We celebrated my 30th birthday over Memorial Weekend. Neil planned the celebration to be on that Saturday, so Friday night we wanted to go to a relaxing venue to have some wine and nibbles with a few friends. Cork fit the bill. It is cozy, relaxing, and the ambiance created by the dimmed lights, and brick walls clearly reflects the “wine bar” theme. The space appears to be very small when you first enter. But, you soon discover that they have a lot more seating in the back and upstairs.
When we got there, we were still waiting on a couple of friends, so we started off with some wine and cheese at the main communal bar (once the seats finally opened up). It’s a nice size bar and accommodates a large number of people comfortably. Also, there’s an extension to the bar that can accommodate a party of 5. In fact, that’s the area we got while waiting. Choosing a wine is a task...very extensive list. We ended up with a nice Sangiovese. Ordering the cheeses was equally difficult. Since it was very packed, the bartender/waitress behind the bar was less than helpful on what cheeses to choose. So, we picked at random. The cheeses come with bread and some delicious cumin spiced nuts. We especially enjoyed the aged manchego and soft goat cheeses.
Once our friends arrived, we were shortly seated at our table, which ended up being right by the semi-open kitchen. It was fun watching the kitchen staff/chefs behind the window executing their assembly line. The room we were in was also very cozy and private. Cork offers a series of wine flights, but we stuck with a couple bottles of the Sangiovese the remainder of the evening. I particularly wasn’t interested in doing a wine flight that night. I’m sure it would be fun though, and the best way to sample the offerings. For food, Cork offers a series of small cold and hot plates that are all meant for sharing. It’s not a very expansive menu in comparison to other wine bars I’ve been to, but it doesn’t need to be. The selection was decent and there’s something for everyone. We ordered the following:
- Sautéed Wild Mushrooms w/ Madeira- Everyone at the table enjoyed this dish. I thought it was tasty, but I would have liked some caramelization on the mushrooms. It would have given a greater depth to the flavor. I could taste the Madeira, though. The dish was little watery (maybe also from the lack of sautéing the mushrooms). A touch of cream would have helped that.
- Duck Confit over Polenta- The polenta was creamy and delicious. The duck was very tender to the bite. It was a little salty though. I would have preferred a sweet contrast on it.
- Potato & Leek Gratin w/ caramelized onions, gruyere, bacon- Need I say more with that combo of ingredients?
- Brioche Sandwich w/ prosciutto, fontina, egg- This was the favorite amongst our selection of dishes. It was perfectly crisp and a very tasty little sandwich. The runny egg was a nice touch.
- Lemon Pepper dusted Calamari and Rock Shrimp- It had a bit more breading than I would have liked, but it the calamari had a nice texture, and not chewy at all. And who doesn’t like fried food? I don’t recall their being on any rock shrimp on the plate.
- House Cured Trout- Refreshing and good. Nothing stood out with it though.
- Flat Iron Steak w/ brussel sprouts, pancetta- The steak was nicely seared and tender. There were minimal seasonings. The sprouts were yummy…I’m sure they were cooked in that pancetta grease!
We ended with a flourless chocolate torte. Nobody at the table really cared for it. It was a little dry, and I didn’t like the flavor of the chocolate that was used in it.
I recommend ordering about 3-4 plates per 2 people. The food comes out as it’s prepared, so it’s very staggered. We literally got each item separately. It worked out fine though. The sizes were decent enough for all 5 of us to have a good taste. The prices were also decent for what you get. I didn’t find anything to be overpriced on the menu.
The service was mediocre. Our waiter often forgot the items we ordered, but as soon as we reminded him, they were brought out shortly. He even brought out one of our dishes twice. Overall, he was just very “forgetful”, but equally apologetic for his memory lapses. However, he did manage to get the bill right!
So, my overall view of Cork…I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I’m not sure I’d go back anytime in the near future. The food was decent, some solid, some mediocre, but nothing really blew me away. It’s just not worth hiking out for since I live out in Vienna. Also, it's location is a little isolated. There isn't much around there, and the now lively U Street corridor is about a 5-10 minute walk. However, if you live in the area, it’s a wonderful neighborhood eat and drink.
Reservations are not taken, but they have a call-ahead policy, which is how we got our table so quickly. Just call 30 minutes ahead and they will tell you a wait time and put you on the list.
There is a greater emphasis on the wine than the food (understandably so). We ended up moving to the front bar after dinner for some dessert wine, which was much better than our previous dessert. Next time I go, I’ll give the wine flights a try.
1720 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009