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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ The Grill Room / 1050 31st St., NW

    Anyone who remembers fondly Palena restaurant and its energetic chef, Frank Ruta, has obviously mourned its closing in Cleveland Park. Where, some of DC foodies wondered, did Ruta go? His mild manner and clever cooking should not simply vanish.

    Ruta, of course, never stopped cooking, and if he was not always in the spotlight as he was at Palena, he nonetheless was behind the stoves stirring up delicious foods. And with great delight, we can celebrate his position as head chef at swanky The Grill Room in Georgetown’s Rosewood Hotel.

    For those who did not know, Ruta has followed an extensive culinary trail during his life, including spending several years in The White House kitchens during the Reagan and Bush eras. Later he accepted other chef jobs, both abroad and in DC. Here, he has cooked at Le Pavillon with Yannick Cam, at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, and at The River Club in Georgetown before opening Palena.

    Unlike casual-comfy Palena, The Grill Room is a dressed-up, high-end eatery that appeals to all the local power players and elitists. Even the menu does not showcase everyday fare such as meatloaf and spaghetti with meatballs. Rather, dinners focus on such specialties — dare one say oddities — as goose egg ravioli and oxtail terrine as starters, for example.

    True, the menu selections are limited, with maybe five to six entrée options, but all is artfully prepared and presented. It is also likely that the menu changes seasonally, so you may not find the recent offerings of an oven-roasted half chicken or a Shenandoah 20-day aged Angus beef rib with roasted potatoes and assorted seasonal vegetables. Or even a recent offering of squab breast with Tunisian honey and hazelnut oil, kicked off with the appetizer of heirloom “tomato fantasy” to which the chef added an avocado bavaroise, much like a delicate avocado custard.

    Yes, Ruta is creative, but his pastry chef, Aggie Chin, is no slouch. She plays with colors and textures in a wild way, turning up unusual offerings such as a dessert she labeled “So Corny,” filled with corn ice cream, cornmeal sable, and a sweet corn brûlée. Likely seasonal to capture corn’s sweetness, it probably will not reappear on the menu any time soon.

    Much about your dining experience here marks this as a special occasion: Not only are you pampered by fab food, but you can take your seat in the restaurant’s classy dining room, or in pleasant weather, opt to sit out on the terrace overlooking the canal. To make the meal even more memorable, The Grill Room offers an extensive wine and cocktail list that should please even the most discriminating, fussiest patron.

    The Grill Room /Dinner nightly. 202-617-2424. 

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    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.