Todd Gray's seasonal American dining room near the White House.

From January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants

THE SCENE. Proximity to the White House ensures the restaurant's status as a favorite of Bush-administration staffers, lobbyists, and downtown lawyers, but the quietly plush dining room and glassed-in atrium feel refreshingly ego-free.

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. Chef Todd Gray stays faithful to the seasons and local farms, dispensing with gimmickry and experimentation in favor of simple explorations of historic Maryland and Virginia cookery. A long-forgotten Chesapeake fish dish will turn up on the menu, and the bread pudding derives from a recipe from Thomas Jefferson. Wife Ellen, an effervescent hippie in a suit, oversees an earnest, eager-to-please staff.

WHAT YOU WON'T. When it works, the simplicity undergirding Gray's approach–the goal of dishes uncluttered by too many competing effects–can feel liberating and confident. When it doesn't, you may be left feeling as though something is missing, including, perhaps, inspiration.

BEST DISHES. Cream-of-chestnut soup; pistachio-crusted fresh-mozzarella salad with sour cherries; duo of chicken, a flavorful stewed leg and grilled breast scattered with roasted pearl onions; Armagnac bread pudding.

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 Petworth.