Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FW&D Review of Cheesetique

This month FW&D visited Shirlington, which has become a dining destination in its own right, thanks to its recent expansion to include new restaurants, as well as the relocation of the award-winning Signature Theater to the neighborhood. As a result, Shirlington now has more dining options than ever before, with three new restaurants slated to open soon: Café Pizzaiolo, Lotus Grill & Noodles, and Medi. See the end of the review for a run-down of all the restaurants in Shirlington and pick one to visit!

Shirlington is Cheesetique’s second location. Originally established in Del Ray in 2004 by Jill Eber, Cheesetique offers two distinct wine and cheese experiences. The front of Cheesetique is a “gourmet specialty cheese boutique specializing in hard-to-find selections from around the world” according to the website. The storefront, painted yellow, is visible to passersby via floor to ceiling windows, creating a bright and cheery space for browsing. A large, refrigerated counter showcases beautiful cheeses and meats from around the world. On the opposite side of the store, gourmet crackers, sauces, antipastos, and more beckon to be paired with the cheese and meat. The center of the store features, of course, wines from all over the world.

Cheesetique Outside View
Cheestique Store

Cheeses and Meats
Cheeses and Meats

The Cheese & Wine Bar, separated from the store by a half wall of wine and hostess stand, provides a casual, yet intimate dining experience with low lights, candles, and subtle music playing in the background. The “tin” ceiling, dark wood, warm red accent wall, and large colorful posters complete the ambience. An antiqued mirror running behind the bar and chalk boards on the wall display easily changeable tidbits of information, including wine specials and charts of recommended cheese and wine pairings to help the diners make decisions. Red accents, including lamp shades, shelves, and candles, bring the room together.

The night that FW&D visited, the relatively small dining area was completely packed, so on a Tuesday night we found ourselves taking a seat at the bar with what looked like some regulars, although the hostess graciously offered to move us to a table opening soon. FW&D noted the quality finishes used in the restaurant, including the marble top of the bar, which closely resembled a marble that FW&D had selected for a personal renovation job. The crowd that night consisted mostly of talkative professionals in work attire. The atmosphere was lively, though it was not difficult to talk and be heard.

The Cheesetique staff really knows their wine, and they do their best to educate their customers, splitting the wine list into descriptive categories. Whites were categorized as fresh, lush, or sweet; reds were light, smooth, or bold. Each category featured at least three different selections, with most wines available by the glass or bottle. “Fizzy” wines, rosés, dessert wines, and a large beer selection rounded out the menu, with the beer also grouped into helpful categories like crisp, fruity, malty, hoppy, roasty, or boozy. To further educate customers, Cheesetique offers monthly cheesemonger classes taught by Jill Eber, and wine classes featuring experts in the field.

Cheese and Wine Categories
Cheese and Wine Categories

The first thing you notice about the menu is its simplicity–a variety of cheese and meat boards, soups, salads, small plates, macs, sandwiches, flatbreads, grilled cheeses, and desserts. However, a closer look reveals unique dishes like Burrata (mozzarella curd), Nicoise Salad, Billy Goat Mac (with chèvre), Gluten-Free Mac (potato pasta), or Gjetost and Banana—a Norwegian, salty-sweet grilled cheese on cranberry walnut bread, which they recommend with bacon. What you’ll remember about the menu is the combination of delicious ingredients consistently prepared each time.

The first dish that FW&D sampled was the Pear and Gorgonzola Flatbread, with Gorgonzola Dolce, fresh pears, toasted walnuts, and a caramelized port-balsamic reduction. The presentation was beautiful, the flatbread drizzled with the balsamic, topped with crushed walnuts, and served on cheeseboard. The dish seemed simple but was full of flavor and cooked perfectly, leaving the sweet pear with a pliant yet still-firm texture. The thin flatbread crust had just the right amount of give and crisp to it. We asked for advice on a wine pairing, and the bartender recommended the Santorini, a very crisp and tart Greek white. The wine complemented the dish, providing a good balance to the strong Gorgonzola flavor.

Pear and Gorgonzola Flatbread
Pear and Gorgonzola Flatbread

The next dish was the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese, served with potato salad. Cheesetique does grilled cheese right—you can’t go wrong with this dish, with perfectly toasted bread and a nice blend of melted and gooey cheese. FW&D added ham, which brought a subtle smoky/salty flavor. The German-style potato salad, featured large chunks of potato with onion, bacon, and sliced baby dill pickles—a “secret ingredient” that made the dish. The salad, drizzled with an oil and vinegar dressing, was not your typical potato salad, but light and full of flavor. Again, FW&D asked for a wine pairing recommendation, and decided on the Nebbiolo blend, a light Italian red. While tempted by the desserts on the menu, FW&D decided that it had done enough caloric damage for the night and ended the meal there, though we would have loved to try one of the five dessert items, especially the warm Apple Cherry Cobbler served with cheddar.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Grown-Up Grilled Cheese at Cheesetique

All in all, FW&D enjoyed Cheesetique’s delicious, well-prepared food and thinks the ambience is perfect for an after-work happy hour, dinner with friends, pre-theater bite, post-theater drink, or date night. Wine recommendations were thoughtfully dispensed, as were tastings before you committed to a full glass of something that you wouldn’t be happy with. The restaurant features daily happy hours from 3–6 pm, Thirsty Tuesday discounts, and Wine Down Wednesdays with $5 glasses all day. The first Thursday of the month, enjoy live jazz in Del Ray or celebrate Shirlie’s Girls Night Out in Shirlington. For special occasions, Cheesetique offers gift buckets, gift cards, party platters, and catering.

Shirlington Restaurant Mini-Reviews and FW&D Favorite Dishes
Aroma Indian Restaurant – With three locations in the DC area, Aroma features authentic Indian dishes and will adjust the spice according to your palate. Tandoori and vindaloo (for those who like spicy) are favorite Indian preparations.

