Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #4, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants
Neighborhood: Downtown, White House
I was planning a quiet weekend at home, when, while perusing some DC food blogs, I noticed that J&G Steakhouse was extending their Restaurant Week lunch deal. Now lunch during RW is really the good deal to be had, but between work and a trip to Manhattan, I couldn't quite squeeze one in. But with the extension and a free lunchtime slot, I just had to go. Official Friend of DCWD The Suit jumped at the chance, and we headed over for lunch.
J&G Steakhouse in DC is Jean-Georges Vongerichten's 25th (!) restaurant. On the other hand, within months of it opening, it had already shot past many well-regarded, and more importantly well-established restaurants into the Washingtonian Top 5. So while the buzz about the restaurant was huge, I had to reserve my judgment lest it was just another disappointing celeb chef outpost in DC.
J&G Steakhouse sits in the back of the W Hotel, the renovated former Hotel Washington. The entire hotel is swanky and chic (see: my previous post on the sloe gin fizz at the rooftop bar POV for reference) and walking through the lobby, even at noontime, is like walking through a nightclub (no joke, when we came in at midnight for the drinks at POV, there was a fashion photoshoot in the lobby). The ground floor is decorated with spiral glass chandeliers, video fireplaces, and large glass cube sculptures.
The decor at J&G has similar themes. The walls are a warm ecru with white trim accents, while the ceiling is covered by a giant white and gray pattern that was somewhere between paisley and speckles and fleurs-de-lis. The furniture is modern, and focuses around high-backed brown couches that sit in the center of the room and make up half the seating. The other seats are angular chairs of maroon and white leather, which sit around dark brown wood tables. The mood is spectacular; even at noon, you could tell that at nighttime the vibe would be fantastic. What's more, from certain tables, there are views of the Washington Monument and the White House lawn through the large colonial windows. Probably the only downside is that I don't think I saw anything even resembling a two-top; the smallest was a four-top.
This being a lunch, and J&G having a pretty extensive drink selection, we decided to indulge, first with the house made sodas, and then with actual drinks. For the meal, The Suit had the Ginger Ale, and I had the Cherry Yuzu. If you've ever had ginger beer, that's exactly what The Suit's tasted like, and mine came across very much like a maraschino cherry, though the yuzu flavor kept it from becoming too cough-mediciney. In all honesty, probably not worth the $5 charge more than once.
Like POV, the hallmark cocktails at J&G are expensive, but we figured we might as well live it up. The Suit went with the Calvados Sidecar (Calvados apple brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice, in a glass rimmed with cinnamon and sugar), and I picked the Yellow Jacket (tequila, St. Germain Elderflower, Yellow Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, and prosecco). Both were pretty good, though by the end of the meal, The Suit was too full to finish his, and I barely finished mine. Still, the quality of the drinks adds to the quality of the restaurant.
For our appetizers, The Suit went with the crispy calamari which came with pickled peppers and a yuzu dip. The calamari was a good mix between crispy and airy, and the breading was pleasant and light. The dip was nice and tart from the citrus of the yuzu, and the peppers added the right amount of spice (though I had a hard time determining if they were actually pickled or not). I chose the salmon tartare, which came on top of a guacamole base, topped with radishes in a ginger dressing. Given my feelings on avocado, I actually thought the flavor profiles were spot-on (though then again, not exactly a mind-blowing combination since it occurs all the time in sushi). The ginger dressing was also a nice addition. The crunch of the radishes also provided a good texture contrast with the fish and avocado. Then again, I also love tartare.
The problem with ordering my entree was that every review of J&G emphasizes that it's not just a steakhouse. And yet, when ordering, I felt compelled to order steak. The only problem was that The Suit ordered first, and he got the only steak dish offered for lunch, hanger steak with mashed potatoes. I ordered that as well and felt okay about it, until another waitress brought out a J&G Cheeseburger for the table next to us, and I rethought the doubling-up. This conversation happened as our waiter came to clear our plates and he overheard us, saying "So if you did want a cheeseburger, what kind of cheese would you want on it?"
I think now is an appropriate time to interrupt the food conversation for a quick talk about the service. Our waiter was fantastic, funny and wry, joking with us twice about ordering a bottle of Dom Perignon. This might have been patronizing in a sense, but it was always said in a way that didn't make us feel juvenile (in stark contrast to my experience with the manager at Teatro Goldoni). But there were two particular instances where the waiter really shone through. The first was the above conversation, which resulted in my actually getting a cheeseburger (though he brought me a steak knife anyway to "fake me out"). The second was at the beginning of the meal, when he asked The Suit, who was seated on the couch side of the table if he wanted pillows... and then actually brought some for him. This kind of attention really adds something to a restaurant, and certainly is comforting on a date.
As for the quality of the actual food, both the hanger steak and the cheeseburger (which we were told was 80% chuck and 20% sirloin) were perfectly enjoyable. Which is to say that the dishes were great but nothing amazing. The sides actually were probably the better part; the mashed potatoes with the hanger steak was amazingly buttery, and the fries on the cheeseburger were crispy. But again, nothing too out of the ordinary.
For desserts, there were only two that were interesting, the green apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream, and the creme fraiche cheesecake with glazed figs and a concord grape sorbet. Both were delightful; The Suit commented that it was the best apple crisp he'd ever had. The cheesecake I had was pretty good in and of itself, but was probably spoiled because of the perfect cheesecake I had the night before. Still, it was a very nice and soft cheesecake, that combined well with the fig and grape flavors.
Perhaps it didn't live up to the high expectations or the, in all reality, premature #4 rating. But the dishes were all plus meals (just nothing amazing) and the service was fantastic. The atmosphere was actually very date-friendly, as long as you don't mind the extra space of a four-top. The decor, the dining area, and if you're lucky, the view, all make for a wonderful experience.
Food Rating: **** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4.5 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business
Bar Rating: N/A
Vibe: Calm to chatty
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: The Warner Theater is a block and a half away. Last season's run included Avenue Q and Rent, and Tegan and Sara and Norah Jones are both on the schedule for this coming spring.