Anyone who knows me knows that I do not follow sports. I’m the one at the Super Bowl party shusshing everyone during the commercials and talking incessantly during the game. But I don’t live in a cave. I am certainly aware that the Washington Capitals were in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup. My awareness is heightened as one of the playoff games ends up conflicting with our dinner reservations at Cedar. Thankfully my husband and the couple we have plans with are still okay with dining out. Or, at least they all know better than to mess with my dinner plans.
Initially we select a different venue for our dinner. But the timing doesn’t work and we need to find somewhere that can take us at 8:00 pm on a Saturday night. It’s Wednesday and the options are limited. My friend finds an opening at Cedar and I’m relieved. It’s on my list and I get kind of cranky when I have to dine somewhere that I’m not excited about. I’ve been hearing about the new chef, Aaron McCloud, and his focus on seasonal ingredients and game and well…. I’m game to try it. The fact that it coincides with the hockey playoffs means that I have an excuse to throw silly sports references into my post.
We kick off our evening with cocktails. I have the Red Burro which combines Tequila, lime, ginger beer, and blackberry puree. It’s a refreshing combination of citrus and sweet. My friend has the Uziel made with grapefruit Vodka, local honey, and lemon. It’s way too sweet for her and she sends it back. The server doesn’t miss a beat in her willingness to return it to the bar, and likewise the bartender takes her time to correct it. We watch her mix, pour, taste, and start again. My friend appreciates the extra effort to get it right. We are all impressed.
The manager/owner comes by and gives us a warm welcome. I must confess that my identity as a blogger has been revealed to the staff. I know that some may claim this results in an experience that isn’t genuine. There is no foul play here. The staff are circulating throughout the room, dividing their attentions and hospitality equally.
The lobster and white chocolate soup has been recommended to me. I don’t need any arm-twisting. I am having trouble envisioning the outcome, but there’s nothing about the pairing of these ingredients that doesn’t appeal to me. What I get is a bowl of heaven. A smooth and creamy broth dotted with pieces of lobster. It is at once sweet (but not too sweet) and slightly salty. At the bottom of the dish are slightly crunchy roasted root vegetables for added texture. The soup is a home run. (“Girl Meets Food” has the recipe on her blog.)
Chef McCloud visits the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market every Thursday to select fresh ingredients. This is evident in the strawberry salad with stilton, pickled fennel, strawberry balsamic, and black pepper meringues. Chef is certainly using fresh ingredients to their best advantage in this tasty salad.
My husband begins his meal with the beautiful house smoked Carolina trout with a salad of asparagus, lemon creme fraiche, phyllo, and watercress. He calls the dish a Napoleonic “tower of goodness” with a perfect balance of sweet, smoky, and crunchy.
I can’t resist ordering the Braised Texas Wild Boar as my entree. The accompanying cardamom and carrot puree, as described by our server, sounds right up my alley. The beef is braised with maple jus and served with toasted farro. The portion is generous and the dish is quite rich. I have filled up on some delicious crusty bread and the soup, so I’m only able to enjoy a few bites before I have to call a time out. I love the flavor combinations of the dish, and wish I could eat more but I’m not going to make it to the finish line if I do.
My husband and friend both have king trumpet mushrooms with beluga lentils, five minute egg, walnuts, and arugula. They agree that the egg in the dish is really something special and marvel at how different it is from the everyday grocery store egg. My husband praises the flavor of the lentils…repeatedly.
The other dish at the table is grilled swordfish with Florida shrimp seviche, watercress puree, and salsify. It’s a skillfully prepared dish, but my friend is more enamored of his strawberry salad compared to his entree. I enjoy taking a break from my rich and filling wild boar, to taste a bite of this lighter dish. In hindsight, it would have been perfect for us to share our entrees and take advantage of the contrast between them.
Our server, Noelle, is knowledgeable about the food in an impressive and at the same time endearing way. She clearly has an admiration for Chef McCloud’s cooking and what she terms as his willingness to accommodate “guest-driven customization.” Sometimes a server’s expertise can come off haughty or insincere but this is not the case. She is friendly but not intrusive, and adds a great deal to the overall experience.
Chef McCloud comes by our table to say hello. We compliment the food and the hospitable vibe. He is clearly proud of his accomplishments at Cedar, as he should be. He spends a good amount of time with the people at the table next to us, as they have ordered the chef’s tasting menu. I’m skipping ahead here for a moment, but the next day I see a comment about Cedar posted on my favorite food discussion board www.donrockwell.com. It turns out to be from someone in the group seated next to us. His impressions of the food and service are quite similar to my own. (Check out the discussion for some additional insight into Cedar. Noelle’s observation about the chef’s accommodating nature really come into play here.)
We’re nearing the end zone but dessert is still a must. The raspberry tuile with goat cheese mousse and butterscotch pound cake clearly has my name on it. The other desserts don’t stand a chance.
The second dessert is for my dining companions because I do not eat hazelnuts: chocolate peanut butter mousse bar with candied hazelnuts and gianduja ice cream. Gianduja may seem like it should mean extra large, but it actually is a combination of chocolate and hazelnuts (think Nutella). I let everyone else fight over it, while I steal extra bites of the goat cheese mousse.
I haven’t spent much time in sports arenas, but I know there is a reason that people bring those cute little cushions to sit on. The straight-backed booths at Cedar are similarly uncomfortable. This isn’t a foul worthy of the penalty box, far from it, but I’d ask for a table and not a booth on a return visit. Otherwise, the room is really quite nice.
Cedar, 822 E Street, NW, Washington, DC