Jamaica Meets New Mexico

DW Bistro pulls off a unique combo of cuisines—with style and taste

A DC delight: Jamaican carrot cake.

A DC delight: the jerk pork

One component of a good restaurant is the aesthetic—a well-thought-out concept for product, design, preparation and service. DW Bistro, a new neighborhood restaurant in a bright, cheerful space that was once home to La Madonna, is a shining example of how that works.

DW is Jamaica-born, New Mexico-reared Dalton Wilson, who runs the restaurant with co-owner Bryce Krausman. In the kitchen, they have a gifted ally in Ricardo Santana, who knows how to jerk meat and also has a mean bowl of “red”—New Mexico slang for pork slow-cooked in chilies—in his bag of tricks.

The space isn’t grand, but they’ve done a nice job of renovating. The front bar is embellished with star-like mini chandeliers. More intimate tables are inside a cozy, white brick alcove. A splash of contemporary art adds color to the mostly white main dining area. When the sun shines, you might even consider brunch on the glassed-in patio.

In fact, weekend brunch is a good place to start, since my favorite dish here—jerk pork hash, a glorious pile of spicy meat with Yukon gold potatoes and a fried egg on top—is served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at an amazing $7. The best way to start brunch is with a Jamaican hot chocolate, a thick cupful perfumed by the Spice Islands, and so rich you can’t finish it.

It would probably be wrong to think of this cooking as fusion. The chef keeps the two cuisines done here—Jamaican and New Mexican—distinctly separate. At lunch you might have Jamaican chicken curry soup made with coconut milk, brimming with ground chicken. But if you order the New Mexican-style slow-cooked pork, redolent of dusky Southwestern flavors over a mountain of Basmati rice, you won’t remember Jamaica.

On one visit, a friend and I shared two such distinct dishes. He had the curried vegetables, squash, green beans and carrots in a rich, coconut-milk-based sauce, and I tried an off-menu jerk-chicken sandwich, meat scented with allspice, cinnamon and a touch of Scotch Bonnet pepper.

The dinner menu goes slightly upscale, with appetizers such as jerk-chicken lollipops and a creamy goat cheese pesto torte, but the same kitchen philosophy remains. Try the DW fried chicken: crunchy battered meat off the bone with spicy cream gravy and a square of homemade corn bread.

I went for the jerk lamb chops with mashed potatoes and vegetables. They are two gorgeous, perfectly medium-rare double chops, though the jerk spices were only prominent on the outside of the chop, and I like my jerk to penetrate the meat, through and through.

There are fine, Caribbean-style cocktails from the bar, but I love the non-alcoholic pomegranate iced tea, a real refresher. And desserts are some of the best I’ve tasted off-Strip in many a moon. DW’s cakes are especially good, multilayered and impossibly filling. Jamaican carrot cake with crystallized ginger, and classic Red Velvet, are just two.

MoBay and Santa Fe don’t stand a chance.

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