Photos by Todd Franson
A wondrous thing happened last spring in Foggy Bottom at the River Inn. The Foggy Bottom Café, which had fallen to an embarrassing low point from its once masterful cooking, gave way to a new restaurant with a gorgeously redesigned décor. It was rechristened Dish.
To say that you'd hardly recognize the space is an understatement. Soft, warm tones and a brighter appearance have given the previously shopworn space a new vitality. Designed by the award-winning team of Adamstein and Demetriou, the cozy 50-seat space includes a fireplace for cold weather comfort, along with a diptych of a recumbent Weimaraner by the famed William Wegman, adding a touch of whimsy to this causal and friendly eatery.
After starting his Washington career running the White House mess under President Clinton, followed by stints at M&S Grill and 15 Ria, Chef Ron Reda comes well prepared to take the helm at Dish, for which he has concocted a brief and accomplished menu of American classics including meatloaf (wonderful), macaroni and cheese (unremarkable), fried chicken (terrific), and pork chops (divine).
Delivered in a portion large enough to share, an appetizer of spinach dip with roasted artichokes is delightful. Piled on top of fried spicy pita chips, the marriage of subtle flavors is perfect. It's not the lowfat/low calorie pick of the menu, but perhaps sharing it will alleviate the guilt.
And speaking of things fried, Dish's Blue Point oysters are fresh and crispy. They're rather heavily coated but somehow end up tasting lighter than you'd expect. A fine cucumber-dill sauce makes just the right contribution to this seafood starter.
There's nothing remarkable about an offering of the classic tomato and mozzarella aside from its stylish presentation. Perhaps it should only be served when perfectly ripened tomatoes are available, but by this standard, few restaurants would ever be able to offer it. A drizzle of balsamic graffiti and basil oil breathe a bit of life into the pale fruit.
Among the main dishes, a double-cut blackened pork chop distinguishes itself as the most tender and flavorful in recent memory. Reda brines the meat, bringing it to a level of tenderness rarely encountered. Saffron-vanilla poached pear added a perfect counterpoint to the rich, veal demi-glaced pork -- a welcome relief from the usual pork/apple tedium.
Pan-seared rockfish fillet severed atop an ultra-rich oyster mushroom risotto will have you raving about it to your friends. The delicately cooked fish, as fresh as you'll find anywhere, retains its firm flesh and moist texture. Obviously, the same care in preparation is given to the remarkable risotto, a labor-intensive dish that here is as creamy and rich as one could hope for, and greatly enhanced by the earthy mushrooms.
Rack of lamb has an outstanding flavor and tenderness, but the accompanying barbecue sauce adds little to the offering. Happily, the sauce is served to the side rather than actually on the lamb, making it easy to ignore. A square of accompanying skillet corn bread nicely flavored with peppers and horseradish is a more welcome presence. Salmon fillet, fresh and grilled to perfection, rises to stardom in Chef Reda's capable hands. This often-overworked staple of restaurant menus is given new currency here by not being buried beneath sauce or added flavors.
Dish's wine and dessert menus were both going through a transition during my visits, a process that has now been completed. A wide range of wines, though fairly pricey, enhances the dining experience and the enthusiastic and competent staff is well equipped to help you make a selection.
The dessert menu needs further development. A blueberry cobbler with house-made white chocolate and blueberry ice cream is a bit too doughy and, unlike most desserts everywhere, would actually benefit from more sugar. "Bubba's Brownie" is served warm with more of that great house-made ice cream (this time vanilla) and chocolate ganaché. It's marvelous and doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is. It would be nice to have one truly inspired offering on the dessert menu, however.
There's a lot to like about Dish and even more to be thankful for that a restaurant of its quality came to the rescue of Foggy Bottom. There's every reason to believe it will be with us for a good long time.