Plaudits: Washingtonian 2010 #6, Washingtonian 2009 #14, Washingtonian 2008 #18, Washington City Paper's Young and Hungry's 2009 Top 50 Restaurants, Washington Post 2009 Top 50 Restaurants, 2009 RAMMY Nominee - Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year
Neighborhood: Falls Church
We've known Official Mentors of DCWD Double-L and Double-S for almost 6 years, and for the last three or so years, 2941 has been the carrot that they've dangled in front of us. Perhaps no place was burdened with so many expectations as 2941, where Double-L and Double-S are beyond regulars (Double-L estimated that they'd been there some 300 times). CC and I joined them for a Saturday night dinner; I don't even think words could capture how excited we were.
I can use words for that, Kim! Literally, Kim and I checked in with each other all day, hourly.
"Have you caved yet CC?"
"I'm so ashamed, I ate 2 Hershey kisses. My appetite will be totally shot for tonight."
We scoured the online menus (foie-heavy!), reviews, and photos, we salivated and dreamed. Needless to say we were setting ourselves up to be disappointed. Thankfully, disappointed we were not.
It's hard to say what parts of our experience at 2941 were because of the slight VIP treatment we received; clearly getting to walk into the kitchen and meet Bertrand Chemel (!) and pastry chef Anthony Chavez was not part of the normal dining experience (though I guess you could always ask). What's clear is that the decisively pleasant service we got had no effect on how much I loved the restaurant's vibe. 2941 sits in the ground level of a giant office building, and as you pull into the driveway, you realize just how beautiful it is in spite of this fact. Walking up the path towards the front door, you walk over a koi pond, and a waterfall. You notice that two of the restaurant's walls are in fact giant full-length windows, and that the whole dining area has a warm orange glow. The bar area is to the right of the entrance, a pretty sizable black wood oval off to the side.
Aside from the chef's table (which is an eight-top in a small nook in the kitchen), and a private room, the dining area is one large room, with booth seating in the center, and a bunch of four-tops otherwise. The tablecloths are a warm light orange, and the seats are cushioned and colored cornflower blue and beige. The lighting is provided by some rectangular glass lanterns hanging low from the high ceiling. The other notable part of the dining space is the art; apparently the building is owned by some eccentric billionaire who loves art and Americana. There's a giant light fixture hanging behind the host stand which looks like a pyramid of orange glowing jellyfish, and our table was right next to a Rodin statue (CC: the closest I've been to a Rodin since I got in trouble in 5th grade for trying to touch a museum piece).
All of these aspects combine to make for a wonderfully beautiful dining space, and combined with the brilliant service we had all night (again, I'll caveat that we essentially got VIP treatment), it was an amazing vibe.
While Kim and I wondered if Double-L and Double-S would have reserved the chef's table for the evening, I am beyond glad, in retrospect that they didn't. It's a beautiful table in a huge open kitchen, but I have been in kitchens with professional chefs before. I love watching the process, I love being involved, but I'm over it. If I do ever spring for an in-kitchen chef's table not belonging to any of my friends (I hang with the pros on the weekends), it will be at The Inn at Little Washington, opera-music blaring in an impossibly clean workspace. Just to hope I get to watch it get dirty. If you've never been in a professional kitchen, I highly suggest you spring for it at least once, but otherwise, as Kim noted, there's so much to look at in the main room, and you'll get a better feel for the whole restaurant concept, beyond the food. If you want to look beyond the food.
(editor's note: Because of the low light in the room, and my desire to be polite with our company, we didn't take any food porn pictures. Sorry.
Also, because both of us were at this meal, we're gonna try something new here, and write this like it's a conversation. Which hopefully might convey how excited we are about this meal. We'll see how this goes.)
K: The homemade popcorn with shaved black truffle and truffle oil as bar food was the first sign that this was going to be a good meal. At the very least, it was the first time of many that CC and I looked at each other, and just smiled.
CC: For real, I dream about truffled popcorn on a regular basis. We started with cocktails at the bar--floral martinis, without heavy sweetness, but even that couldn't distract from the bowls of popcorn within arm's reach.
K: The four of us decided that the tasting menu was the best way to go, and Double-S thought that we should have the wine pairing as well (except our teetotaling DD Double-L). Before the tasting began, there were two food items of note. First was the bread course; slices of four house-made loaves: plain, olive, cherry and chocolate, and cranberry and walnut. These were decidedly pleasant and only Double-L's warning that we should make sure not to stuff ourselves with bread stopped me from eating the whole basket. The cherry and chocolate was absolutely lovely.
CC: I'd only add, that as per usual, I liked the olive one. And that house-made bread is increasingly rare, and I for one love it. So it was a nice treat for us.
