Friday, January 22, 2010


In our last post, I mentioned that people either love or hate Restaurant Week. After having a wonderful meal at Hook (see our post here), I was feeling the Restaurant Week love. A trip to 1789 was enough to make me swear off Restaurant Week for good.

First off, let me apologize for the lack of photos. I left the camera in the car and since the menu asks guests to refrain from using electronic devices, I didn't want to take photos with my Droid. So instead, let me try to paint a picture of our experience with words. Here we go . . .

The evening started out on a high note with 1789's free valet parking. The restaurant is housed in an old federal rowhouse with dining rooms on multiple levels. It has an old-timey charm and cozy atmosphere.

We noticed that there were three prix fixe menus: a Restaurant Week menu, a Citris Tasting menu, and a New Year menu. At a lot of restaurants, the different prix fixe menus have different numbers of courses. To allow all dinner guests at the table to be served at the same time, if one person is ordering off of the prix fixe menu, most places encourage everyone else to order from that same set menu. B didn't realize that all of the prix fixe menus had 3 courses, so he asked our waiter whether both people at the table should order from the same prix fixe menu. What happened next was so ridiculous that I was sure we wrote down the exact quotes:

B: "If one person orders the New Year menu, should both people order it?"

Waiter: "I don't want you to spend more money than you have."

B and J exchange shocked looks

J: No, I think what B is saying is that he wants to be sure we both end up ordering off of menus that have the same number of courses.

Waiter: "I can't force you to order something you can't afford."

We stared at each other in uncomfortable disbelief. Yes, we look young but we were dressed professionally and followed the restaurant's dress code (B was in a suit). We were stunned into silence by the waiter's bold suggestion that we couldn't afford the more expensive New Year menu. We considered walking out the door but decided to see if things improved. We should have left when we had the chance.

When B ordered his first course (off of the elitist New Year menu!) he requested the scallop crudo. Our waiter, suffering from a recurring case of foot-in-mouth disease, said in a condescending tone: "Do you know what crudo is?" After suggesting we were poor, he then suggested that B didn't know enough about food to know that crudo means the scallops would be served raw. I could think of about a million other ways to inform the diner that the dish is raw.

I know you're probably wondering whether we spoke to a manager. We broke one of the golden rules of dining and failed to do so while still in the restaurant. However, in our defense, the situation was so incredibly uncomfortable that we just wanted to eat our food and get out of there. That brings me to the food. It was fine but definitely not good enough to overcome the seriously uncomfortable waiter situation. Here's a brief run down of what we had:

J (Restaurant Week Menu w/ wine pairing)

Potato Gnocchi with Surryano ham, mustard greens, Serena cheese, and rosemary. It looked and tasted as if it had been sitting under a heat lamp for a long time. The sauce had separated and was congealed so that I could drag it around the plate with my fork. The greens were wilted (yes, they were cooked but cooked to death) and sad looking. I would be sad too if I had to hang out in this place.

European White Feathered Chicken - butter roasted salsify, spinach, toasted hazelnuts, and Meyer lemon. The chicken was perfectly cooked and one of the best chicken preparations I've ever had. The sauce, however, was bland and I tasted no hint of Meyer lemon.

Caramel Banana Bread Pudding - eggnog ice cream, Medjool date purée, and hazelnut-pistachio toffee. A "blah" finish to an awkward evening. The spice flavor overwhelmed the dish, leaving the whole thing tasting flat.

The wine pairing was the high point of the meal. The three half glasses were just the right amount of wine for me and I thought the $15 upcharge for the pairing was reasonable.

B (New Year menu w/ wine pairing)

Scallop crudo - I don't know if the waiter's comment affected B's impression of this dish but B said it was just ok.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb - crisp rosemary fingerling potatoes, stewed mustard greens and lamb jus. After the waiter said that the lamb was "why people come here," B had to order it. The lamb was perfectly cooked and completely outshone the sad potatoes and greens on the plate.

Bittersweet Chocolate Meringue Cake - peppermint stick ice cream, chocolate ganache, and pulled sugar candy. This one left us wishing we had our camera. It was a gorgeous presentation with clouds of meringue topped with thin sticks of red pulled sugar.

Even if the food was mind-blowing, I wouldn't go back. For us, 1789 felt like a restaurant that loathed Restaurant Week for the riff raff that it brings into their fine establishment. You know what? This food-blogging piece of riff raff doesn't want to return to your uppity restaurant ever again.

Second Thoughts From B

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Maybe so, but a woman scorned hath no fury like a J when she (and worse yet, her husband) are treated like hell. Could you tell?

I try to be understanding and give people the benefit of the doubt but for the life of me, I can't figure out where this guy was coming from. Maybe he misheard or misunderstood the question. Fine. But why would you risk insulting someone who may be able to afford your restaurant? Worse yet, why would you risk embarassing someone who had saved up to treat his girlfriend or wife? Either way, that's not how you answer the question.

Getting to the food, each of our proteins were of excellent quality, and when cooked, done so perfectly. The flavors were ok, but nothing to rave about. The side dishes, however, were uniformly uninteresting and uninspired. J was pretty luke warm on her dessert, which is a shame considering her love of bread pudding and bananas, but mine was a sight to see. It was perhaps one of the most artistically constructed/presented desserts I've seen. And it tasted good too!

But even with the few highlights, the night was defined by our waiter. Should we judge a place based on one person? Maybe that's not fair but the reality is that there are plenty of great restaurants in this city that have proven themselves to us with better food and better service.

Unfortunately, a Restaurant Week trend is starting to emerge for us; the older, more established restaurants seem a lot less willing to go out of their way to impress the new business that Restaurant Week brings. Oceanaire (post), Bobby Van's (post), Prime Rib (post), and now 1789.
1789 on Urbanspoon


Anonymous graduate student at Georgetown University and loyal 2DC reader said...

Next time you should go downstairs to The Tombs! May I recommend the Tombs roasted turkey sandwich? Just make sure you are dressed appropriately: deck shoes and pastels, please.

Mary K said...

I had a similarly negative experience at Vidalia for RW. I couldn't decide if I should write about it, since it would be a negative review. Thanks for giving me the inspiration to write the truth!

Amandi said...

What a shame! Our first time there was during a late summer couples special with a fixed price. Everything was perfect and we were treated with respect. This was in 2006. I read that they got a new chef and we have not been back. We almost went during the same week you guys went, glad we didn't!