Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

April 11, 2009 11:52 AM

Restaurant: Bourbon Steak

Bourbon Steak

2800 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
(In the Four Seasons Hotel)
Washington, DC
In a first for Washington Watch, this edition's restaurant review section includes two restaurants run by the same Executive Chef, 2500 miles apart.

The first, is "Bourbon Steak" in the Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, DC, the latest opening of Chef Michael Mina. The second, is "Michael Mina," the first restaurant that Mina started, in the St. Francis Hotel, San Francisco, California.

Beginning with WW's first dinner at Bourbon Steak, the day it opened, December 19, 2008, through April 6th, WW has eaten dinner in this restaurant at least 24 times and lunch 4 times. In the same time period, WW also had 13 breakfasts in the old Seasons Restaurant, where breakfasts and weekend and holiday brunches are still served. The restaurant is physically located where the Terrace Lounge used to be. The lounge is no more.

The restaurant is entered directly from the newly redecorated lobby and is essentially open to the lobby. There is a bar area directly to your right as you enter, and on most evenings it is relatively full. It also is open to the restaurant. The crowd is on the young side, and quite different than anything seen at the hotel before the new restaurant and bar opened.

The difference in guests in the bar is also true of the restaurant. While there are some regulars from the downstairs days, most of the guests are new.

The restaurant itself has 2 distinct eating areas. The first is directly ahead as you enter and down a couple of steps. To the right are a series of booths that separate this section from the other section. The other section is open to the kitchen, which is at the end of the room, where the bar used to be.

Ordinarily, I would note the folks with whom I have eaten, but given the number of times I have been there, so I am eschewing what is a pretty long list. Suffice to say, it is a perfect place to take folks these days, because so many of them have not yet been to the restaurant in these early months.

The average night’s menu has 6 shellfish and caviar dishes, 13 appetizers, 8 dishes listed as entrees, and then an additional group of entrees cooked on the wood-burning grill, including 8 steaks ranging from 8 - 28 ounces and 4 ocean fishes.

In addition, there are 3 so-called accompaniments, and 10 side dishes.

The following is a listing of the dishes I have eaten.

Shellfish & Caviar - Bay scallops, Florida stone crab, & Louisiana Gulf Shrimp

Appetizers - Bibb Wedge, Market Salad, Root Vegetable Soup, Cape Cod Squid, Red Wine Braised Oxtail

Entrees - Dayboat Sea Scallops, Atlantic Striped Bass, Elysian Fields Lamb Loin, Liberty Farms Duck, Michael's Lobster Pot Pie, Pan-Roasted Gianone Chicken, Worcestershire-Braised Short Ribs

Wood-Burning Grill - Tasmanian Sea Trout, Florida Cobia

Accompaniments - Marrow Bones

Side Dishes - Salt-Baked Potato, Crispy Sweet Onion Cakes, Classic Potato puree, Black Truffle Mac&Cheese, Spaghetti Squash, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Wood-roasted "magical" Mushrooms, Chick Pea Fries.

While I usually do not discuss particular dishes, this is an exception. The braised short-ribs that I ate on a recent evening were so tender that I literally cut the meat with a fork.

Every dinner starts with delivery of three silver cones, each filled with a different flavor of French-fried potatoes, with three different sauces in which to dip the fries. I prefer them without the dip.

Bread is delivered in the form of small truffle oil buns. Combinations of 4-6 buns are cooked in a small iron skillet and that is how they are delivered. You have likely never eaten anything quite like them.

The service is quite attentive. It sometimes takes an inordinate amount of time to get something simple, like a glass of ice tea or a glass of wine, but the course of your meal, even when the restaurant is busy, comes at a reasonable rate. To be fair, some folks have suffered delays in receiving their meal, but I have chalked that up to restaurant startup. All but one of the wait staff, is new to the Four Seasons. That is to say, but for one of them, the Seasons wait staff did not migrate upstairs.

At my first lunch, the restaurant passed an important test. My favorite lunch at the old Seasons Restaurant was a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled chicken sandwich. That first time, I believe, the items came from the Seasons kitchen downstairs. Now both are prepared in the Bourbon Steak kitchen. At a recent lunch one of our party ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and it came without so much as a raised eyebrow.

And then one night, as a special treat, the resident chef offered up a roast chicken with steamed vegetables. The chicken could not have been more perfectly done. And the mixed vegetables were nicely prepared as well. Unfortunately, the chicken is not part of the regular menu.

Now the desserts. I have ordered the Comice Pear Tart, Bitter Chocolate Cake, Bananas Split, Coconut Candy Bar, and a variety of ice creams. They leave nothing to be desired.

There are two things that you should know about the restaurant.

First, the food is very rich. For example, steaks are poached in clarified butter, pork in bacon fat, and lamb in olive oil. It seems that just about every dish has some form of fat added to it. Even the fish dishes seem to have added fat in one form or another. However, the kitchen has been responsive when I asked that care be taken to avoid as much extra fat as possible.

Second, when the restaurant is filled at dinner time, it is very noisy. And, periodically, music is broadcast which adds to the din. About the only place you can have a conversation without straining at least a little is in one of the booths. By the way, the booths are of sufficient size and the tables move so they can accommodate my girth on one side and a regular sized person on the other.

The restaurant seats a maximum of 144 people. Each of the 4 tops is expandable to 5 or six.

There is a private dining room that comfortably seats 20 people. There are windows on two sides of the room, so it is quite cheery. This room is designed so that it can be divided into two private dining rooms with separate doors, each seating up to 10 people.

There are minimum charges and guarantees for these dining rooms. There is also a minimum and required guarantee for large parties in the main dining room. There are two choices of restrooms if you are in the restaurant.

Just off the lobby, at the entrance to the restaurant, there are two restrooms, across the hall from one another. As you would expect, one for men and the other for women. Each is designed to be used by a single person at a time.

There is a single white ceramic commode and single washbasin in a marble counter in the men's room. The floor is covered with very large dark tiles, with light accents, and the walls are covered in brown wallpaper.

If the restroom of choice on the lobby level is occupied, you can either stand in line or go down one flight of stairs to the multi-person restrooms. [See special restroom ideas at end of the restaurant section.]

The restaurant is open for dinner seven days a week, and for lunch Monday through Friday. Reservations are pretty much required at dinner. [Lunch is served in the old Season's Restaurant on Saturday and Sunday.]

The bottom line....try it. I think there is a very good chance you will like it.

[Note: The Bourbon Steak manager, Mark Politzer, is on top of just about everything and is very accommodating. And add to that, the new hotel food and beverage manager is Marc Bromley. Yes, the son of the ubiquitous Stan Bromley.]

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