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Rye and orange-cured salmon starter

Upping the Atmosphere

by David Hagedorn | Photo: Greg Powers | DC magazine | May 29, 2013

The Capella Hotel Group, a luxury brand with properties in some of the world’s most intriguing destinations—including Cabo San Lucas, Bangkok and Dusseldorf—made a splashy entrance in Georgetown in April.

From the moment you arrive at the hotel—located on 31st Street and a stone’s throw from all the action on M Street—you sense you’re in a place well suited for people with lofty tastes. A discreet doorman greets and welcomes you as you pass through a lobby outfitted in rich dark paneling, marble floors and orchids galore, and into the Rye Bar. There, lobbyists, lawyers and business people—the women dressed for cocktails or in well-tailored suits—converse over smartly curated cocktails.

The 26-seat bar has a small, clubby feel, with low leather chairs and cocktail tables, a cushy sofa and floor-to-ceiling windows that usher in views of the C&O Canal, and a patio set with tables for alfresco dining. The space is the perfect for partaking of the menu from The Grill Room, the 70-seat restaurant where Swedish-born chef Jakob Esko, 40, plies his craft.

The same luxe feel of the bar extends to The Grill Room, with parquet floors, an inlaid back wall that brings to mind a Moorish castle, a paisley and purple-and-beige striped banquette, brown leather chairs studded with brass upholstery nails, giant chandeliers with radiating spokes of luminaries and tables set with damask linens. A private room in the center of the space, walled off with glass doors, is lined with etageres filled with bric-a-brac, including silver Aladin lamps.

The pleasant atmosphere, especially the patio (easily one of the finest places to eat outdoors in Washington), predisposes you to having a favorable opinion of the food. Having come from other hotel kitchens, Esko has experience formulating a menu that can please a wide variety of people looking for deliciously familiar fare, rather than anything terribly adventuresome.

The best way to begin is with a glass of Prestige Rosé from the Taittinger Champagne cart. If your tastes tend toward another direction, St. Supéry Sauvignon Blanc and La Crema Chardonnay represent other fine options.

Dinner gets off to a good start with a warm sourdough boule served with roasted bone marrow crusted with crisped Parmesan cheese. For appetizers, have the rye- and orange-cured smoked salmon, laid out on the plate in a large circle and topped with leek confit, grated egg, dots of avocado mousse, microstrips of orange zest and lavender flowers. The dish is as fetching as it is tasty, the salmon’s gentle smoke infiltrating every mouthful splendidly.

Pea soup with smoked black cod and shaved radishes is bright and subtle. Esko makes a completely credible, lump-filled crabcake that holds up to any of the many others to be found around Washington. If you like a bit of old-school theater, have the beef tartare assembled tableside. With this dish, you have no one to blame but yourself if it doesn’t taste good; you choose its components.

Esko likes to test the waters of molecular gastronomy here and there with other appetizers. Pickled oysters resting in a faux oyster shell blend with their rye foam and lemon compote embellishments to create an amalgam that, I’m afraid, misses the mark. I would also steer away from the cold, gelled ham broth served in a hot bowl and topped with pickled wood ears, country ham and tepid tempura asparagus tips.

With the entrees, Esko gets back on course. As it is a grill room, there are a good number of steaks: côte de boeuf for two, dry-aged New York strip with eggplant and bacon puree, and bone-in tenderloin, served with creamed spinach and a truffle potato puree that makes frequent appearances throughout the menu.

My preferred meat option is the Virginia pork chop, which is thick, flavorful and accurately cooked to temperature. A side order of onion rings, sweet and delicate with a wonderfully light tempura coating, is a must-have.

If the chef offers his mushroom risotto, creamy, opulent and rife with porcinis and chanterelles, have it.

In the fish department, ultrafresh Dover sole with beurre blanc, potato puree and preserved lemon offers up a bit of nostalgia for fine French restaurants. Seared scallops with Beluga lentils, potato puree, cabernet sauvignon jus and a crisped wafer of pancetta are deftly prepared and achieve a nice balance of sweet and savory. Roasted wild rockfish comes on a plank of alder wood that imparts a fragrant smokiness. A parsley risotto with head-on prawns is an attractive and gratifying accompaniment.

Baked Alaska, apple pie and hazelnut chocolate mousse count among The Grill Room’s steady desserts, but go for the warm doughnuts piled on a horizontally halved, clear glass bottle and served with lemon curd. It’s always nice to end a meal on a high note.

The Grill Room and The Rye Bar
Capella Hotel
1050 31st St. NW
202.617.2400
thegrillroomdc.com

The Grill Room: open daily. Breakfast, Mon.-Sun., 6:30-10am; lunch, Mon.-Sun., 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner, Sun.-Thu., 5:30-10pm; Fri. and Sat., 5:30-11pm.
The Rye Bar: open 2pm-midnight daily

Appetizers: $12-$28
Entrees: $26-$46
Dessert: $10-$14

Breakfast
The Grill Room is fast becoming a power breakfast spot in DC. The restaurant slow-presses fresh juice to order: carrot, ginger and lime, green apple and wheatgrass, and grapefruit and ginger. That’s a great way to start before indulging in blueberry pancakes or brioche French toast with bananas.

Cocktails
Worth noting is Food & Beverage Manager Will Rentschler, a jack-of-all-trades who greets guests (he remembers everyone’s name, too), waits tables, pours wine and answers questions about the menu, and still finds time to barrel-age the rye.

Valet parking for The Grill Room is $11.