Restaurant Review: Level 5

Level 5 Has Sublime Food In Posh Setting

Hosho McCreesh
4 min read
Got the Money, Honey?
Tortilla soup (Eric Williams Photography)
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If you’ve been anywhere near the Sawmill District lately, you know that the neighborhood is buzzing. Chief among the newness is Hotel Chaco—that gorgeous, monolithic stone and steel fortress with architecture that’s beautiful if not a little menacing. During construction, I had my eye on the dagger-shaped deck jutting out due south-southeast. The promise made by such a breathtaking building could easily come to work against it if everything isn’t up to snuff.

I’m happy to report my fears were unfounded because the elegant, polished hard lines and surfaces blended with natural woods and stone of Level 5 are as flawless as a movie set, and the food should quickly land them among the city’s best. There are a handful of options on both menus with no descriptions—because they change daily. The friendly staff will guide you through them, and even help cut through that slight, fancy-pants feeling of not belonging.

First, brunch. The season soup ($11) is a tortilla soup, built around deep-stewed tomato, garlic, black pepper and onion along with some potato and bell pepper to thicken it up. It was topped with crisped ribbons of blue corn tortillas and a dash of lime making for a perfect dish on a cold Sunday morning. It comes with two hunks of a salty, hard-crusted bread—filling on their own. The blue corn waffle ($16) is actually four small waffles topped with piñons and honey butter, with sliced bananas and blueberries on the side. Pure maple syrup tied the sweet, earthy and tart flavors together perfectly—I wouldn’t change a thing. The BLTA ($12) is served open-faced on a giant hunk of crusty bread on a polished cross-slice of rustic wood. Think elevated avocado toast plus bacon—that you have to eat with a knife and fork. The sliced tomato and fresh butter lettuce sit under thick cuts of bacon dusted with a gamasio-like blend of black pepper and seeds plus a poached egg. For my tastes, the cumin-lime mayo was too bright and far too limey to work on the otherwise solid dish—so I’d skip it.

For dinner, the venison carpaccio appetizer ($13) is a winner. You know that scene in
Goodfellas where Paulie is slicing garlic razor thin? The venison is even thinner. Run your fork over it and it tears like wet paper. Contrasting the earthy smoke of the venison is some micro basil, olive oil and avocado with tiny dollops of an olive purée that was powerful with salt and lemon. The steak of the day is “market price” ($48 in this case)—a 6 oz. tenderloin served with a tomato compote over a farro risotto. I ordered it rare, and it was a fine cut of steak. A hunk of hot bleu cheese—with sear marks but not melted—was a terrific touch. The farro risotto is sturdy and the creaminess of it played well off the main dish. Tomatoes are stewed just short of bursting, making for a vibrant gush of flavor. The pasta of the day (also market price: $22) is made from scratch daily and I stumbled into an amazing one: duck ravioli. A mince of duck, Parmesan and wild mushrooms is nestled in the pasta. It has a side of quick-wilted baby spinach, micro-greens, balsamic-reduction figs and mild, silky goat cheese. Tucked under it all is a bed of yellow apples that steeped in all the flavors.

If it’s just a cocktail you’re after, try the Sun Dagger ($12). It’s like an Old Fashioned and a Tom Collins had a baby: the bright citrus, the kick of the chili-salted rim … all of which seems counterintuitive with the deep sweet of the bourbon … but the fruit and salt balance it all out. At 12 bucks per, you’d have to be Jay-Z to get dizzy on them, but as a special occasion cocktail, it’s a real treat.

Come spring, my guess is Level 5 will be a gathering spot, and why not? Before then, I say grab yourself a cocktail and a meal in these off-hours of winter. I recommend calling for reservations, as I tried booking a dinner online and it was all but impossible. On the outdoor patio they have cozy chairs and fire-pits and the staff will even offer you blankets. So if you’re prepared for a bit of sticker shock (really my only complaint) find yourself a reason to go and devour some tasty new offerings alongside some breathtaking views of the city.

Level 5

2000 Bellamah Ave. NW


Mon-Sun 4:30-11pm

Sat-Sun 7am-2pm; 4:30-11pm

Alibi Recommends: Breakfast: blue corn waffle

Dinner: venison carpaccio, duck ravioli

Cocktail: Sun Dagger

Vibe: Elegant, polished indoor/outdoor lines and surfaces, blended with natural woods and stone

Got the Money, Honey?

Sun Dagger

Eric Williams Photography

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