Fair Trade
[from December 2006 issue]

In DC, restaurants come and go, and those that stay may get major facelifts and come back to life as something else. That's what happened to The Bistro, now Fairmont Hotel's Juniper, a swanky place that's all about the Power People. As such, it's a great setting to overhear some interesting conversational gambits like, "When I retire, I'm going after that secret FBI file." Or to watch a job interviewer asking all the right questions of a candidate who talked too much.

Keeping pace with the formal, dressy décor, Juniper's menu takes a serious look at haute cuisine. When its doors reopened about a year and a half ago, chef-about-town Martin Saylor manned the cook pots, a chef who is probably best known for opening the trendy Butterfield 9. Saylor's gone, and his replacement has framed a menu to fit into the hotel's “Fairmont Lifestyle Cuisine,” inspired by the hotel group's Willow Stream Spas. Because it is worded vaguely, the menu blurb about spa food may -- or may not -- describe every dish on the menu. But it does probably mean that all the ingredients are fresh and unprocessed, and each dish balanced for health and good nutrition.

Clearly, the menu is not tailored, however, to suit calorie counters, for dieters would avoid the restaurant's generous breadbasket with the ramekins of butter and of hummus, and such entrées as Maine lobster risotto, the Cobb salad with turkey breast and applewood-smoked bacon, and steak frites accompanied by a béarnaise sauce. Watching calories and figuring out an entrée choice here, sadly, means sticking with the roast chicken and avoiding the far more tempting Angus beef burger with fries.

OK. Predictable as roast chicken can be, at least this chef's version is tender and juicy, with a darkly-crispy skin. And the wild rice pilaf? Great, but the chef stirs in generous scoops of white rice, plus a few slices of wild mushrooms. Somewhere along the way, the butternut squash, advertised as an accompaniment, got diced and a few pieces tossed into the pilaf. Since everything on the plate seemed slicked with vegetable oil, this selection was not the best low-cal choice.

Throwing out the calorie counter, the typical patron would probably opt for any of the other entrées, and I, for one, would have gone for the crab cakes served with a warm corn salad and fritters or the steak frites with those house-made fries. And I surely would have started off with the roasted fig bruschetta accented by Maytag bleu cheese and a pomegranate reduction. Instead, I sipped on the soup of the day, a tomato-ey broth that was, like other offerings here, overly salty.

Sticking to a diet is especially grim when the dessert menu comes around. Then you think that heaven must surely include chocolate with a sense of humor, and what could be more amusing than that childhood delight, chocolate Smores? Better yet -- and talk about having your chocolate cake and eating it too -- Juniper runs a dessert sample special, from which you can choose three of five dessert options, including a decadent three-layer chocolate pâté How’s that for outmaneuvering the calorie counter?

Juniper has a lot going for it, not the least of which is that it's open for three meals a day; sprays of heavenly scented stargazer lilies are strategically placed; its menu offers an appealing selection of entrées (if you are not on a diet); and you can walk away having rubbed elbows with some of DC's high and mighty.

Juniper 2401 M St. , NW ; tel., 457-5020. Hours: breakfast, lunch & dinner. Dinner price range, $22-$36. Major credit cards accepted.

Copyright (c) 2006 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §107.

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.

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