Bobby Van's Steakhouse
Just back from my seven day trip to your wonderful, magnificent city during which time I consumed breakfasts, lunches and dinners in many of the recommended addresses from here, from Zagats, from the Washington Post and from other sources.
There is an understandable air of depression within some of the better establishments caused by the post 911 downturn. It was only in Kinkheads and Inn at Little Washington that we encountered smiling happy faces and full restaurants. At no time did we fail to book a table within 24 hours.
On my first day, I picked up a copy of The Washingtonians Guide to the 100 Best DC Restaurants and my eye was immediately drawn to its review of Bobby Van's Steakhouse. My brother and I went on a meat-eating pilgrimage to New York a few months ago and so I was intrigued by the comparison with Lugers (and eager to repeat the experience if at all possible). I also preferred the idea of a non-chain steakhouse although I now know that Bobby Vans has two other locations.
Well, I am sorry, but Lugers it aint.
I knew that I was in for a disappointment the second our waitress introduced herself. Now, I have nothing against young women, quite the opposite, but this woefully under-trained server knew nothing about food, steak, wine or the art of hospitality and in a restaurant where the bill is going to exceed $200 for two, I feel that knowledgeable serving staff is a must have.
We chose the Porterhouse steak for two, the spinach and the hash browns, all three said to be the signature dishes of the restaurant. I then turned my attention to the wine list where I struggled to find even a modest bottle for less than $40. In the end, I went for an Australian Shiraz that was $38 and although it was excellent, I knew at that point that they were applying over 400% markup on their wines. I can buy that same bottle here in the UK for about $8.00.
The breads were top rate.
The steak arrived and although the plates were searingly hot, the steak somehow contrived to be only warm.
Yes, the meat was good. It was porterhouse and it was well cooked. But at Lugers, they apply melted butter to the steak before serving which combined with the meat juices adds to the perfection. The spinach was acceptable, but I can cook better spinach in my own kitchen and the Hash Browns were only so so.
So would I recommend Bobby Van's Steakhouse? Nah.
There is a leaflet on every table that certifys that Bobby Van's is America's #2 Steakhouse in 'Tom Horan's America's Top Ten Club.'
To me this is nothing more than pure American marketing fluff.
Bobby Van's would not have been a priority. The Prime Rib on K Street, in large part because of its atmosphere probably would have been a suggestion (also because of its crab imperial and crab cakes which can make a great appetizer to prime rib). But I don't feel that D. C. has a great steak house. The Prime Rib is essentially a special, swanky special occasion place. With the exception of the locally owned Sam and Harry's which I personally do not care for everything is a chain. (I have only eaten at the Sam and Harry's at Tyson's, not downtown.) Tom Horan's Top Ten is one of three top ten lists that circulate in Airline flight magazines. Usually the United magazine has all three on different pages. I feel that Luger's is the best steak in America; to find better you would have to go to Florence or Argentina and, even then, you might still feel Luger's was the best.
I'm interested in the other restaurants your research led you to and what you thought of them. Before hearing your choices I would have directed you, in order, to Citronelle (if you did go I hope you did not order his osso buco which is the only weak entree on his menu) Laboratorio (NOT Galileo but Laboratorio), Obelisk and Kinkead's with a side trip, if possible, to Jerry's Seafood in Lanham, MD or, as an alternative, Johnny's Half Shell across the street from Obelisk. I'm very interested in your thoughts about the Inn at Little Washington.
Which city are you from? What are your favorite restaruants there?
I am from London.
I would like to tell you more about the meals that I had in DC. I actually had breakfast or Brunch in The Swissotel, The Four Seasons, The Hay-Adams Hotel and the The Washington Monarch. Of the four, I have to say, that The Swissotel's breakfast, where I stayed, was by far the best and at $19.50 an absolute bargain. A similar breafast at a comparable hotel here in London would cost $45.00 and you would not have the sensational view over the Potomac.
I won't list everything that is on offer, but you can help yourself to virtually everything your heart could desire for breakfast and the quality of the breads, hams, fruit and freshly squeezed juices is excellent.
The Four Seasons was also wonderful and a beautiful room, but The Swissotel had a slight edge and their bacon was far better!
Just wanted to add my 2 cents to this steakhouse bit. Personally, having not experienced Luger's yet, I had probably the best steak I have had at Bobby Van's about a year ago not too long after it opened. Porterhouse for 3, the sides and appetiser were nothing memorable but the steak was excellent, meltingly tender and very flavourful. Wiped the floor with Capital Grill and Mortons, different league altogether. I have not been since then however and do not know if they have kept the standards.
Otherwise, the best meal that I have had was at Citronelle, a serrano ham terrine appetizer was stunning and I have not seen it there since. The dessert, lemon meringue tart with basil sauce was a revelation, the basil tasting wonderful and complimenting the tartness of the lemon perfectly. I have not had the like since as last time I was there, they had ruined this dessert with the addition of a rasberry coulis which added a little more variety of colour at the expense of the purity, simplicity and excellence of the basil. Since they decided to sauce the plate with tiny drops of each sauce alternating around the plate, I scraped the basil sauce carefully from where it lay and left as much of the rasberry as possible without touching it. The time before, they had simply run out of it by the time we were ready for dessert...
Kinkeads and Laboratorio were both good but I had nothing there that I expect to still remember in 10 years, aside from the sheer number of courses at Laboratorio and perhaps the sweetbreads in port sauce. Michelle Richard's basil sauce, I definitely will remember for a very long time and will, most likely, devote many hours to attempted replication.