By Andy DelGiudice
When the James Beard award winning chef and restaurateur Michael Schlow was offered an opportunity to open his second Washington D.C. restaurant in the freshly renovated first floor space of the Carlyle Hotel, he set out to create a quintessential neighborhood dining experience. A simple and straightforward concept, with nothing cutting edge from the kitchen or bar, yet immediately familiar and comfortable. A straightforward menu in an airy dining room with a nostalgic mid-century American decor that, while at times can appear a bit busy, is outfitted with a great collection of paintings, photographs, and vintage posters.
Guests are initially greeted by an imposing pair of spade shaped doors that open into a long zinc bar top, with ample space and a comfortable lounge area. A look through the open layout of the dining space reveals a fairly large seating area buffeted by the new open view kitchen.
The menu has been designed by Chef Philippe Reininger, who worked closely alongside visionary Schlow. Schlow will be the first to admit that there isn’t anything groundbreaking coming out of his new kitchen, and that is the point. This new space is no place for fuss. It’s focused instead on the experience guests have with each other while dining on something delicious, comforting and recognizable, spurring the popular notion that a restaurant of note has to challenge its audience with a groundbreaking presentation or overly contrived gimmick.
Items are classified in four main groups; bar snacks, appetizers, entrées, and sides which allow for family style ordering schemes and casual sharing. Hearing Schlow speak about menu offerings makes it apparent that he believes in their choices. The most embellished part of the NY strip filet is the “Super-Frenchy” béarnaise sauce, a garnish, by the way, that makes a trip to the restaurant worth it in itself.
A lighter side of the menu can be found in the smoked trout with beats and horseradish, or the fresh butter lettuce salad finished with fresh walnuts, shaved radish and a healthy dose of goat cheese.
There is a burger too, if you want to stay in the rich and filling section. Nothing fussy, just a juicy chunk of well cooked meat with a dash of bacon-onion jam, cheese and a side of french fries that let you focus on the taste of the burger; not a towering mountain of embellishments.
It’s interesting that Schlow and his team set out to create the ultimate neighborhood focused eatery in the first floor of a hotel, an establishment that directly appeals to visitors and out of towners, but all irony can be set aside when the concept has been well executed.