Words By Rachel Cothran, Photos By Shauna Alexander
If you didn’t know, 701–on Pennsylvania Avenue just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Archives/Navy Memorial Metro station–has been around for nearly twenty-five years, which is ancient in the food biz. But this old dog has new tricks up its sleeve, and that means not just a fresh new spring menu, but a burst of fresh, young talent in the kitchen making it happen.
Calling 701 an “old dog” isn’t the picture we necessarily want to paint. “Old dog” in this case means that when you walk in the front door, the host greets you with a tone that strikes the right balance of warmth and formality. There are white tablecloths. The lighting is perfect and not by accident. Even with each table occupied, the noise level never rises above a cozy, seductive murmur. It’s a place you go for a client meeting your company pays for. It’s where you pop the question if you’re into doing that sort of thing at a restaurant (do it over the olive oil semifreddo–more on that later). It also happens to be where you’re going to want to go for some kickass cocktails. So let’s start there.
Beverage Director Chis McNeal, late of VOLT and Hawaii (the state…not a new D.C. bar catching up to NYC’s 2011 surf-culture trendlet) has revamped the entire cocktail menu, introducing kicky options like the Seabees Knees (made with Leopold Bros. “Navy Strength Gin,” lemongrass, and honey) and the Black & Bluegrass, a drink he whipped up on the fly at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival made with Bulliet whiskey, blackberry cello (like “Limoncello” but with blackberry. That wasn’t too hard, right?), lemon, and soda.
Go on a hot day, sit on their spacious outdoor patio (Happy Hour is from 3-7 p.m. on the patio or in the lounge, depending on the weather) and tuck into a Tangerine Dream (Stoli Vanilla, orange-basil granita, prosecco) or a Palisade, a perfectly balanced blend of Leopold Bros. peach whiskey (McNeal is admittedly obsessed with the Denver-based distillery), rhubarb bitters, black tea, and lemon. It’s served over ice and stays delicious as it melts and mellows.
The food, newly under the tutelage of Executive Chef Benjamin Lambert (Le Cirque 2000, Union Pacific, Restaurant Nora), is refined but not stuffy. One of the most delightful (and delicious) examples of this youthful, inventive approach is Green Eggs & Ham: deviled eggs with the devil dressed up in basil, mint, cilantro, and rapini. An appetizer of artichokes, rhubarb, buttermilk and bacon–earthy, sweet, a champion of springtime flavor–will appear on the menu in a few weeks and will be worth the wait. Snapper bathing in Thai basil, coconut, and Lambert’s outrageously good lobster xo sauce is full of flavor and texture. Lambert has a thing for foraging, something he has started to do in D.C., his newly adopted town (apparently you can find black walnuts along the northern part of Connecticut Avenue, near Tenleytown).
Sally Roach, 701’s pastry chef, has a winner in her Olive Oil Semifreddo. Served with burnt orange and macerated strawberry, the dessert is like strawberry shortcake for grownups.
The dessert appears on the “Sunday Supper” menu, a promotion just launched this month that involves a seasonal, constantly-changing three-course dinner for $35; $55 for the menu with a bottle of featured wine. The live jazz playing in the background? Free!