Let’s start by saying that this column is woefully, unabashedly late. I first tried Fancy Radish, the not-nearly-as-new-as-it-was-back-in-May restaurant at the Apollo on H Street, 600 H Street NE, in early June. Why am I choosing to share my first bite now? Coincidentally, the Michelin Guide announced its picks for Bib Gourmand restaurants around DC last week. This year, they picked 19 restaurants in the area worthy to carry the honor. According to the Michelin Guide, the Bib Gourmand is “an award created in 1997 to be given out to establishments that serve good food at moderate prices. These places are, in fact, judged by the same five criteria used for starred and Bib Gourmand restaurants, and are recognized as establishments serving good food.”
I feel like the Michelin Guide folks may have shortchanged Fancy Radish here with their announcement– which you can read here. For that matter, they also shortchanged pretty much every restaurant on our local list, except for the Inn at Little Washington, which richly deserves its three stars. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before we move on up to three-star rating in the city proper?
Back to the matter at hand: Fancy Radish is an absolute delight. Starting with the décor, which I will call “industrial magic,” the whole place is clean and minimalist. I would like to know who got to pick all the light fixtures, as they elevate what could otherwise be described as a sterile, concrete environment. Even though I encourage you to make a reservation –which is a must if your party is larger than two– there are walk-in seats close to the kitchen and at the bar. They are perfect for an impromptu date, or for having a great time after work. Our server, Anne, was warm and friendly and helped us navigate the menu. Her expertise made the experience smooth and fun: Every single dish we ordered exceeded our expectations and then some.
Other reviewers have focused on the restaurant’s ability to place the spotlight on the vegetables –as opposed to substituting the feel and taste of meat with plant-based products. This is absolutely spot-on: Starting with the pretzel and rutabaga dip, which has the silkiest and most remarkably delicious texture, there is no sleight of hand hijinks. You are told all along what ingredients are coming to glorious life on your plate. Back to the rutabaga fondue: In all of my years eating dairy products, and especially melted dairy products, I’d never experienced the odd joy of tasting something that feels so much like cheese to the mouth and yet is clearly not. The dip usually comes with a fluffy, amazing pretzel roll that conjures warmth, hearth and calories. Our table opted to try the gluten-free bread, and while it was not pretzel deliciousness, it was also fluffy and crunchy in the right spots. When it came to scraping the bowl absolutely clean (a must), both breads do their job just right.
Following in the magical steps, the fazzoletti that are actually trumpet mushrooms is possibly the most intriguing and delicious dish you will eat. How is it possible that mushrooms can have a) this much flavor and b) a texture so akin to pasta, and yet improve upon that concept, and we’d never noticed? Even if you’re not an avowed fan of mushrooms, this dish has such rich flavors and such a wonderful mouthfeel, it’s worth ordering it just to wow yourself. The stuffed avocado is crunchy and creamy and downright umami. It will leave you feeling eponymously stuffed as well, so order carefully. The Peruvian potatoes are rich and pack an impressive amount of heat. It’s probably best that you order them with one of the house cocktails and pace yourself. Just make sure you save room for dessert– the party of flavors continues with the sweet stuff.
If you go:
WHAT: Fancy Radish, 600 H Street NE, in the Apollo Building
WHEN: Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday, starting at 5 p.m. For reservations, visit their website, https://www.fancyradishdc.com
WHY: Because magical food should not be relegated to the realm of popping, fizzing or color-changing.