Every now and then, you come across a surprise; something new and wonderful that you didn’t expect. Like, at all.
Westend Bistro is one of those surprises.
It’s just north of Foggy Bottom, and y’all know I rarely leave Northeast. It’s in the Ritz-Carlton, Washington, D.C., and y’all know that bougey isn’t always my style. And yet. A recent preview of the restaurant’s new fall menu has me clamoring to return.
Originally an Eric Ripert project before the chef chose to pull out of the deal, Westend Bistro has existed in its current iteration for just over three years; two of those years have seen a kitchen under the leadership of Chef de Cuisine Alvin Dela Cruz. Originally from Half Moon Bay in Northern California (billed as the “World Pumpkin Capital”), Chef Dela Cruz has a perfect resume for fall flavors.
Each dish on Westend Bistro’s new fall menu showcases the spices, flavors, and colors of Fall; many use ingredients from the restaurant’s own hydroponic greenhouse; and each is gorgeous and, more importantly, delicious, highlighting the kitchen’s dedication to international flavors and regional ingredients.
Highlights from the new starters lean heavily toward the sea: plump, buttery sea scallops with a hard sear, two iterations of butternut squash (roasted and pureed), and pomegranate seeds for color and a pop of texture; and octopus that first gets a bath in the sous vide, then is grilled, brushed with a spicy sweet smoked pepper honey, and paired with piquillo peppers and crispy yucca tots.
Even more fall-oriented is the beautiful root vegetable salad, featuring cubed potatoes of the golden, purple, and sweet varieties; pumpkin; brussels sprouts; yams; and roasted apples, all atop a bed of labneh and sprinkled with toasted almonds.
Mains continue the late-season onslaught. A crispy mushroom quinoa pilaf is an earthy meatless main, with the foraged, battered, and fried fungi living up to the kitchen’s “crack mushrooms” nickname. Pan-fried sole (usually Petrale, but sometimes Dover) is creamy and sweet, glazed with a butter and sherry jus and plated with wild mushrooms and a heady side of creamed potatoes redolent of black truffles.
The real stars are the Chef’s meatier preparations. Short ribs are beefy and intense, and well-served by the 48-hour process involved in making them; meltingly tender, the cubes part with the slightest touch of a fork, and the accompanying celery root puree helps one sop up every drop of the beef stock and shiitake reduction. Roasted brussels and compressed pairs add just a touch of sweetness to cut against the richness and fat.
The winner of the night, and a dish that I will gladly return for, is the grass-fed lamb ragu, a shredded mass of tender lamb with a hint of gaminess, perfect for colder nights. Carrots, thinly sliced on a mandolin; crisp-fried herb gnocchi; and a generous shower of freshly-grated parmesan round out an impeccable plate.
As always, I’m not a huge dessert fan, though both dishes were stunning to look at. I’ll let BYT’s excellent photographer, Nick Karlin, speak to each.
Nick on the French apple tart: “It’s got fresh apples and cream cheese; the caramel flavor is rich, but not cloying; and the tart is crisp. The scoop of ice cream is cold and refreshing, and the tart itself is hot and crunchy – this dessert would go with any meal.”
Nick on the deconstructed S’mores: “It’s not as smoky as I’d like it to be, but I burn my marshmallows on purpose. Crusty on the outside, creamy on the inside, and a great hit of cinnamon. If you like pie, you’ll like this.”
Before our meal, I’d barely heard of Westend Bistro, and never would have made a trip across the city to dine there. After our meal, there is no question I’ll be back.