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Photos: Jean Schindler
Photos: Jean Schindler

Finnish Simplicity Reigns at Mikko

Lately, DC’s restaurant scene has been getting high off complicated-looking plates, exotic decor and ingredients we can’t pronounce. Wolfgang Puck called, and he wants his 90s life back. Not to be contrary, but there’s nothing I crave right now more than simple, clean flavors that don’t require a hovering waiter to explain.

Enter Mikko, the first restaurant from Mikko Kosonen, once chef at the Finnish Embassy, and recently of his eponymous catering firm, and now cheerfully ensconced on P St. and serving exactly what I’m craving.

With a minimalist Scandi look courtesy of local design agency INNATE, the cheerful, intimate space seamlessly blends retail, coffee counter, sandwich case, restaurant and bar. Order a cup of fish broth laden with cod, potatoes and dill, or one of the hearty pickled herring sandwiches on hearty brown bread, balanced with fresh cucumber and dill.

The contrast between the very preserved and the very fresh represents one of the most refreshing aspects of Finnish cuisine. The pastries have lots of fruits, cardamon and butter, and there are easy-drinking aquavit cocktails on offer.

Larger plates, including a wonderful venison with lingonberry sauce, are beautifully presented without pretension. The flavors are opinionated and crisp, honest and accessible. Just like Chef Mikko and his team. Now go eat!

Mikko: 1636 R St. NW, DC; 202-413-6419; www.chefmikko.com

Salted licorice ice cream.

Salted licorice ice cream.

Venison lingonberry.

Venison lingonberry.

Finish see bread.

Finish see bread.

Finnish Vodka.

Finnish Vodka.

A fish soup cocktail with Aquavite lemon soda and cucumber dill.

A fish soup cocktail with Aquavite lemon soda and cucumber dill.

Pancake and fresh berries.

Pancake and fresh berries.

Fish soup with cod salmon, potatos, peppercorns and dill.

Fish soup with cod salmon, potatos, peppercorns and dill.

Photo: Aja Neal
Photo: Aja Neal

Behind the Bar: ARTECHOUSE, Calico and Service Bar

We’re all guilty of picking a drink from a cocktail menu based on whether or not it will look good on our carefully curated Instagram feeds. Don’t worry, we do it too. In the spirit of embracing all that’s aesthetically pleasing this month, we selected three drinks whose unique garnishes and color combinations definitely make them look as good as they taste. So go ahead, post away – we won’t judge you.


Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Chad Spangler
Co-owner, Service Bar

On Tap: How important is design when creating a cocktail?
Chad Spangler: It’s the whole package together that’s going to create that experience for you. Just because something tastes good or has pretty good intrinsic flavor doesn’t make it great if the presentation isn’t there. Drinking something is as much a full experience of the senses as anything. It should look great, it should smell great, it should taste great, it should feel great.

OT: What’s your most aesthetically pleasing cocktail? 
CS: Our most aesthetically pleasing drink right now is Rhubarb Vodka Soda. We launched it last year. I love almost monochromatic cocktails or monochromatic things, where you can have all different shades of one color on top of another. So that drink is a really, really aesthetically pleasing bright pink that’s all natural from the rhubarb that we get.

OT: What else can you tell me about the presentation of your cocktails?
CS: We like to have fun and we don’t take ourselves too seriously in any direction. We do some whimsical things, and we’re not afraid to put a little extra money into making our drinks look great and to get some cool glassware that people are going to talk about.

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Photo: Fareeha Rehman

Chad’s Pick
Rhubarb Vodka Soda
Rose
Soda
Vodka
Rhubarb
Clarified citrus

Service Bar: 926-928 U St. NW, DC; www.servicebardc.com


Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

Ian Fletcher
Beverage Director, Calico

On Tap: What do you think guests enjoy most about your juice box cocktails?
Ian Fletcher: I think it’s a nostalgia thing. People just gravitate toward them. It’s pretty unique. We worked with one of the designers that helped design the space; he did the labels and everything for us.

OT: Do you offer any limited-time cocktails?
IF: We use our frozen drink machine. That’s going to be rotating depending on how well they do. But the intention is that there is no set thing in the frozen drink machine. We’ve been doing piña coladas with espresso. We discovered it on accident. My friend and I were drinking piña coladas and we just happened to have espresso as well and [combined them]. Piña coladas are really, really sweet and espresso is tart and bitter, so it works really well. I think we’re going to do a banana daiquiri next.

OT: What makes your outdoor space unique?
IF: On the weekends, the chef is out there grilling. You can have 200 people back here and everything is designed to be sectioned off so even when it’s packed, you don’t really notice how many people are here. It’s kind of like you’re in your own little backyard world. You can smell the barbecue – it’s just a good feeling.

[Pictured above]

Ian’s Pick
Lavender Lemonade
Vodka
Lemon
Lavender
Raspberry
Giffard Crème de Mure

Calico: 50 Blagden Alley, NW, DC; www.calicodc.com


Bryan Tate
Mixologist, ARTECHOUSE’s “Fractal Worlds” exhibit (July 7 – September 3)

On Tap: What elements of ARTECHOUSE’s “Fractal Worlds” exhibit are incorporated into your cocktails?
Bryan Tate: Fractals as we understand them are geometric shapes. They’re also very mathematical, so from a looks and presentation perspective, we want to incorporate that fractal element. And from a taste perspective, we want it to taste good. But also, the ratios going into the cocktails are on a mathematical basis – the way that the fractals are formed.

OT: How do patrons use the augmented reality app when trying cocktails?
BT: The augmented reality app gives a next dimension experience of the cocktail that allows the guest to experience it in a way they never have before.

OT: What garnishes do you use?
BT: Dehydrated fruits and egg white. We have a way to print a custom image onto a piece of wafer and then put that on top of the egg white, and that in itself is augmented in the cocktail.

OT: What’s your creative process?
BT: It’s decorating as many layers of the experience as you can. The texture changes what it does with the foam or an egg white. Or use creme de coconut to give it a different texture – paint it with that. It’s really important to have the guest experience the cocktail in as many different ways as possible while trying to align our vision with the artist. That’s the really fun part where creating cocktails comes into play: trying to turn what they’ve done – unbelievable art – into a drink.

OT: What flavors are in the Fractal Jungle cocktail?
BT: Flavors with summer aspects: watermelon, honey, matcha, vanilla, blackberry, pineapple. Things that are summery without being too light [so you’ll still get] the full experience.

Photo: Courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Photo: Courtesy of ARTECHOUSE

Bryan’s Pick
Fractal Jungle
Lime
Mezcal
Sherry
Vanilla
Campari
Pineapple
Blackberry

ARTECHOUSE: 1238 Maryland Ave. SW, DC; www.dc.artechouse.com