Monday, November 30, 2009

Old Ebbitt Grill

I am on a mission to keep my morale up, despite a few morale-busting things in my life that I could be complaining about (i.e., being unemployed; having a potential health issue that, while it may turn out to be no big deal, leaves me incredibly nervous, emotionally wrecked and downright terrified nonetheless at the procedure that I have to endure on Tuesday just to find out for sure; Christmas is coming and I couldn't give a gosh darn about some goose getting fat 'cause I can't afford the goose anyway, etc.). But no, I march onward in the hopes that the winning lottery ticket has my name written all over it.

In the meantime, I eat because, well, let's face it, I'm so damned good at it.

And so it went that after having snapped out of my Turkey Day Tryptophan Coma, my husband and I made our annual pilgrimage from the seedy suburbs of Maryland to the mean streets of D.C. (okay, so my adjectives are a bit on the exaggerated side...) on Saturday to enjoy a delicious meal at Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown Washington, just a stones throw from Obama's house.

I'll start off by giving my recommendation right now so there is no mistaking it: If you ever find yourself within a 30-mile radius of our Nation's Capital, be certain that 675 15th Street, N.W. is on your itinerary. It's okay—no need to send gifts of gratitude and copious quantities of cash my way just yet; you'll thank me later.

Old Ebbitt Grill is a historic establishment, having been around since the mid-1850's. And in all that time, they've apparently had ample opportunity to perfect the food on their menu. They serve "upscale American saloon food with an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients."

Instead of dealing with what can be extremely tricky, unpredictable and contentious D.C. traffic, Maarten and I took the coward's way out and jumped on the subway train not too far from dad's house. After a comfortable twenty-five minute ride, we got off the train at the McPherson Square station, walked south down 14th Street, turned west onto New York Avenue, then down one block to 15th street. Having experienced a wait at Old Ebbitt Grill on previous visits, we called ahead and made reservations for 12:45 p.m., arrived ten minutes early and were seated by our reservation time. Although crowded inside, unlike years past there wasn't that awful crush of the persistent crowd lining up ten deep just so they can experience some of the best food Washington has to offer.

Speaking of which, Maarten and I love to experience food, so rarely a restaurant meal passes without us ordering an appetizer. This occasion was no exception. I had been eyeing the rather hefty "Orca Platter”—one pound of lobster, one dozen Jonah crab claws, one dozen clams, one dozen oysters, and one dozen shrimp—but couldn't give one iota of serious consideration to the colossal amount of food (even with my normally robust appetite) for two very good reasons: 1) clams, oysters and shrimp give me the willies, and 2) the $94.95 price tag gave me an even bigger case of the willies. So instead of feasting like Captain Nemo, we downgraded considerably and went with the hummus.

I've had good hummus in my day, and Old Ebbitt's hummus ranked right up there with the best of them. While it could have been slightly thicker, the taste would have been hard to improve upon. In the center of the bowl, the hummus was drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of paprika on top. Generous portions of celery, olives, carrots, pita points, tomatoes and cucumbers were served for dipping and made this a complete and satisfying start to the meal.

Old habits die hard, so I really didn't have to look at the menu to know what I wanted (although I do feel guilty for not giving any of the other dishes even a cursory glance). On my subjective authority, I will say that, second only to my mom's, Old Ebbitt has the best crab cakes I have ever had in my life, hence that is what I ordered. Maarten, on the other hand, had far too many choices and the furrowed brow and gnawing on his lower lip proved my point. I feared we would pass out from hunger, but after careful deliberation, he finally selected the Turkey Shepherd's Pie.

While we waited for our entrées, I casually glanced at the table next to ours as the waiter was bringing their dishes over. I swear it was not my intention to drool like a werewolf, but the plate of the woman who sat next to me was calling my name and I could hear it clear as day. I felt like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon—I was ready to float over to their table riding the delicious scent that wafted to my flaring nostrils. Somewhere off in the distance, I heard Maarten calling my name, but I was so stuck in my trance that I was loathe to snap out of it. I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised had Maarten thrown a glass of cold water in my face to revive me. I sniffed the air like a rabid hound. I mean, that food smelled good. And it was so close. All I had to do was distract the woman and snatch whatever that was on her plate and she would be none the wiser. I'm sure she could feel my big eyes boring into her personal space, but I didn't care. Finally, when I just couldn't tolerate it any longer, I politely interrupted her conversation.

