Friday, August 20, 2010

Plume at the Jefferson Hotel

B and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary this week! As we've written before, we split up the special occasion planning duties so I plan Valentine's Day and he plans our anniversary. Last year, we dined at Komi and I was totally blown away. This year, B wanted to go somewhere that I wasn't familiar with and that's no small task given the number of local food blogs I read.

On our anniversary, he picked me up in the car and handed me a very sweet card. Attached to the card was Tom Sietsema's review of Plume at the Jefferson Hotel. This new kid on the block has been flying under the radar since opening last August and so I didn't know what to expect.

We pulled up to the Jefferson on 16th Street and were whisked into a dining room that looked like it came straight out of a fairy tale. Not in a cheesy way with unicorns and castles and such, but in a classical, elegant way. The first thing we noticed was that it was so quiet! Generous use of thick fabrics around the room masked the usual restaurant noise and left us feeling like we were dining in somebody's very fancy living room. Before I could set my purse on the floor, the waiter swooped in with a velvet footstool. A separate seat for my bag? Now that is service.

The tables were so far apart that I felt like we were eating in a different city from the table next to us. The plush chair was far and away the most comfortable restaurant chair I've ever had the pleasure of placing my butt on. At one point I looked at B wide-eyed and asked "Can we move in here?"

We were somewhat worried that the food wouldn't match the ambiance, but we were very pleasantly surprised. In addition to its standard menu, Plume offers a 7 course tasting menu for $95. If you're feeling especially adventurous and have cash to burn, you can add a wine pairing, one of which can be had for the low price of $1776. Since I'd probably fail a taste test between Two Buck Chuck and wine from the 1700s, we just opted for a half bottle of wine chosen by the very friendly and helpful sommelier. Half bottles are a fantastic solution for couples like us who like a bit of wine with dinner but get too tipsy from drinking a full bottle. We were impressed with Plume's huge selection of half bottle options.

We skipped the tasting menu and ordered from the regular menu. That proved to be a wise choice because we were served so many complimentary tastes that I was filling up before my entree came. We could have made a meal of the complimentary anniversary pour of champagne, the fresh bread, and multiple amuse bouche offerings (two savory and two sweet).

I started with the veloute of golden corn and it was the silkiest and most flavorful corn soup I've ever had. B tried the cured Atlantic salmon with a trio of caviar and was in fish egg heaven.

For my entree I had the navarin of Maine lobster. The waiter kindly informed me that navarin is a French stew using root vegetables. While the dish didn't feel very stew-like, the combo of Maine lobster meat (no pesky shell!), a garam masala emulsion, golden beets, and basil was like a trip around the world in one bowl.

Continuing his aquatic theme, B ordered the gateau of sole with black truffle, preserved tomato, potato gnocchi, and warm truffle dressing. Another luxurious and flavorful dish.

After our entrees were cleared, the waiter rolled out a giant cheese trolley. This was no dainty cheese cart. I think it had four wheel drive. The waiter went through the names and descriptions of a couple dozen different cheeses leaving us with glazed over looks. Luckily he picked a sampling for us and left us to giddily taste some very unique cheeses. I never thought I'd be a person who would sit in a fancy dining room sampling cheese from a trolley and actually enjoy it. I was the kid who poured Ranch dressing on everything I ate. While I still like Ranch on occasion, I'm learning to appreciate an uber-elegant meal on special nights.

After the massive cheese vehicle was rolled away, the dessert menus arrived. Never one to turn down dessert, I ordered the Chocolate Variation to share with B. Somehow we found room to gobble down the four different chocolate offerings (espuma, tartlet, macaroon, bitter cocoa sorbet).

After such an indulgent meal, it was tempting to just curl up in the comfy chairs and drift off to sleep. The real world and a work-night waited us outside so we regretfully made our way to the exit. As we left, the hostess handed us a scroll printed with the name of the wine we had, in addition to a gift bag with chocolate macaroons inside.

I never thought I'd find a place that provided customer service on par with that of Disney. (Full disclosure: I'm totally biased because my Dad creates Disney magic at work every day at Disneyland, as did I a few years ago). However, I think Plume stole a little bit of fairy dust and sprinkles it over its diners. Thank you B for a magical anniversary meal!

Second Thoughts From B

Last year, after enjoying a spectacular meal at Komi, a friend of ours said (perhaps rightfully so) that I had set the bar impossibly high. At first, I was considering any number of long weekend getaways but because of a frantic work and travel schedule, was restricted to a single night out. Fortunately, we found a long weekend in Paris just a few blocks from our home.

Plume seems to pride itself in excelling at every aspect of the dining experience which really makes it the perfect destination for special events. Not only did they do a tremendous job of putting a four star touch on all the little things, but they did so in a manner that was not suffocating. Service was attentive and informative without being overbearing. This is a very delicate line to walk.

Everything from the interior space, to the pacing, to the food and wine was first class. I feel like I could throw the "best" title around liberally and not be exaggerating. Service, champagne, Pinot Gris, whatever the savory amuse bouches were, gnocchi, use of truffles, bread, cheese... all among the best things I've ever eaten.

So you must be thinking, "How could any place be so impossibly perfect?" The fact of the matter is, they weren't. But like any good marriage, they were perfect in their imperfections. I learned early on that it is easy to do what you're good at and revel in success, but what makes people great is the strength of character to embrace their flaws and mistakes.

In the case of Plume, the faux pas of the evening was the mixing of our wine with that of another table. Rather than looking the other way until we said something or being so embarrassed that it made the rest of our evening awkward, the staff quickly replaced our wine with a complimentary bottle in a professional, yet casual manner. People make mistakes and to expect perfection is ridiculous. Rather, Plume accepted the mistake and dealt with it, making for a perfect night and a perfect model for a great marriage.
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