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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review: The Federalist = Making the Mark

Our Founding Fathers would be mighty proud of the sleek yet woodsy — almost Colonial — feel of The Federalist restaurant inside the Madison Hotel. Once the arty Palette Restaurant, the Federalist chef now offers dishes — well, at least some — that would make Jefferson and Adams proud. Besides, the grays and browns that flatter the décor, plus the bleached gray walls, only serve to highlight the beauty of an earlier, less flashy America

Also, the restaurant’s presumed logo, as printed on the paper place mats, reads “Venerate the plough,” and that means they ask us patrons to honor the agricultural roots of our country. The lunch menu does just that, indeed.

A splendid beginning, the Monticello salad is a composite if colorful greens mounded on a plate and drizzled with a mild oil and vinegar dressing that serves to complement the salad: baby greens, a few English peas, herbs, shredded carrot and parsnip, and a very thin slice of two of beets. The last adds an unexpected rosy accent to the plate. Other choices don’t seem quite so Colonial: English pea soup, Angus beef strip loin with roasted porcini, to name two.

Midday, you may not want to overload your system and encourage an afternoon snooze, so you may want to select a lightish entrée, such as one of their meatier salads: a flatiron steak salad or a chicken confit salad are among the choices. You may also be tempted by one of the sandwich choices, and selecting from among the soft shell crab, oyster po’ boy, and Federalist burger sandwiches is a real challenge.

Oh, go ahead: get the burger, and what classier place can you enjoy a Martin’s Farm ground (coarsely ground, I may add) beef patty accented by red onion confit and a thin melted slice of camembert, all perched on a salt-sprinkled bun. Note that the cook has kneaded several herbs into the meat, adding another layer of flavor. But the real appeal here are the awesome fries: cut as thick as a finger or two pressed together, with some skin left on, these are fried to a perfect golden tone, then sprinkled with salt. These are hot, gleaming, and deserve a gold medal as the best the city has to offer.

Heartier entrées may include Atlantic flounder, or whatever the chef has in mind for the day. It seems the menu undergoes changes, yet you may find such dishes as jumbo lump crab cakes or even heritage pork schnitzel.

If there are regrets here, these would fall onto the dessert menu, which seems spare and not robustly “federalist” in nature. Besides the syllabub — a traditional English dessert hailing from as far back as the 16th century — the other selections seem out of place: an ice cream sandwich, yogurt panna cotta, poached pear, and milkshake with doughnut.

The Federalist (1177 15th St., NW); 202-587-2629. Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11:30 am-2:30pm; Dinner: nightly, 5-10pm; Sun. brunch, 11am-2pm. Lunch entrée price range: $15-$27.

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.