"Excuse me. What is that dish that you ordered?" Truth be told, I think she was relieved to hear me speak because she probably thought I was in some strange sort of catatonic state . . . which I was. The sandwich that nearly turned me into a food criminal was called "F" Street Sandwich, with smoked turkey, muenster cheese, cole slaw, mango bbq sauce and a mound of crispy fried onions all piled HIGH on a sesame seed bun. It was enough to make me rethink canning the whole creature-of-habit thing and change my order.

I wiped the drool from my chin and turned back to my husband who, at this point, was shaking his head in disbelief.

When our food finally came, I half-expected the woman next to me to stare in kind at my plate, but she was far too busy making an empty plate out of her own meal. The waitress placed my plate in front of me and, in the softest of tones barely audible, I whimpered. I was so happy. But I was also torn; I couldn't decide if I wanted to stuff everything in my mouth at one time or, in a more civilized fashion, select one item from the plate and slowly chew, taking the time to actually savor the flavor emanating from within. That whole cro magnon thing isn't a good look for me, so I took the civilized route.

First up were the green beans. Sounds simple enough, right? But you'd be surprised how some places can totally jack up an innocent green bean and leave it limp, flavorless and begging to go to that big green been heaven in the sky. Old Ebbitt is so not that place. The beans were crisp but tender, and had a delicate buttery hint of flavor. Next to the green beans was the sweet potato gratin, a side dish so delicious that I actually requested the recipe from the restaurant a few years ago...and got it (it's been a staple on my family's Thanksgiving Day dinner menu ever since). The tender sweet potatoes had just a hint of heat from the chipotle in adobo sauce, and provided an even balance to the green beans. But the piéce de résistance was, beyond compare, the crab cake. This was a true crab cake, with lumps of crab meat that you could actually see, not stringy shards of mystery crab. There was just enough breading to be respectable enough to hold everything together, and I didn't feel like I was eating a muffin disguised as a crab cake. I believe, in a perfect world, I could eat Old Ebbitt's crab cakes every day of the year and never tire of them.

While I hummed softly and chewed with a smile on my face, Maarten had begun to tuck into his turkey shepherd's pie. It looked good; it smelled good; and, to no one's surprise, it tasted good. If his groaning weren't enough to convince anyone within a half-mile radius of that fact, my taste buds told the tale as well, once I was able to momentarily tear myself away from my own food. The aroma was unbelievable, and the uncanny thing is that it tasted like it smelled. The turkey was cubed, but it wasn't that processed, stamped out and water filled stuff that some try to pass off as edible; this was real, bona fide, Thanksgiving bird leftover turkey, and they did that bird justice. The dish was hearty, flavorful and robust—a perfect cold weather food.

Sadly, there was to be no talk of dessert. It was bad enough that Maarten's expanding stomach—which had been considerably flatter when we first sat down—had caused a button on his shirt to pop off and soar through the air like a mini-projectile that nearly took my eye out, but then I had the audacity to loosen my belt buckle not one but two notches to the left and undo the top button of my jeans for added measure and breathability. But if you're going to stuff yourself, shouldn't it be with something really, really good?

Would I recommend Old Ebbitt Grill? Definitely. It's times like Saturday that I wished I lived much closer to the area so that I could frequent the restaurant on a more regular basis.

Is Old Ebbitt Grill a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Surprisingly, I have found it to be a better value than some of the restaurants in Stamford. The portions are large and, while you would think that would have a lot of patrons walking out the door with leftovers, the food is so good that you want to finish it all in one sitting.

What about atmosphere and ambience? Old Ebbitt is one of those venerable establishments that not only serves delicious food, but it's a great looking place with a very comfortable feel. There is so much history there (read about it HERE) and you feel like you've walked into your favorite neighborhood place from a time gone by.

675 15th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 347-4800

1 comment:

  1. Hey At. Val, it's me Manny, those crab cakes looked OOOOHHH SO GOOD!! I really want to go here the next time I'm in the DMV area, hopefully I won't become mesmerized by someone else's food like you did but Old Ebbitt's is now on my DC to do list!