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Plume: All The Right Looks, All the Wrong Moves

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My wife and I took a quick weekend trip down from NYC to DC to see the Cherry Blossoms. We stayed at the Jefferson Hotel, and heard some good things about Plume. Here is my humble review:

I had called ahead to ask if both of us were required to order the tasting menu, as my wife has pescetarian/vegetarian leanings and would not eat the loin of lamb, among other items. The restaurant receptionist was very accommodating, and it sounded as if they were well-versed in serving optional courses for guests with dietary restrictions. We were looking forward to a wonderful dining experience, as we were impressed that a restaurant of their caliber would "customize" the menu for us.

The restaurant, along with the entire hotel, was beautifully renovated 7 months ago. The "greenhouse" at the front of the main entrance is picturesque, and many original crown moulding details were lovingly restored. The manager (more on him later) greeted us at the door and was very friendly. I will cut to the chase: Service was ill-timed, brusque, inattentive, uncoordinated, uninformed and a bit robotic (think: broken robot). I will qualify this by stating that I put myself through college waiting tables and bartending, so I know a little about the hospitality business. Although attractively presented, the food profiles were not exciting and I questioned some of the serving temperatures and cooking techniques.

The most egregious offense was the service. After being seated at a great table in a very intimate dining room, we waited for menus. Then water. Then Bread. After waiting at our table for 5-10 minutes, the manager came over and asked how we had enjoyed our day in the city. He realized our drink and meal orders had not been taken, so he obliged. About 10 minutes AFTER we had received our warm bread (tasty), our waiter served 2 Italian olive oils and 3 international sea salts, which he errantly stated was "for accompaniment with your upcoming meal". Turns out this was for the bread, which we had ALREADY eaten as we waited for our amuse bouche. Bottles were slammed on the table, our server reached across the table between the 2 of us to adjust for the next course, and he mumbled out a few basic ingredients: Halibut, Lamb, beets. "What is the sauce with the Lamb?", I asked. "Um, wine sauce." After a second reading of the menu, turns out it was black olive infused jus.

I was hoping to have a glass of white wine with my 4th course, the Seared Filet of Halibut and Morels, but our server was no where to be found. He finally asked at the 6th course if I would like another glass of wine.

The Food:
We both ordered the 7 course tasting menu. My wife's Lamb was replaced by an asparagus napolean.
Our Amuse Bouche was a harbinger of things to come. Poorly done Tuna "cube" and run-of-the-mill mini-puffed cheese pastry. There was a second curious amuse bouche of cauliflower and cracked white pepper. Very bland, and the cauliflower was nearly frozen from sitting pre-prepared in the walk-in.

The Veloute of celery root, black truffle and apple remoulade was my favorite dish, and buoyed our hopes again that all was not lost. With that said, the raw celery root and truffle mixture at the center of the veloute seemed a little unfinished.

The Roasted local beet salad was a downer. The menu said Szechuan Pepper, but mine must have been missing it. No Flavor. See: Zaytinya, also in DC, for goat cheese beet salad done right.

Seared Filet of Halibet with Spring garlic and morels. At this point, we were hungry and desperate for some tasty sustenance. The halibut was cooked well, although under seasoned.

Roasted Loin of Lamb was wrapped in eggplant. My aforementioned sauce was a congealed smear, and I could not taste much of it. The lamb was tender and juicy with clean flavors. A large chunk of fat was left on mine, and the meat (Medium rare) needed to be seared or roasted on the exterior just a little bit longer to contrast the texture (I think the eggplant moistened the exterior too much, and did not allow the meat to be cooked properly)

Asparagus Napolean (my wife's veggie alternate)
OK, but the ratio of sauce/asparagus with puffed pastry was too high on starch.

Strawberry Shortbread, basil ice cream with candied basil

Candied basil was inspired, but the shortcake was not soft and light, it was dense and crunchy like a stale cookie.

Not once did our server ask how our meal was, how was the prosecco, wine, etc.
He did wheel around a massive cheese cart and asked us if we wanted some "not included in your tasting menu" fromage. We declined. I mentioned to him that I might want a glass of muscat and asked for a menu. Instead, we ordered green tea and a cappucino. After our drinks were served, he asked if we wanted to order the muscat. Clueless.

Finally, we noticed a few couples were ceremoniously presented a small bag of biscotti as they were leaving. Our server dropped off the check, and we never saw him again (I signed the bill over to the room), nor received the biscotti, until the hostess awkwardly handed us a bag as we were leaving.

I believe a better level of service may have resulted in a more enjoyable experience, and I suppose the restaurant is still having growing pains (only 7 months old); but the food was not worth the visit.

Full disclosure: Upon leaving, I dropped off a comments card to the front desk. The manager must have read it within 24 hours, because our bill was reduced 50% at check-out. While I appreciate the gesture, I would have preferred a wonderful dinner the night before...

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Zaytinya
701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

Plume at the Jefferson Hotel
1200 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036

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  1. This is not even close to the first time I've heard this. Do they just need to fire this one waiter? Apparently Tom Seitsema is the only one who gets consistently great service. All other reviews have talked about how uneven it is.

    I think I'm going to pass on Plume for a year or two and see what happens before I drop that kind of change on their tasting course. Glad to hear you at least got 50% back.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Raids

      Raids,
      I was surprised as I had seen this restaurant on a lot of people's "Best of DC" lists. Maybe they were blown away by the pomp and circumstance and didn't care about the quality of food (#1) and service. The food is brought out by service teams, and a few of the servers were lousy (the guy that brought the bread, our lead waiter, etc...)
      If the food was flavor-packed, I don't think we would have been hungry afterwards. I was still craving something salty and sweet at the end of my meal, because the food was so bland. Another gripe: When my wife left to use the rest room, they took her napkin (beautiful linen cloth served with silver tongs at the start of the meal) and didn't replace it until we asked. Weird. Why wouldn't they take the napkin, fold it, and place it on her chair or place setting?

      1. re: Hatch

        I think the Washingtonian reported the same kind of experience, also, complete with the little service mishaps. And yeah, before someone else says it, I wouldn't care if the waiter ran off with my napkin at Zengo or something, but at Plume service is supposed to aspire to a near-art form, and you pay for it.

        Regarding the food, the Washington Post review said it was, for the most part, traditional food elevated to the sublime by care and interesting touchesbut, again, other reviews were pretty meh.

        I'm thinking that *not* getting the tasting menu seems to be a good idea, if there is any pattern to it.

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        Zengo Restaurant
        781 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001