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Dining Notes

At Taco City, pozole rojo (hominy stew), involves melt-in-your-mouth pork and corn kernels swimming in cilantro perfumed broth.

We’ve uncovered a little gem on the far end of Barracks Row. Late last year, Taco City DC opened at 1102 Eighth St. SE. That space has housed several short-lived eateries—Peruvian, Middle Eastern, Pakistani. Now: Mexican? Proprietors Ferrufino Francisco and Juan Jimenez believe there is a strong market for “authentic Mexican food, not Tex-Mex.”

Unlike its predecessors, Taco City has a liquor license. The setting is bright and cheery, with a small bar and comfy booths. We began with warm tortilla chips sprinkled with chili powder, which we dipped into smoky tomato/garlic dip. Unlike many renditions, this salsa hugged the chips.

From the lineup of enchiladas, quesadillas and tacos; we selected two tacos: carnitas (shredded pork with salsa verde and fried pork rinds); chicken with avocado and green onions, all heaped into crisp shells. You can opt for lengua (tongue), not often found north of the border. Pozole rojo (hominy stew) involved melt-in-your-mouth pork and corn kernels swimming in  cilantro-perfumed broth. Cabbage, red onion, radish slices and minced jalapenos arrived on the side. Be careful with the latter.

Among other dishes are esquites (grilled corn), pescado a la Talla (adobo marinated red snapper), churros (fried dough with chocolate sauce). Open daily (dinner only Saturday and Sunday with lunch/brunch in the works).  Call 202-629-4012 or visit www.tacocitydc.com.

Legal Sea Bar’s crisp taco shells are filled with plump shrimp, red onion and cilantro, along with a lime wedge.

All Aboard for Legal Seafood
Although we weren’t traveling anywhere, we decided to visit Legal Sea Bar in Union Station. An abbreviated offshoot of the Boston-based Legal Seafoods chain, Legal Bar arrived last July. Wedged in the crowded bar with holiday travelers (all seating is at the rectangular counter), we ordered a mug of New England clam chowder and chipotle/lime shrimp tacos.

Chunky chowder was almost as yummy as Captain Curt’s award-winning version on Siesta Key, our mid-winter getaway. The trio of spicy tacos was filled with plump shrimp, red onions and cilantro. The side of flavorful black beans and rice was a meal in itself. A fellow diner awaiting her Amtrak train to Connecticut raved about the crabmeat appetizer. “Mostly crab, no filling,” she reported. Being New England-bred, Legal Sea Bar showcases lobster rolls, lobster casserole, fried clams and roasted cod. Committed carnivores can chow down on orange chipotle chicken. Still hungry? Try chocolate mousse cake.

Legal Sea Bar dispenses environmentally correct drinking straws, made from corn, we’re told. Since most customers have a train to catch, service is swift and efficient. Lunch for two came to about $45, including a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Located at the mezzanine level of Union Station, Legal Sea Bar is open daily; call 202-864-0401 or visit www.legalseafoods.com.

And, since January is National Soup Month, Legal Sea Foods has declared “Chowda Day” January 15. For that day only, Legal Sea Foods clam Chowder is only $1 a cup with any entrée. (Regular price is $7.50.)

International Combo
Arriving soon near Union Station is Duet, a transcultural marriage of Indian and Italian cuisine.  Toscana Café occupied the 601 Second St. NE address for a decade before closing in August. Duet’s proprietor is Atul Bhola, who also operates Masala Art (Southwest and Tenleytown). Bhola is retaining its longtime Tuscan theme while spicing up the menu with Indian dishes.

H Street Roundup
Maketto restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang is unveiling Yang’s, a pop-up hot pot and taco spot on H St. NE, in the former Impala Cantina space. Bruner-Yang and Impala business partner Troy Hickman wanted to do something different. Yang’s diners  choose a broth—robust Chinese chicken or roasted vegetable—then select from 40 meats, seafood, veggies, tofu, noodles, and dumplings to cook in the simmering liquid. Sort of like Mongolian hot pot. Dipping sauces include ginger-scallion, garlic-chili, and “really, really hot sauce.”

Rounding out the menu are small plates like garlic rice or fried chicken, plus beer and wine. Maketto chef de cuisine James Wozniuk also helms the kitchen. A briefer menu, served on the first floor bar area, offers $3 street tacos (chorizo, steak), snacks (elote, guacamole). Open nightly Tuesday-Saturday, Yang’s is at 1358 H St. NE.

Also in the Atlas District, having transformed Bloomingdale’s Old Engine 12 into Spark, chef Peter Prime is unveiling Cane at 403 H St. NE. The newcomer will showcase Prime’s native Trinidad/Tobago cuisine. Due to open soon, the 40 seat restaurant will replace Uni Bistro. Prime’s menu will focus on roti rolls–South Asian-influenced Caribbean flatbreads stuffed with potato and meat curries. He’s also introduced roti at Spark, at 626 North Capitol St. NW.

Cane will serve breakfast and dinner, eventually lunch/brunch. The moniker Cane refers to sugarcane, the base for rum, which flows across the Caribbean. Rum will also flow at Cane,  sourced from Cotton & Reed and Todd Thrasher’s Potomac Distilling Company at District Wharf. (By the way, Thrasher’s Tiki TNT bar debuted last month with frozen rum-and-cokes in a can.)

To complement Cane’s potent potables, Spark’s kitchen will dispense sharable plates, smoked meats, curries, jerk chicken wings and “whimsical desserts.” Prime will retain his executive chef role at Spark, now owned by Jenna Mack of Event Emissary, and shuttle daily between both ventures.

Winter Warm-up
As winter drags on, The Salt Line is heating things up in the kitchen and bar. Executive Chef Kyle Bailey has introduced scallop-stuffed acorn squash with apples, pancetta and pecans; beet salad with citrus fruit and pistachios; crispy Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and peanuts. Even heartier is eel parmigiana bucatini draped with confit tomato sauce: miso-marinated grilled beef with sourdough dumplings and gouda fonduta.

Beverage Director Donato Alvarez has created mulled cider with sherry and VSOP brandy; Irish coffee with Jameson Irish whiskey, brown sugar, and whipped cream spiked with cherry liqueur. To further combat winter’s relentless chill, Salt Line’s outdoor patio is equipped with fire pits and blankets. Located at 79 Potomac Ave. SE in the Dock 79 Development, Salt Line is open nightly plus Saturday and Sunday brunch. Call 202-506-2368 or visit www.thesaltline.com.

As you probably know, restaurateur Mike Isabella’s culinary empire has filed for bankruptcy. However, his dressy French restaurant, Requin at the District Wharf, is not part of the proceedings and reportedly will remain open.

Winter Restaurant Week
Coming up Jan. 14-20: Washington’s Winter Restaurant Week, presented by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW). More than 250 area restaurants will offer multi-course $35 dinners, $22 lunch and $22 brunch menus. For the full list of participating restaurants and menus, as well as links to book reservations, visit www.rwdmv.com.

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