B knows how much I like surprises. When he was planning dinner for my birthday (hence, no pictures), he was on his own to choose a restaurant. I was very excited when he announced that we'd be starting the evening with drinks at sunset on the roof of the W Hotel (formerly Hotel Washington), followed by dinner at J&G Steakhouse on the main level of the hotel.
I had been to the Hotel Washington's famed roof terrace on a couple of occasions and loved the up close view of the Washington monument and White House. A few years ago, the Hotel Washington closed and the W moved in, bringing its signature chic style with it. You'll still recognize the old hotel behind the purple lighting and pulsing beats from the DJ. The view from the roof terrace remains fantastic and the cocktails, while priced to match the view, are interesting and not laughably tiny.
As the sun set (and the Obamas headed off in their motorcade to dinner at Tosca), we went to the main level to check in at J&G. J&G is billed as a showcase for acclaimed New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's favorite dishes from his restaurants paired with steakhouse classics. We opted for the tasting menu to get a good feel for the various parts of the menu.
The incredibly friendly sommelier customized a wine pairing for us. His adaptability and flexibility was much appreciated since we just can't enjoy a meal with 5 glasses of wine (i.e., we're lightweights). Instead, he chose 3 small pours that enhanced every bite of the meal.
The first course was a salmon tartare. I was expecting a pretty average snoozer of a tartare, but we were blown away by the complexity of the dish. The tartare was served over what I can best describe as a gingery guacamole. It was topped with crunchy radishes that created a playful crunchy/smooth texture to the dish.
Next was a beet salad that rivaled B's favorite beet salad at Hook and beat the pants off the pathetic "beet salad" at Kora. The perfectly roasted beets were sitting on a cloud of tangy greek yogurt and topped with a chili sauce that gave it a good punch in the nose. The dish was paired with a very sweet wine that worked well with the earthy and spicy beet dish.
Showing off the chef's seafood skills was a piece of seared halibut with a scallion-chili sauce topped with basil and celery. While I think celery is only good as a vehicle to get peanut butter to your mouth, I was surprised at how well the celery worked as a topper for the fish. It was chopped finely so you didn't get that gross stringy effect and the sauce was bold enough to mask the celery flavor. While I had my doubts, this dish won me over.
The main event was grilled petit filet served over a smear of J&G steak sauce paired with mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. It was a classic steakhouse dish executed very well. My medium rare was a little more in Mr. Medium's neighborhood than I like, but when dabbed in the tangy, molasses-based steak sauce, it was perfect. Nothing fancy, just a really good steak.
Just as I was ready to curl up in our cozy booth and take a nap, the waiter brought out dessert. The tasting menu featured a warm chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream. Definitely not an award winner for creativity, but who can turn down gooey chocolate and vanilla ice cream? Not me! Because it was my birthday, J&G surprised me with an extra dessert complete with a candle and Happy Birthday message written in chocolate on the plate. And yes, the birthday girl ate both desserts. Dessert number two, a strawberry shortcake sundae was a bit underwhelming but that didn't stop us from polishing it off.
Thank you B for a wonderful birthday and thank you J&G for a beautiful meal.
Second Thoughts from B
Let me pat myself on the back a little bit. It is not easy choosing a restaurant for someone whose hobby is eating out. While I know my way around D.C.'s dining scene, I'm not the one in the family with the "I love Tom Sietsema" tattoo. So good job to me for picking a winner. There was no shortage of anxiety and research that went into this decision.
Even though our photos suffer from our refusal to lug an SLR everywhere we go, they are helpful in telling the story of our meal. On the other hand, when we choose to write blind, it does bring to the fore the really memorable highlights.
While they use "steakhouse" in the name, J&G's highlights were those that preceded the steak dish. First off, you'll never have a better start to a meal than the one you can get from their roof deck. On a warm spring night, with the soft breeze and stunning view, it is hard to imagine a more perfect place in this truly great city. Pulling ourselves down from the roof was no easy task but it helped that J&G accommodated my request for a secluded table befitting a special occasion like J's birthday.
It was a wise decision to go with the tasting menu so we could sample the diversity of the kitchen's talents. The tartare was an entire sushi dinner packed into one bite with miso, ginger, salmon, and avocado all dancing on your palate. The beet salad was good and the sweet wine pairing was good. Together, however, they were both great. It was easily the most harmonious pairing I've experienced. This was followed by a well-spiced halibut on a surprisingly sweet chili bed of oh-my-goodness. All of that before the steak.
The steak dish was quite good and it is saying something that it was overshadowed by the other dishes. That's how I know J&G won't be forgotten.