Ah, the Atlas District — home to so many fine little restaurants and bars; home to too many hungry hipsters, scenesters and revelers. Nowadays, if you’re not prepared to get your grub on by 6 p.m. — even on a Tuesday night — then you’d better be prepared for a two-hour wait to get into one of the hot and reservation-less H Street NE restaurants.
Yet hope is not lost. Welcome Boundary Road, a seasonal, urban-rustic spot between Fourth and Fifth streets that bills itself as a neighborhood restaurant. And they take reservations. Opened in mid-February, Boundary Road is already making a mark on the Washington scene (not just because it hosted President Obama and the first lady mere weeks after opening).
The first half of the restaurant houses a sizable bar, a tall communal table and several two-tops. The back portion is cozy but busy with dining tables and a window into the brightly lit but diminutive kitchen. On weekend nights, when the place is in full swing, the noise level can be a bit much for conversations of a more intimate variety, but the buzz also lends itself to a convivial vibe.
But Boundary Road has style and substance. The kitchen puts out high-caliber food that combines seasonal, local and American cuisine with international influences in interesting but not highfalutin ways. Chef-owner Brad Walker, a Maryland native, has found an ideal balance of quality, eclecticism and affordability that eludes so many other local restaurants.
It’s refreshing to see a menu with items like seared arctic char and duck breast priced in the low $20s; it’s thrilling when the dishes come to the table looking perky and flawlessly cooked. The silvery skin on the blush-colored char one night was a model of crispness for all other fillets served with skin. And the salsa verde, drizzled on the plate, added the perfect bit of acidic tang and herbal subtlety.
Duck breast a la plancha (i.e., cooked on a super-heated flattop griddle) was a hearty affair. A fan of sliced duck breast, its outside seared and its inner flesh a deep pink, rested on a bed of easy polenta with braised fennel and dandelion greens. This was a substantial dish (one could argue it made the arctic char look puny) and, for $22, a great value. Same goes for the (vegetarian-friendly) queso fresco arepa, a large, cheese-stuffed cornmeal “pita” (for lack of a better descriptor), served with a flavorful bean stew ($16).
Appetizers offer similar deals, starting at $5 for an order of skinny-cut fries with a vibrantly flavored and colored curry mayonnaise dip. Rapini salad was a plate of several slender stalks of the bitter green, quickly cooked and then chilled, and topped with zingy pickled shallots and cheese du jour (one time an aged goat cheese; another, a blue).
An über-seasonal offering of ramps, asparagus, wild mushrooms and squash blossoms was like a warm salad served over a slice of grilled bread; it wasn’t evenly seasoned, but it was still a pretty and tasty spring mélange. If you need something to splurge on, calorie- and cost-wise, don’t pass up the foie gras torchon PBJ, unless, of course, you don’t like peanut butter and jelly. This is the PBJ for grown-ups; assembled as a sandwich, and it’s a fatty, sweet, peanut-y delight.
Desserts ($6 each) performed well, too. The apple pie had a lovely, flaky crust and supple, sweet-tart apple filling; cinnamon ice cream was a nice, creamy touch. Stand back for the sugar-dusted zeppole. If you think Mike Isabella is the only one in town who can make a mean Italian fried dough ball, think again. These steaming, tender rounds had a delicately crisp exterior and fragile, custardy interior that was ethereal and completely delicious — no matter how full you thought you were.
Staying true to its neighborhood restaurant ethos, Boundary Road has started serving lunch and a Sunday brunch to boot. With its relatively small but constantly changing menu of reasonably priced apps and entrees, coupled with a well-rounded menu of original cocktails, beers and wines, this restaurant is on the road to success.