We’ve been in DC since the beginning of the week. Our major agenda here is non-stop visits to the various Smithsonian museums with the boys and trying to eat reasonably well, with lunches in the vicinity of the museums and dinners not too far from our hotel by the Convention Center. For the meals I received a number of excellent recommendations from members of the excellent DonRockwell.com forums—easily the best resource for DC area dining tips (and more). Among the places mentioned within walking distance of our hotel was Baby Wale. My kids were very excited when I told them we were going there and then less excited when they learned that the name referred not to infant cetaceans but to a type of fabric. Now, like them, you may be wondering why anyone would choose to name their restaurant Baby Wale. The answer is that this is the second restaurant opened (some 5-6 years ago) by the proprietors of a long-standing restaurant named Corduroy. That restaurant is in fact next door and is a fairly formal affair. Baby Wale is an altogether more informal place, from decor/feel to the casual livery of the servers to the menu. It’s not exactly a family restaurant—really more of a pub—but the menu worked really well for our family. And early’ish on a Monday night (well, I don’t know if 7.30 is that early) it was perfectly fine with two small kids. Herewith the details on our meal.
The restaurant is very large and quite strikingly so: it is long, very long with very high ceilings. Looking around cursorily at older reviews I see references to the space originally having been planned for apartments. I’m not sure if in its previous avatar it was a club but the walls have been left (or rendered) in a distressed state with lots of posters for musical acts on them. One part of the space also features a little rocking horse or goat (we couldn’t tell) by strings of flickering lights for some reason. There’s a very nice table for six by the large windows in the front as you enter and then there’re a series of different seating areas. You can choose to sit at the long, undulating bar. There are also some tables directly in front of the bar. We were first seated there but asked if we could be moved to a brighter space. This brighter space is in the rear between the bar and the kitchen. On the second floor is a space reserved for group events. The tables everywhere are informally set with brown paper instead of tablecloths and rolled up towels for napkins.
Well, we sat down and perused the menu and got down to business. The menu is divided into sections named “Small Things” and “Bigger Things”—though in practice not everything in “Small Things” turned out to be very small. The food is the contemporary hipster-casual American pastiche of dishes from various vernacular traditions: pupusas, lumpia, hot dogs, fried chicken, ramen etc. We asked for some guidance on portion size and our server suggested we order a few things first and see how much more we might want to eat.
We started with orders of their lumpia (Filipino Style Springrolls on the menu) and Buffalo Mozzarella Porcupine. The former were very good and were enjoyed by the very young and the very middle-aged alike. The “buffalo mozzarella porcupine” turned out to be mozzarella encased in crispy shards of phyllo and sat down upon a pool of tomato sauce slicked with basil oil. The kids really liked the presentation; the adults wondered if a less complicated caprese might not have been a better idea (as I said, we are very middle-aged). Next up the New Jersey Hotdog and the Grilled Pork Ribs. Both of these plates were hits with both generations. The beef and pork hotdog (massive) was very good but it was the herbed fries that we liked the best. The ribs were tender without being too tender and the sesame slaw that came with them was excellent.
We could have stopped here and gone on to dessert but we decided to try their Fried Chicken from the “Bigger Things” section and also the Zucchini Pupusas from the “Small Things” section. The fried chicken was dynamite—the best thing we ate; the chicken was moist and the breading and frying was immaculate (and it came with more of those fries). The pupusas were tasty enough but they were large, way larger than the other “Small Things” we’d ordered and pushed us over the brink and away from dessert.
For a look at the space and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on service and value and to see what’s coming next.
Oh yes, I had a glass of rioja and the missus got their Summer Spritz with Aperol etc., which she quite enjoyed. The drinks and all the food above came to exactly $99 or about $120 with tip. That’s not exactly a cheap meal for four when two of the four are 8 and 10 years old but it seemed like good value to us for what the food actually was (as it happens, this has more or less been the tariff at every meal we’ve had so far in DC). The service was very good as well. I’ve no idea what it is like when they’re much busier but our server was friendly, helpful and present whenever we needed him.
In sum, I would recommend Baby Wale highly to anyone else looking for a family meal with enough on the menu to likely please everyone—with the caveat that it could well get very loud there when it’s busy. And really I’d recommend it to anyone looking for good food in a casual setting. Thanks much to Pat on DonRockwell.com for suggesting it!
Up next from DC: a quick and even more informal barbecue lunch at Hill Country. That’ll probably be next week (by which point we’ll probably have been in New York for a week).