Yes, I did just reference a ‘90s boy band. So?
Three other things I’m not embarrassed by: My spectacular Saturday night dance moves, my secret affinity for “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” and the fact that last night I nearly polished off a 12-ounce ribeye at North 4th Street’s newest eatery, The District.
In the past few years, new beer shops, coffee cafés and breweries have been popping up in my NOFO neighborhood. Still, something has been missing. I get my food truck fix from Flytrap Brewing and The Goat & Compass a few blocks down, but a solid (and longstanding) restaurant to match the area’s up-and-coming vibe has been unmistakably absent.
Enter: Luke and Lisa Poulos.
Thanks to these two—now adjacent to NOFO’s chic bottle shop Palate (and previously home to here-and-gone Canapé)—sits The District Kitchen & Cocktails. As the Pouloses embarked upon remodeling and reimagining this space last year, the buzz about the new American-style steakhouse began to spread. After a major flop from Canapé, eyebrows raised and tummies rumbled.
Through the downtown grapevine, I got wind The District was filling up fast on the weekends. To give the food a fair review, I planned my sneak snack attack for a quieter Tuesday evening. I’m pleased to say: Thanks to being the only patrons in the place, the service my boyfriend and I received was top notch from start to finish. Let’s hope the staff’s diligence soars on busier nights, too. Hopefully, The District can keep up with the demand, because, damn, those fried baby potatoes are good.
But, first, cocktails.
We saddled up to the stylish bar and inspected our sipping options. Along with a variety of scratchmade cocktails, The District offers a slew of local brews (Westbrook cans aplenty) and an impressive wine selection. The drinks certainly complement the restaurant’s modern, New York-esque feel. Our friendly bartender introduced himself, asked a few questions, and then got right into the cocktails. My kind of dude. He prided himself on making a mean Old Fashioned (featuring Makers Mark, orange and burlesque bitters) so, naturally, I put him to the test. Each sip was smooth, slightly peppery and tart.
From one recommendation to the next, we also took him up on the calamari to kick start our meal. Two for two. Instead of carelessly tossing a kale leaf onto the plate for garnish, The District’s chef tops the dish with crunchy strings of Daikon radish and sweet pickled red onions. Their vinegary bite provided a perfect acidic balance to the crispy seafood. The coating on each ringlet was light as air and clung to the squid for dear life (as batter should). Every bite was expertly cooked and fresh as could be. Thanks to a zesty zip from a creamy lemon Sriracha, I was able to abandon my go-to calamari citrus shower.
The District prides themselves on their meat, so I brought my steakhouse appetite. I respect a traditional steakhouse serves up dinner the nostalgic way: à la carte. For those who aren’t French (or have never eaten in a restaurant), this means starches and veggies come separate from proteins. While I can certainly appreciate a refined meal, I got the sense The District’s objective is to appear sophisticated without coming off as overly pretentious or unapproachable. For NOFO’s predominantly millennial crowd (filling up their Friday night happy hour with Double IPAs), a pricey dinner might not make it into our frequent agendas. For special occasions, we’re willing to dish out a little extra cash for an exceptional meal, but on a regular basis, there’s a reason we pig out on $6 poutine.
All of that said, I’m pleased to report: The food was fantastic. Hail, Caesar, indeed! The District’s dressing was light but still full-bodied with a heaping amount of fluffy, shaved Parmesan. It gave the greens an additional layer of creaminess. For a light lunch, I would top this bad boy with grilled chicken all day. For added salt, a thin strip of anchovy topped the tower of romaine. Skinny, oblong homemade croutons gave the salad extra texture and herbiness.
Let’s talk taters: specifically, The District fried baby potatoes with crème fraise, chive and bacon. Picture the best potato skins ever. Now imagine eating them while also winning a million dollars and playing with puppies. You’ve just virtually experienced The District’s fried baby potatoes. The tender rounds were delicately crispy, slightly smashed, and puffy as clouds on the inside. For the full experience, I dragged a cream-covered starch through several snips of oniony chives and hitched a rogue bacon morsel along the way.
I brought my boyfriend but considered leaving with the ribeye. The District truly has mastered the art of preparing a phenomenal steak. The meat’s exterior came with a generously seasoned, skillfully seared, crunchy crust. Each slice of the steak knife went through to the medium-rare middle like butter. Even if I hadn’t observed the cross-hatch marks under the mountain of wild mushrooms, I still could have detected the glorious charred flavor from the grill quite easily. The earthy shrooms and sweet, nutty garlic confit could have been a meal on their own. The deep coffee-brown pool of the dish’s red wine reduction was exactly as a steak sauce should be—thick, rich and lined with butter.
The moral of the story: flavor bombs galore.