July 28th, 2008: Mother and Daughter Do Dinner Downtown
The experienced diner knows that going to a restaurant is a gamble; will the chef live up to the expectation? Will each dish be as good as the last? Will you want that next bite? An enthusiastic eater on the other hand, sips her Spanish wine and munches on her freshly baked flat bread with seasoned pumpkin seed spread ready to enjoy the meal. I am both, food lover and opinionated eater. But I always give credit where credit is due, and last week chef owner Jeff Tunks blew my socks off at his Latin American Restaurant Ceiba. From start to finish the meal was lovely. Accompanied by my stylish and adventuresome mother, we tasted the heat and passion of Latin America through five self-designed courses.
We opened our meal with a sampling of ceviches each its own unique dish. I favored the Clasico, fresh lime juice, red onion, cilantro and picante pepper—crisp, fresh and pure. The lightness of this course lifted my palate, preparing it for what came next, arguably one of the best dishes I have eaten in the last year.
Tunks' chili relleno, is a masterpiece. The chef stuffs a large poblano pepper with three kinds of cheese and confit rabbit meat, then sets the lightly fried package atop “blistered tomatillo salsa and grilled corn-black bean relish.” Not one flavor is out of place; the dish sings in perfect harmony. The Conchinita Pibil Yucatan Style ran a close second to the relleno. It boasted incredibly succulent pork, sweet pan-fried plantain and a thick corn pupusa to soak up the juice. A red onion slaw played a cooling staccato to the dish’s warm Latin rhythm.
After salivating over the final drop of my relleno, and before I’d tasted the soft pork, the grilled octopus course was a disappointment. Smothered by a black olive aioli, the normally flavorful sea creature lost its essence and became mealy. The dessert too, didn’t live up to its potential— the smoked apricots should have permeated the eggy flan, but they were sadly cast to the side letting the rather run of the mill custard try to lead the dish. These two dishes however, could hardly detract from the evening.
Ceiba will go down in my books, and the chili relleno may even garner a place on my personal “best dishes ever” list. I’d love to make a return trip: the decor is inviting, the service is top notch and the food bursts with flavor. See if you can spot me some night, I’ll be sitting by the window munching on their homemade caramel corn as I wait for my check.
Click here to see the menu
701 14th Street, N.W.,
Washington DC 20005