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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ 701 Restaurant / 701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

 

In case you have missed this foodie tidbit, the prestigious 701 Restaurant in Penn Quarter has a new face helming the kitchen. To clarify: he is new to 701, but not new to the restaurant group for which he works. If you can do double duty, you can also catch his show at The Oval Room, a sister restaurant located just a block or so from the White House. And if you haven’t yet guessed who it is, meet Tony Conte.

Running two kitchens with different profiles is daunting for sure, but Conte has stepped in to reinvigorate the menu at 701, and by all odds, he has done a terrific job. (Then he dashes a few blocks back to The Oval Room.) His determination is to shape the menu into an array of American dishes, some with Asian influences, others with a shade of Italian.

At lunch there recently, three of us sat down to a splendidly casual take on modern American cooking, a cuisine that is an infusion of many different influences. Take the appetizer burrata mozzarella, an Italian ultra-creamy mozzarella that has the same smoothness and richness as a wedge of butter. The menu might read that it comes with red papaya and ginger, but our order featured the cheese with a carrot purée, pickled jalapeños, and hazelnuts. Regardless of the day’s garnishes, the burrata must be Italy’s proudest cheese creation.

Other tasteful starters include the crab-filled spring rolls, delicately seasoned and served with a sriracha mayonnaise, and the scoop of red pepper risotto. A stir-in of goat cheese added to the natural creaminess of the risotto makes this an outstanding selection. Fortunately the appetizer portions are just teasers; you don’t want to dampen your cravings for the main course.

As for entrées, in keeping with a minimalist take on midday meals, Conte offers a selection of main salads; a seafood chopped salad is one; sandwiches, and you may just be in the mood for a burger served with prosciutto and aged provolone; and pastas. What about house-made smoked spaghetti with bacon-cured duck?

Skipping over to the more formal entrées, three deserve special mention: the Scottish salmon with a parsnip purée and coffee crumbles is wonderfully moist, falling apart at the touch of the fork. Served with a buttery miso glaze and crunchy bok choy, it totally represents how Conte takes disparate flavors and textures and makes them work together in harmony.

Or take the lacquered beef cheeks, which elsewhere may be chewy but not at 701. Fork tender and infused with well-balanced flavors — so balanced that none stand out — but you will savor the thin slivers of jalapeño, the ginger, and the garlic that undergird the flavor profile.

If you are not in the mood for seafood or beef you might consider the roasted chicken breast with bacon and a sweet potato purée, a purée that is likely to change with the seasons. This chicken hits the high notes for American comfort food. Besides, the meat is tender and juicy, and odds are good that Conte has brined the breast.

That leaves dessert to ponder. If you see them featured, the choices are between a solo portion of baked Alaska with grapefruit ice cream, the éclair, and the sticky bun. A sticky bun for dessert? If you have the chance, order it and find out what makes grown men cry.

701 Restaurant / Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-3pm; dinner, Mon. & Tue.  5:30-10pm; Wed. & Thu. to 10:30pm, Fri. to 11pm’ Sat. 5-11pm to 9:30pm. Luncheon entrées: $20-$24. 701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; (202) 393-0701.

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.