Photos By Andy DelGiudice, Words By Zeke Leeds
The Oval Room is power dining by default. It’s a white tablecloth restaurant in the Golden Triangle, a stones throw from the White House. The dishes by newly appointed Executive Chef John Melfi, previously the chef de cuisine at Fiola Mare, are delightfully unpretentious. It’s a good reminder of what should be central to good formal dining. The wine pairings are fantastic–a fine sommelier is a thing to behold (check out some of their wine picks in our DC Wine Guide –ed) .
Things were off to a good start beginning with our first cocktail, Phoenix Risen, an ingenious take on a Manhattan. In all honesty, I’m too young to be avid Manhattan drinker, my father’s father was more of the drinks primary demographic. But the Phoenix Risen is a good example of why these old standbys have been able to gain a new life, as these classics are re-imagined into something new and exciting. It was certainly the best use of Old Overholt of which I’ve experienced in my young life.
As for food, we began with the blood clam. Up front is the taste of citrus, swiftly followed by the beautiful seaside salinity of fresh seafood. That was followed by the hamachi crudo—purple ninja radish, avocado puree, pineapple and lime vinaigrette. A light, refreshing dish that displayed the chef’s stellar ability to create thoughtfully balanced dishes.
To eat foie gras (in America) is the definition of fancy food. It is also wonderful (and slightly controversial), and Melfi’s foie gras terrine with coco nib granola, black cherry, and sage was a truly unique approach to it. Utilizing the rich, buttery flavor of the foie gras and rendering it into something of an almost dessert-like satisfying quality.
The entrées, pan roasted Icelandic cod and a cherry cola braised short rib, were the night’s standouts. It’s a good sign when the entrées are the highlight of the meal. The cod was cooked perfectly, and not much can beat the meaty yet light and not overly fishy taste of well-prepared cod. While the braised short rib could have easily been overly sweet having been braised in cherry cola, it was none the sort. Terrifically moist and savory, a clear demonstration of the forthright composure of Melfi’s plates.
And if the entrées were the climate of the meal than the dessert was its resolution. The last and final treat, the peanut butter feulletine was dense, dense chocolaty goodness. The peanut butter chocolate bar with its crunchy crust of a base, like the world’s most dastardly decadent candy bar, might have been overpowering save for the palette cleansing and all-around spot-on raspberry sorbet.