RW Review: Lunch at Ceiba

In the third of our four-part series on DC’s late summer orgy of prix fixing and harried service, your intrepid editor once again ventured into the field for a little Restaurant Week enjoyment. (Aaaaand that’s enough third person.)

Where did I go? Ceiba. Part of the conglomerate of restaurants that includes DC Coast, TenPenh and Acadiana, I had heard good things. My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened, however, by a friend’s report that TenPenh’s RW menu had been less than thrilling; unfortunately, I learned this on Thursday, one day before our reservation – there was no way I was going to find a replacement. And so off we went – filled with either trepidation (myself) or indifference (my fellow diners). I guess it all depends on whether you’re eating just for the act or for its larger (blogging) implications.

You should know that Ceiba, unlike these restaurants, is not extending its Restaurant Week promotions. By the time you read this, there will be no prix fixe options available until January. But I think this review serves a purpose anyway: the Restaurant Week experience seems relatively constant across multiple events, and if you remember this exists in January, it could be a helpful guide.

And so the question here is: who made the bigger mistake, myself for going to Ceiba during RW, or you for missing it?

One of the biggest complaints most people have during Restaurant Week is the service. It tends to be rushed, as restaurants often have big crowds and lots of reservations, and want to turn tables at least twice during lunch and probably four times during dinner. Luckily, I’m a flexible eater, time-wise (a legacy of my recent college graduation) and so I’ve managed to miss most of that mess. When I went to Bistro Bis last Thursday, my party ate at 11:45am; this time we ate at 1:30. So this time, we dealt with some serious crowding problems as we waited for our table: Ceiba’s lobby was mobbed. I watched a tourist family come in off the street and enquire about getting a table for lunch: the poor hostess gave them a completely incredulous look – I’m sure that they found an Au Bon Pain or something that worked for them.

Once we actually got our table, however, things went swimmingly. We had plenty of time to finish our meal; unlike Bistro Bis, nobody hovered, or brought our check too early, or tried to clear our plates with food still on them.

I ordered the yellow tomato gazpacho, while my friends sampled the two different ceviche options on the menu: traditional Peruvian and shrimp. While we waited, we snacked on crispy flatbreads served with an excellent red pepper tapenade. I thought my soup was tasty – it was deconstructed, just a bowl of artfully arranged tomatoes, tomato sorbet and crabmeat, onto which our waiter poured a cup of yellow tomato puree. Generally I think deconstruction is overly precious – focus more on the taste of the food, please – but this was inoffensive, and the soup itself was quite tasty; the tomato sorbet being a highlight. In fact, I could have just had a bowl of the sorbet by itself. Between this meal and the lychee-rose sorbet at Rasika, RW was a good time for Italian-style iced desserts. That is one thing I can say for sure.

For my entree I had pumpkin-crusted tilapia. Tilapia can be exceedingly hit-or-miss. I have an affinity for it because it can be farmed sustainably (its a herbivorous fish), but often it takes on a slightly muddy taste, and the texture is so light it can really disappear into a dish. This tilapia, however, was quite tasty, though I would put a lot of that flavor on the specific preparation. As I mentioned, the Tilapia was crusted in pumpkin seeds, which I would suspect were prepared like pepitas: toasted, then dusted with brown sugar, cumin and chili powder. It was plated on a bed of “fufu mash” which Wikipedia tells me is a yam porridge of West African descent, often cut with plantains. Well, whatever it was, it was tasty.

My friends had the Jerk spiced Salmon and the Masa-crusted softshell crab, which they both reported as tasty. I tried the salmon; it was perfectly acceptable, though I’ve certainly had better. Neither the fish nor the spice rub was particularly flavorful, and I found the salmon somewhat overcooked.

I don’t really have anything to say about dessert. I had the key lime pie, while my friends both had the chocolate-espresso cake. The pie was supposed to be topped with a “sangria coulis” – maybe it was, but I didn’t taste anything but lime. Similarly, the chocolate-espresso cake was much more heavily wieghted towards the chocolate than the espresso.

Bottom line – I don’t think I made a mistake by going, but missing Ceiba is not something you would regret, either. On any other week, my meal would have cost me upwards of $35, so I would consider this a pretty good deal. Would I consider this a RW destination? That, I think is a pretty difficult claim. Save your love for Rasika.

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