Occidental, The

A historic DC dining room gets a new chef.

From Kliman Online’s “Word of Mouth”

Standing at the hostess stand at The Occidental not long ago, a friend and I were perplexed by the ordering of formal portraits of recent U.S. presidents that graced the wall. The order went, from left to right: Reagan, Bush the Elder, Bush the Younger, Clinton, Carter. Turns out, the arrangement is meant to be ideological, and something of a conversation starter. Smack in the center of the lineup is the current president, she explained. To his right are his Republican predecessors, to his left his Democratic ones. Clever, huh? For some reason, I was reminded of all those times that politicians attempt to tell a joke a public, and bomb — coming across only as stiff and earnest and self-involved caricatures. The cooking, with chef Rodney Scruggs at the helm, does not bomb. It's not particularly memorable, certainly not more memorable than the lame conceptual joke of the entryway portraits, and there's an almost focus-grouped caution to some of these dishes — as befits an expense-account place a short walk from the White House. But there are highlights, too: house cured salmon with a drizzle of basil oil, a trio of perfectly seared fat scallops, and a plate called "Ivy's Pig in the Blanket" that tastes like an upmarket version of an Eastern European cabbage roll.

-February 27, 2007