Monday, February 23, 2009

Comforts of Yore

I always try to get the most value for money when I choose what places to go for Restaurant Week, and find that it is a very accurate gauge for the Management's approach to customers who would not normally eat at their establishment. While restaurants may make up for it in volume of patrons, or people would go for the non-included beverages with more ease, profit margins are easily shot at $20.09 and $35.00. The decisions that are made - offering up a full menu, or a slightly scaled down menu that still features the kitchen's signature or strongest dishes, and keeping up the standards in service even when the checks won't be as high as normal - have a direct impact on whether or not people will come back, Restaurant Week or not.

J. has been a steadfast Restaurant Week companion for years, idiosyncrasy and all. We had never been to Coeur de Lion but its fame as one of the old-DC establishments preceded it. On the corner of 9th and Massachusetts, NW and a block away from Mount Vernon place, the restaurant at the Henley Park Hotel saw the fall and rise of its environs. Conveniently located a few blocks away from the Convention Center metro stop, it is an old-fashioned watering hole. The bar, with a live yet non- intrusive piano, will delight anyone who enjoys visiting the Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery. The main dining room has a glass ceiling, a solarium of sorts - totally wasted on the dinner crowd, but a great alternative for enjoying the persistent sun of winter during lunch.

J. and I were promptly seated in the additional dining room, a nice space with deep red walls and stone masks. It is not really tied, decoratively at least, to the main space, and anyone wanting to sit under the glass ceiling ought to request it in the reservation. Our waiter was attentive but not overbearing, and presented us with the Restaurant Week menus as soon as we sat down.

To go with dinner, we ordered a bottle of moderately priced California Pinot Grigio - for such a high end restaurant, Coeur de LIon has several affordable options by the glass as well as the bottle. The menu was a scaled down version of the full menu - the crab dishes were gone, as was to be expected, but they kept the filet mignon and replaced the sea bass with rock fish. To start J. had the Pancetta Goat Cheese tart and I had the Belgian Endive salad. Since endives are pervasive at cocktail parties, I expected the boat presentation and was pleasantly surprised to be presented with a mound. The endives were sliced and tossed with frisee lettuce, topped with slices of Asian pear sliced figs, spiced walnuts, and cubes of stilton cheese. The dressing was a vinaigrette with sherry and walnut. The cheese paired very well with the figs and sherry, and I only wished the kitchen had added some more walnuts - the proportion of greens to accompaniments was slightly off and the overall bitterness of the salad was not as controlled as it could have been.

For entrees, J. ordered the Pan Roasted Moularde Duck Breast and I had the Seared Rockfish (the regular menu has the same dish, but with Sea Bass. I don't think Rock Fish is much cheaper than Sea Bass, so this might have been a decision based on freshness). J.'s duck was very well cooked, with a smokey note to it from the fat as well as the hoisen demi-glaze. My rockfish was delicious - the texture was firm but easy to cut through with a fork, and I dipped it into the lemon caper sauce before loading the fork with fennel and artichokes. There weren't many pine nuts in the plate, but the flavor was definitively there. I like all those ingredients, and had never had pine nuts with artichokes before - a wonderful combination of textures and acidity.

For dessert we both had an apple turnover (the other option was a chocolate cake). The ice cream was house-made and the vanilla bean specks were clearly visible, making the ice cream firm, fragrant and creamy. Turnovers are usually very homey looking desserts (I have many memories of my mom using the extra pastry from a more ambitious pie, chicken pot or otherwise, to make pineapple turnovers) but this one was a perfectly executed square.

J. and I had a leisurely dinner. I always appreciate not being rushed, but it was clear that the staff is not used to handling a full house anymore. The food is well-executed and though by no means cutting edge, it is infused with care and knowing hands at the back and front of the house. Let's hope Restaurant Week works its magic and Coeur de Lion can take its place as the neighborhood's dowager restaurant.

Coeur de Lion Restaurant
Henley Park Hotel
926 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 414-0500

Coeur de Lion on Urbanspoon

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