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all words: Marie Formica
all photos: Stephanie Breijo

Walking into the newly redesigned Melrose Hotel, you’re immediately comfortable, surrounded by well-arranged white shelves of books and modern flavored lounging furniture. Columns and marble give the feeling of walking into the house of a very suddenly rich, very old friend. Wading further in, you find an intimate dining space set to one side of the main foyer of the house. But you knew it would be there. You feel that, somehow, you have always been welcome here. So this is Jardenea.

Executive Chef Nate Lindsay prides himself on being able to bring the farm to your fork. Hooked up with some of the area’s best farmers, he picks the freshest vegetables every week to grace the plates of both hotel guests and DC locals. At the change of every season, he watches the weather, not the calendar day, timing the reboot of Jardenea’s menu. He’s brought dishes to Jardenea that are impossible to dislike.

Vermont cheese butter accompanied warm ciabatta and olive bread rolls to start. A couple cocktails, the American Society (organic vodka, elderflower and grape) and the il Pero (house pear-infused vodka and Parmesan cheese shavings), were light and unobtrusive. However, a note from their sommelier-cum-food and beverage manager, William Rabil, would prove useful in pairing dinner with two perfect glasses of wine. The first, a Primarius, had  a long, expressive flavor; a pinot noir of the up and coming Oregon region.

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Everything served was worth noting but if you read nothing else, read this: the lump crab and avocado tian will blow your ever-loving mind. These two refreshing two flavors are only accentuated by the perfect selection of crabmeat balled under an exactly-ripe, sliced avocado shell. Providing you don’t have an allergy or some unearthly dislike for both of these ingredients, you will be able to eat at least ten of these right on the spot. So watch it.

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Amid the perfect tian were other very worthy salads. Caesar salad, presented whole leaf in a crouton ring, was dressed lightly with a traditional dressing that had what caesar dressings often lack, that light smack of anchovy stashed amid the pecorino flavor. The cherry glen farms goat cheese salad presented small goat cheese sandwiches between two dark slices of beet (you read it here first). Watermelon salad, compressed with lavender, gave the right bite in the case that one is worried about too much refreshing fruit (it’s served with blueberries as well as greens).

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The meaty Coriander dusted Hawaiian sea bass was one of the night’s clear winners, nestled on a bed of very cheesy, stone-ground, blue corn grits. Actually flown in from Hawaii within 18 hours of being caught, the bass retains its bright texture and consistency that is lost in more traditionally sourced Chilean sea bass. The second wine served, a cabernet variety of the Napa Valley favorite brand Duck Horn, was bold and savory, which went perfectly with another duck. The Maple Leaf Farms duck breast was cooked in the skin, which sealed in flavor and made the small breast tender and moist. Carved and laid on the plate, it was also served with a kitchen-made duck confit ravioli alongside clove-spiced scented pear bites.

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Jardenea’s flavor palette is big and easy to appreciate, but between the freshness of its ingredients, commitment to in-house processing and surprising combinations, the place is sure to upset your ideas of what a good meal out is. Just a hint– this is it.

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