January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

White House staffers flock to this bright and pretty dining room.

No. 49: Oval Room

The food often has seemed beside the point at this pretty, serene power roost near the White House, a preferred noontime stop for pundits and politicos—especially this past year, as the kitchen became a revolving door. Not anymore.

Chef Tony Conte—the restaurant’s third chef in 12 months—shares the affinity of his mentor, celebrated New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, for tightly focused flavors and textures punctuated with fruit purées and infused oils. Burrata, the intensely creamy Italian cheese, may be trendier than skinny jeans, but Conte’s version tastes entirely new: He lays the milky rounds in a mosaic of fresh and dried figs and scatters it with fleur de sel and tiny croutons.

Beet salad is a marvelous marriage of roasted bulbs and cubes of passion fruit gelée. A seared filet of striped bass is perfectly light but sings with flavor thanks to fresh Meyer-lemon shavings and a circle of vanilla oil. Even better are pink, tender slices of roasted pork set over caramelized twists of edamame spaetzle with a trickle of Asian-pear vinaigrette.

The kitchen is under control, but service remains a work in progress, ranging from snooty and pushy to sincere but slow.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.