Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Neighborhood Institutions

Georgetown is proudly insular, a town within a city enveloped by a city that concedes only the slightest hint of continuity with the rest of the District through its street names. I would never call my beloved neighborhood trendy - it's charm is opposite: a storied place. And though this has an effect on walking-distance dining choices, 1789, a grand Dame of dining (power or otherwise) has earned its place as the other Georgetown institution. The flipside to t his fame, however, is that my demographic (a couple of years out of school) pigeon-holes these types of establishments as special-occasion only (also known as parental visit-appropriate). The team at 1789, headed by Executive Chef Dan Giusti, is now offering new ways to experience 1789: a Seasonal Tasting Menu (three courses for $40) that will change monthly (October features Apples) and a monthly cooking class ($75 per person) on the last Saturday of each month (starts at 10 AM on Saturday, October 24, reservations required) where participants will learn how to cook said menu alongside Chef Giusti and finish with a three-course lunch paired with wines.

A few weeks ago 1789 invited us for dinner, which included a tasting portion of the October menu - Apple Cider Lacquered Pork Shank. The apple cider gave the shank a light sweetness, while the Yukon gold potato puree, roasted apples and radishes was a great play on textures and flavors, with the bright colors off-setting the pork. I would love to learn how to roast apples without sending them over the edge which is what I always do when I try to use apples in a savory dish.

As for the rest of the meal, I started with a Grey Goose martini. 1789 requires men to wear jackets for dinner, and cell phones must be turned off. These small but important nods to civilized dining had to be celebrated with a timeless cocktail. For my first course I had the Hearts of Palm Salad - something I love to make but that takes on a whole new dimension when the Heart of Palm are fresh. As this is an autumn dish it comes with baby beets (yellow and red, things of beauty), Bronte pistachios (from Sicily, often favored), a touch of horseradish and creme fraiche that both cooled and complemented the spicy greens. For such a long list of ingredients, the salad remained very well-balanced.

I had never tried veal Sweetbreads, and I figured 1789 was the best place to try them. Their veal sweetbreads are crispy, with a consistency similar to foie gras. To cut through the heaviness, the kitchen adds lemon, radish and, importantly, sweetbread jus, which keeps the flavor consistent. Roasted scallions add a touch of smoke. American cuisine does lamb very well, and I need to make myself order other things, in spite of how much I love lamb. This time around I tried the Spiced Caroline Red Snapper - a creative cut of filets that allows the kitchen to keep as much of the fish as possible, without serving it whole. Though the rub needs more spice (I have to disclose a bias in favor of the very spice), the green apple and glazed ginger provided a much needed crunch as well as a distinct aroma. The Jerusalem artichoke and baby fennel also paired well, and again, a long list of ingredients that somehow harmonized on the plate. I paired it with a lovely Riesling that was mildly effervescent without being too minerally.

For dessert (I tried to resist but the dessert menu, it called to me) I tried the Milk Chocolate & Poire William Mousse, which features one of my favorite combination: bartlett pear and chocolate. I find that milk chocolate works best as it does not overpower the delicate pear flavor. What makes this very French combination oh so American is the bittersweet caramel and cocoa espresso crunch.

Check their website for updated seasonal offerings and treat yourself to a night of great food and no cell phone.

1789 on Urbanspoon
1789 Restaurant
1226 36th St NW
Washington, DC 20007

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