The Royal, the new cafe/bar that opened at Fifth Street and Florida Avenue last month is receiving a lot of positive press coverage.
- “Colombian-ish Restaurant The Royal Now Open in LeDroit Park.” Washington City Paper.
- “The Royal brings South American flavors and homemade vermouth to LeDroit Park.” Washington Post.
- “Take a Look Inside Ledroit Park’s Exciting New Restaurant: The Royal.” Washingtonian.
- “First Look: The Royal Opens in LeDroit Park.” Zagat.
- “Another Peek Inside The Royal now Open in LeDroit Park.” PoPville.
With the opening of Bistro Bohem, the corner of Florida Avenue and 6th Street is turning into a tiny culinary colony along Florida Avenue. Bohem’s popularity scuttled our plans for our first visit. It was 9 pm and we walked over looking to try it out. It was packed and there was a waiting list for both the tables and for the bar. All this on a Tuesday night!
After just a few weeks of operation, though, the restaurant is expanding into the old retail space that contained Zee’s, the Trinidadian restaurant that only lasted a few months. A sign on the window christens the space “Café Bohém”. On the 6th Street front, Bohem has added much-needed outdoor seating. We can imagine sitting there, sipping Bohem’s signature Bohemian margarita and watching the passersby. Many LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale residents walk by this intersection on their way to and from the Metro. On our visit, we spotted several neighbors returning from work.
The Bohemian margarita, by the way, was the best item we enjoyed on our recent visit to the restaurant. It’s not nearly as sweet as a regular margarita and benefits from the distinct taste of gin.
While the drink was noteworthy, the food needed some work. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t amazing either. Bohem offers a variety of “small plates” derived from the cuisine of Eastern Europe. The lightly browned mushrooms were served with a delicious garlic paprika aioli, but the mushrooms themselves suffered from being, well, mushrooms.
Mushrooms can be difficult to cook. They absorb water like sponges, resisting your best effort to dehydrate or saute them. Though the mushrooms were coated in breadcrumbs and fried, they were still disappointingly watery inside.
A popular dish is the pierogi, a typical eastern European dumpling stuffed with a potato cheese filling. Bohem garnishes the dish with caramelized onions.
We hope it was a coincidence, but the pierogi dish contained a watery sauce, as evidenced by the photo. It’s decent, but like any pierogi dish, is simple in taste and perhaps better suited to snaking or breakfast. The caramelized onions were very… caramelized.
Tom Sietsema at the Post reviewed Bohem and recommends the chicken schnitzel, which he says “races ahead of the pack.” We will certainly try it on our next visit.
If you’re headed out for a serious meal, Shaw’s Tavern might be a better bet, but if you’re self-medicating the symptoms of a unpleasant job, Bistro Bohem’s drink menu will do the trick.
520 Florida Avenue NW
Rating: 5 arches (out of 5)
Recommendation: House-smoked pulled pork shoulder (pictured above)
Back in November 2010 we wrote about the renovation underway at the two-story brick building at the southeast corner of 6th Street and Florida Avenue. What a great place for a cafe, we opined.
Finally in July of last year, a restaurant called Shaw’s Tavern opened up in the space. Many neighbors expressed eager anticipation at the very rumor, mostly since Florida Avenue lacks a variety of decent sit-down options.
The excitement was short-lived. The restaurant’s management ran afoul of the District’s liquor regulations when it allegedly forged an alcohol license to purchase liquor from suppliers. Just before opening, Shaw’s hosted several events during which they served alcohol without the a license. The Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Board, rightly outraged, refused to grant the license.
Unable to serve alcohol, which is where restaurants make much of their money, Shaw’s quickly closed. New owners bought the business and have reopened the space for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Shaw’s will finally serve dinner and thus expand their hours beyond the 4 pm closing when they get their alcohol license approved.
We dropped by Shaw’s Tavern recently to sample the food and the trip was well worth it. The food was excellent and refined and the atmosphere was pleasant.
We ordered the house-smoked pulled pork shoulder (pictured above), which is served on a patty of crispy jalapeño-cheddar polenta and cider vinegar jus. The waiter described the item as “killer” so we couldn’t possibly ignore such an endorsement.
It turns out the waiter was right. The pork, as he described, is smoked for 12 hours. It shows. The distinctly smokey and faintly tangy flavor of the tender shoulder meat makes the dish a signature item for Shaw’s.
The pork tops a polenta patty, which is cripsy like hash-browns on the exterior, but creamy like skillfully prepared scrambled eggs on the inside. In fact the filling is not egg at all, but jalapeño cheddar cheese with polenta, making it a close rival to the pork.
For dessert we ordered spiced chocolate pudding. A dollop of cream and candied orange peel garnish the pudding. Don’t let that fool you, though. The pudding itself is not nearly as sweet as most American desserts and so the spice stands out.
The interior of the restaurant provides an unusual variety of seating options. There are high tables for four people and larger parties. The bar itself is as wide as a full table and provides ample space for dining. The outdoor patio on the 6th Street side just opened with several iron tables and chairs. The inside also sports several couches with coffee tables, each equipped with a book on the Civil War to honor the restaurant’s namesake, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, for whom the Shaw neighborhood is named.
There are few restaurants that really impress us, but Shaw’s Tavern was able to do it. When it opens up for dinner, we expect to return often.