Dining and Dating Halloween Style: Bandolero
It is Halloween season and unless you are a skinny dipping coed in a horror film, love is likely not in the air. In fact, I would bet money that this week you are probably giving more thought to your Halloween costume (Honey Boo Boo is not a costume, it is a plague upon society) than you are your own next date. I realized that I would need to slightly switch up my next culinary date experience. With this thought in my mind, I set out in search of a special Halloween themed Dining & Dating District Style post. I wanted to see how a Washingtonian could combine my favorite holiday with a date.
Where else to head for a Halloween but DC’s iconic Georgetown neighborhood? Historic buildings, beautiful views, lots of coeds… it’s a bad horror movie waiting to happen (and if it happens I hereby demand a producer credit). My choice of restaurant to review? None other than the popular and much talked about Bandolero (3421 M St., NW). Since its opening earlier this year, this restaurant (from Top Chef alum Mike Isabella) has received a lot of buzz for both its food and its decor, and I figured it is time to add my voice to the buzz.
Bandolero’s ambiance could not be more (unintentionally) suited for a Halloween date. The moment you walk through the front doors, your eyes will have to adjust to the dimly lit dining room. Once they do, they will gaze upon a dining room some would label as “avante garde.” Bandolero’s dining room features a dropped black ceiling, reclaimed cemetery fencing, candles in wrought iron holders, and decor that is a bit garish (I wrote ghoulish at first pass before my friend slapped me).
Unless you are in the mood for a show, I suggest you try and get table in the back. We were sat across from the bar and we spent a good portion of our date loudly saying “What did you say?”; however, the misplaced and sloppy bachelorette party (at 9PM) at the bar definitely helped to entertain our eyes while our ears were out of service. While the volume in the dining room is loud across the board, a table in the front almost guarantees you and your date will miss a few words.
Mike Isabella made himself a household name competing for the title of “Top Chef.” As such, the food at Bandolero is definitely not your typical taco fare. Nearly every dish we ordered featured a bit of an over the top twist upon a Mexican classic. Given that most of the plates are small, I highly suggest you and your date share 3-5 depending on your appetite (Halloween is about being full, whether that is from candy, pumpkin beer, or delicious food).
Given that guacamole is pretty much the best thing ever (take that sliced bread), you will likely order guacamole to come to your table. While this is not a bad idea, just be aware that Bandolero splits the order between both tortilla chips and chicharrones. While they were very well made (a lot less crispy and overdone like traditional store pork rinds), your date may not warm up to the idea of munching on pork rinds.
The Snapper Tostada was a great starter. The charred mango was incredibly strong (but not overpowering), the salt really brought out the fish, and each bite managed to balance moist and crisp (I have horror stories of soggy tostadas). Perhaps our favorite dish was the Enchilada Rojo. We had no intentions of ordering any more food, but our server spoke well of it and I am not one to turn down…well…anything. Each bite of this dish managed to pack a spicy but not overpowering kick (cascabele chili is a moderate heat chili), and the slightly smokiness of the chili blended well with the Mexican chocolate. Definitely a dish that you can order if you’re not sure you want to order dinner and dessert.
Bandolero is a “modern Mexican restaurant.” As such, it should be of no surprise that tequila is a pillar of their drink selection. Normally tequila and I have a relationship that starts with me saying the phrase “Oh you again…” due to the flood of painful memories it invokes; however, Bandolero’s drink menu definitely added the words “so lovely to see you” to the end of that phrase.
Featuring 46 tequilas and 11 mezcals, Bandolero’s bar provides offerings ranging from a classic Michelada through the bizarre El Capo (blanco mezcal, campari, carpano antica, and 2 dashes of…wait for it… laphroaig). In case you were wondering, it’s a single malt riched flavored whisky from Islay.
My dates–this was a Threes Company night– and I managed to try most of their cocktail menu. The clear winner was the Jesus Malverde. You will immediately feel the heat and taste the cilantro, but the drink quickly cools and soothes as the cucumber and lime mellow out your sip. If a little bit of fire is not your thing, you can do no wrong with any of their drinks, even the classic margarita.
Georgetown is perhaps DC’s most famous neighborhood (at least as far as Hollywood is concerned). While many of us instantly think of the university, this neighborhood really does have a lot to offer. Walk the famous Exorcist steps (I almost recreated the famous tumble when I sprinted them last week), take your date to go see a horror film at the Loews movie theater or wander the historic (and some say haunted) houses and buildings of Georgetown. If you and your date are still feeling the need for a drink, head over to Mr. Smith’s to enjoy the piano bar or head over to Modern for a post date cocktail. However your Halloween date goes, I hope it ends up as a night full of frights, sights, and spirits of the alcoholic nature.
Just beware that skinny dipping in the Potomac will likely lead to more danger from the water than from some masked killer on the river’s edge.
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Sean O’Brien is Dining in DC’s only (and therefore strongest and most intelligent) male contributor. Before he became a Daywalker, Sean was a bartender and bar manager for longer than his parents care to admit. A Marylander born and raised, Sean has spent the better part of his twenties exploring and tasting DC from every corner. His wish for the world is that every week involve crabs, bacon, Saison-style beer, bourbon or Old Bay.
When he is not working or eating, Sean is likely to be found biking or hiking around DC. Follow him on Twitter at @sotweets, but be prepared for sarcasm and comments about people who say “YOLO” (You only live once) or “totes.”
*Dining in DC was not financially compensated for this post. Contributor did not receive a complimentary meal. The opinions are completely based upon experience.*