Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Night at National Harbor and Bond 45

Disclosure: I receive press releases and have contacts from all sorts of restaurants on a regular basis. Most of the time they are from restaurants I have no experience with, or no interest in. Sometimes they come from restaurants I’ve visited and will read through the release to see what’s going on. The one thing in common, is that they all ask me to share this information with my readers. I’ve made it a point to not write about or endorse something I don’t have firsthand knowledge of. If I can’t tell you what my experience is, I’m not going to blindly talk about an organization. I’m not a journalist or a professional reviewer, but I do want you to know that my opinion is my own. That being said, a few weeks ago I was contacted by a publicist for Bond 45 at National Harbor. My interest was piqued as I have been to their Manhattan location on two separate visits and both visits were wonderful. I’ve shared that information here and here.

This contact was to share information about the steak house’s upcoming pre fixe Thanksgiving dinner. Curious. An Italian restaurant taking on a Thanksgiving. I read through the message on my email two times before I saw that I was actually being invited to their new location to sample one of their signature dishes. Well then! Little ol’ me has been invited to try something at a restaurant I like! This presented a quandary. Could I go, have a free taste of something, which will probably be their best…and then share the experience objectively? Because I had a basis for comparison with my previous visits, I felt I could say yes. So, last night, @DancerinDC and I went to Bond 45 for dinner.

Bond 45
Italian Steak & Seafood
149 Waterfront Street
National Harbor, MD 20745

The first thing I was a bit excited about was that this was our first visit to National Harbor; a massive effort by Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland to bring much needed tourist dollars to the county—to compete with neighboring Old Town Alexandria, Virginia across the river and of course the capital of the United States, Washington, DC. Easily accessible off of the Beltway (495/95) and DC 295, the location is a bit of a challenge for the motor-less citizens and visitors of the region. Buses do visit, but not without a major effort. Metro is nowhere nearby. For now, it’s cars or nothing. And maybe a water-cab? Parking appears to be plentiful with several garages, and at reasonable prices—we paid $5 for 3 hours. This is no downtown DC $20 parking!

We arrived early because I wasn’t sure what to expect for traffic. In the end it took about 20-30 minutes to drive from home, a reasonable drive considering the moderate traffic during the tail-end of evening rush hour. On this particular Monday night at 7pm, National Harbor was almost a ghost town. A few people walking around, dipping in and out of stores on their way to dinner destinations. With time to spare before our 8pm reservation, we popped into a few shops, checked out some of the other restaurants and even walked into the Gaylord National—a massive 2,000 room resort and conference center. MASSIVE! We also took a few minutes to visit The Awakening sculpture that was rudely removed from Washington, DC’s Hains Point. Yes, I’m a little bitter!

I need to give a little shout out to Capital Teas. Our first stop on our pre-dinner adventure was this lovely tea shop that caught our eye with a full wall of glass jars full of teas for sniffing and testing. We walked out with a tin of Earl Grey and a Rooibos Red Chai. I’m drinking the Red Chai now and it’s delish!

All in all, I think National Harbor is certainly in its advanced infancy stage. I hope our local residents find it and visit for shopping and dining. They do need something for entertainment though, to make it a full destination stop. But maybe there is and I don’t know about it.

Well, now it’s time for dinner!

As I mentioned earlier, it appeared to be a slower night in National Harbor. There was no wait to get in the door and we were immediately greeted by Elle. On our way to a table in the main dining room, we stopped in the galley for Elle to point out a few items. The antipasta selection at this location is smaller than in Manhattan. The focus here is more on beef, which they dry age on site. We were seated on a long banquette in the main dining area. The high ceilings and dark walls were covered with a variety of non-descript artwork.

Within a minute of sitting down and cracking open the menu, a flurry of people started coming by! There was Sean-Michael, a manager and Dave, another manager. Our waiter was Riadh (sounds like Riyad). Throughout the evening this team, including Elle, would stop by frequently to ask how we were, ask what they could get for us, or to just bring the food to our table.

The first thing we received were flutes of Villa Jolanda Prosecco from Veneto, Italy. This sparkling wine is my new favorite. Villa Jolanda is my best girl. We’re going to be going steady! Light, crisp, effervescent with soft hints of apples. Yum. At this point, we had barely had time to crack open our menus, but we were completely engrossed in the bubbly and hadn’t noticed the large popovers that arrived at the table.

