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1310 New Hampshire Avenue, NW
Washington, DC
(202) 861-1310

Ensconced within the rather pedestrian-looking Hotel Madera, Firefly is anything but. This is very much a neighborhood restaurant, exceedingly popular, charmingly intimate, and always bustling.

In point of fact, when the joint is jumpin' - which is most of the time - you can't quite shake the feeling that diners are packed in like sardines. And you see everything here... from couples... to mothers blatantly (as opposed to discreetly) breast feeding infants... to fathers balancing toddlers on their shoulders - yes, children are both seen AND heard - to the usual (and unusual) assortment of sneaker-clad tourists. But that's all part of the fun... And I can say without equivocation that the quality of the contemporary American cuisine will more than compensate for any attacks of claustrophobia.

Starters include such interesting possibilities as deviled eggs spruced up with smoked paprika, grilled red wine-poached octopus, and salt-roasted baby beets companioned by goat cheese, Sicilian pistachios, micro arugula, and a provocative fig vinaigrette. Then, of course, there are a number of items listed under the "Urban Picnic" rubric - including a house-made charcuterie and selection of American artisanal cheeses - which may be shared with other members of the table or consumed solo. All are excellent choices and highly recommended.

... But keep your eyes peeled for the daily specials, which inevitably yield a host of gastronomic rewards. Recently sampled, for instance, was an incredible appetizer of chilled asparagus embraced by wafer-thin slices of Virginia ham and artistic smattering of spirited poblano aîoli. The crowning touch (literally) was a soft-boiled egg that had been rolled in breadcrumbs and then deep fried to a golden brown. When pierced, it added an entirely new dimension to this extraordinary presentation.

When it comes to entrées, if you're a soft shell crab fan, this is definitely the place to indulge. The crispy crustaceans are done up Anson Mills grits, roasted asparagus, tempting tomato-tarragon purée, and pickled ramps. Continuing in the seafood vein, the interior of the pan-roasted halibut is as pure white as the driven snow and perfectly complemented by a green garbanzo bean purée, turnips, and fiddlehead ferns.

The restaurant's signature dish, however, will undoubtedly have the carnivores among us salivating. It is a mini pot roast, which arrives at table perched on a pillow of Yukon gold mashed potatoes. The meat is sumptuously fork tender and the roasted shallot jus positively addictive. An absolute must for meat eaters.

And speaking of red meat... the restaurant's ½ pound hamburger is certainly not to be dismissed out of hand. It comes replete with a coating of Vermont sharp cheddar, apple wood smoked bacon, and all the appropriate accoutrements. Definitely first-rate.

Among the side dishes, the mac 'n three cheese is good, though not terribly exciting; the au gratin potatoes are, in my opinion, infinitely better. The Parmesan truffle fries, on the other hand, are spectacular, an absolute sine qua non... worth both the added expense ($9.00) and the additional calories.

Desserts generally live up to their illustrious predecessors. The Nutella (hazelnut spread) cheesecake sports an addictively crumbly hazelnut graham cracker crust, cushion of marshmallow whip, and consummatory mango purée. The peanut butter ice cream sandwich with an artistic smatter of bananas Foster sauce and crumbled peanut praline was a treat for the eye... and would have been so for the palate had it had sufficient time to recover from its gelid sojourn in the fridge before putting in an appearance at table.

If you should happen to stop in for lunch - as we did on two occasions - I heartily recommend either the grilled chicken Cobb salad or the portobello mushroom Reuben. The former incorporates crumbled bacon, avocado, tomato, diced fried egg, and blue cheese in a tantalizing blue cheese dressing; the latter substitutes sliced Portobello mushrooms for corned beef, throws in sauerkraut, gruyere cheese, splash of Thousand Island dressing, and buries the mouth-watering combo between gently toasted slices of marble rye.

By the way, Firefly is also open for breakfast and Sunday brunch.

The Artful Diner
May 2010

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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