Monday, January 18, 2010

Cafe Dupont

Ever walked by one of the countless, nondescript hotel restaurants and wondered whether it was worth trying? In the case of Cafe Dupont, the answer is yes. We've found that hotel restaurants in DC run the gamut from excellent (Adour) to awful (14K). I like to try them out in the hopes of uncovering hidden gems. Cafe Dupont perhaps isn't the most precious gem, but it was no cubic zirconia either.

The restaurant is located right on Dupont Circle in the Dupont Hotel (formerly Jurys Washington Hotel). It features a glassed-in dining room and a large patio for summer nights. The restaurant was mostly empty when we arrived on a Wednesday night and, as a result, we got very attentive and quick service.

B started with a crab and corn chowder that was packed with chunks of jumbo lump crab, and featured a hearty and slightly sweet corn broth. The presentation was top-notch with the waiter pouring the broth over the crab at the table.

I started with a goat cheese salad that was like a dash of springtime on this cold winter night. The greens were (according to the website) fresh from the local farmers market and it looked as if the goat cheese fairy was working overtime at Cafe Dupont. All around, an excellent start to the meal.

I think I'm going to start calling B "Lambchop" for his penchant for lamb. I think he'd like Lambchop better than Mary...

Anyway, he ordered the lamb and it was cooked perfectly, but the item on the side was probably the most stellar part of this dish. It was a risotto/quinoa-like grain that packed a nutty and delicious crunch. It made for a great texture combo with the silky smooth lamb.
The waitress said that the pasta (tagliatelle) was her favorite dish and I'm not one to turn down fresh pasta. This dish featured wonderfully wide noodles and the sauce was light enough that it allowed the fresh noodles to shine on their own. It was also large enough for me to take home half for lunch the next day. My one complaint was the use of celery in the dish as it just didn't jive well with the soft noodles. Does anybody actually like celery? Come on, you know you just use it as a vehicle to get the peanut butter to your mouth.

Though I didn't expect too much, I came away from the meal pleasantly surprised. Cafe Dupont isn't another boring, nondescript hotel restaurant. Its emphasis on fresh ingredients and attentive service helps it stand out from the crowd. I'd like to go back on a weekend for their Soul Brunch. Chicken and waffles anyone?

Second Thoughts from B

Cafe Dupont, along with its host hotel and sister bar, underwent renovations recently. We had visited their previous version, creatively called Dupont Cafe, and had memorably good lobster mac and cheese. So we were thinking about a place to eat in Dupont Circle, we hoped that they hadn't made the mistake of messing with a good thing.

First off, the service was outstanding, top to bottom. Then again, the staff outnumbered the diners 5 to 1. As for the menu, we were told that it changes often but I instantly had two impressions of last week's edition. One: no lobster mac and cheese. Two: everything sounded good, if not safe.

Let me expand on that second thought. Usually when I go to a nice restaurant, some dishes will sing to me with ingredients and/or flavor combinations that are familiar. On the other hand, there also tend to be items that are less familiar or appealing. In the case of Cafe Dupont, everything was familiar and sounded good.

Now one could criticize and say that this indicated safe choices or a lack of imagination. I, however, said to J that if executed well, this was a very wise business decision for a hotel restaurant which needed to prioritize appealing and comfortable food to first-time (and often only-time) diners.

As for the execution, it was spot on. I think it would sell Cafe Dupont short to call it "simple food done well" but I think that gets the point across. And in certain cases, there were unexpected areas of flair that made well executed, familiar dishes a little bit more interesting. In the case of my soup and lamb, it was touches of sweetness. Vanilla or maple maybe. Either way, I liked it.

Finally, in regard to my affinity for lamb, I would like to point out that the waitress did recommend it. As far as "Lambchop" goes, it is better than Mary, but I'll still stick with B.
Cafe Dupont on Urbanspoon

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