Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Grill Room Food Review

Suckling Pig Trio

Try as I may, it's hard to take me too seriously as a food critic. After all, my first hundred or so reviews centered around burgers, cupcakes and pizza. But truth be told, I've made a conscious effort to "broaden my horizons," and provide equal billing to upscale food. That commitment paid off handsomely tonight, as I previewed the new menu at The Grill Room (part of the Capella Washington, D.C., Georgetown.) I've been here on two prior occasions, but that was before new executive chef Frank Ruta and pastry chef Aggie Chin took over the kitchen. Together again (remember Cleveland Park favorite Palena?) this culinary dynamic duo appears poised to turn DC dining on its head. Heaven knows, mine is still spinning with delight after tonight's three-course stunner.

If you've never been (start saving, it's an incredible hotel) the Capella wastes little time in wowing you. Immediately to your left, The Rye Bar, one of Georgetown's swankiest watering holes. A few steps further, The Grill Room. It's not a sprawling space per se; but its window views of the C&O Canal (especially on a snowy night) are literally jaw-dropping. Looking to impress? Look no further.

Rabbit en Porchetta

The atmosphere is far from pretentious (unlike some of DC's other top hotels) but no less elegant. Tables are dressed in warm tans with red candle holders. Spacing is ideal (private conversations are the rule, not the exception) and the lighting/music of the highest order. Not too dark, not too light; and a smooth jazzy background that oozes comfort. Best of all, the leather chairs are rich-looking, deceptively wide and comfortable. Service is stellar, kind and professional (and never meddlesome.)

Complimentary Bread: Popover

So far, so good; but that's to be expected in a 5-star establishment. Great food on the other hand is (sadly) promised to noone. Thankfully, The Grill Room appears to move Heaven and Earth to provide it. Tonight's menu offered more than half-a-dozen starters and main entrees. Clever options like Kabocha Squash and Shiitake Mushroom Soup with lime cream and espelette and Rabbit en Porchetta with a glorious celeriac remoulade. I opted for the latter; but before we delve into its deliciousness... let's touch on the bread basket.

Complimentary Bread: Biscuit

Dining alone has its perks: Mainly, having the entire bread basket to one's self. I was able to splurge on three different varieties, each one better than the next. Two golden brown squares of Corn bread got things started, followed by two incredible mini-biscuits that didn't even need butter (not that it stopped me from applying small amounts.) Good as both were, they couldn't come close to the lights-out delectability of the fluffiest, lightest popover I've ever had (besting Mom's and my homemade versions in the process.) As my server pointed out, all breads and pastries are made in-house (tell my realtor, I want to move here.)

Complimentary Bread: Corn Bread

Bread devoured (I reluctantly left one biscuit, in the hopes of avoiding a label of gluttony) I was greeted by my decorative starter. The rabbit is Pennsylvania Amish, accompanied by house pickles (fantastic) sweet mostarda (the most underrated ingredient on the plate) and a generous spear of celery root for even more added crunch. The rabbit porchetta was well-seasoned and fresh-tasting. I like to think I have a pretty good palette; but it's obvious, whoever chose these particular ingredients is (A) very creative and (B) has an even better set of tastebuds than yours truly. $18 never spent so well. And to think some people have never even had rabbit (shudder.)

Dessert: Root For It

The kitchen provided a brief respite, long enough for me to finish my glass of Northstar Merlot 2010 (Columbia Valley.) I've had it before (loved it) and chose it over several options of Taittinger champagne (I try not to drink too much on weeknights.) There's no shortage of choices; but you can't go wrong with a merlot of this caliber.

On to the main entree, a Suckling Pig Trio which barely edged out the Dry-Aged Shenandoah Angus Ribeye with Yukon Gold potato puree. "Three little pigs" (it has to catch on, no?) comes as a stuffed breast (with a nice hint of pepper) braised shoulder and roasted loin with an assortment of fresh kohlrabi, green apples and roasted beets. Pork and apples go together like two peas in a pod; but hats off for the addition of kohlrabi, another underrated vegetable. Since we're busy heaping praise, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how unbelievably tender the braised shoulder was. Yum. Not sure what the sauce was; but it was rich, and provided the perfect amount of bite/spice. Finally, a plate of food that tastes as good as it looks.

Thanks to sensible portion sizes, I had more than enough room to try one of six dessert choices (five, if you don't count cheese & crackers.) If you thought deciding on a starter and main entree was hard, try eliminating the following sweets from consideration. Sicilian Holiday with pistachio ice cream and sheepsmilk ricotta cake; and Just Say Ah, green apple & fennel sorbet with gingered apples and coconut curry meringues. Considering each one costs just $12, you could justify ordering two; but I settled on Root For It, two parsnip cakes surrounded by butternut squash and a brown sugar mousse with a tiny scoop of ginger ice cream and a drizzle of caramelized white chocolate crema. Sweet, savory and fabulous, it's worth having dinner for, just to get to it. If this is what Chin has up her considerable sleeve, I might stop by once a week just for coffee and dessert.

If you're looking for negatives, you'll find none here: Fear not, my site has (sadly) plenty of them from other establishments. The Grill Room is simply on another stratosphere... one where wonderful food, service and ambiance rule the roost. I can't wait so see what Ruta and Chin have in store for an encore. It's obvious that the Capella wants to cater to local diners as well as discerning travelers; and if tonight's meal is any indication, they couldn't have made a better first impression.