Déjà vu?
[from February 2007 issue]

Dupont Circle’s always popular Dupont Grille has seen chefs come and go since The InTowner’s last visit, but it looks like the restaurant’s kitchen has found a good choice; the current occupant is a young Texan named Russel Cunningham, whose culinary pedigree includes training at the Texas Culinary Academy. From there he received a culinary arts diploma, and has served most recently as Executive Banquet Chef at the Washington Convention Center.

Well, since Cunningham’s skills include serving large crowds, he’s found his niche here, for sure. At a recent lunchtime at the Dupont Grille, its main dining room was closed to the general public to make space for a large group of conventioneers, who ate and listened to speeches while servers fluttered around. Meanwhile, the rest of us got what I think is the best room in the house: the outside, glass-enclosed terrace. That, too, was packed, and why not? There’s no better climate-controlled space for people-watching in the whole Dupont Circle area. Did you know that at least one across-the-street rooftop looks like an alfresco party place? Just think what else you may learn from this vantage point.

So what’s the menu like? Although Cunningham intended to revamp the restaurant’s menu, you may find several dishes that remain from earlier days. At least, the steak frites -- thin slices of rare sirloin accompanied by a heap of thin, very hot fries -- starred at an earlier dinner here, and now turn up at both lunch and dinner. That’s fine, of course, since this simple entrée pairs America’s most favorite couple: steak and potatoes -- but here with a sly Belgian touch.

Of course, if you’ve a mind to, you can trim noonday calories by having your steak fancied up in the marinated steak salad topped with smoked gouda and caramelized onions, roasted potatoes on the side. The ladies-who-lunch to my right had opted for that; sitting on the other side, another patron made a bigger splurge with the lobster tail with macaroni. That, with its creamy cheese sauce and mega-rich carbs, looked so tempting that I nearly changed my steak order.

You can also start out very big, too, with such dishes as the Asian-style crispy beef spring rolls, which look pretty enough in the artistic presentation, but they really, really need a side of dipping sauce, otherwise the rolls are too dry. The menu description suggests that a honey-Sriracha sauce comes alongside, but that turns out to be only a decorative drizzle making colorful orange squiggles on the rolls. Waitstaff do offer to bring more for real dunking.

Be sure your waiter brings the bread ASAP: The raisin bread is so fresh you may want seconds, and when spread with the sweet butter -- yum. Two slices of this may best dessert, though watching the steak salad ladies spooning up the crème brûlée of the day was a dietary assault: That, said the waiter, is our chocolate crème brûlée, the day’s special. This comes in a large dessert dish, affording plenty of surface for the broiler to put on a great sugary crust overlaying a rich, gooey chocolate interior. If you are into chocolate and the chocolate crème brûlée has been replaced by another flavor, you might also consider the molten chocolate cake, though that’s a bit old hat. Otherwise, the fried banana cheesecake might make you melt with desire.

Despite the noonday sun, you may prefer your people-watching in the dark of night. As always, the Dupont Grille offers some top-notch local-scene shots. That’s a plus, for once again, Dupont Circle seems forever crowded, and if you’ve got street fever, what better place to catch a few bites and watch the parade?

Dupont Grille / 1500 New Hampshire Ave. (entr. on 19th St. also); tel., 939-9596. Hours: Breakfast, Mon.-Fri. 6:30-11am, Sat. & Sun. 7-11am; Lunch, Mon.-Fri.11:30am-2:30pm, Sat. continues to 5pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu. 5-10:30pm, Fri. & Sat. to 11pm, Sun. to 10pm; Brunch, Sun. 11am-2:30pm. Dinner entrée price range: $14-$28. All major credit cards accepted.

Copyright (c) 2007 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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