On unassuming K street in Washington DC you will find a warm, inviting dining experience like no other. This is dLena, meaning firewood, which chef Richard Sandoval infuses into every drop and morsel. Here wood is Queen, where the barrel aged smoked tequila flights are served on a bored- out patinaed piece of oak giving you a diverse experience that has the power to erase that bad memory in college. If you’re into a bit more pomp and circumstance then summon a Mexican old fashioned where a chalice of sierra Norte yellow corn whiskey and aromatic naraja bitters arrives in a glass plated silver drink reliquary veiled in a thick layer of Cherrywood smoke. If you think all this is for show, you are partially right, but there is no doubt that Sandoval’s love for wood is being put to good use, and he somehow is able to gently transmit their robust qualities only to elevate the natural flavors. Take for instance the smoked oysters with chipotle mignonette and smoked bacon jam. Or enigmatic wagyu beef tiradito with Fresno chili citrus drizzle. Even something as simple as grilled broccolini with smoked chili plays well in the fire as does a grilled avocado with chimichurri.
While all these surprisingly playful dishes confounded us, nothing would prepare us for the star of the show, simply named the Tomahawk. This bone in aged rib eye masterpiece is cooked to perfection in dLena’s searing hot wood burning hearth and then finished tableside with an alchemist dance, being dressed in bone marrow butter before showered with smoked mezcal and flambeed tableside. You even get a choice of salt, volcanic, mesquite smoked, or cultivated sweat from a virgin’s brow. I forget the third, but again, the dramatic theater matches the profound depth of taste in this truly unique and perfectly balanced steak. Not even remotely needed was a crack at dessert, which was this thousand layered panqueque argentino drizzled with warm cajeta caramel and served with salted smoked caramel ice cream dear lord. While the night could have ended there the owner insisted on one more special concoction called the casual encounter, and then casually led me downstairs to their semi-speakeasy subterranean lounge which seemed like a perfect place to bask in the warm glow of a fantastic meal just had.