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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review: Tabard Inn

Rarely on the city’s foodie radar, the Tabard Inn Restaurant nonetheless is one of DC’s most desirable destinations. The setting with its garden view (the patio is great for alfresco seating in warm weather) and its quaint Americana, white-tablecloth charm provide the perfect backdrop for chef Paul Pelt’s and pastry chef Huw Griffiths’ glorious food.

Of course, the inn itself is a source of wonder: built in the early 1900s, its charm is undeniable, and as its website points out, it is “reminiscent of an English manor.” Its floors creak, its sitting/lounge area is overstuffed with overstuffed furniture, and the inn itself is the antithesis of the modern, glitzy hotel. Because of its location between Dupont and Scott Circles, the inn is within easy walking distance of important DC destinations, adding yet another layer to its many charms.

But for DC locals who don’t plan to book a room, the food is the magnet. Take Griffiths’ handiwork, for example. The savvy know that his weekend breakfasts/brunches are famous for his just-made, hot, sugary doughnuts. When paired with hot chocolate or steaming coffee, these become the gourmand’s fantasy. And his elegant desserts, such as the chocolate caramel devil’s food cake and the apple toffee crumb pie topped with a scoop of melting vanilla ice cream are sublime. It’s no wonder that Griffiths’ great talents were rewarded in 2007, when the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington named him as Washington’s pastry chef of the year.

That’s all about the end of the meal, unless you breakfast on doughnuts alone. Appetizers, soups, and entrées all come under the steady hand of Executive Chef Paul Pelt, who achieved this position in 2007, clearly a lucky year for the Tabard’s staff. Pelt has devised an eclectic menu with flavors and styles culled from every different cuisine. You might find a pasta with soft shell crab tempura, a shrimp risotto, and a seafood gumbo with house-made Creole sausages. You have got to admire a chef who can get it right with so many different influences merging into his imagination.

Trouble is, Pelt apparently likes to change things around a bit, so if you have fallen madly in love with the oxtail ravioli, these may be whisked away and replaced by some interesting new creation. However, should you find on the menu the grilled sardine (this may be a springtime item only), be sure to snap it up. Garnished with fried lemon and a parsley sauce, it kicks off the meal in style. Also worthy: the Asian sweet potato and bacon soup, and what could be off-key in any dish that includes bacon?

Considering the main event, it’s a toss-up between the seared duck breast with a date sauce and the more traditional pan-broiled rack of lamb. The latter was perfection: a very delicately crisped exterior encased tender, juicy lamb resting on a drizzle of hummus and garnished with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. What a pity if Pelt should remove this classic from the menu to rotate in something else. This would be my permanent entrée order here.

Note that the bread and muffin basket contains baked treasures, and the staff willingly refills it. A gold star for that! Also note that you may very well need to make reservations. If a recent Sunday evening is any indication, the dining room fills up fast, and the waiting line crowds the adjacent lounge. At least people can sit in comfy chairs while they wait.

Tabard Inn Restaurant | 1739 N St., NW; (202) 331-8528. Hours: breakfast, lunch, & dinner daily, weekend brunch. Entrée price range: $24-$32.

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.