Blue Duck Tavern: ‘Tis the Season

Here’s something cool about Blue Duck Tavern, located in the Park Hyatt in DC’s West End. Even in frosty weather, you can sit outside in their Fire Garden with heaters and blankets providing additional warmth. A hot toddy or mulled wine is the consummate warm-up to dinner.

Blue Duck Tavern mulled wine in the Fire Garden
Blue Duck Tavern mulled wine in the Fire Garden

Blue Duck Tavern strikes me as a fine dining restaurant that has been tweaked with flourishes of rustic elements to give it a cozy appeal.  Executive Chef Adam Howard recently adapted the menu to the season. There’s a distinct Southern accent to reflect his hometown of Pell City, Alabama, but this is just a jumping off point for dishes that combine a diversity of techniques and ingredients from around the world.

The Blue Duck Tavern menu is divided into categories of Farmhouse, Field & Sea, Seed & Sprout, and Family Supper with approximately three-quarters of the dishes cooked in a wood-burning oven. Many are earthy at their core, accented with an element of sweet and tart, and finished with a textural pop. 

The Farmhouse side of the menu features some beautifully crafted gems. Baby Gem Lettuces take on a potpourri of tasso-cured Georgia candy roaster squash, black walnuts, pickled pink eye peas, crispy pig ears, and turmeric dressing. The squash is cured with a spice blend and then cooked sous vide.

Foie Gras is currently making an appearance on multiple restaurant menus, and I’m always interested in the direction a chef will take it. Chef Howard whips it into a mousse with benne seed and honey butter.  Benne seed cookie crumble provides crunch and miso-ginger roasted Jonagold apples give it fall flair.  An accompanying stack of Johnny Cakes brings it all down to earth in a most satisfying way.

Blue Duck Tavern foie gras mousse
Blue Duck Tavern foie gras mousse

More to fall for is the eye-popping Autumn Garden Salad crafted from beets and carrots which are assembled on squash puree and accented by chili crumble and honey goat cheese mousse. Root vegetable granola fashioned from celery root and sweet potato chips complete this appealing seasonal mix.

Blue Duck Tavern Autumn Salad

Look to Field & Sea for seared sturgeon successfully paired with turmeric seasoned carrot puree. Dirty rice is composed of Charleston Gold Rice Ice Cream and a vegetable sofrito base.

Blue Duck Tavern Seared Sturgeon
Blue Duck Tavern Seared Sturgeon

To illustrate the importance of where ingredients are sourced, the menu identifies the purveyors, many of which are Maryland and Pennsylvania farms. Seed & Sprout features vegetable pot pie, crispy brussels sprouts with fish sauce vinaigrette, and wood-roasted local vegetables that are enhanced with an innovative mix of boiled peanut miso and pickled mustard seeds. 

Black garlic-buckwheat cavatelli is made in-house every morning. The handsome pasta is served in a rich compound butter emulsion with wild mushrooms and smoked pecorino. Preserved kumquats add a pop of color and cut through the richness to brighten up the flavor.

Blue Duck Tavern  cavatelli
Blue Duck Tavern cavatelli

You can easily make a meal at Blue Duck Tavern without ever venturing onto the large format Family Supper entrees. But you would be missing out on half-smoke whole duck with foie gras duck sausage; herb roasted chicken with charred escarole, prunes, and pears; and 100-day aged prime rib with horseradish cream and chimichurri.

If you must pick just one from this category, I highly recommend roast lamb breast. The lamb is stuffed with house-made merquez sausage, slathered with Chinese mustard, spiced with zaatar and shabazi, and hummus made from red peas. Served on the side is cool cucumber yogurt and warm sourdough naan.

Pastry Chef Colleen Murphy fashions her seductive desserts to reflect the season as well. Candied pecan custard is paired with concord grape sorbet for a take on peanut butter and jelly. Stout espresso pot de crème brings together flourless chocolate cake with smoked salt caramel and malted milk ice cream.

Blue Duck Tavern  candied pecan custard with concord grape sorbet
Blue Duck Tavern candied pecan custard with concord grape sorbet

A cozy fire pit, a wood-burning oven, and a cornucopia of beautiful ingredients… there’s no time like the present to visit Blue Duck Tavern. When it comes to dining, it really ’tis the season.

Blue Duck Tavern, 1201 24th St NW, Washington, DC

Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants 2019, #18

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