I had dinner at Restaurant Nora with my friend and colleague Margie on 5-5-2017. The restaurant is an institution in D.C. and certainly within the organic food movement. My visit was bittersweet given that Nora closes on June 30th. I was lucky to get to experience it.
Atmosphere: 3 out of 5
Food & Drink: 4 out of 5
Immediately upon entering I was greeted by this massive, gorgeous wood bar. I was early (of course) so I had a seat to wait for my friend.
I’m sure glad I did because look who walked right out of the kitchen: Chef Nora herself! I look like an overly excited fangirl in this picture because that’s exactly what I was!! I congratulated her on the James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award she won earlier in the week and asked her to sign my Michelin Guide. She happily obliged and posed for this picture. Thank you Chef Nora!!
After I calmed down from that excitement I got down to the business of ordering a drink. The bartender was super friendly and we chatted for a bit. He showed me pictures of Obama’s visit and when Jose Andres came for dinner. He was so proud and rightfully so. He decided to make me a drink that was a combination of two different options from the summer gin and tonic menu.
Lost Paradise (gin, tonic, violet liqueur, fresh lime, pansy, basil garnish). This was incredibly visually appealing between the color, the garnish, and the straw. And while I like gin and tonic this was a little strong for me. However, it was really refreshing and the juniper plus basil combined for a nice herbal flavor. The basil is actually from the California Dreamin’ gin and tonic on the menu but definitely went well with the Lost Paradise.
After I got my drink I asked to be seated so I could look around the dining room. The walls are covered with Amish quilts that Chef Nora has collected over 40 years. What’s great are the spotlights illuminating each one, almost making them look back lit. These along with the rest of the decor gave the restaurant a very warm, homey, lived in feel.
Although the restaurant is closing at the end of June it’s also apparently for sale. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this space. The new owner can buy the building and even buy the name if they so choose.
Speaking of the name, how great are these bottles?! The bartender knew I liked sparkling so brought this over right away. Once again I’ll mention how in love I am with the sparkling water on tap trend (I don’t care if it’s just club soda from the soda gun–works for me). But I am more in love with this bottle. If the new owner doesn’t buy the name I absolutely have to have one these.
At this point Margie arrived and we moved on to the main event. My usual M.O. is to rely heavily on the recommendations of the server. Who better to tell you what’s good, what’s popular, and what the restaurant is known for? Unfortunately our server was a little timid in that respect but luckily the bartender had told me all of his favs.
Artichoke, roasted red pepper, and goat cheese tart (arugula pepper salad, black olive emulsion). The bartender recommended this as his favorite dish on the menu. For some reason his description made me think it was going to be in a puff pastry but instead it was more like a pie shell. It was good but not the texture I was expecting nor as crisp as I would have liked. The filling was mild and not at all overwhelming the way goat cheese can be. The artichoke and red pepper complimented it nicely, which the olive emulsion was a strong contrast.
Roasted morel mushroom risotto (quinoa, tomatoes, spinach, parmesan tuile). This was definitely good. It was less creamy than I expected but not at all dry. The flavor of the fresh vegetables, especially the tomatoes, stood out against the umami of the morels and Parmesan. The tuile itself wasn’t that crisp but it was tasty nonetheless.
Sake glazed wild cod (yam puree, snow peas, shiitakes, bok choy, cilantro emulsion). This was my favorite savory dish. The cod was delicious and the sake glaze tasted almost like miso. The cilantro emulsion was amazing, with notes of wasabi and ginger–I loved it. The yam was much more subtle but it too had hints of ginger. The vegetables were fantastic: definitely cooked but still crisp and firm. Overall the the dish had a subtle Japanese flavor profile but the ingredients themselves stood out more than anything else.
Fuji apple and currant pie (vanilla bean ice cream). This was yummy. I liked the crust and obviously the ice cream was great. The filling was pretty rustic with large firm pieces of apple that still had the skin on. I think Blue Duck Tavern ruined me for all future apple pie but this was still pretty darn good.
Overall we had a lovely evening and a great meal. The vibe was definitely somewhat old school compared to other restaurants in D.C. but it was warm and inviting. I’m sad such an icon is closing but I’m excited to see what the next chapter holds, both for this space and for Chef Nora.