There’s always excitement when a new restaurant opens, especially when its owner is someone with a proven track record in the city already. Such is the case with Geoffrey Tracy, who recently opened his second restaurant — Chef Geoff’s Downtown.
After much success with the original Chef Geoff’s next to Sutton Place Gourmet on New Mexico Avenue, Tracy has launched an attractive and upscale eatery across from Warner Theatre as his second Washington venture. While the building has a Pennsylvania Avenue address, the entrance is actually around the corner on 13th Street.
Entering from the street, you immediately feel that this is a fairly classy place. Dark-toned paneling and hardwood floors set the tone, but there is nothing stuffy about Chef Geoff’s. The large attractive bar at the front teems with a well-dressed crowd of mostly young business people unwinding after a hard day and theatre-goers awaiting their curtain times at nearby National and Warner Theatres.
One thing you’ll want to beware of at Chef Geoff’s is being seated too near the bar area. On one evening I had to ask to be moved further back in the dining room because smoke from the bar area was wafting to my table. Luckily, the dining room is quite large and you shouldn’t have this problem.
Those already familiar with the original Chef Geoff’s will find much similarity between his menus there and at this new location. As you’d expect, the same great American cuisine with an emphasis on freshness and imagination are carried forward and given a new spin downtown.
Appetizers are generally less accomplished than the main courses. A crab and brie quesadilla is mildly disappointing, its tortilla spongy, making me wonder if it had been microwaved. While the filling is adequate, it was boring and desperately needed enlivening. Duck spring rolls with a luscious passion fruit dipping sauce soar in comparison. The moist and tender duck is nicely enhanced by the perfumy, yet not-to-sweet sauce and the wrappers are nicely crisped.
Almond-dusted scallops suffer from their overly acidic hot and sour broth. At $10, the two medium-sized scallops look a little puny in their vinegary concoction, which also includes a bit of couscous and a few tiny and delicious peeled tomatoes. The overall effect, however, seems to be way off the mark.
Another starter of shrimp risotto with lemon and scallion is exquisite. Its creamy texture, with just the slightest hint of crunchiness left in the grains of rice, along with the fresh and tender shrimp, makes this a truly memorable dish. Its mere whisper of lemon lends precisely the right touch.
There is an impressive selection of entrÃ©es, and choosing among them is an enjoyable task. Cinnamon crusted duck breast, accompanied by bok choy, baby carrots and parsnip purÃ©e, is skillfully enhanced with a port wine reduction. Although cooked slightly beyond my requested medium-rare preparation, this tender and flavorful duck is among the best I’ve eaten in recent memory.
Potato and cumin crusted salmon filet arrives moist and fresh, its aromatic coating having a deep-fried appearance owing to its dark, crispy texture. Happily, of course, this wasn’t the preparation, and its starring role among spinach, shallots, hazelnuts and balsamic butter is noteworthy.
Imaginatively rubbed with crushed black tea leaves, a remarkably tender and succulent pork loin is deftly enhanced by a huckleberry reduction and teamed with roasted potatoes and asparagus. You say it’s hard to get excited about roasted pork? This may be the best you’ll taste this winter.
Speaking of winter, a much-deserved reward during all of this cold weather we’re having is hearty, comforting meals, and Chef Geoff’s has a selection in this fashion that you won’t want to miss — rack of lamb. Encrusted with pistachios and served with roasted root vegetables and whipped potatoes, this lamb, Perfectly roasted to a medium-rare doneness, is guaranteed to fortify you against the worst of winter’s assaults.
You won’t want to miss the dessert selections, but it’s questionable whether you’ll have room for one. Chocolate tuxedo cake with raspberry coulis is as creamy and rich as you imagine, and the merging of these two heavenly flavors should never be refused.
If by some fluke of nature you’re not a chocolate lover, you’ll still find choices to get your insulin pumping. A warm Granny Smith apple and Bartlett pear crisp with vanilla ice cream is worth every calorie. Take comfort knowing you’re just having fruit and dairy — really healthy stuff. Coffee crÃ¨me brulÃ©e with roasted coffee beans is equally inspired.
Service can be a bit erratic at times. One evening there were two occasions where someone at my table had to ask for the necessary eating utensils, and finding someone to ask took a little time. Even with some minor problems, the dining experience at Chef Geoff’s was enjoyable enough to warrant a return visit soon.