After regaining our composure from the flirtatious Jolanda, we started looking through the menu when the kitchen sent out a large tray of three of the restaurants signature appetizers. Wow!

First was the bowl of meatballs, a blend of beef, pork and veal, served in a rich, chunky tomato sauce and a few points of toast. These were ridiculously tender and rich in flavor. The meatballs were about the size of Roma tomatoes and there were three of them. Along with the popovers, this alone would make a nice meal for one person. (about $10)

The second treat were two very large Fravioli Grandi, large, house-made ravioli filled with a mozzarella and stracchino cheese blend, fried and served with salumi and prosciutto. Hot & cheesey gooey, these were delightful. I loved the crispy texture against the soft cheese. The one downside, and I’ve seen this elsewhere with larger raviolis, too much outer rim of dough/pasta—keeping the delicious filling more centrally located. I didn’t notice as much when I spooned some of the extra meatball tomato sauce on them. (about $15, I think)

The final appetizer was stupid good! It was ridiculous. It was…I could barely talk or do anything else while it was on the plate. House-made Burrata with beefsteak tomatoes and more prosciutto. Burrata is a ricotta filled ball of mozzarella! Ricotta Filled! Ball of Mozzarella! Did you get that? Ricotta filled ball of mozzarella. STFU! Soft, buttery, creamy, fresh…. And when paired with the tomato and prosciutto. It was over. Done. Call the police, Bond 45 is going to kill me. (about $20)

Are you stuffed? I was! And apparently, we were only getting started. Oh, and at this point the only things we actually ordered were glasses of wine. I had a very nice Chianti Classico Riserva, 2005 Tomaiolo from Tuscany. @DancerinDC had glass of Primitivo, which he enjoyed; 2009 Matane from Puglia.

So at this point we’re loaded full of food and are looking at which entrees to order. I’m still a little surprised, but for an Italian restaurant the menu leans heavily on meat and seafood. But hey, if you’re going to do something, do it right and don’t water it down with something else. After some conversation, I decided to order the 8oz Filet Mignon (about $35) and @DancerinDC waffled back and forth on a few items. I finally said, it’s very unlikely I’ll make that so order it. He ordered the Slow Braised Lamb Shank Ossobuco (about $40).

We’ve enjoyed some awesome appetizers and are enjoying our wine while we relax before our entrees come. WRONG! Here comes the Lobster Risotto with shrimp, clams and mussels (about $25). More food!!! You’re kidding me. The look of disbelief on my face was partly—I can’t possibly eat more food and partly I’m not a fan of seafood! I like shrimp most of the time. I rarely have lobster, but I prefer is smothered in butter. Clams and mussels are out of the question for me. But I’m willing to try what’s prepared for me. I wouldn’t order something like this on my own, but if the restaurant is sharing, I’ll try. It was pretty good. The flavors of seafood and tomato were strong. There was some basil in the risotto, but you couldn’t really taste it. The shrimp were great. Lobster a wee touch over cooked. @DancerinDC tried the clams, which he said dissolved into a salt flavor and for him, as well as me, the mussels just weren’t going to happen. Overall, very enjoyable. The risotto is partially cooked in advance of the diner ordering it. Personally knowing the time and attention it takes to prepare risotto, I would never fault the kitchen for whatever shortcuts they take, but there were some lumps of rice stuck together and not stirred in with the rich tomato/seafood flavors. Perhaps a little more time preparing the dish before sending it out to the table. Where the waiter then serves from the sauce pan. This dish is intended for two people.

We were still hoping for a rest before our entrees came along, but that wasn’t too be. After the risotto was cleared—our entrees were delivered, with two huge sides! My steak was presented on a nice clean plate with some greenery on the side. Simple. @DancerinDC received a massive platter with his Ossobuco and a small side of Sardinian couscous with roasted peppers and capers. The sides were Roasted Parmesan Potatoes (about $10) and Grilled Asparagus Parmigiana (about $10). For some reason, I thought the potatoes were Rosemary Parmesan Potatoes. Nope, no rosemary…but it would be nice with some! The potatoes were either boiled or baked, jackets removed, then tossed with some oil or butter, grated parm and roasted until crispy. Initially I thought they were dropped in a fryer as they had more of a texture of a French Fry. They were tender, with a great flavor. Just a few was enough to satisfy the potato part of “Steak and Potato!” The Asparagus had great flavor and the Parmigiana was a Parm-based béchamel that was tossed under the broiler for a minute to brown. The only downside with the asparagus was that it is not in season and the thicker ends were a bit fibrous.

