Art and Soul (Washington, DC)

Every year we do a “Death March” in which we visit a large city, and hike our way through it visiting different tourist sites, and checking out the local food options, usually with around 20 miles of hiking. This April, the destination was Washington, DC. But we arrived two days before the March, pulling into Union Station at 8pm. Being hungry, we decided to check out the area around Union Station for dinner. While I’ve been to Chinatown several times, I was looking for something a bit different, and it wasn’t very far from Union Station that we found Art and Soul.

Art and Soul was started by Chef Art Smith, who I actually enjoyed watching on his appearances on Top Chef Masters, and the main goal of Art and Soul is to bring together Southern-influenced cooking with DC-area ingredients, and serve it up with some quality beverages. The day-to-day operation is by Chef Wes Morton from Louisiana, who also brings some good Louisiana flavors to the table as well. But it’s not just about the food: they extend this to their cocktail list, which has some rather inventive cocktails that focus on local ingredients. One of the better examples of this was my “Pineapple Express” with pineapple-infused cachaça, fennel, cucumber, black pepper, and pineapple. An unusual combination, especially since you don’t normally see fennel in a cocktail, but here it actually worked quite well with both the cachaça and the pineapple. Carol’s drink was the “Beet it”, with Bulliet Rye, Four Roses Bourbon, St. Germain, Lemon, beet syrup, and mezcal, and it was also a very flavorful cocktail. For a restaurant, the cocktails should complement the food, and here they were off to a good start.

When our appetizer, the charcuterie plate, showed up, it was almost one of those “shock and awe” moments. This wasn’t just one of those simple plates with a few slices of meat, cheese, and maybe a small pot of pate, but instead, this was a most impressive array of food, including some excellent lardo, some wonderfully flavorful head cheese, some deliciousy nutty lonza, homemade crackers, and even a jar of excellent house made pickles. Everything here was excellent, and quite frankly, for the $20 this plate cost us, I’d go back to Art and Soul for this item alone, since it even outshone one of my previous favorites, the charcuterie plate from Home Hill Inn.

Moving on to the main course, Carol’s pan-roasted snapper was no slouch, either. A very nicely seared and crisped slab of snapper, served up with couscous, crawfish, and fennel puree, this was a success both on the seafood side, as well as on the Southern food side, with the couscous having a rich and flavorful crawfish taste to it.

Myself, I got the Confit Crisped Pork Belly and Pig Head Ravioli. Also a great combination: the pork belly was very nicely done up as confit, and then crisped up with a torch to give the delicious sort of crispy pork skin that I usually don’t get in the US (indeed, the last pork skin this memorable was at The Woolpack in England). The ravioli was also filled with a really nice medley of pork in a nicely crisped ravioli. Combined, this was a stunningly delicious meal of pork.

Considering that Art and Soul was a more-or-less random destination for us picked for convenience, I was pleasantly surprised at how good the cocktails and food were, and I’d be happy to come back and give them a try for dinner, or to sit outside on their pleasant patio. It’s definitely one of the gems for the Union Station area.

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