Libertine is the local, New Orleans/Paris-inspired joint that every neighborhood in DC should have, and that Adam’s Morgan has been pleasantly surprised to get. It combines classics with creativity, and it has charm to spare.
First, Libertine features what has to be the best selection of absinthes in the city. If you don’t know absinthe, you should make yourself familiar. Long the favorite drink of artists ranging from Hemingway to Van Gogh, and the precursor to pastis (Pernod, Ricard, etc.), absinthe has made a huge comeback in the States in the last five years, a long-overdue recovery from the ban it suffered in the early part of the century due to early varietals’ wormwood-infused, hallucination-inducing properties.
Like any good absintherie, Libertine "louches" its concoction by dripping water over house-made brown sugar, gradually sweetening & dissolving it into the glass, with the final mix being three to four parts water to one part liquor. It ends up a milky white color (much as Pernod or Ricard end up cloudy yellow after louching). The dilution is necessary if you’d like to be able to get out of your chair at the end of the evening and not end up face down in your plate of food (translation: absinthe is strong!). I tried the Trinity, a traditional, full-bodied, strong-licorice flavored absinthe; and the Mata Hari, a non-traditional Bohemian-Style absinthe with reduced aniseed, which decreased the licorice flavor but amped up other floral notes. Both were excellent and I definitely want to try more of the 30 different brands available, though I prefer the more traditional absinthe because I am apparently a licorice fanatic. Even so, I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity the Mata Hari offers, and the setting of a flame prior to consumption is both artistic and purposeful (it draws out all of the flavors).
Onto the food. Simply put, it is really good. We started with the stuffed peppers and watermelon salad with cumin dressing. Both awesome. We also had the tuna carpaccio, which was nice but the least impressive of all of the dishes; I would skip this one and fill up with the others.
For main courses, the mussels were really, really delicious. I had just had mussels at a different AdMo spot a couple weeks earlier, and Libertine’s simply put them to shame. They are competitive with the best mussels in the city (think some of the Belgian spots like Bistro Bis, etc.). The shrimp and grits were also strong, with the shrimp cooked perfectly (easier said than done) and the grits creamy and well flavored. Nothing better than a classic done right.
We finished off the meal with sinful beignets. Beignets like these should be in every restaurant, no matter whether it’s a New Orleans-style restaurant or not. They’re just that good.
Finally, the service was extremely friendly, genuine, and laid back. The staff seemed to take pride in what they are doing and it showed.
I can’t emphasize this enough – DC needs more neighborhood spots with good, non-small plate food at reasonable prices. Libertine fits the bill.
2425 18th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
Hours of Operation: Weekdays to close; Weekends to close