Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #31, Washingtonian 2009 #45, Washingtonian 2008 #72, 2009 RAMMY Nominee Rising Culinary Star of the Year Daniel Giusti, 2009 RAMMY Nominee Pastry Chef of the Year Travis Olson
I keep telling myself that each dinner reservation is going to be my last Restaurant Week dinner until August, but with RW extensions trickling on through January, how can I say no? And so, another last trip out this month, this time with Official Friend of DCWD Yupster to 1789, the perennially high-rated Georgetown restaurant.
Put it this way: when the hostess called to confirm our reservation, she politely reminded me that 1789 does not allow jeans or athletic wear (duh), and that it requires all gentlemen to wear jackets (oh...). Luckily, Yupster had one sitting in his office, and I could stop by my apartment on the way between work and the restaurant, but I think that's all you need to know about the atmosphere of the restaurant. No one really minded when we both removed our jackets when we actually sat down, though it should be noted, all the other gentlemen left theirs on. As for the noise level, it went back and forth, from a quiet buzz to a pretty loud chatter; it all depends on the party in the center of the room.
As for the decor, 1789 really reflects its theme; it really looks like what a country inn might look like in 1789. Upon entering, you're greeted with a dark all-black tavern entrance; after checking your coat, you're brought through a dark wooden door into the dining room. The seating area is small, with space for maybe 20 people (though apparently it's just one of five different dining rooms. This particular room had a bunch of two-tops lining its jagged edge and a few larger tables in the center of the room. The 1789 motif is most apparent in the wall decorations: dark wood paneling covered with scores of framed pictures of 1700s-style cartoons, decorative plates, and tavern kitchen wares. The room itself is a mix between a beige and salmon color, a color palette that is accentuated by the orange candlelight. Overall, the room is pretty decent date-wise, though the decor makes it a little bit kitschy, like you're dining in your grandmother's country house. Then again, I'm told the other dining rooms are a little more romantic, so maybe request a particular one when you call.
1789 has always been highly regarded so expectations were pretty high for both of us. We were presented first with an amuse-bouche, what I heard as a country pate but was more the consistency of head cheese, with pickled vegetables and house mustard. It was fine, if not a bit bland and probably not the best lead-in to the meal.
1789 offered four appetizers and four entrees off their regular menu, and the whole dessert menu for Restaurant Week, which was obviously very exciting. For the appetizers, Yupster ordered the veal pate, which came mixed with foie gras, black trumpet mushrooms, and served with bosc pears. I didn't get any of the foie gras, so I can't comment on that particular, but the bite I did get of the pate had more heft than normal pate, giving it more of a meaty consistency, which was nice. It also had a strong quick pepper taste, but since the ceiling for pate is only so high, it was just a good dish.
For my appetizer, I ordered the snail croquettes, which came on top of black lentils, crisped fennel and a cipollini onion. The texture contrast between the lentils and the crust of the croquette was great, as was the inside of the croquette, which oozed the garlic and parsley sauce inside. If there was a complaint about this meal, it was that there were only two snails in the whole cylindrical croquette, and they both were on the same end. Still, the flavors compared favorably to escargot I've had, and the whole meal had a nice rich taste of garlic and butter.
For the entree, Yupster got the bouillabaisse, which contained lobster, scallops, rouget, mussels, and clams. The piece of lobster I tasted was well-cooked, but mostly I just dipped bread into the stew after Yupster was done. The broth tasted very strongly of saffron (as it should), and it was a very pleasant meal on a cold night.
As for me, as soon as I saw the skate wing on the menu, I knew I had to go for it. Regular readers of DCWD will remember that I was underwhelmed with the skate at Bibiana at the beginning of Restaurant Week, and so I was looking to replace that memory. This skate did just that. Both Yupster and I agreed that this was a superior dish. The skate was perfectly cooked and beautifully tender, falling apart in stringy succulent pieces. Moreover, the skate came served on a brown butter polenta, with winter mushrooms and an onion marmalade, which was the absolute pitch-perfect additions to the fillet; the creaminess of the polenta blended perfectly with the texture of the skate to melt in your mouth, and the play between the savory and the salty with the polenta/skate and the mushrooms was amazing. This dish was absolutely exceptional.
With the full dessert menu at our disposal, we were ready for great desserts, and it didn't disappoint. In fact a lot of the desserts combined one traditional dessert's flavor with another's texture, which was pretty brilliant. I got the griddled coconut poundcake with tangerine ice cream, and warm grapefruit topped with brown sugar crunch, all in rum caramel. Each component was delicious, with the cake like a macaroon but in cake form, and with the tangerine ice cream as the standout in terms of taste. Yupster got the better dessert (which is becoming my M.O.), a pumpkin souffle cheesecake with butterscotch sauce, and pumpkin seeds and cranberries. Much like the cheesecake at Art and Soul, this cheesecake was surprisingly light (and, not to be obvious, but like a souffle in terms of lightness), and tasted exactly like a more substantive pumpkin pie. In combination with the seeds and cranberries, it was also exceptional for me.
This was so close to a five-star meal, if not for the fact that Yupster's appetizer and entree were both just great, and not exceptional. Still, the meal was outstanding, and certainly in my top 10 in DC. As for the date aspect, the small size of the dining area, the kitschy theme, the vacillating noise level, and the mandatory jacket rule (and the consequent white-cloth/slightly stuffy vibe) all mean that I can't wholeheartedly get behind this place as more than a solid date restaurant. Still, the food was great bordering on amazing, with a brilliant skate dish, and fantastic desserts.
Food Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Date Rating: 3 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business, Jacket Required
Bar Rating: Quiet Drinks
Vibe: Chatty to Energetic
Cost: $$$$ (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: This one's hard to pair, since you'll be theoretically be dressed to the nines for the dinner, and thus won't want to do anything particularly strenuous, so we'll just go with a walk along the tidal basin/waterfront at night. It's a little party-esque during the summer months, especially around the Tony & Joe's/Agraria building, but otherwise a very nice walk.