January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

Straight-from-the-farm cooking in a glassy hotel dining room.

No. 18: Blue Duck Tavern

Sourcing is the holy grail among lots of chefs—they seem locked in a battle of culinary one-upsmanship to see who can get his hands on the best and freshest local and seasonal ingredients. Some cooking stars are going so far as to instruct farms to raise their produce and poultry to exact specifications.

The best of these new market-driven restaurants is an austere hotel restaurant that sets out Shaker furniture and quilts and other nods to Americana in a cool, mod setting.

The food is just the opposite: It’s full of deep, almost primal satisfactions and makes a virtue of directness: a long, laterally cut marrow bone, its center the texture of warm butter; a magnificent double-cut pork chop sided with peaches glazed with top-shelf bourbon; a bratwurst that impersonates a boudin blanc, its mousselike elegance set off against coarse-grain mustard and roasted onions. No cooking in the city as precise is more reassuring, and no cooking as reassuring is more precise.

The kitchen, guided by veteran chef Brian McBride, doesn’t err a lot, but it does err, most often when it comes to fish and seafood (the oysters and fried soft-shells are memorable exceptions). Most seafood dishes will leave you pining for the lustiness of the meats.

Desserts such as the hand-churned strawberry ice cream, which tastes like succulent, ripe strawberries topped with fresh cream, will leave you pining for nothing except perhaps the return of summer.

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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.