Bonus FDC! My sister Claire was visiting DC a few weekends ago and more or less demanded we have an FDC official meal at some point, and I wasn’t going to do anything to prevent that. That was all well and good until she got food poisoning in the Atlanta airport (Claire would likely give ATL negative om noms on our 0-4 scale) and was in rough shape by the time she got in. She even had to forgo eating anything at Boqueria’s excellent bottomless brunch; I drank six glasses of sangria in solidarity. Luckily, some things are meant to be. Having recovered slightly by the time dinner rolled around, Claire was able to fully participate in her first FDC along with myself, my girlfriend Jane, and Claire’s grade school friends, Masha and Caroline. Our search led us to Arroz, a newly opened Moroccan/Spanish restaurant in downtown DC known for its rice (but you Spanish speakers prolly figured that out already).
The first few of us arrived at Arroz and couldn’t help but notice the next level fanciness. The main entrance itself is accessible by walking through the Marriott Marquis, which has the high ceilings and unnecessarily modern fire places you expect in any stereotypical fancy hotel. Going through the door to Arroz leads you down a long hallway full of various ornate knick knacks. Even the candy bowl by the reception desk, usually full of mints or chocolates, was full of what looked like a gummy candy covered in sesame seeds (pro tip: it is not a gummy candy, it is like eating brick). As we were led through the restaurant to the bar while we waited for the rest of our group, you could tell every bit of decor had its place. Or as we thought of it, “their shape game was on point”. Good use of random geometry in the ceilings, Arroz. That walk was also a fantastic teaser for our meal, as their smell game was also very much on point.
Our time at the bar gave us some extra time to try out Arroz’ cocktails which by the looks of all the random jars of potions and elixirs lining the shelves were bound to be good (they were). Watching the drinks be made was awesome in and of itself. Everything was measured with a deft hand. I got super nervous when the bartender dropped a sizable ice cube in my drink and I was sure it going to spill. Instead, the liquid went right up to the rim of the glass. And then he did it again with someone else’s drink! A goddamn sorcerer, that one. And the show came with snacks! Arroz has excellent bar snacks in the forms of baked chick peas loaded up with cumin and all sorts of other spices. The drink itself was not only fun to watch, but was delicious. It tasted like Orange Creamsicle, The Drink. Claire and Jane’s drinks just had a bunch of random leaves and stuff tossed in. But like…in a cool way. When the hostess arrived to let us know our full group had arrived and our table was ready, we were already stoked for dinner.
The menu itself is based around Arroz’ baked rice dishes, with an assortment of tapas to supplement the meal. To be honest, the apps all came pretty fast and furious and were supes tasty, so here are the highlights, in no particular order:
- Smokey asparagus: This dish was described as being the restaurant’s take on eggs benedict, which I know at this point is just code for “it will be so far from eggs benedict that you never in your wildest dreams would have thought of it that way (but now you feel like you have to)”. I was surprised it even came with egg after our server said that, wry smile and all. But honestly, who cares. It was dope. The egg (it did show up!) was creamy and delicious. The asparagus was grilled to perfection. It was spicy and sweet and tangy altogether. We were all v impressed.
- Burnt eggplant: This was a great combo. You had your super garlicly pureed eggplant. You had your assorted pine nuts and pickled doodads. But really, this one was all about the bread. Doughy flatbread with a crispy outside and coated with Moroccan spices? Yes. All day every day please. I very judiciously dipped very small bits of bread into too much eggplant so I’d have enough to dip in other stuff. I dipped it into every smidge of sauce I had left on my plate, and then I dipped it into my mouth.
- Crispy potato ‘tortilla’: Unnecessary quotes aside, this was another winner. It was basically the best possible version of a classic Spanish tortilla. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. It also had a bunch of weird sauces on the side (One called ‘garrotxa’? Great Scrabble word.), including what I can only describe as a chorizo yogurt. In other words, the fanciest damn omelet you’ve ever had. So good.
- Hot smoked bone marrow: Bone marrow is one of the best things to come out of use-every-part-of-the-animal hunting ethics. I don’t know who thought to crack open a broke and suck out its insides, but well done, you weirdo. I recently watched a Planet Earth clip of vultures dropping bones from incredible heights to get at the goods on the inside, which was a good metaphor for this and all bone marrow dishes; super undignified, but also genius. Also hoping Arroz is using vulture chefs for their bone marrow. This preparation in particular had an oxtail marmalade on the side that added some sweetness to the fatty goodness of the marrow, and placed on top of some damn good baguette slices. Caroline, the vegetarian in our midst, likely had mixed feelings about this dish in particular, but maintained a brave face.
