Salads? Not really. Light? Eh, not so much. Delicious, varietal, creative, meaty in the most sinful ways possible? Yes.
Opened in early 2014 by the brains behind Neighborhood Restaurant Group, The Partisan provides a great place for gathering with friends to share a charcuterie board (they have an extensive and very detailed selection of sliced meats, cheeses, pates, etc), or sitting down to sample some of their smaller plate options. Or go big and get a few friends and split a whole pig head. Yes that’s a thing, and yes, it comes to your table as a whole pig head. Not for the faint of heart, but then again, who doesn’t consider picking at jowl meat and eye sockets a good time.
The menu does change often, so what is listed below may not be available all the time.
Starting with their extremely long list of meats is advised, and easy as they have broken them into categories. The menu has groupings such as “bright”, “herbal and floral”, “spicy hot”, and “smoky” just to name a few. It’s priced, and you order, by the ounce.
We opted for two boards to start. The first containing black truffle infused bologna, pastrami style beef heart, traditional pate and foie gras.
Bologna is underrated and this bologna should help change that. The blended meat is velvety in it’s fat content, smooth in the mouth, and the black truffle gave it a earthy taste that was addictive.
Both the pate and foie gras were outstanding. If you like these typically, get them. You won’t regret it. House made and it shows.
The pastrami style beef heart was a show stopper. Meaty, lean, and smoky – certainly great for heart beginners.
The second board contained a cotto style salami, coppa, and a prosciutto of sorts.
While the exact names escape, the flavors have not. Fatty, salty, and rich; spiced when appropriate and indicated, good quality sliced meats should never surprise or disappoint and these did neither.
Bonus, you get these warm, fresh baked mini-Italian style breads with the charcuterie boards to eat on the side, or make mini-meat sliders if you wish.
For small plates, a mixture of stinging nettles and kale, fried to perfection, topped with fried onion straws was a textural delight. Similar to the famed fried spinach/kale dish at Rasika and other of Ashok’s restaurants, the crisp texture evaporated as the warmth from your mouth dissolved the leafs. A perfect cleanse after the meat boards.
Next, squid ink buccantini with sliced squid bodies and a razor clam bread crumb topping served in the shell. The presentation was beautiful and the taste was spot on. Squid ink is certainly salty, and tastes of the ocean, not at all fishy, as it should be. The razor clams chopped and mixed with breadcrumbs provided a nice textural contrast, and made for a nice presentation, but they weren’t necessary. This isn’t a negative, and while they didn’t detract, the dish stood perfectly fine on it’s own.
The steak tartar was very good. Mustard seed, fresh herbs and onion provided a nice accompaniment to the velvety smooth texture of the fine beef. The large egg on top, while a tad bit overcooked (as it took a solid cut with a knife to part the yolk which failed to immediately run all over the tartar like a waterfall – as it should). Slight egg issue aside, very good tartar.
Perhaps the most creative dish was a seafood option we chose. A perfectly seared scallop over a creamy sweet corn runny polenta (for lack of a specific term) with infused lemon zest. This was accompanied by large fava beans, grilled baby octopus tentacles, and watercress. We were very skeptical on paper to say the least, however the sweet corn played off the natural sweetness of the scallop, the octopus legs were charred which provided a nice balance, and the fava beans and watercress where just vegetative and bitter enough to round everything out.
Ending on a high note was the rabbit ragu. Thick ribbons of house made parpadelle and a smaller spiral pasta were enveloped in a rich, unctuous braised rabbit sauce that was comforting, hearty, and warm. Served in a small cast iron skillet, the hot pasta with bread crumb/Parmesan topping was so elegantly simple and contained everything we were looking for to end the meal on a very high note.
The Partisan brings much needed revitalization to a relatively stagnant little corner of Downtown/Penn Quarter DC. The menu has something for everyone, and inside is their flagship deli and sandwich counter, The Red Apron Butchery (read their review here).
Make this your next downtown happy hour, and be sure to stay for the food.