The Park Hyatt Washington (24th & M Sts, NW) has undergone an extensive renovation over the past year and reopened a couple of months ago with some severe new designs by decorator Tony Chi. While the hotel rooms are spacious and uncluttered, they are comfortable and relaxing. The BLUE DUCK TAVERN (Tel:(202) 419 6755) which opened in the space previously belonging to Melrose is under the guidance of Melrose's star chef BRIAN McBRIDE who has brought an entirely new concept of cuisine to town. Sadly, the biggest problem with the BLUE DUCK is its design by Mr. Chi: dark stone floors, wooden tables, chairs and pillars all add to lots of noise and a din that is almost insufferable. I often felt myself having to talk louder than ever (and you all know I don't need to turn up the volume) just to be heard at our table for three. While the open kitchen is beautiful and a sight to be seen, it creates even more noise.
We also had a small problem trying to clarify the price for valet parking. Outside the sign simply says $7.00, yet when we called and inquired at the hotel, we were told $7.00 per hour for up to two hours, then $15 thereafter (which I assumed was a $15.00 maximum, but was later told only for the third hour. How confusing is this? And we never really got the final answer.
After parking on the street, I entered through the hotel lobby and made my way down to hall to the Blue Duck Tavern only to find a huge wall and closed door where the entrance to the restaurant used to be. I went up the steps to the bar/lounge area and weaved my way through the tables there passing through a doorway and finding myself in the pastry/dessert prep room. It was empty save for all the yummy desserts on the table, and I should have grabbed some right then and there, but I proceeded through to the restaurant to find myself in the middle of the kitchen and tables, but could not find a maitre d' or host stand anywhere. After standing there aimlessly for about two minutes, a gentleman approached (he was at the front door to the restaurant and could not be seen from the dining area or kitchen where I was) and asked me if I needed help. Perhaps the Blue Duck Tavern, unlike Melrose, wants to completely separate itself from the hotel, and I should have only come in the other door?
Anyway, we were quickly seated at the prime table facing the kitchen and perused the large and exciting menus and wine list. Yummy bread came with four slices of watermelon as some type of palate cleanser, I guess. I would have preferred a nice amuse giving me a taste of what's to come.
We first chose a CROZES HERMITAGES BLANC "Aux Betises" from Domaine de la Bruyeres 2004. This Rhone white comes from Beaumont Monteux, but the label gave us no hint of what percentage of Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier, etc. was in the wine. At first it was a big fruit forward blast with pineapple and melon (say, honeydew or cranshaw), but once swirled in the mouth the wine exhibited a wonderful minerally effect that really showed its terroir. We ordered a small plate of dried meats that was not on the menu (we saw it at the next table) and enjoyed the Bresaola, extremely peppery Sopressata and tasty Prosciutto.
Everything at The Blue Duck Tavern is served in small copper serving dishes "family style" so that folks can share (or not). Personally, since I'm a big sharer and taster, I like this idea, but something has got to be done about the stupid small tongs they use. At one point the fish fell all apart and ended up on the table instead of my plate. When I suggested they use a spoon the server seemed a bit imposed upon, but at least I got one.
Our starters consisted of SAUTEED SARDINES with Preserved Lemon & California Olives. The fish were the biggest fattest sardines I have ever seen in my life (about 2 inches across at their width!), but they were tasty, boneless and sauteed to perfection with the lemon in shavings and the olives in a kind of confit under the fish. LIMA BEANS, CHANTERELLES and PISTACHIO NUTS was from the long list of side dishes and was another superb preparation full of taste, although I did get a bite of sand in one of those amazing chanterelles. CRISPY SOFTSHELL CRAB with SHALLOT Mayonnaise was another winner, as we moved on to our second wine. We ordered a Washington State Chardonnay, only to be told they were out of it, so switched to CHEHALEM's INOX Chardonnay 2004 which we always adore as it is an homage to pure chardonnay; the wine gets no oak and is fermented only in stainless steel tanks bringing out all of the fruits from the grapes. Indeed, I felt this vintage had a
lemony flavor, which was PERFECT along with the last bite of sardines with lemon!
We asked for a space between courses, and our server handles it perfectly. Everything came just as we were ready: BDT (Blue Duck Tavern) Fries are thick chunky fries cooked in duck fat and served crispy standing up. We asked if they are served with any condiments such as aioli and we got a remoulade(ketchup and mustard were also offered after we asked, but not delivered with the dish) used for another dish which was okay, but a garlic aioli would have been ideal. Needless to say the fries were so wonderful, we ordered a second side!
ROASTED DUCK Marinated in Molasses (I should add that each dish on the menu mentions the place of origin as the restaurant justifiably prides itself on the farms it uses--the duck was from Snake River Farm, Idaho) was an excellent duck with several large slices of breast (if a bit fatty, I just cut it off) and two huge delicious confit legs that were the highlight of my meal. The HOUSEMADE BRATWURST Braised in Beer & White Wine with Braised Sauerkraut was another wondrous creation, but the ALASKAN IVORY SALMON was the dud of the evening. When the dish was described as "Alaskan Ivory Salmon with Braised Beets, Apple, Bacon & Small Onions," I inquired if this was Alaskan white salmon (as I had never heard of ivory) and was told "yes." Indeed, if you google up "ivory salmon" you won't find much, so WHY use a term that is incorrect? Can anyone verify if "ivory salmon" is accepted instead of "white?" No matter, the fish was EXTREMELY fishy and not that tasty and when we asked where the beets were, our server apologized saying she made a mistake and should have said cabbage. We actually ordered the dish based on the beets, apple and bacon, and the latter two were barely in evidence as well.
We had a superb HERMITAGE ROUGE "Marquise de la Tourette" 2000 from Delas Freres in the Rhone which we have actually visited. It was earthy, yet smooth and full of fruit, with just the right amount of Viognier for softening.
Desserts were a major treat with PEACH ICE CREAM, a yummy crunchy PEACH & BLUEBERRY FRUIT CRUMBLE, but I think the APPLE PIE was the winner. It was a huge individual round pie that was just scrumptious, and even a bit better with a little dab of the Peach Ice Cream! Several chocolate bonbon-like squares were brought out as we finished up, and I'm not really sure what they were, but they were a bit gummy and rubbery and really should be avoided.
So, would I go back? Yes, but on an off night when it's quieter and I would be very careful of the fish entrees as they don't seem to excel as the meats and side dishes do. And who can resist dessert, and the wines are superb and well priced, although more attention to Oregon Pinot Noirs would be nice in an establishment that prides itself on the excellence of the American (farm) product.