All words: Jeb Gavin
All photos: Cesar Olivares
Recently the powers that be over at the Blue Duck Tavern decided it was time for spring menus, (in this case the powers that be are executive chef Sebastien Archambault and chef de cuisine John Melfi.) The results were what you might expect from the Foggy Bottom restaurant situated on the ground floor of the Park Hyatt, clean and fresh and thought through so thoroughly the menu could be a graduate thesis on this history of Provencal inspired new American cuisine. Most every dish was composed to scream, “SPRING,” with such frightening alacrity you might expect to taste sarcasm in every bite of vernal vegetables and seafood, except the dishes are composed so earnestly, it’s difficult to complain about the results.
Most striking was a pistou of sherry and shallots, studded with fresh peas and fava beans, served over a sunny side up quail egg (what would normally be a 67-degree duck egg.) I only started eating eggs a few years ago, and then only if I cook them myself. I’d like to think I’ve come to make a pretty good plate of eggs, and this one dish made me regret all the times I’ve ever cooked eggs, as no matter how good I can do it, the folks at the Blue Duck Tavern do it better. This magnificent dish was served next to a piece of Scuda Bay salmon in a sorrel cream sauce, with wedges of sliced cucumber, hearts of palm, and a smoked trout roe. It’s a fine dish, and the salmon is very good this early in the year (I’m a coho man, I usually have to wait until the end of summer) but the egg and peas floored me.
Likewise, the salads were bright and clever takes on obvious choices. The wedge salad was served with shaved radish, a green goddess dressing tasting of herbs, all topped with crumbles of fried pig’s ear. Good, but not as good as the grilled radicchio with anchovy emulsion. Both were better than the shaved baby carrot salad. While the ginger dressing was fine, the citrus was overpowering, and the whole, cooked baby carrot was under seasoned and didn’t taste like much of anything.
On a more successful citrus front, the citrus mule was delicious, sort of a lemon-orange version of the Moscow mule, except the citrus balanced against the ginger beer to shave off the rough edge of vodka. There was also a bellini made of prosecco and peach puree, which would’ve been fine on its own, but the mixture was shot through with Disaronno and tasted too strongly of almond extract.
There were also small plates like the lump crab cake–one of the best I’ve had from a restaurant of this caliber. Too often crab cakes at fancy restaurants are an afterthought, a given based on the material and surrounding and location. You end up with a bit of canned crab, overcooked and stuffed with bread, tasting of grease instead of crab. This one was crisped on the outside and moist throughout, and most important not overpowered by the aioli or shaved fennel salad underneath. Likewise, a perfectly rare lamb chop was placed on top of a bit of shredded lamb belly with piquillo peppers and preserved lemon. The chop was delicious and the belly was fine, particularly the lemon and peppers, but I’m not certain it mattered that it was belly. It could’ve just as easily been any braised and shredded bit of lamb.
Desserts were little tarts topped with fruit, and very strong green peppermint ice cream, as well as petit fours. It was served with coffee from the men from La Colombe, who currently supply the restaurant with its coffee. Their Pure Black Cold Brew coffee comes in a beer bottle, and should be consumed like any dangerous stimulant, with respect given to set and setting, and definitely not any less than 10 hours before bedtime.
Despite whatever minor problems I might’ve had the day of, the patio at the corner of 24th and M is gorgeous- slightly recessed from the sidewalk, and provides a mock oasis from the 24 tourists marching down from Dupont towards Georgetown or back again. It’s hard to imagine a better place to while away spring evenings with a glass of rose and a few of their newest dishes.