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Reservations Recommended

Restaurant Review ~ The Oval Room / 800 Conn. Ave., NW

Power Player.

While Washington is teeming with new restaurants, DC foodies should never overlook some of the District’s best of the best, beloved places that continue to flourish despite newcomer competition. Of these is The Oval Room, located in the Golden Triangle and just a short distance from the White House and the actual Oval Office.

A magnet for local luminaries and the savvy dining public, this elegant eatery has undergone a facelift as well as a kitchen transformation: new chef and new menu add up to some dining extravagances. So welcome John Melfi, whose culinary résumé includes a degree from the now-closed Pennsylvania Culinary Institute in Pittsburgh plus local stints as the executive sous chef for Vidalia, chef de cuisine at the Blue Duck Tavern, and most recently, the opening executive chef for Fiola Mare under Fabio Trabocchi.

Now overseeing The Oval Room’s kitchen and restructuring its menu to reflect seasonal changes and artful plating — imagine a sprinkling of flower petals on an appetizer of tuna sashimi — Melfi has come up with a winter menu that features elegant American favorites, from a grilled Caesar salad to a luncheon corned duck breast Reuben sandwich to a substantial roasted beef shoulder tenderloin with crispy potatoes and ciopollini onions.

As with the exploration of any new menu, ordering at least two or three dishes for each course is a strong temptation — especially as you indulge in the freshly baked breads. How, one wonders, can you pass up a house-made burrata, the fresh Italian mozzarella infused with heavy cream for a sumptuous topping for greens or a delicate spread for crusty bread? With this, Melfi has added finely shredded globe artichokes and cucumbers, a Meyer lemon vinaigrette, and a sprinkling for flower petals and tiny flowers. A second “must” starter is the apple, fennel and frisée salad, unlike any combo you have ever tasted. For this, Melfi applies chilled green apple balls tossed with watercress and fennel and studded with minute crispy croutons.

At noon, patrons can choose from a Cuban pork belly sandwich with whole grain mustard and Swiss cheese or a yellowfin tuna “Cobb” salad among others or indulge in larger portions. Southerners might veer towards the shrimp and grit — —the grits here sweetened with coconut — or turn to the vegetarian house-made linguine or the potato agnolotti with roasted maitaki mushrooms.

Two starring seafood dishes, however, really, really take center stage: the black sea bass with charred fennel and the crispy skin salmon with roasted baby beets and a sprinkling of Marcona almonds. Native to Spain, these sweet, plump almonds are far more delicately flavored than their more familiar regular almond; for that reason, these have become highly sought after for accenting salads and baked goods. But despite the added accents to each of these entrées, what captivates are the perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned wedges of fish.

True, dessert selections may change, but if you are truly in luck, you will find the peanut butter bar topped with a thick chocolate mousse — what Melfi calls feuilletine — with a scoop of raspberry sorbet. Is this a high-end, over-the-top PB&J sandwich? You might also find the Devil’s food cake with a chocolate sauce garnished with peppermint powder and accompanied with a scoop of peppermint ice cream, or a rosemary pear tart with honey gelato. But keep your fingers crossed that the peanut butter-chocolate creation is featured on the dessert choices. Order not one but two of these for the ultimate in pure luxury.

The Oval Room / Lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner, Mon.-Thu. 5:30-10pm, Fri. & Sat. to 10:30pm. Closed Sun. (202) 463-8700; www.ovalroom.com.

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.