Aladdin’s Eatery – Originating in the Midwest in the 90s, this franchise focuses on authentic, healthy Lebanese food made from scratch with no sulfites, preservatives, or artificial flavors. FW&D recommends the Loubie Bzeit (green beans sautéed with onions, herbs, garlic, and tomato sauce) and the desserts.

Best Buns Bread Company – This official bakery of the Great American Restaurants group, including Carlyle (see below), serves freshly-baked bread, pastries, specialty sandwiches, desserts, and Starbucks coffee. On weekends, the line for breakfast often extends out the door, and first-come, first served sandwiches frequently sell out before lunch.

Bistro Bistro – A long-standing Shirlington restaurant, Bistro Bistro serves a variety of good dishes with an international flair. Enjoy a drink after work or a Sunday brunch featuring waffle and omelet stations. On the weekend, Bistro Bistro offers karaoke to entertain the bar crowd.

Bonsai Grill – This authentic Japanese restaurant is a long-time Shirlington establishment, offering fresh sushi and sashimi, in addition to tempura and teriyaki dishes. Spicy tuna rolls are a favorite of FW&D.

The Bungalow – Around the “back” of Shirlington, The Bungalow caters to sports fans, with big screen TVs, pool tables, dart boards, and foosball. Pool tables turn into dining tables during football season, and happy hour crowds enjoy nightly specials. FW&D favorites include the turkey reuben, and mimosa specials on Sunday for game day.

Busboys and Poets – This recent addition to Shirlington originated in DC and has expanded to four locations in the area. Busboys and Poets features a casual, lounge atmosphere and global exchange fair trade market. The food is fresh and sustainable from local farmers. The menu offers vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. FW&D enjoys brunch on the weekend and lunch weekdays.

Cake Love – Started by former lawyer-turned-Food Network star Warren Brown, this bakery features homemade cakes, cupcakes, and pastries made from scratch.

Capitol City Brewing Company – This restaurant literally brews beer right on site, offering four core beers year round, plus seasonal brews. Its private back room offers a great place to host a party. FW&D recommends the burgers and famous pretzels with horseradish dip appetizer.

Caribou Coffee – A nationwide chain, Caribou Coffee serves 100% Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee and espresso, in addition to smoothies, snacks, and other beverages. FW&D enjoys a cold press iced coffee on a hot day.

Carlyle – Known for its consistently excellent food and setting the standard for great service, Carlyle never fails to please. FW&D favorites include Sesame Crusted Seared Rare Tuna Salad, Sautéed Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, and Simply Grilled Filet Mignon. Sunday brunch is a truly delicious experience.

The Curious Grape – Originally a wine shop on “the strip” in Shirlington, The Curious Grape expanded and relocated next to the Energy Club and now features a wine bar/restaurant in addition to a wine shop. FW&D has yet to eat here; perhaps this will be a choice for a future review.

Extra Virgin Modern Italian Cuisine – This Italian restaurant describes itself as offering “traditional Tuscan cuisine, with a modern flair.” The restaurant features live music weekly in its elegant, upscale lounge. FW&D recommends the pizza and a chicken wiener schnitzel dish not on the current menu.

Guapo’s – This festive, family-friendly Mexican restaurant is always bustling, and a fun place to go for a birthday celebration (wear a sombrero!) or with a large group. You can’t go wrong with the Tacos al Carbon, Sizzling Fajitas, or Seafood Burrito. The Cadillac margarita packs a punch.

Hilton Garden Inn – While not officially a restaurant, the Hilton Garden Inn offers a good happy hour, and the local crowd is beginning to discover its charms.

Johnny Rockets – With locations nationwide, Johnny Rockets is a throwback to a simpler time and resembles an old-fashioned malt shop complete with a jukebox at every table. This family-friendly, fun restaurant offers hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, shakes, floats, and more for the kid in all of us.

Luna Grill & Diner – Another Shirlington veteran, this diner offers traditional American food like meatloaf, daily specials, weekly specials like ½ price burger or ½ price pasta nights. FW&D enjoys the brunch menu, particularly the omelets and breakfast burritos, served every day until 3 pm.

PING by Charlie Chiang’s – PING, another long-standing eatery, was renovated recently to include a sleek bar and updated menu featuring traditional Chinese and Japanese dishes; sushi; unique small plate specials; and steamed, diet-friendly dishes. FW&D enjoys the appetizers, drinks, and take out.

Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastro Pub – Featuring authentic Irish beverages and fare, Beckett’s has become a popular recent addition. Some of FW&D’s favorite dishes include Open Faced Irish Smoked Salmon on homemade brown bread (lunch only), Pan Roasted Scallops with Irish potato cakes, and Sam’s Lamb Burger topped with Cashel blue cheese.

Robeks Fruit Smoothie & Health Eats – This nationwide franchise offers juices, smoothies, blends, and shakes, touting fresh ingredients. The entire storefront opens to the public on nice days. Literally step off the sidewalk and place your order!

Subway – Tucked on the back side of Shirlington, you’ll find a Subway for the times when you want a quick, reliable bite. FW&D recommends the chicken breast on wheat.

T.H.A.I. Shirlington – This popular restaurant offers consistently good Thai food prepared by a chef who grew up in Thailand. The traditional menu includes many vegetarian dishes and many different spice levels. FW&D enjoys the green curry dishes and drunken noodles if you like spicy foods.

Yogi Berry – This recent addition to Shirlington capitalizes on the popular trend of self-serve frozen yogurt. Enjoy traditional flavors as well as exotic ones like taro root and mango. Add your own toppings for a truly unique dessert!

For a more detailed review of all these great eateries and restaurants, click HERE.

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