The people: Wise to the idea that fine dining is fizzling, Newton’s Table owner and executive chef Dennis Friedman reinvented his Elm Street restaurant with a timelier trend: barbecue. Friedman, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who’s worked with some of the world’s top toques, was previously co-owner and chef at Bezu restaurant in Potomac, the town where he was born and raised. David Smelson, a restaurant industry veteran who covets ‘cue, is acting as a consultant.
The place: Hard to say at this point, as the five-week-old restaurant is still transitioning from a rather nondescript white tablecloth place to a barbecue joint. Right now, the only nods are some whimsical plaques of hogs, but gradually, Friedman hopes to incorporate more vintage signs, wagon wheels, reclaimed wood and exposed brick, plus old barn doors to replace the wall-sized waterfall.
The food: Making good barbecue is not a quick study, and after sampling the pulled pork, brisket, ribs and chicken, it seems as if Friedman is still on a learning curve.Spending time in a smoker fueled with apple wood and gas (to keep the temperature consistent, if necessary), those standbys somehow ended up tasting more like plain roasted meats than earthy and smoky barbecue. Side dishes such as coleslaw, baked beans, smoked potatoes, collard greens and onion rings often lacked spark and flavor like their main course companions. And of the three barbecue sauces, two (one with an Asian flair, another mustard-based) seemed to clash rather than complement, while the promising house sauce, a North Carolina riff, could be improved with a bit more heat than sweet. The best dish I tried was the brisket burger; a loosely-packed combination of 20 percent smoked brisket and 80 percent ground chuck. It’s the sleeper hit on the menu.
The bottom line: A work in progress, but so far, where there’s fire, there’s not enough smoke.
4917 Elm St., Bethesda, 301-718-0550, www.bethesdabbq.com
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