As a storm threatened, waiters scurried to strip outdoor tables of place settings and napkins. Moments later the sky opened up and torrents of rain fell. Such was the drill that repeated often at area restaurants, as it did on a recent evening at Dupont Grille, the newest hotspot on Dupont Circle.
Luckily we were seated in the dry zone just inside the massive glass doors that swivel open to bring the outside in. Although we avoided the rain, we couldn't avoid the wind, which soon began to move those very large doors, this time up against a row of tables including ours. With a bit of repositioning, the tables were moved, the doors were closed and not a single diner was lost.
With that came the realization that in the past, man battled nature to gather food for survival, but even now, living our very rarified existence in the 21st Century, nature still makes it difficult sometimes to put food on the table. And yet, the food made it to the table. Good thing, too. Because dinner is an extremely enjoyable experience at Dupont Grille, both because of the sleek, modern setting and the superb menu of fine American cuisine.
Seafood fanatics will relish the appetizer of fresh mussels, pan-roasted and bathed in a saffron fish fumé with fresh basil and a coarsely chopped mixture known as tomato concassé, while beef-eaters should head directly for the beef confit spring roll, its hearty rich filling and paper-thin, crispy wrappers perfectly complemented by an intensely flavored sun dried tomato chutney and basil dressing. Each long roll is cut once on the diagonal and placed vertically, creating visuals appealing towers of unequal lengths.
Fried squid are average in quality and flavor, although lemon zest and parsley aioli offer a bit of a lift. Far better are shrimp ravigote, steamed and dangled over the edge of a martini glass filled with field greens, diced tomato and avocado tossed in a house-made mayonnaise. Although slightly awkward to eat from a vessel whose center of gravity lies well above the table, it's a delectable creation nonetheless.
Main courses shine brighter still. Proscuitto- and spinach-wrapped tuna soars with flavor, but the grilling tends to dry out the spiced Italian ham in the process of cloaking the fresh, tender fish. Served atop a sauté of grilled eggplant, roasted garlic, haricot vert and finished with tomato nectar, this is a truly lovely creation.
Initially skeptical of a vanilla-cured duck breast and leg confit, I proceeded to order it after assurances from our waiter that the aromatic flavoring was very subtle. Indeed it was, adding just a whisper of sweetness to the succulent duck served with its natural reduction. A well-paired Medjool date spoon bread completed the dish and was particularly enjoyable with the richly flavored confit.
Pan roasted grouper served over black lentils, oven dried tomatoes, and olives sauced with lemon-caper butter could have been outstanding except for its overcooking. A busy kitchen sometimes can't avoid this, particularly with delicate fish, and I did it a disservice by not bringing this to their attention.
For lamb lovers, the herb and grain mustard-crusted rack will have you singing the praises of Dupont Grille. Cooked to my exact specification (rare, of course) this generous serving of three double-rib pieces, with their long, towering French-style bones reminds one of the lovely crown roast presentation. Add to this a rosemary-shiraz reduction and truffle mashed potatoes, and you have as fine a preparation of rack of lamb as you will find anywhere in the city.
In fact, Dupont Grille is a carnivore's dream. Grilled double cut pork chop with a smoked wild mushroom-thyme reduction, grilled filet of beef topped with a stilton glaçage, and good old-fashioned steak frites are all skillfully executed in Executive Chef Cornell Coulon's kitchen. What's more, dessert at Dupont Grille (appropriately called the grand finale) is divine. Arguably the finest dessert on the menu is the pear tarte Tatin, an inspired variation on the famous upside-down apple tart invented by the two unmarried Tatin sisters from the Loire Valley of France who made their living baking them. Rustically, Chef Coulon uses unpeeled pears, giving the caramel-infused fruit a welcome bit of increased texture. Don't dismiss the possibility that so fine a creation may one day be widely known as tarte Tatin-Coulon.
Chocolate Chambord cheese cake, with a balsamic-infused raspberry coulis is fine, but please, Mr. Coulon, add just a little more Chambord for us raspberry addicts. Cranberry and white chocolate bread pudding, with its Virginia maple syrup-brown butter sauce, warm from the oven, had me firmly in its gastronomic spell. Trios of ice cream and sorbets nicely round out the finales.
There is much to be thrilled about that such an accomplished eatery has been added to our already abundant choices of area restaurants. Don't let the summer go by without indulging in its relaxing, casual splendor.