not dine again on the mostly mediocre, overpriced tapas (except maybe for the crab taquitos).  I did wonder if the cocktails are worth making a return visit (I may not have been fair to the restaurant by not trying any, but I really did have high hopes for the food.)  Sorry Mike Isabella, but I’m still on my search for great Mexican cuisine in DC.

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