Home > Restaurants, Travel > DC Dining: Alsace x 2

DC Dining: Alsace x 2

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve already written a bit about our time in Washington, D.C., from which we returned last weekend. (See, for instance, here and here.) Let me bring this series to a close with a few comments on the restaurants where we ate on Thursday and Friday nights.

Thursday (ten days ago, that is), we ate at J&G Steakhouse in the W Hotel. This was at the suggestion of my old friend Sim and his wife Martha, who were meeting us there. They recommended it for two qualities. First, we were staying at the Willard, next door to the W, so it would be a convenient meeting place. Second, J&G Steakhouse had just been ranked fourth in the December cover story of Washingtonian Magazine on the 100 Best Restaurants. We learned this only after we sat down with Sim and Martha to enjoy our dinner. Otherwise, I might have looked for the review on-line and gotten some ideas on what to order.

The J and the G are a reference to Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the famed Alsatian chef who has opened restaurants around the world, most notably perhaps Manhattan’s Jean Georges Restaurant , which received a four-star review from Frank Bruni in the New York Times in 2006.

The Washingtonian’s short review of J&G Steakhouse explains that the “name is a hedging of bets from one of the world’s culinary superstars; this is no more a steakhouse than Citronelle is a diner. That’s not to say you can’t get a porterhouse–just that you’d do well to forgo the slabs of beef; the pleasures of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s 27th restaurant are to be found in the casual brilliance of the soups and salads, in the note-perfect preparations of fish and seafood, and in the kitchen’s mastery of detail, which transforms otherwise familiar-sounding dishes into quiet masterpieces.”

The dining room is on the south side of the hotel, facing Pennsylvania Avenue and the Washington Monument. It’s essentially the same view we had from our hotel room next door. It’s a view that doesn’t lose its lustre, so we were more than happy to have it again, from the table at which we were sat, right at one of the south-facing windows. The mood and service were aptly described in the next sentence of the review: “The soaring, white-walled space summons a classic old European hotel, minus the formality—a sophisticated and relaxed setting for meals attended by some of the best, most professional servers in DC.”

Thanks the beautiful setting, and even more to Sim and Martha, we had a most delightful evening. It was great to catch up with them. As for the food, let’s turn to the on-line dinner menu, which at least for now looks identical to the one we chose from. I pretty quickly settled on the Maryland Crab Cake with Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette as my appetizer. I didn’t used to be an eater of crab cakes, but Topper’s in Nantucket has converted me, and I didn’t dare pass up the chance to have Maryland crab cakes. They were fantastic. Gail chose the Parmesan Risotto with Wild Mushrooms and Herbs, which she enjoyed immensely.

The entree choice was more difficult. I was leaning toward one of three: the Veal Milanese with Warm Sweet Potato Salad, Dried Cranberries, and Arugula; the Grilled Organic Pork Chop with Caramelized Cauliflower, and Pistachio Pesto; and the Six Peppercorn Prime NY Steak. In the end, I decided to head toward the pork chop, but I asked the waiter first, and he urged the BBQ Lamb Chops with Potato Puree and Broccoli Rabe. That’s what I did. I think it was a mistake. Barbecue sauce on lamb chops may be an interesting idea, but to my taste, the chops were overwhelmed by the sauce. I didn’t really enjoy the natural flavor of the lamb. The sauce was too assertive. I wish I had stuck with my original ideas. Gail, in contrast, couldn’t have been happier with her choice, the Glazed Short Ribs with Caramelized Onion, Spinach Jalapeño, and Crunchy Potatoes.

Dessert was sublime. Gail and I both agreed on our top two choices, so we ordered both and shared them: Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream; Poached Pear Caramel and Vanilla Sorbet. Mmm. Excellent. It was such a lovely evening. We didn’t want to say goodbye. But I did have two hours of homework ahead of me in the hotel room (as part of my reason for visiting DC, to do some work for the National Science Foundation), so we did.

Friday night, Gail and I decided not to stray too far. We ate at Café du Parc, one of the restaurants in our hotel. This is the product of another Alsatian chef, Antoine Westermann. From the Café du Parc website, I learn that he has left behind the Michelin three star restaurant he established in Strasbourg, Le Buerehiesel, in order to invest “his time in the young chefs with whom he works on all of his projects. Most recently, Westermann has been serving as the culinary consultant to Café du Parc, imparting his vision of a contemporary French bistro to the Washington, D.C. restaurant. In this role, Westermann has advised on every aspect of Café du Parc, including concept and menu development, culinary and staff training, and service execution. Westermann plans to visit the restaurant frequently in order to continually oversee this project.”

The dinner menu (see here, for now anyway) was an inviting one, with a seasonal “Three Course Region of Alsace Prix Fixe Menu” on the left and additional offerings on the right. Anything in the prix fixe menu could be ordered à la carte. I was content to go with the prix fixe menu, tempted as I was by some items on the right side. I chose to start with the Tarte flambée Alsacienne: Thin bread topped with smoked bacon, onions and fromage blanc. This was fantastic. And large. It almost could have been a meal in itself, and might have been better shared between the two of us as our starter. Gail had the onion soup. Or, to quote from the menu, Soupe à l’oignon: Caramelized white onions, chicken broth, croutons, Gruyère. I just asked her. She says, “It was delicious.”

Neither of us was quite so happy with our main dishes. I chose Poulet rôti et farci à la tête de cochon: Free-range chicken breast, stuffed with herbs and mustard, served with potatoes and leeks. I’m not sure what I didn’t find satisfying about it. The chicken was excellent, but there was a lot of stuffing, not all of which seemed appealing to me, and the wine sauce that the potatoes and leeks sat in seemed a bit too strong, dominating the flavoring. (Okay, I’ll confess. I wasn’t too committed to the potatoes and leeks, because I added to my prix fixe menu a side dish from the right side, the Tagliatelles fraîches: Hand-cut noodles tossed with butter. It sounded irresistible. When Gail ordered it, I decided I had to have it too. I couldn’t happily eat my potatoes and leeks while staring at her tagliatelles, so I got my own. And they were indeed irresistible.) Gail went with chicken too, a chicken choice from the menu’s right side, the Poulet rôti tout simplement: Roasted organic chicken with natural jus. Simply roasted indeed. I think Gail found it a little too simple. Maybe we should have swapped chickens.

By the time we were done with our chicken, we might have skipped dessert, except that I had dessert coming as part of my three course menu, so we decided to split the Profiteroles au chocolat chaud: Puff pastry filled with vanilla ice cream, served with a warm chocolate sauce. It was a perfect choice.

That was that. Two great meals. And then it was time to go back to our room, pack, go to bed, and await our 5:00 AM wake up call so we could be ready for our 8:00 AM flight to Seattle the next morning.

My one regret: that we didn’t get to Strasbourg last November when we were in France and Italy. For the food, for sure. But also to see my niece, who, after living there for the last five and a half years, will leave for good later this month. Joel made it up there during his time in Grenoble in the fall. We missed out. But now we can visit her in Montreal.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel
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