Thursday, July 06, 2006

the Wondrous WILLARD ROOM will WOW

As I often say, hotel restaurants are not usually on the DC finest dining list, but this has started to change in recent years with the advent of the Kimpton properties, the Ritz-Carlton's and many others of note. To this list, we can now add the sumptuous and elegant WILLARD ROOM in the Willard Hotel (1401 Pennsylvania Ave, NW). This bastion of luxury with its wooden panels, many brass chandeliers and excellent service may just be on its way to being the newest hot spot to dine in DC. An entire new staff has taken over the scene from top to bottom with manager Robert Chestnutt (of Ireland), chef Nicolas Legret (of France) and chef sommelier Caterina Abruzzetti (who most recently revamped the wine scene at Restaurant 2941). These folks are determined to give everyone the best service you might find anywhere, and some pretty darn good fixin's as well.

The only thing you might want to check before you go is your wallet as the appetizers start at $10 (going up to nearly $30), and the entrees at $30 (going way up into the $40 range). New at the Willard Room is a choice of excellent tasting menus (they also have pre-theater menus) of 5 or 7 courses at $69 and $95 respectively, which is a real bargain (you can add wine pairings for an extra $49 on the 5 course or $65 on the 7 course, which will always be top quality wines with Ms.Abbruzzetti in charge!).

We started the evening with a glass of MOET BRUT IMPERIAL ROSE Champagne which looked so red in the glass due to the rooms colorings, but tasted perfection. An amuse of a shot glass of FENNEL CREAM with a MUSSEL came first and was a great explosion of flavors to start the meal off.

FOIE GRAS CONFIT with Mango Ginger Chutney was the first course and this "pate" was excellent with a splash of pepper on top and the ginger in the chutney picking up the ginger notes in the accompanying TRIMBACH GEWURTZTRAMINER 2001 from Alsace. The wine had aged so beautifully that the pepperiness had subsided and the wine was simply a perfect drink alone or foie gras wine.

PAN SEARED RARE TUNA Facon "Biscayenne" was a new preparation to me with beautifully just seared tuna over a bed of Arucola and roasted red peppers and onion. Will loved the "creamy" SANCERRE LA MOUSSIERE 2005 from Alphonse Mellot that was paired here.

An intermezzo of SORBET of GRANNY SMITH APPLES & CALVADOS with Pistachios and Crisp Apple Slice came next paired with CALVADOS FINE RESERVE Domaine Dupont. I adored the sorbet, but it was the pistachios and apple slice that made the dish truly exotic and novel.

I have not seen a salt-crusted fish on the menu since we visited a Spanish restaurant in Miami years ago. This Iberian preparation is rarely seen in DC as it is quite work intensive and requires a lot of time to dissect the fish from its papillote of salt tableside. I would have preferred had the excellent BASIL RISOTTO been held warm in the kitchen until the fish was ready, but other than that the SALT-CRUSTED DORADO was one of the best pieces of fish I have had in ages. The LEMON
BUTTER sauce was unnecessary, but tasty and with the BASIL RISOTTO it was served over razor thin slices of YELLOW & RED TOMATOES. We had two neighboring but completely different wines, which was like a contest: PULIGNY MONTRACHETS 2004 from ETIENNE SAUZET and PATRICK MOILANE had such opposite characters it was wild. The latter having more mineral, but the former working much better with the dish itself (I think!).

For the entree I had the ROASTED DUCK BREAST served with Yukon Gold Potatoes, "Pommes Gaufrettes" in Black Olive Duck Jus. The preparation with those yummy homemade potato chips was superb and rare to medium rare exactly as requested. Will opted for the VEAL CHOP with MORELS & ASPARAGUS, another excellent preparation. The wine was an exciting first East Coast release of 2004 ROBERT ALLEN Lodi ZINFANDEL with loads of blackberry, fruit and a completely velvety feel. It had a 14.5% alcohol content, but not the intensity nor spiciness of many California zins.

The cheese tray is a wonderful option (if you are not full) and we could not resist trying just a small bite each of some new and exciting cheeses:

VERMONT SHEPHERD is a dry cheddary like cheese with a bite
PONT COUVERT from Quebec is a wonderful mild cheese with apple hints
FUMAISON from Auvergne is smokey and nutty
MAJORERO from the Canary Islands is a weird looking unpasturized goat that I can live without, but was not invasive or boring either.
DULCE MONASTRELL 2001 Jumilla Olivares was served with the cheese and we knew the sweet stuff was starting!

We asked Chef Nicolas if he could switch desserts as neither of us cared for the Mint Julip (the drink was created at the Willard) Ice Cream on the dessert on the tasting menu. We were treated to one of the best summer desserts around: ORANGE COCONUT RICE PUDDING with CORIANDER PINEAPPLE, Tropical Fruit Salsa and Passion Fruit Sorbet. Anyone suffering from the heat would love this! It resembled a Roasted Pineapple Slaw over Tapioca and was simply bursts of different fruits with each bite. The dessert wine was a newbie for us as well 2002 Feudi di San Gregorio Privilegio which is a late harvest botrytised wine made from the Fiano di Avellino grape. It was a rich apricot-invested wine with guava flavors picking up on the tropical scents in the dessert. A gem of a find.

This was a wonderful tasting with wonderful staff at the Wonderful Willard Room..check it out!