Since its opening in February, a new restaurant in Georgetown has received plentiful buzz and admiration from an ever-expanding club of patrons who adore its inspired cuisine and whimsical décor. Mie N Yu touts its worldwide cuisine without any danger of exaggeration, drawing on inspiration from Asia, North Africa, the Mediterranean and the Americas.
This has to be the most visually stimulating restaurant décor in the city. Where else can you dine under an authentic Turkish tent on plush daybeds lit by lanterns, or inside a giant birdcage suspended from the second floor? Then there's the Moroccan Bazaar -- a silk and brocade-lined passage with assorted dining nooks, not to mention cocktails in the black and red enameled English standing bar with antique ceiling fans whirling overhead.
Food Arts magazine has called this new take on dining "boutique nightery" -- more satisfying than a bar, less formal than a restaurant. In Georgetown, the concept seems to be working well, and in order to get reservations here, you'll need about a week's lead-time for weekend dining.
Executive Chef Tim Elliott has fine-tuned the menu since Mie N Yu's opening, culling it down to a manageable yet incredibly varied assortment of offerings. Begin by selecting from a variety of tempting breads from Marvelous Market offered from a large basket carried by a roving server. Asian grilled duck breast with fresh pineapple and mango salsa is as inspired an opening course as you'll find. The melding of the duck's natural flavor with the slightly sweet salsa is superb.
Roasted quail stuffed with figs, fresh herbs and Cambozola cheese sauce with fig purée comes in a close second to the duck. The natural sweetness of the figs is an apt compliment to the tender, mild quail. While some may not be happy dealing with the tiny bones, working around them is well worth the effort.
Several raw appetizers are featured as well. Ahi tuna tartar mixed with toasted almonds and coconut and joined by paper-thin slices of cucumber provides plenty of sensory delight. The contrasting textures and merging of flavors and aromas combine in a most successful creation. Another starter of raw Japanese shrimp served with pea sprouts, soybean-wasabi puree and soy syrup is less enjoyable. Raw shrimp is not the most delectable of seafood and we found the large decorative fried shrimp heads rather off-putting.
Main course dining is à la carte. Fresh Alaskan halibut, seared to seal in its moisture and flavor, is perfectly executed. As with most of the main courses, Chef Elliott selects three distinct sauces or marinades to accompany it. Here he chooses béarnaise sauce, calamata olive tapenade, and pepper-caper relish, each in its own small ceramic dish for dipping or adding on the side. All bring their own special enhancement to this splendid fish.
Roasted pork loin topped with fried sweet potato curls is juicy, tender and generously portioned. This time the three enhancements are balsamic truffle vinaigrette, cranberry marmalade, and mango-pineapple salsa. It's a bit like having three distinct preparations of an entrée all on one plate.
Jumbo lump crab cakes needed a bit more salt and less breadcrumb filler. With their large, moist chunks of crab they're still enjoyable, but they're not the best in the city. Braised lamb shank in a lavender-barbecue sauce is outstanding. While a little lavender goes a long way, particularly in cooking, here it adds fragrance and pungency to a fairly sweet sauce in exquisite proportion.
Sides of vegetables are large enough to share and the ones we tried were all interesting and delicious. Peruvian mashed potatoes, with their distinctive purple color, are blended with goat cheese and green onions. Quinoa, the protein-rich grain from South America, is tossed with bell peppers, mango, currants and cashews for what could easily be a vegetarian main course. My favorite is grilled Chinese eggplant and homemade spicy kimchee, a Korean condiment of fermented vegetables, prepared here with pickled cabbage, garlic, ginger and an anchovy and oyster paste. Note, however, that this version is somewhat milder than you'll encounter in most Korean restaurants.
Desserts are less than I'd hoped for at Mie N Yu. Homemade ice creams in such flavors as rum pecan, caramel and lime gelato are outstanding, though ice cream is never a first choice for me in a fine restaurant. A quartet of crème brûlée got our attention, but was rather disappointing, lacking the distinctive burnt sugar topping -- or brûlée" --that makes this treat so delectable. The lavender portion was a bit too scented and reminded us of soap, the green tea too bland, the white chocolate forgettable, and the mocha much like chocolate instant pudding.
More satisfying and accomplished are the chocolate "cigars" with chocolate mascarpone mousse and blood orange sauce, and the Grand Marnier chocolate fondue for two with an assortment of fruits and cakes for dipping.
Even with a few bumps along the road, Mie N Yu is one of the best restaurant journeys you'll take in Washington. Ask to be seated on the first floor as the second floor, with its long communal dining tables in one room, or the red velvet-draped walls and mirrored tabletops of the other are certainly less inviting. Your Mie N Yu experience can easily top $150 for two. Is it worth it? The answer: a resounding yes.