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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ Mirabelle / 900 16th St., NW

    Graceful décor, elegant eats!

    photo—Under a Bushel Photography--Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    photo—Under a Bushel Photography—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Although Mirabelle restaurant at 16th and I Streets opened up its kitchen more than one year ago, a recent — and impressive — culinary change marks it as one of the District’s most spectacular eateries. The interior design is compelling, of course, but what the new executive chef, Keith Bombaugh, dreams up in his kitchen is breathtaking. As in, unforgettable, superb cooking.

    Just consider his training and experiences: a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, he started work at the prominent Menton restaurant in Boston. He subsequently went on to the Michelin three-star Chicago restaurant, Alinea, an experience that shaped how he interpreted and thought about food, dining, and seemingly what would please foodies the most. From there, he moved back to Boston to work as Meritage’s chef de cuisine for chef Daniel Bruce. After that, it was here to DC, where he wows the local dining public.

    Honey Milk Foie Gras. photo—Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Honey Milk Foie Gras. photo—Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Too many superlatives about his cooking? Not enough, actually, and that is thanks to what Bombaugh assembles. After a menu scan, imagine puzzling over such appetizer options as “Memories of Ice Pond” or “Honey Milk Foie Gras,” this being a piece of foie gras adrift in a honeyed sauce and topped with a spooned-on honey foam, all paired with sweetened bread slices — probably showcasing even more honey.

    The “Father’s Garden” appetizer sounds like it should be a heap of just-picked lettuce or arugula (after all, isn’t that what dad grows) and topped with diced and sliced veggies. Nope, not here. Arranged artfully in a large salad bowl and placed in a pool of clear yellow tomato consommé are artfully trimmed vegetables, ribbons of cucumber, and a small pod with peas.

    Father’s Garden. photo—Under a Bushel Photography--Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Father’s Garden. photo—Under a Bushel Photography—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    And while you await the next courses, staff stops by with an amuse bouche — a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre — of a watermelon cube somehow altered in the kitchen. Then, New England baked clams stuffed with mashed garlic bread, sprinkled with bacon dust, and resting on a bed of twisted seaweed. What could that be, one may wonder. Who knows, just a Bombaugh creation.

    The second course options are just as creative, but a bit more understandable: two seared sea scallops, plump and juicy, sit in a drizzle of a sweetened broth (honeydew melon!), then on a sweet purée and accompanied by chopped almonds, bits of cucumber, a piece of “cukamelon,” and who knows what else. The Maryland “She” crab has bits of pine nuts, some cashew butter, sherry “pearls” (whatever these may be), and ladles of a crustacean broth— plus more.

    Other second course options—at least on a recent menu—include “Mirabelle Row” with local and seasonal vegetables with grilled veal tongue; Winter Australian “Truffle Taglaitelle” with house-made pasta, Parmesan cream, and hazelnuts; and finally, the “Ris de Veau Tartlet” with artichoke barigoule, roasted garlic purée, and something called Blis Elixer vinegar.

    That brings patrons to the third course, the entrée, and the server swore by the “Duet of Alina Duck,” a serving of which includes roasted duck breast, duck leg, rhubarb, cashews, and something called “dukkah.” But surely all entrée choices are outstanding:  the poached Maine lobster with baby corn and shoot salad; the roasted halibut New England style with littleneck clams; squab with celeriac and fava beans; Puchero short rib with caramelized bananas; and Aegean lamb loin served with cherry mastic, plus other add-ons. Several other entrée choices may appeal, but the best solution here is to return time and again to work your way through the menu — which does, apparently, change.

    Forest Landscape. photo—Under a Bushel Photography--Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Forest Landscape. photo—Under a Bushel Photography—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Inching towards dessert, the choices are limited to four, and the restaurant has its own pastry chef, Zoe Ezrailson. But it would not be surprising if Bombaugh and she collaborated on what is the most dazzling dessert ever, the “Lemon Honey Beehive.” This triumphant sweet is a swirl of coiled meringue shaped like a beehive, ornamented with bits of glittery gold (bees, of course) kicked up with lemon curd, lemon parfait, and bits of baked sweet dough shaped like honeycomb. Just wow!

    The cuisine will blow patrons away. But so will the unique décor of dark woods and a peek-a-boo wall that separates the dining area from the bar scene.

    Lemon Honey Beehive. photo—Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    Lemon Honey Beehive. photo—Jordan Hammes—courtesy Heather Freeman Media & Public Relations.

    What a destination. What fabulous food. Period.

    Mirabelle / Hours: lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2pm; dinner, Mon.-Fri. 5:30-9:30pm; Sat. 5:30-10pm. 202;506-3833.

    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.