Newly awarded Michelin starred venue to Washington DC as of 2017 serving food that is as fun as the layout and atmosphere inside
The Michelin guide has only just stretched to including Washington in its American repertoire as of 2017 and a chance passing by gave me an opportunity to drop in to one of their newly awarded starred restaurants. This option showed an absolutely buzzing atmosphere with minimal pretention and with obvious care and attention gone in to the detail of the dishes. There were some gorgeous things on the menu here, including a wonderful buttermilk dressing to go with the salad and puffer fish and the walk-in option to sit and dine at the bar was a great touch. The full, open kitchen complete with head chef Jeremiah in normal clothes, huge wood fire (for gaining the coal to cook with) gave a homely feel made me very pleased to have tried this for my one evening in Washington. Consequently, I would thoroughly recommend for virtually any occasion. Bookings in advance are recommended if you don’t want to risk the packed bar as well.
Having said the summary, I have to say the first impression of here was how strange the exterior was. The approach almost feels like you are weaving through the garage area of backstreet parking to neighbourhood houses. However, The Dabney is not alone in this way as there are several other eating and drinking places within this trendy and somewhat bohemian area.
Once you navigate to getting in to The Dabney the bar greets you to eat at if there is space and you want to simply walk in but this remained packed throughout the whole of the Saturday night I was there, so for busier times, it might be best to manage expectations. Luckily there was space at the bar when I went and I consequently had the perfect view of the restaurant on the end of the bar. I loved the way the chef was in normal clothes with apron as if you are in his home and the huge log fire behind is a lovely ornament (the fire is not actually used for the cooking as I discovered but for gaining the red hot coals for wood which are then used as the heat for cooking the pans left and right of this, similar to tao pan cooking at Kiln. There’s also no messing with the strength of the cocktails here and my G & T was very well done, with hints of orange in the mix which was a refreshing touch.
So first up, which absolutely had to be done were the pork rind snacks (essentially puffed up crackling). These were sprinkled with a sugared mix and were absolutely gorgeous, no kidding. Such a lovely pork essence and the dusted element of the sugar was not only a pleasing texture for these but a super flavour as well.
The ‘toads’ (a type of non-poisoness puffer fish) were deep, crunchy, sugared and sweet with a superbly balanced ranch dressing at the bottom to go with. I loved the honey-glazed exterior of the skin and the crunch that went with this and the truly outstanding flavour of the buttermilk dressing to go with the salad (the dressing also contained garlic, pepper, Worcester and cheese). My gripe with this dish though is that although I took great care to not bite in to the toads too much (as they were deep fried whole, leaving the bone in place), I still had bone in virtually every mouthful which was a pain to deal with and ruined many mouthfuls. The only option was to be insatiably careful with each bite which took away the joy of the dish. When it was had bone-free, the fish itself was a pleasing flavour nonetheless.
The focaccia bread had a great texture and flavour and the whipped lardo and this was exquisite – it was essentially the perfect halfway house between fried and toasted bread and the fennel pollen, aleppo pepper, sea salt and black pepper on top made the already beautifully whipped butter on to another level of happiness. This really is a ‘you cannot go here and not have this’ sort of side I would say and one of the nicest bread and butters I have had in a while. The soft-shell crab was quite substantial and although I thought the stock at the bottom was a nice touch along with the spiced emulsion on top, the dish lacked overall flavour for me. Whilst I waited for my guest, I asked the foie gras to be on hold which they kindly did for the 30 minutes and moved me to one of the high rise tables opposite the bar which had space for two; it was also a kind gesture of the restaurant to nibble on a small scallop offering in the interim which was nicely done with fennel puree.
The cooked foie gras itself was as supple and quality as they come with a lovely rhubarb gel, with sesame seeds on leaves. The butter milk pancakes were something different but ultimately, I thought too heavy; I liked the gentle charred flavour which was good but that also came with overall quite bitter and would have been a bit too much so if on own but with the moscato was a decent combination.
Of all the places I could have ended up for my one evening in Washington, this was a bet that paid off and the causality, atmosphere, buzz and polished service combined with great food made it a certainty of a decent experience for visiting. The bottom line: this is a very good place to visit for virtually any occasion.
Food Grade: 82%
Location (Click google logo for directions)