all photos: Shauna Alexander
We had our first Oval Room meal in 2011 and it remains, to this day, one of the most talked about eating experiences in our office. And for good reason. At the time, Ashok Bajaj’s power lunch/dinner spot was serving absolutely nothing you’d expect from a DC power lunch/dinner spot: Chef Tony Conte was whipping up some of the most creative seafood, some of the most colorful salads, and some of the airiest pastas we’ve ever tried, and if the white table clothness and K street proximity of it all was replaced with a location just a little more north and east, we were confident this menu would have been mentioned in the same breath as those of Rose’s Luxury or Komi (did we just say that? yes we did).
Now, three years later, the restaurant has undergone a physical facelift (the bar is now a place to hang out, there are no white table cloths anywhere to be seen, among other things) but the most important thing still remains: Chef Conte is still in the kitchen.
Now with a brand new bar snacks menu, you can start enjoying the miracle of it all while at the bar too (or swing by for a bar lunch – $20 gets you one drink, one dish and one dessert in what is probably one of the better deals in downtown DC) to go with the ever-evolving cocktail menu, but trust us – the main experience still awaits in the dining room.
From the raw selection (the yellowfin tuna and the fluke we had were what we dream of when people say the word “crudo”) to the warmer appetizers (the charred octopus sitting on top of Peruvian marinade with Fried Chikpeas and Cilantro cream is a top contender though Conte’s sweetbreads are perfectly airy) to the “What the hell are we going to have to choose for our main course?” (our table did the necessary thing: 5 different dishes and a rotating bite-of-each before everyone selected their favorite to stick with – though the Snapper, the Salmon and the Pork chop had the most votes overall, if only by a hair) to the extraordinary dessert and coffee program that follow it all – there is very few missteps one can make with this menu (So much so that suggesting the tasting menu here doesn’t seem like a cop-out, but simply a sane, wise thing to do so one can stop worrying about decisions and just enjoy the food).
This may sound almost too overwhelmingly positive, but the only reason why that is the case, because it is true (at least for this writer).
There are certain things you come to look forward to with Conte’s dishes a new diner should keep in mind: his enjoyment of Asian flair, his spicy tooth (sure he digs into his Italian roots with the Spaghetti and other classic pastas, but those are Charred Jalapeno Spaghetti in his hands, and truffles and foie gras are your new regular dinning companions here), and his liberal use of fruits (beets come with a blackberry vinaigrette, oysters are swimming in a rhubarb juice, the crab salad is on a peach cocktail sauce and those sweetbreads are paired with a green mango salad) but all of it just adds up to a series of constant PLEASANT surprises for the diner. The kitchen and everything coming out of it is brimming with confidence (but not the dreaded OVERconfidence) and it shows.
It all comes down to one thing: If you haven’t been – GO NOW. If you have been and have maybe worried that this new modernization resulted in a “dumbing down” of the menu for the new, less serious clientele the restaurant is trying to attract-SHAME ON YOU.
Reservations-right this way.