For a chef, turning out a successful soufflé is like a figure skater nailing a triple axel: It shows mastery of technique. Judging only by the pommes soufflé at the Jockey Club, the new chef, Levi Mezick, has lots of skill. It would be hard to improve on his airy potato pockets—except for one thing: When they first landed on the table, I had hardly lifted my hand to reach for one before the manager snatched them back. “Oh, those aren’t for you,” he said, whisking the bowl to the next table. “But I’ll be sure to send you an order right away.”
And so it goes at the historic restaurant that reopened in the Fairfax at Embassy Row hotel in November 2008 and that since winter of this year has been helmed by Mezick and manager William Washington.
The 34-year-old Mezick has worked at Café Boulud and Per Se in Manhattan, and his revamped menu shows that he’s attuned to cooking fads: Gone are the lobster Thermidor and Dover sole of the old days. In their place are Indian spices, heritage-bred pork, and a hen’s-egg appetizer.
Although Mezick tries to meld forward-thinking ideas with hints of the old Jockey Club, the fusion doesn’t always work. An appetizer of phyllo-encased shrimp was rendered soggy by a puddle of cactus-pear juice. A crab salad paired with apple gelée had a similar disharmony.
But entrées show promise. Sea bass, hiding under a thin slice of bread, was well supported by coconut rice, wasabi foam, and tamarind-infused sauce. Nubs of tasty spaetzle were a good match for a scattering of Ossabaw pork. And the players in a modern interpretation of a classic à la Normande presentation of rockfish—Bouchot mussels, pearl onions—made sense.
A creamy chocolate crème brûlée one night was almost good enough to redeem the service glitches. One bite in, though, a waiter set an unadorned plate of petits fours—which should accompany the check—onto our table, and for our party of three we got just two nickel-size macarons.
The next meal, on the other hand, ended with a proudly puffed-up chocolate soufflé, and a server expertly cracked its center to pour in vanilla crème anglaise. It shows that there’s a lot of potential at this resurrected Washington institution, and with a little polish it could become a very good restaurant.
This review appears in the May, 2010 issue of The Washingtonian.