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A Rake’s Progress

High windows and an open design give A Rake’s Progress a serene feel.

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Chesapeake Bloom

By Nevin Martell

Photography by Greg Powers

04.30.18

A Rake’s Progress at Adams Morgan’s newest hotel hot spot does more than simply toe the Line.

Walking up the white marble steps from the lobby of the hipster yet luxe Line hotel in Adams Morgan, there’s a giant mirror at a slight angle. It seems to signal that things are a little different at this newcomer on the scene. This impression is confirmed when you step into A Rake’s Progress, which takes its name from an octet of 18th-century paintings by William Hogarth tracing the descent of a selfish libertine.

By contrast, this restaurant marks another level of ascent for James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde, who gained acclaim for Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, where he painstakingly adheres to a local-food philosophy. Nearly every ingredient he uses comes from the Chesapeake watershed. The same ethos guides his first DC project. It’s why you can’t get a lime wheel in your gin and tonic. “You can get a limequat though,” he half jokingly points out.

Rake’s blooms around the edges of the second floor of the hotel, while the center of the room is wide open, giving a bird’s-eye view of the lobby and Erik Bruner-Yang’s Brothers and Sisters below. Chatter and music bubble up, but never overwhelm. In the center of the space dangles an immense chandelier forged from brass organ pipes harvested from the church that was once housed in the historic building. The palette here is white and gold, and the lighting emphasizes the sepia tones, so you feel like you’re living in an old photograph. Pause for a moment to take it all in.

A tantalizing glimpse of the action can be viewed in the partially open kitchen. Flames lick chickens turning on open spits; sparks crackle and fly from the grills; and the staff in industrial-strength aprons hustles to put together plates. Offerings change nearly every day. The menu arrives sealed with wax and dated to emphasize its temporality. It doesn’t list dinner choices; it’s supper. “Because that’s what you have when you eat in someone’s home,” explains a server.

A Rake’s Progress

This spin on a Smith Island cake is a tribute to the region—the treat was designated Maryland’s official dessert in 2008.

The bread service is a thick-cut slice of white spelt and whole wheat toasted over the open fire. There’s a nice crunch when you bite into it, but it’s feathery soft when pulled apart. Slather it with butter from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, Pa., which is dappled with sea salt mined out of the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia.

In the mood for sharing? There’s a board featuring three aged hams (12-, 18- and 36-months-old, respectively, each more intense than the last), complemented by cheddar gougeres that gush Mornay sauce with each bite and peach jam to add a requisite sweet note. There are raw-bar options as well, all from the region, including lobsters harvested off the coast of Maryland. Who knew these crustaceans thrived in the Atlantic here? Trust Gjerde to find out.

For a taste of sky and terra firma, there’s a poached duck egg resting on grits and paired with a peppery sauce. Sop it all up with some of the bread like you’re having breakfast for dinner.

There’s an emphasis on tableside presentations. Shareable salads are presented as components, then tossed. Larger entrees—young chicken, rib-eye, duck—arrive whole before being whisked off to the carving table to be deconstructed for guests.

But plenty of entrees are designed for one. There’s rabbit three ways, lamb shoulder roasted over the hearth and spit-roasted pork loin. A standout is the trout filet, its silver skin lashed with grill marks. There are little potato dumplings on the side and an aerated brown-butter Hollandaise that’s even more decadent than it sounds.

“Don’t be shy; we’ve got plenty more if you want some,” a server tells me.

Desserts are playful. A miniature multilayer Smith Island cake is sweet and rich enough for two. Arriving with whipped cream, apple spheres and cider sherbet, it’s a fitting finale that showcases the region’s rich traditions and natural bounty.  

A Rake’s Progress

The I Found My Thrill cocktail bursts with Catoctin Creek brandy, blueberry soda, sorghum vinegar and creme de cassis.

A RAKE'S PROGRESS 
1770 Euclid St. NW, 202.588.0525

Small plates, salads and starters, $15-$68; entrees, $26-$39; large-format entrees, $65-$154; desserts, $5-$16

Sun.-Thu., 5-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 5pm-midnight