In my mind, in my family, in my culture, food is an expression of love. It’s really not even an expression, food is just love. It’s how you show love and how you celebrate love. Almost all of my favorite memories revolve around an extraordinary meal, not always necessarily because of the food (though sometimes yes), but because of the people, the place, the time. My boyfriend and I have celebrated several memories with great meals– we’re both foodies and we have so much to choose from in D.C. For our one year we wanted to do something really special and so we chose Iron Gate.
Everything about it is understated: its location, its online presence, its accolades. I had heard murmurs of good things about its amazing food, excellent service and romantic ambiance so it seemed like the perfect choice. I’ll just start by saying that this was one of the best meals of my life. I’ve waited almost two weeks to review because I wanted to make sure and it really, really was.
We made reservations in the tasting room that offers set 4-course or 6-course menus and optional drink pairings. We were greeted with two glasses of prosecco and a dish of olives. The first thing I noticed was that we were seated near an open kitchen but we couldn’t hear a sound. We had fun watching the prep chefs out front and couldn’t believe how they were doing everything wordlessly. Not once during the evening did we hear the clink of a dish or a pan. It was a testament to the exceptionally trained staff. We were constantly attended to– never had an empty water glass or silverware out of place– and our waiter was unbelievably knowledgeable.
After deciding on the four course + wine we were quickly brought a smattering of small plates. A watermelon, feta, speck, and mint salad; pickled cauliflower and squash; focaccia grilled with cheese and zucchini. We shared a frittata that was probably the most average thing we ate all night, but it was elevated to another level with homemade basil pesto and slivers of Parmesan which had been lightly fried on the bottom– a delightful take on a Parmesan crisp. Our favorite, and perhaps the star of the night, was an octopus salad with a hint of red pepper. Brined and poached it was exceptionally tender with such great flavor. From that point on we felt like we could have been at any restaurant in southern Italy or Greece.
Next came sweetbreads over a bed of kale, mustard seeds and charred peaches, along with squid ink taglierini with sweet blue crab that was accompanied by the playful bite of bottarga and crumbled pistachio. I was hesitant about the sweetbreads, but they were so tender and so flavorful that I could have ordered them myself. The taglierini may have been my favorite dish of the evening. It was sweet and savory and the pistachio was so unexpected, but the perfect addition.
Then a sweet corn risotto with grilled shrimp and feta. The risotto was light and creamy yet full of vegetables to give it an extra bite. We also had lamb two ways in a traditional lamb chop and keftedes served over an olive tapenade, garlic mousse and summer squash. The garlic mousse was divine and the lamb, with a beautiful char, melted in your mouth.
At this point, we could barely think about something sweet, but out came four more dishes. Hazelnut mousse, burrata with a maple fennel and toast, tiramisu, and loukoumades (bite-sized doughnuts). Dessert, for me, is always an afterthought following such a meal; however, nothing disappointed.
The drink pairings were also wonderful. Each glass of either Greek or Southern Italian wine was paired perfectly with every dish and was transformed by the ingredients on the plate. I love wines from these regions because you can sip them on their own and then again after a bite of food and you’ll taste something entirely different. Given my selection of dishes, I had exclusively white wines which, for a red wine devotee, was really the only quasi-disappointing element of the night.
Often I feel like you can spend a lot of money on a meal and leave hungry or feel like you’re eating a piece of art more than anything else. Iron Gate was nothing like this. It was real food crafted beautifully and I would return in a heart beat.
Iron Gate, 1734 N Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20036