Nestled on a quiet, tree-lined street only blocks from the never-ending hustle and bustle of K Street is the cozy, intimate Hotel Tabard Inn Restaurant, a perfect restaurant for a first date.
Non-descript in appearance, one would never know by walking past that behind a simple, unadorned façade lies one of D.C.’s culinary gems.
Patrons arriving at the hotel for dinner first pass through a grand sitting room with dark wood walls and a grand fireplace, where many patrons on the night I went were enjoying drinks and appetizers as they waited for their table.
The Tabard Inn, noted among D.C. foodies for its brunch, should also be recognized for fantastic dinner service.
Accompanied by a woman, I found the soft lighting in the dining room, accented with the glow of flickering candles, created the perfect atmosphere for the occasion.
The lovely, warm setting of the restaurant, however, was only a prelude to the amazing food to come.
As we sat down to dinner, one of the drawbacks, if you want to consider it one, was that upon reviewing the menu everything looked enticing and worthy of being ordered.
My dining companion and I started the evening by splitting an order of shrimp toast and orange marlin ceviche. Shrimp toast and ceviche, dishes long ago codified into annals of classical cooking, were masterfully reworked in the hands of Chef Paul Pelt, imbued with layers of complexity and flavors.
Shrimp toast, a simple Chinese dish, so often indistinguishable and unremarkable in its texture or taste, was brought to life by the accompaniment of a spicy mustard and sweet marmalade. Mixed together, the sweet and sour combination elevated this dish to a height that neither my dinning companion nor I could have imagined when we ordered it.
Just as remarkably, the chef demonstrated his ability to think outside the culinary box with the ceviche. The ceviche was served as four sushi-thin slices of marlin, rather than being finely minced as is so often done. Elegant in presentation, the flavor of the orange infused into the marlin created a light, refreshing dish that bursted forth with flavor.
The main courses of the evening included semolina-crusted soft shell crab over house-made black ink tagliarini topped with trout roe and seared moulard duck breast with a cocoa duck ravioli.
The soft shell crab, which was more al dente than soft, overcame this shortcoming with the succulent crabmeat inside. However, the most intriguing, and brilliant, part the dish was the decision by Chef Pelt to top the dish with trout roe. The roe, which has almost no taste of its own, takes on the flavors of whatever it comes in contact with. In a dish such as this one that melds together a rich variety of flavors, the addition of the roe allows the patron another avenue for enjoying the complex nature of the dish.
The best saved for last, the duck was the high-water mark of the night. Tender and succulent, resting on a bed of mushrooms, surrounded by a full-bodied au jus, the duck was superb. I have had duck many times, but this was by far the best duck I have ever had. The menu at Tabard Inn changes frequently, but if this dish is on the menu, order it.
In an atmosphere intimate and cozy, the Hotel Tabard Inn Restaurant offers spectacular food and the perfect setting for any first date.
Erica Wisniewski contributed to this article.
On Thursday, February 26, at 11 AM, join four notable local bartenders featured in the March issue of The Washingtonian for a discussion about the spirits du jour, the history of cocktails, the craft and technique behind a well-made drink, and more.
Drink in the Details is a monthly column highlighting spirits and classic cocktails written by DC Craft Bartenders Guild members Adam Bernbach (Bar Pilar) and Chantal Tseng (Tabard Inn). Chantal’s sister once excused herself to the ladies room during the course of a long tasting menu at a nice restaurant. Turns out that she knew some kung fu breathing exercises that would help her expand her stomach so she could regain her appetite and continue feasting. Unfortunately, she would give no hint as to what kind of mojo she performed that night. We can, however, offer a couple strategies for easing the pain of overindulgence for this Thanksgiving via the drinking of particular types of bitter spirits. The word bitter is often associated with unpleasant sensations. It's not sweet, salty, or sour. It’s the other: jarring and confusing. But there is a scientific reason for “bitter.” The tiny flavoring agents that make something taste bitter act the same way that poisonous substances do in our bodies, by triggering a response. When the human body detects an unwanted or potentially dangerous substance, it spikes one's metabolism, which then instigates hunger in order to more efficiently process said substances. Our bodies are designed to rid themselves of anything that might be harmful as quickly as they can. So let's say you're staring down a Thanksgiving table of turkey, ham, fish, casserole, sweet potatoes, pasta salad, beets, cranberries, etc… If you don't try one of everything, Grandma, Auntie Ambrosia, your brother-in-law, and your second cousin from your dad's first marriage will all be emotionally scarred for life. Relax. A pre-meal ritual of Campari & Soda or an Aperol Grapefruit Spritzer is traditional among the gourmands of Italy. Light in body, bright with citrus, these two bitter aperitivi are an amazing way to get your tummy ready for a feast. Too much on your plate? Take five deep long breaths and then shoot down a bittersweet Amaro like Nonino or Nardini. It's time to send a warning to your digestive system that it’s about to become a serious churning machine.