>> Monday, September 17, 2012
This is the fifth post in the new series about my recent trip to Washington DC right on Julia Child's 100th birthday (Series overview: Happy Birthday Julia Child): Other posts in this series include Wolfgang Puck's The Source, Ben's Chili Bowl - an Inside Perspective, Exploring Little Ethiopia, and Jaleo.
These are exciting times for DC.
The presidential race is going full force, and pretty soon the inauguration will take over the nation's capital. Droves of people will swarm upon the city to enjoy its incredible museums, lively food scene, and excellent hotels (many of which have a rich history of hosting dignitaries over the years!).
Take the Madison Hotel, for example, which has been around for nearly 50 years and has housed countless dignitaries in its presidential suites, including President Kennedy, one of its first guests back in 1963. I had the pleasure of staying in the Madison Hotel during my short DC food trip back in August. It had just undergone an extension 22-million dollar renovation.
After arriving in DC that first night, it was nice not having to worry about trying to head out somewhere for dinner. Our group met at The Federalist, a new restaurant adjacent to the Madison that opened as part of the massive renovation of the hotel. The Federalist takes local Mid-Atlantic ingredients and creates dishes inspired by recipes from the 18th century.
We started out with cocktails in the restaurant's lovely outdoor terrace. The weather was surprisingly not too hot, even though it was the middle of August!
Here are the fun cocktails we sipped on while people watching on the terrace: upper left is the Twin Leaf, which is made of Hangar 1 vodka, chamomile tea, and sake with elderflower & lavender. To the right is the Smoked Strawberries, which tasted surprisingly (and pleasantly) smoky (presumably from the 'smoked' limoncello). There's also Three Citrus Vodka and local strawberry preserves, Five on Rye consists of (ri)1 Rye, peaches, rhubarb shrub, pink peppercorn, and sugar.
We asked the chef, Harper McClure, to tell us his favorite drink. He picked an off-menu drink called Trade Winds, which has candied ginger, lime, lemon verbena vodka, and vermouth. Of course a couple members of our party just had to try it (and they liked it!).
I had the Twin Leaf, which was quite nice, and I sampled the Smoked Strawberry, which was very interesting and fun. Everyone seemed to enjoy their drinks as well.
As the sun began to set, we headed on inside. After some discussions with the chef, we decided to keep the entire meal a surprise. After all, isn't it best to let the chef choose what you eat? Sort of like an American-style omakase?
The Chef McClure was excited by our proposal, and ran back into the kitchen to get started our our tasting.
Our first course was an amuse - Yellowtail and Watermelon Sorbet, which was served alongside some finely chopped pickled root vegetable (maybe daikon?). I actually really liked the tart and bright flavors of the pickle. However, I found the yellowtail to be quite average. It was just a tad fishy and not quite as good as most yellowtail I've had in sushi restaurants. The watermelon sorbet which accompanied the yellowtail was delicious on its own, but I felt like the overall concept of the dish just didn't quite work. The yellowtail, which was a bit warm, was weird when paired with the cold, fruity sorbet.
The next dish, Heirloom Tomato Panna Cotta ($12), was both stunning in its presentation, creative in its execution, and enjoyable to eat. It's served with a horseradish tomato consomme, roasted cherry tomatoes, white anchovies, and opal basil. I loved the lovely sweet concentrated tomato flavor as well as the fragrant melon essence in the consomme. The Grilled Judith Point Calamari ($13) was served with seared potato gnocchi, roasted garlic puree, pearl onions, and scallions. I liked the pan friend gnocchi, though I thought the calamari was only average. It was just a tad rubbery and could have benefited from being cooked just a hair less.Ipswich Clam Chowder came topped with braised pork belly, poached Ipswich clams, cabbage, Yukon gold potatoes, and sweet corn. Though the dish was creative in design and gorgeous in presentation, I still found the chowder itself to be lacking in "clam" flavor. Perhaps it was a bit undersalted? The chowder was creamy, but had some other strong flavor I did not like, almost like a stinky clam?? I don't want to assume that it was a bad clam, since others at the table actually loved this dish. I found the pork belly to just a tad tough, though decent in flavor. The Lobster and Corn Fritters ($12), served alongside a warm vermouth cream, are pretty popular, and it's not hard to see why. How can you go wrong when you combine these two awesome ingredients? These were well-executed and would make a great bar snack. The Roasted Gulf Shrimp ($27) consisted of jumbo shrimp served with baby bok choy, snow peas, and bell peppers with a bergamot broth. This dish was nice, simple, and pretty good. The Virginia Black Bass was a special that day and came highly recommended. The seared fish came on top of a gorgeous pile of sweet summer corn, chanterelle mushrooms, fried fresh link chiles (they look like hats!), over a paprika-live oil emulsion. I really enjoyed this dish. The sea bass had a lovely crispy skin, and the farm fresh ingredients, especially the corn, were a joy to eat. The interesting link chilies (the green looking hat-like things) were spicy and smoky, yet not overwhelming tear-inducing hot either. The Seared Raw Tuna Loin ($30) was served with a Rappahanock (local to Virginia!) oyster veloute amd baby summer squash blossoms. The oysters were soft, fresh, and pretty tasty. The tuna was reasonably fresh and seared to a perfect "rare", but just did not inherently have that much flavor. The Heritage Pork Chop ($32) came with a summer bean ragout, pearl onion, and cornbread puree. I thought the Marsala sauce that accompanied the pork chop was deep and flavorful, definitely adding to the complexity of the dish. Though I am not a duck person, I can still be objective in picking out a good duck dish. The Roasted Moulard Duck Breast ($29) was excellent. It was cooked absolutely perfectly, and was soft, tender, and very flavorful. Alongside the duck were grilled white peaches, Lacinato kale (which has a gorgeous deep umami flavor from the Sarsaparilla jus), and an absolutely lovely macadamia nut butter, which I loved. I thought this entree was the best of the bunch. Similarly, I thought the Martin's Angus Beef Flatiron ($28) was also very good. The lovely summer roasted heirloom tomato were delicious, and I really liked the cute little marble potatoes, each perfectly formed sphere seared to a nice golden brown on each side. The steak was fabulous when paired with the rosemary-lavender-garlic butter. The desserts were good. A la Minute Chocolate Cake $9 came with poached cherries and a sprinkling of cocoa nib. I thought I would just try one bite but found myself reach back for more . . . and then more . . . and then more. I think there's something about cherries that just matches perfectly with chocolate.
I love panna cotta and Greek yogurt, so it wasn't a surprise that I liked the Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta $9, which came with blackberries and shortbread cookies. What I found unique and surprising was the black pepper syrup, which actually worked really well! I loved the peppery kick that it added to the dessert.
Represented from left to right: The Daily Meal, Destination DC, The Madison Hotel, Messy & Picky.
The Madison Hotel is a gorgeous place to stay, and I enjoyed every minute of sleep on their oh-so-comfortable beds. The Federalist is a lovely space and seems like a great convenient location for business meals. The dishes are generally "safe" (meaning they are not so exotic that a client may not like the cuisine), and the overall ambiance of the place is really nice.
Although some dishes were disappointing, others surprised me with their creativity and quality execution.The menu is constantly changing depending on what's seasonal, which is part of the fun.
We had a wonderful meal in this gorgeous space adjacent to the Madison Hotel. After dinner, we were really glad that we were staying right upstairs because, frankly, we were probably too stuffed to move very far!
1177 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
This trip was part of a media tour of Washington DC paid for by Destination DC, a non-profit organization that supports the DC travel and tourism sector.