St. Anselm: Raring to Go

First impressions are important, although they aren’t always everything.  My husband of 36 years barely spoke to me the first time we met.  It’s a good thing I decided he was worth a second chance. But it can be the opposite.  Great first impression but then some insurmountable flaws rise to the surface. You never know.

This is why writing about new restaurants after a one-time visit is risky.  Some restaurants are ready to go right out of the gate, staff performing like a well-oiled machine, and dishes prepared just as you hope they would be.  Others can be weighed down by too much pre-opening buzz, overwhelmed by crowds, and not quite ready for the attention.  I usually try to wait at least a few weeks after a restaurant opens before visiting, and lately I prefer visiting more than once before I commit my thoughts to a blog post. 

St. Anselm captured my attention at first bite.  But I wanted more.  I returned recently and now I’m ready to dish.

St. Anselm  (Opened September 2018) Executive Chef: Marjorie Meek-Bradley

The partnership between Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley and all-star restaurateur Stephen Starr isn’t a new one. Meek-Bradley first worked for Starr in Philadelphia. She made a name for herself in DC at Ripple, Roofers Union, Smoked & Stacked, and gained recognition nationwide by coming in third on “Top Chef” Season 13.  Starr has a slew of successful restaurants in PA, NY, NJ, FL, Paris.  DC knows him best as the creator of Le Diplomate. When he opened DC’s St. Anselm with restaurateur Joe Carroll, who also owns St. Anselm in Brooklyn, the buzz was heard around the city. 

There’s no question that massive talent is involved in St. Anselm, and as a result the restaurant is nearly flawless right out of the gate.  The enthusiasm from the staff is palpable from the moment you enter, and this translates to the experience and the plate.    

The dark and clubby space located near Union Market in Northeast is the place to go for a fabulous steak, but DO NOT think of St. Anselm simply as a steakhouse. This message is conveyed by the chef and owners in multiple interviews.  And indeed, it is so much more, even though the décor feels like a steakhouse and the menu is meat-centric. Take a closer look.  There’s whimsy in the details.

The walls include portraits of past presidents who were deemed disasters, with a lightbulb poking through their faces.  There are fez hats and banners and a huge American flag draped on the wall. The whole place feels very retro, but somehow manages to coalesce into something cool and edgy.

St Anselm interior
St Anselm interior

It’s the same with the food.  Steak, creamed spinach, grilled broccoli, and potatoes fried or mashed are old-school dishes that taste fresh and interesting here.  Great ingredients and stellar execution wins every time.

I stalk St. Anselm’s photos on social media, and it’s the steak that keeps turning my head.  Butcher’s steak, flat iron, NY Strip, and a 45 oz ax-handle ribeye (must bring friends) are all on the table.  I go for the butcher’s steak with garlic butter ($28) on my first visit, and lamb sirloin- pink and juicy and topped with salsa verde ($26) on my second.  Who’s coming with me next time for the ax-handle?

St. Anselm lamb sirloin
St. Anselm lamb sirloin

If you’re a pescatarian, you may be sheepish about ordering fish here. Don’t be. Meeks-Bradley cooks up a salmon collar that is as crave able as anything else on the menu. This fatty cut of fish comes off the grill screaming “pick me, pick me.” I wouldn’t dream of dining here without adding this to the table. 

St. Anselm salmon collar
St. Anselm salmon collar

Pair the collar with buttermilk biscuits served with pimento cheese.  The biscuits arrive at the table warm, buttery, flaky, and irresistible. Am I here with dining companions? Yes, but apologies to them if I’m too busy ravaging the food to look up. 

What else is fishy at St. Anselm? There is tuna steak with chanterelle mushroom vinaigrette and whole mackerel with lime peppercorn sauce. Both are well prepared- not too fancy – but a nice touch of oomph.

Salads and vegetables promote the season’s best and brightest.  Example:  grilled green and white asparagus with stracciatella and marcona almond dukeh spice blend.

St. Anselm asparagus
St. Anselm asparagus

A whole head of cauliflower slathered with tahini and puffed amaranth rests on pickled beets. This garners attention early on. The dish doesn’t wow me on my first go-round at St. Anselm. High expectations can have that effect.  It’s worth trying again on visit two, and I find the flavor kicked up. Give me a little more time and I could fall in love.

St. Anselm cauliflower
St. Anselm cauliflower

This is a luxury meal that isn’t priced sky-high, so you may find yourself over-ordering extra sides and salads. Or is that just me?

Lemon meringue pie topped with poached blueberries is my ideal dessert, providing a refreshing finale to a decadent meal.

St. Anselm lemon meringue pie
St. Anselm lemon meringue pie

 A “steakhouse” in DC may not be unique.  But St. Anselm is just so well done. I’m raring to go back.

St. Anselm, 1250 5th Street, NE, Washington, DC

  Washingtonian Magazine 100 Very Best Restaurants 2019, #26

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