405 Eighth St., NW
Washington, DC 20004
Neighborhood: Penn Quarter/Chinatown
Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner.
Nearby Metro Stops: Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter
Price Range: Expensive
Dress: Upscale Casual (jeans okay)
Noise Level: Chatty
Fluke crudo; yellowfin tuna with charred avocado and watermelon; pickled shrimp ceviche; calamari; fish and chips; poached pollack in dashi broth; grilled diver scallops; steak frites; hazelnut dacquoise.
Starters $9 to $16, entrées $18 to $38.
In the past eight months, Belgian-born chef Frederik De Pue has brought us two very different restaurants. First he introduced Table, a hip, noisy spot in a former taxi-repair shop in DC’s Shaw where an open kitchen steams up the dining room and gorgeous hand-scripted notebooks serve as menus. In April, De Pue showed his more serene side at Azur—a seafood restaurant in the three-level space that once housed Café Atlántico in Penn Quarter.
At the latter, a dramatic glass-bubble chandelier and a watery palette of gray, white, and sea green create a cool backdrop for fish dishes that are simple yet well conceived. Little pops of jalapeño enliven shrimp ceviche; a drizzle of lemon-infused olive oil makes tender curls of fluke crudo at once brighter and more earthy. Among the best entrées: a slab of poached pollack bathed in a delicate, Japanese-style beef broth and, surprisingly, fish and chips—crunchy, beer-battered fish (the type changes often) with a heap of crisp, golden fries that do De Pue’s native country proud.
Another standard the chef gets right: the lunchtime lobster roll. Nestled in toasted brioche is sweet, aïoli-dressed tail and claw meat punctuated with crunchy bits of celery and onion. As with the fish and chips, De Pue doesn’t try to reinvent a classic. Instead, he allows careful preparation and well-chosen ingredients to add up to something uncommonly delicious.
This sense of confident restraint—apparent in everything from decor to dishes—extends to the emo-ish rock soundtrack (Band of Horses, Death Cab for Cutie), a welcome refuge from the canned tunes at so many restaurants. The only area it doesn’t reach: the all-over-the-place service. Nothing ruins the sense of calm like a bartender berating a trainee in front of customers or an overly chatty waiter dishing to diners about incompetent valet parkers—two experiences we squirmed through. Still, once you’ve had that lobster roll, chances are such awkward encounters will seem a small price to pay.
This article appears in the September 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.