K: The second premeal portion was a two-part amuse-bouche: a Chinese soup spoon of haricot verts topped with ricotta cheese...
CC: Which was surprisingly sweet--blanched in a sweetened water perhaps?
K: ...and a custard topped with a popcorn foam, bacon, and sage. As an amuse-bouche should, it set the tone for the meal and presented the chef's vision: bold flavors brought forth in wonderful combination presented beautifully.
CC: I still preferred the popcorn of the truffled variety to the amuse-bouche. Here's a game: Count how many times she tries to mention it in this and future postings.
K: The first course was chunks of Maine lobster with cranberry beans and sea urchin in a coriander nage (light stock made with white wine, carrots, onions, shallots, and herbs). Double-L, who doesn't like shellfish, had his replaced with salmon tartare, served on thinly sliced cucumber. Being a recent addition to the world of shellfish (overcame a childhood allergy), my experience with lobster isn't extensive, but this was some of the better shellfish that I've had, cooked well and tender. I thought it was nice and light with the cilantro flavors of the broth coming through well, though perhaps an interesting choice to start the meal. In retrospect, even though tartares are a dime a dozen, I would order the tartare if i had do it again.
CC: Awesome tartare. Not being a HUGE fan of lobster, I thought this was a delightful way to start the meal, soft and welcoming, but I'm not going to lie--I wish I had gotten the tartare instead. With just the right amount of citrus and crisp cucumber, this was a winner for me. My general thought on this course was that it was a soft and pleasant way to start the meal, but nothing extraordinary. Apparently my expectations of food are too high for my own good--I don't just want it to be good, I want it to be great.
K: The second course was shrimp ravioli topped with seared foie gras, served in a beef consomme with fiddlehead ferns and cinnamon cap mushrooms. CC and I are similar in that we love ourselves some foie gras, and I specifically love it anywhere (see: Hellburger, Ray's for evidence). This foie however kind of got lost in the dish for me, which was a little bit of a bummer. The consomme tasted almost exactly like pho broth (which again, there's wide evidence of my love for good broth). This would have been fine by itself, but I thought it overpowered everything else too much. On the other hand, it introduced fiddlehead ferns into my life, which were really a pleasure to crunch and munch on. I liked the dish at the time, but after the whole thing, it seemed just okay.
CC: As far as the meal goes, the ravioli was my least favorite as well. Why would anyone think to put shrimp in a ravioli? That sounds like the least appetizing thing ever. The ravioli was okay; the rest of the dish though was amazing--I wanted to drink the consomme with the foie gras. Paired with the slightly sweet and pleasantly grassy Pinot Gris (Domaine Barth Rene, Alsace, France, 2007), this was a really fresh tasting dish that I thought was perfectly appropriate for the change in seasons. The dish itself seemed transitional, but not in a confused way, the spring ferns were kissing the winter foie goodbye. And the shrimp ravioli was there, being warm and creamy, even if I wholeheartedly disagree with it. I begrudgingly admit that it added something.
K: The third course was a piece of seared Hawaiian albacore on top of a sherry glazed eggplant, with mustard greens and piment d'Espelette. I don't think I have enough space to describe how monumentally amazing or revelational this dish was. Texturally and taste-wise, these were a perfect match for one another, both in their own way melting in your mouth; both the tuna and the eggplant were just cooked to perfection. The sherry glaze gave the whole dish a very nice sweet tone, which I thought balanced the whole dish out. Again, this was absolutely phenomenal and I would order it again in a heartbeat.
CC: First thing: the eggplant. This was so right, inexplicably, with the albacore. The spin on sweet and sour was really unexpected, and something I am still thinking about. This was definitely the highlight of the meal for me. Perfectly done tuna that stood up to the sweetness of this dish, and again, that eggplant. Mmmm.
K: The fourth course was a guinea hen duo of roasted hen breast and morel boudin blanc hen sausage, with fava beans. This course was pleasant and homey, with nice warm flavors and an earthy taste to it. The fava beans were an okay addition, I guess. I'll let CC elaborate on it more.
CC: I have found that sometimes housemade sausages other than pork tend to be a lot more earthy and gamey than I want--I grew up on Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, and I'm not going to deny my love for the salty stuff. That said, the hen sausage was much more complex (sorry Jimmy), but still exactly what I wanted with the tender little breast. Looking back, if I have one thing to say about this meal is that on the whole, it was comfortable. Comfortable in the sense that the flavors and textures warmed me up on the inside and had me sighing blissfully. That doesn't mean that Chef wasn't taking chances or experimenting or being expressive, but he was providing what I think ultimately brings people together over food: love. This dish was like a hug. A hug or warm and comforting goodness--with familiar flavors hinting at a bit of the unknown. Not that into fava beans though, but that's just me. This dish continued to remind me that spring is thankfully just around the corner.
