Wednesday, February 9, 2011


by Carol Joynt

By the time-honored trends of the restaurant industry, this weekend marks when inhabitants of wintry climes come out of their post-New Year hibernation—at least for a night of celebrating romance. That’s how important Valentine’s Day is to restaurants. The logic is that for most people the debt from holiday gifts has been (mostly) paid off; taxes aren’t due for another 60 days, and what’s more warming and enriching than a romantic dinner with the one you love?

Julien Jouhannaud, Executive Chef of Adour.
My dinner date, Aubrey Sarvis, at Adour.
With that in mind I visited one of the most romantic rooms in Washington, the main dining room of the St. Regis Hotel on 16th Street, within view of the White House. It’s been home to many restaurants over the last 20 years, some spectacular, some not, and then it sat empty. Whatever ground was lost got regained two years ago with the arrival of Adour, the DC encampment for the culinary militia of French master chef Alain Ducasse.

At first the critics were wary, but that has evolved into ebullient enthusiasm for the cooking of Executive Chef Julien Jouhannaud and his team, including pastry chef Fabrice Bandano.

Washingtonian magazine recently ranked Adour number five in its list of the region’s top 100 restaurants, applying words like “masterful,” “exquisite” and “decadent.” Zagat gives it a surprisingly lesser rank, which I don’t understand. Maybe it’s the prices, but Zagat states, in Zagat-speak, that the “superb” fare is “worth it.” Mobil gives it four stars.

I’ll back all that and add this: the windows alone deserve the max in stars or points. From the outside and the inside they shout romance and European elegance, which is fitting for a hotel that was built in the 1920s with starry ambition. It’s where Perle Mesta hosted some of her galas, not to mention a parade of glittery and powerful names in the decades since. With the history and decor, sophisticated French cuisine is a good fit.

Adour is quite suitable for business but it's made for wooing. There are some lovely table options for couples. Ask manager Shaun Sleeper for a deuce by the windows or one of designer David Rockwell’s cozy arched banquettes, where it's possible to almost hide and certainly to canoodle.

Tuck in there and order the five-course tasting menu, as a friend and I did. We were there to celebrate and catch up, but Aubrey Sarvis and I got seduced by the meal, beginning with a plate of gougères and the opening “cocktail”—a trio of sips to be enjoyed like a flight; first the smooth Dolin Blanc Vermouth De Chambery, then the savory Lacheze Liqueur a la Truffe, followed by a cleansing Albrecht Cremant D’Alsace Rose.
Adour is in the St. Regis hotel, formerly the Carlton, one of the most elegant-looking hotels in Washington.
The front entrance of the St. Regis. The White is up at the top of the street, just barely visible on the right.
The lobby of the St. Regis, which leads to Adour. Wine bottles reflected in the John Rockwell decor at the entrance to Adour.
The entry to Adour, with manager Shaun Sleeper at the maitre'd's stand.
The main dining room of Adour.
One of the romantic tables for two by the windows. A cozy alcove banquette for two; suitable for hiding, canoodling.
The private dining room.
The ceiling of the private dining room.
Aubrey is executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, the non-profit that forged the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.” Needless to say he had a busy autumn, which culminated with President Obama signing the new law just before Christmas. We toasted his group’s success, and as Aubrey discreetly recounted what it was like to be in closed-door meetings with the President, top White House staff, members of Congress and military brass, Chef Julien sent out one festive dish after another, while the sommelier, Brent, poured a variety of companionable wines.

Our menu was Marinated Yellowtail Hamachi, served with a Valckenburg Gewurztraminer; Seared Day Boat Scallops with a ’98 Arbois vin Jaune from Rolet; a signature Ducasse cocotte, with lobster, penne and truffle sauce, accompanied by an ’07 St. Aubin from Morey; Squab Breast and Seared Duck Foie Gras, with a ’08 Lirac from Lafond. With the exception of the Gewurtztraminer, all the wines were French.
Vermouth and Truffle liqueur, the components of the evening's first cocktails. Sommelier Brent explains the progression from Vermouth to Liqueur to Rose Champagne, and why it works so well to set up the palate for the meal to come.
Adour's opening "cocktail," a flight of Vermouth, Truffle Liqueur, and Rose Champagne.
The gougeres, dense with Emmental cheese.
Coming from the kitchen. Adour chef Julien Jouhannaud, a Ducasse veteran, concentrates on finishing a dish.
The chef shaves truffles onto a scallops.
Orders waiting for the chef's attention.
From our banquette we looked out at the tranquil room, a blend of classic old, with the carved and painted ceiling, and the new, the white leather, the gold hues in the lighting, the contrasting sparkle of chrome. None of it fights with the grandeur of the windows. The room is ideal for quiet conversation, which goes so well with fine food and wine and the company of someone with whom you prefer to talk rather than shout.

Pastry chef Bendano is famous for his macaroons. Before dinner I visited the kitchen to watch the meticulous way he creates these centuries old sensations of baked almond and egg white that are filled with fresh fruit and other buttercream centers. Dinner guests go home with a complimentary box. But before the macaroons he sent out what’s called “Our Baba,” which was like no other Baba, a delicate cake bathed in Armagnac rather than rum and topped with a dollop of cloud-like whipped cream. With that we had a Baumes de Venise from the Rhone, which we stayed with for the next dessert, a Hazelnut Soufflé with Orange Granite. The soufflé was the last dessert only if you don’t count the macaroons and the chocolates!
Marinated Yellowtail Hamachi, with Green Papaya Salad and bits of Grapefruit. The dressing is Yuzu Soy.
Seared Day Boat Scallops with Braised Belgian Endive, Black Truffle Jus and shaved truffle.
Julien Jouhannaud with the famous "Ducasse Cocotte." Inside is Maine lobster and penne with a black truffle and tomato-basil sauce. At table, the lid is lifted off to reveal lobster and penne. The crust is delicious and perfect for finishing off sauce.
Inside the cocotte.
Scrumptious sweet lobster and penne pasta.
Classic Squab Breast and Seared Duck Foie Gras, with a Confit of Yukon Gold Potatoes and Salmis Sauce.
Next time, which I hope is soon, I want to have the Scallops again. I’ll be eager to try the Iberico ham tasting, the Maine lobster salad, and the Slow Cooked Amish Chicken Breast. The menu also offers a whole range of steaks—hangar, filet, boneless ribeye, strip—with an assortment of sauces, and they tout the “mature cheeses.”

Naturally, this type of haute dining comes with a big tab. But, as Zagat pointed out, it’s worth it. Our five-course menu—$75 per person for food, $65 for wine—came to $280 before tax and tip.
What Adour calls "Our Baba," a heavenly combo of cake, fig sauce, delicate whipped cream, and Armagnac.
Hazelnut souffle, which was served with a spoon
of Orange Granite, and a glass of Madeira.
The Madeira, from Portugal.
Earlier in the pastry kitchen, the making of the Pistachio macaroons.
The cookie part of the pistachio macaroons ...
... and the pistachio-laced buttercream filling.
It takes 48 hours for Bendano to make his Chocolate and raspberry macaroons. Time well spent.
Pastry chef Fabrice Bendano adds a gold leaf to a special chocolate dessert.
For Valentine’s weekend, Adour offers an additional tasting menu at $105. It includes options such as Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Braised Halibut, Lobster Thermidor, Beef Tenderloin or Lamb, a chocolate or fruit-themed dessert and, I’m sure, lots of macaroons. Here’s to fine food and romantic luxury and the means to afford both!
Adour at the St. Regis Washington, D.C.
923 16th Street Northwest
Washington D.C.
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