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Words by Logan Hollers
Photos by Nicholas Karlin

Blue Duck Tavern has a lot to celebrate. Attached to the Park Hyatt in West End, the restaurant recently celebrated its 11th anniversary. Blue Duck also learned last week that it maintained its Michelin star, awarded last year when the food guide (finally) expanded to D.C.

But most importantly, two new chef shuffles have done little to unmoor the restaurant from its reputation as being one of the original (and now near-ubiquitous) “farm to table, regional, sustainable” eateries in D.C., with a menu that still notes every farm where the main ingredient for the dish was raised or grown.

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In February, Troy Knapp took over as the new executive chef of the Park Hyatt Washington family, overseeing all of the hotel’s culinary operations, including Blue Duck. And in early August, the restaurant welcomed Daniel Hoefler as its new chef de cuisine.

Hoefler is no rookie; the chef brings more than sixteen years of experience, having worked at esteemed restaurants throughout Berlin, Dubai, and Chicago. A group of diners, including BYT, recently had the opportunity to meet Chef Hoefler and sample his new seasonal creations, each of which hews to Blue Duck Tavern’s motto: “gather and celebrate.”

Starting us off was a round of the new, seasonal (of course) cocktails on the restaurant’s fall menu. Highlights included the Cinnamon Toast Punch, a creamy concoction that consisted of mezcal, cognac, cinnamon, and horchata; the Lapsang of Luxury, a deeply complex drink of tequila, Chinese lapsang souchong black tea, and mole(!); and the Black Beauty, a perfect fall cocktail that combined rye whiskey with a pleasantly bitter house amaro and dehydrated blood orange.

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Chef Hoefler’s dinner menu is similarly situated to the dropping temperatures (well, somewhat dropping – I don’t think the chef anticipated 75* days in late October). The herbal crunch of the endive salad is offset by rosy slices of tea-smoked duck breast; a foie gras terrine is decadently creamy and rich, paired perfectly for Autumn with a spiced maple syrup, pumpkin puree, and a smoked apple compote. The braised cranberry beans accompanying a dish of crispy pork belly make for the best bite of the night, but the bone marrow is the hands-down star of the “starters” portion of the menu: oven-roasted and topped with beef cheek marmalade, a BBQ spice crust, and charred lime.

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The chef also has a deft touch with both land and sea proteins: a wonderfully-cooked filet of Skuna Bay salmon sports a shatteringly crisp skin-side, day boat sea scallops are seared hard and paired with an onion soubise and micro cilantro, and a braised beef rib with pickled fresno chimichurri is the elevated pot roast of which dreams are made (and for which bread is provided, all the easier to mop up that sauce).

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Pastry chef Erin Reed is a Blue Duck veteran, and with good reason: even this non-dessert eater could get down with her Butternut Squash Cake with cream, curry roasted apples, and coconut sorbet. But the surprise of the night was Chef Reed’s triple cream panna cotta, with hints of funky Brillat-Savarin cheese, lemon curd, candied figs, and a quenelle of a bracing concord grape sorbet.

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Blue Duck Tavern deserves its accolades – it hires well, and continues to serve regional, sustainable products at a (somewhat…this is D.C., after all) reasonable price. BDT just celebrated its 12th anniversary, which is all the more reason you should stop in to celebrate yours. All special occasions welcome.

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