K: At several points during the meal, we started talking both about how the duck was amazing at 2941, and how much I loved duck; turns out Double-S grew up sort of Asian like I did and totally understood my passion for roasted ducks hanging in supermarket windows. So she decided to order off the a la carte menu, veering off the tasting menu for a dish. The duck breast was served on top of a quinoa-farro risotto, speck ham, swiss chard, with a blood orange marmalade. Duck is one of those proteins that I will order almost any time I see it on a menu, and this did not disappoint. The skin was nice and crispy, while the meat was perfectly cooked, with a little bit of pink and thus a whole lot of tenderness left in it. The other items in the dish were also perfectly paired, especially the swiss chard (another personal favorite).
CC: Though duck's not a personal favorite of mine (unlike Kim, I will almost never order it), this was a great duck. The blood orange gave a surprising and welcome bitterness to the dish, and the meat was really juicy. I even ate some of the skin! The citrus flavors throughout were really perfect, and I am glad that we got to try this dish. All in all it was a good dish, but I pushed my unfinished plate to Kim to finish. It also took this detour to really see what I think the chef was thinking about the tasting menu. While the courses weren't all what I would have chosen to order off the menu, the progression and the scope were unified in the freshness of spring and the depth of winter foods. I was really impressed.
K: After this brief hiatus from the tasting menu, we went back to the last two courses, both desserts. The first was a palate cleanser: a Seville Orange granite, with a Ceylon cinnamon foam and a citrus macaron (not to be confused with a macaroon, by the way). The second was a rhubarb pithivier, essentially stewed rhubarb served with a pithivier, (a large round caramelized puff pastry) with pistachio ice cream and star anise. I'll leave the first one aside, given that its role in the menu, though it was refreshing. The second dessert was solid, though I saw some others on the regular menu that I craved just a little bit more. It flowed nicely with the meal; I'm just not huge on rhubarb.
CC: While I am impressed by funky dishes with foams and froths and zippy tastes combinations, in the end I really want my dessert to hold my hand and promise to be my best friend. If there's one thing I am passionate about, it's dessert. Too often do I order desserts only to know that I've made a better version. With sophisticated tools and training, I expect a lot out of pastry chefs. I really enjoyed the rhubarb pithivier (especially knowing it's not something I'm going to make at home), and it's tartness went particularly well with the muscato (always a great dessert wine choice with fruits!). However, though Double-L attested to my fondness for this dish to the pastry chef, it didn't satisfy me. I really understand why it was paired with the tasting menu, but I want to leave on a solid and loving note, whereas this tart was more of just a tease for me. It was great, but I wanted to be overwhelmed.
K: CC's made note of a couple of the wines so far, but I want to add in closing that they were all brilliantly paired. I won't go into details about them, as I'm not nearly the wine expert as CC is (which is to say, that of the two of us, she understands wine much better than I do), but all i would say it enhanced the meal.
As we finished up with three petit fours (toffee, caramel popcorn, and a layered marshmallow) and coffee, all CC and I could do was smile at each other and assort this in our Top 5 lists.
K: Again I can't say for sure what parts of the meal were because of our company's relationship with the restaurant, and which weren't. What I can say is that the dining space is beautiful, and the food is absolutely amazing. From beginning to end, the service and the experience were exceptional; another hidden treat: if your dinner is later in the night, everyone is offered a loaf of the homemade bread as you leave. After I left, I said it was definitely in my Top 5 DC Meals, and I stand by that assessment.
CC: I absolutely agree with Kim, this meal would definitely be at home in my top 5 (Blue Duck, you've been bumped). I loved the atmosphere of the restaurant, and I really appreciated the vision in the tasting menu. Everything was great, even if there are elements I would have changed (cough, shrimp ravioli). The wine pairings were fantastic, and I left feeling happy, satiated, and a little bit dreamy. Maybe it was the wine, maybe the incredible artwork, the scene or the company, but it was definitely the food. I'm dreaming of a return visit...
Food Rating: ***** (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 1/2 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Business
Bar Rating: Classy Crowd
Cost: $$$$$ (out of 5) (more than $100 for two)
Pairing: It's a little bit of a drive, but considering that most DC residents will have to drive out to 2941 anyway, it shouldn't be that huge an issue. For such a high class night, you'll have to have an activity to match, so take in a concert at Wolf Trap out in Reston. Especially starting in the summertime, there's a pretty impressive and varied lineup that look awesome (Joshua Bell and the NSO, Mamma Mia, Backstreet Boys).