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all words: Laura Herman
all photos: Stephanie Breijo

We’ve been to Sax before and had a lot to say about the splashy, avant-garde newcomer to the DC dining and nightlife circuit. We raised our eyebrows at the risqué murals depicting DC notables at their hedonistic best, and followed the news as some of the most scandalous designs were subsequently removed. We wondered what this place was exactly… a burlesque club? A dinner theater? Some sort of private playhouse for DC’s elite? A teleportation device to Vegas?

In all of this excitement, we almost overlooked an important element of what Sax does: food. It is a restaurant after all. And a pretty serious one at that, with Chef Jonathan Seningen (formerly of Oya and Hook) at the helm. We dined—in style—at Sax last week and were lavished in food, drink and entertainment. Now, I think I have a better sense of what this place is all about: tongue-in-cheek luxury. They’re selling glitz! glamour! sex! decadence! and it can be pretty fun once you loosen up, embrace the kitsch and just enjoy.

Once I found my way into the unmarked building that houses Sax (the red carpet was a dead give away), I was greeted by a woman dressed in a Playboy bunny costume minus the ears and whisked to the bar area. She asked: “Would you like an elixir?” “Ummm, sure, yes, thank you.” Clearly I was not on K Street anymore.

From there, I took in the red velvet curtains, marbled, gilded and mirrored main dining room while sipping on a cocktail of gin, St. Germain, fresh cucumber, lime juice, rosemary and orange bitters. Perfect way to start off the night.

An amuse bouche of citrus-infused honeydew with shredded radish flakes, rich burrata and a dusting of crunchy sea salt set the tone for the meal, which was decadent but also pleasantly light. The dining experience at Sax is definitely about the ambiance and larger entertainment value, but the food stands strong on its own.

From our table, we had a perfect view of the “infinity stage,” which hangs front and center over the main bar and showcases Sax’s own troupe of exotic dancers who performed a sort of burlesque cabaret throughout the evening.

A seasonal prawn and heirloom tomato salad with fennel and peppers in a mustard vinaigrette started off the meal on a fresh and crisp note. Entrees of sea bass and Shenandoah lamb were heartier, evoking the same decadence that hits you over the when you walk in the door at Sax.

Lifting my knife to cut the lamb proved unnecessary, as the meat flaked away in a buttery cascade. Paired with apple crepes in wonton-like shapes, a cream sauce and artful plating, the wintery dish was flavorful and visually stunning, though it fell flat with lukewarm temperature. For me, the sea bass with a crusty herb shell accompanied by cheesy zucchini cakes, chanterelles, and a shallot sauce won out.

Not to be overlooked were the spot-on wine parings of the evening. Sommelier Andrew Stover’s selection favors local production and sparkling wines (in fact, Sax boasts the city’s largest collection of sparking wines by the bottle and glass). A sparkling Lovisolo Nebbiolo Rosé with the prawn and tomato salad, and a local Virginia Horton “Xoco” chocolate-infused dessert wine stood out as must-try-again items.

A highlight of the evening was a visit from Chef Jonathan Seningen. We’ve profiled him before and this guy just RADIATES. We talked apple pie moonshine, local food sourcing and dishes that he’s toying with for Sax’s fall menu. He mentioned big plans for a house-made duck prosciutto and probably upon seeing drool hit my plate, disappeared to the kitchen and returned with a sampler for the table.

The prosciutto was thick, salty  and smooth, with a texture similar to tuna sashimi. This makes sense, since he plans to incorporate it into an Asian-inspired dish with tuna and soy sauce. YUM.

It’s clear that Sax is going for something really different here. It’s a unique, if not unusual, concept that’s likely best suited for a special occasion rather than a casual Tuesday night (what recession?). Since Sax is an experience rather than just another place to grab a bite or a drink, I could see this as a great birthday, bachelor/bachelorette party, or even Halloween spot. Sure, the opulent décor, sexy vibe, and decadent food might seem a little over-the-op, but that’s the point. It’s all in good fun at Sax.