- Fried cauliflower: I have come to expect that cauliflower at a nice restaurant will always be good, and this was no exception. Great seasoning, and the lil chili peppers were an excellent garnish. I mostly remember the crispy pig tail bits that came with it. Basically like the crispiest bacon you could ever find (and once again, leaving no part of the animal unused). Arroz must be a big shopper at Weird Animal Parts Emporium.
- Chermoula lamb ribs: For our final appetizer, we got to try the proverbial fall-off-the-bone ribs. They were insanely tender and rich. It also marked my second straight FDC that defied my expectations about lamb; it can be juicy and tender and fatty as long as the chef knows what they’re doing. And they super super did. The rib marianade itself was made primarily with onion and honey and the titular chermoula, which gave it a pleasant sweetness that the meat eaters at the table were pretty into.
- Lil Carrots! At some point we received a compliments-of-the-chef course, which was the tiniest little carrot in the tiniest little jar of herbs and spices. Surprisingly memorable, would definitely eat again.
After polishing off the remains of a spectacular tapas course, we moved on to the main event: the bombas. From what our server described, a bomba was similar to a paella, except instead of baking all the ingredients together, the rice was baked separately and then all the ingredients were stacked on afterwards. What does this do, you may ask? Not a clue. Pro tip on these – if you’re in a big group and want to try more things, you can get half orders of any of the bombas. We ordered a halfsie of the duck and another of the veggie bomba.
The duck bomba was solid. The meat was rich and fatty (they really know how to handle their proteins here), and the fennel, onion, and cucumbers provided great compliments. No complaints whatsoever. I am more or less breezing by the duck because we have to talk about the veggie bomba. Ho. Ly. Shit. It was incredible. All the veggies were super fresh; you could tell Arroz was focused on only using what was in season, which is great because I have no idea when anything is in season. A perfectly cooked fried egg was laid on top, which is a key component of any exceptional meal, in my opinion. More than anything it was just the flavor. I am very caveman-esque in my food thinking sometimes – it’s really hard for me to choose a meatless dish over the protein packed option. This one just delivered so well in the flavor department though. Those veggies just crushed that duck. The veggie and citrus components of the plate just combined so well together, and the veggies were prepped in a bunch of different ways (some grilled, some steamed, some just kinda tossed in there). I bow to you, spring vegetable bomba. This is but one man’s humble opinion though; there were definitely some at the table to liked the duck best (wrongly). For all bombas, Arroz provides its homemade harissa if you want some extra heat, and damn was it good.
Many cocktails and all the food later, we decided to end the meal with Arroz’ chocolate custard. We barely finished it and were ready to roll out of the restaurant. One thing I definitely remember about the dessert is that it was very 3-D in a modern artsy kind of way. In my notes, it just says “lots of crags”. And that it was fun to break said modern art. It also had lots of textures. You had your creamy. You had your crunchy. You had your crumbly. And it was loaded with chocolate. It was obviously good.
The meal ended with a visit from the man behind Arroz, Mike Isabella, who with the opening of Arroz now has as many restaurants open in DC as José Andrés (both with 11). He made a pitch for us to try some of his other restaurants around town, to which we all readily agreed after such a spectacular meal. He also definitely didn’t stop by just because Masha insisted to our waiter that he come by. As far as I can remember there were only two negatives worth noting about Arroz (other than their terrible candy bowl). One is that the service was a tiny bit pokey, which is understandable for a restaurant that had been open for literally just a few weeks (I did not realize how trendy we were until after the meal). Our server was super knowledgeable and great, and was very accommodating for our lone vegetarian, but you could just tell they had a few kinks to work out. Second and more importantly is that at one point Masha’s knife was so shiny that there was some serious glare bouncing off into my eyes for a minute or two. But then I moved it and all was good. I can’t reallllly hold either thing against the restaurant too much (though I do still hold a grudge against the knife), so our memorable evening earned Arroz FDCDC’s first 4 out of 4 om noms. Way to rally by dinner time, sis.