And our entrees? I don’t order steak out very often. Mostly because I don’t trust a lot of restaurants to make a good steak. Unless I am at a restaurant that makes it their business to make a good steak. This filet was wonderful. I asked for medium-rare and I got medium rare. It was seasoned perfectly with just the right pinch of salt. Juicy, tender and melt in my mouth perfect. I had no right to finish that morsel of beef, but I did and it was worth every ounce! @DancerinDC’s ossobuco was huge! He loved it, but couldn’t hardly make a dent in the braised delight. I’m not a fan of lamb. In fact, I just don’t eat lamb if I can help it. There has only been one time before when I liked lamb, in Ireland! I had a bit of this. It didn’t taste like lamb. It tasted of wine, tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, warmth, comfort and home. Very well done.

And Done! We pushed back and caught our breath.

Oh no. Elle brought us shots of Limoncello and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. We noticed throughout the night that all tables received the shot and cookies. The cookie was soft and chewy and just the right size for a sweet taste. The limoncello was pretty good. I’ve never had it before, so I have no idea what to compare it too. Mostly, I thought of drinking a Lemonhead!

But what would dinner be without two giant desserts? Tiramisu and Tortoni. The Tiramisu was classic. Light as air and a huge slice. The only downside I’d say…and this is just me…but tiramisu on its own can be transcendent. It needs nothing more than some luscious cream, coffee and booze soaked lady fingers and a heavy dusting of cocoa powder. Here, they gilded the lily as it were and went a step too far. Look at your creation, take a step back and ask what accessory you can take off. Fudge sauce! Great tasting fudge sauce, but a step too far. It wasn’t needed.

The Tortoni was described as an amaretto and orange ice cream with caramel sauce and toasted almonds. It was awesome. A great dessert for someone looking for an alternative to chocolate. The ice cream was frozen a little too much. The creaminess you expect from ice cream wasn’t there. In fact, I think it might have been more of an ice milk instead. Regardless of whether it was ice cream or ice milk, the flavors were a great combo.

We were completed defeated. The food won!

There was no room for coffee or a post-dinner cocktail. Sad-face!

Bond 45 delivered an amazing evening. The food was top-notch and the service was incredible. I have found it to be a rare occasion in the DC Metro region when restaurant staff actually wants to treat you right. Chef Stephanie, Elle, Dave, Sean-Michael and Riadh were all so generous with their time and talents, I can’t say thank you enough. Yes, our meal was comped, but the attentive service we witnessed at other tables didn’t appear to be anything less than what we were experiencing.

At the end of the day, I would go back to Bond 45. You can make it a special occasion dinner and spend a pretty penny (Seafood, steak, sides and wine). But I think you could also make a reasonable meal for much less (a large appetizer and a drink). Or just drinks and dessert for the final touch on a date night!

They also have a great looking menu for Thanksgiving Dinner if you are looking for a place to go. Six pre-fixe courses for $65 for adults and $35 for children. You get prosecco, choice or soup or salad; Lobster risotto; an entrée of your choice: Turkey with fixins, Roast Baby Pig, Red Snapper, Filet Mignon, Veal Chop Parmigiana or the Lamb Ossobucco. You end the meal with a choice of pie or mouse and fresh pineapple and strawberries. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Check them out, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Having been to the Manhattan location twice and now to National Harbor, I think the new location will live up to the high standards set in New York City. Thanks Bond 45 for coming to Maryland and Prince George’s County. We’re thrilled to have you!


DancerInDC said...

I can't add much, other than to say it was a wonderful meal and the service was impeccable. And that was not just for us - it was noticeably superior for everyone dining around us.

This is truly a special place for a special occasion. The staff emphasized that they want you to feel like you've been invited into their home. So do accept the invitation and enjoy.


Faye said...

I love Burrata! I never knew that's what it was though....


Aimee @ Smiling Mama said...

Thanks for the detailed review! Sounds great. We've been meaning to get to National Harbor for a night out and it sounds like Bond 45 is the place to go!