Chefs are no strangers to second acts. Some are peripatetic, flitting from restaurant to restaurant reinventing themselves. Others, with visions of empires à la Wolfgang Puck, reinvent their restaurants, opening new places and extending their “brands” to far-flung locales.
Thomas Power, chef and owner of Corduroy, had another motivation. His plates had earned raves for years; the bland dining room at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel on K Street not so much. So he took his spare, market-driven menu and transported it to a spare, stylish townhouse filled with art and light in the Shaw neighborhood just north of the DC Convention Center.
Corduroy is still off the beaten track, but no one can say the space is an unworthy setting for Power’s impressive food.
Renovated with care, the turn-of-the-century townhouse has a modern sensibility and Craftsman-style details that give it warmth and definition. An open kitchen where the silver-haired Power can be seen orchestrating the evening’s cuisine anchors the first-floor dining area, enhanced by seating in intimate nooks. A bar on the second level leads to another airy space overlooking Ninth Street.
The new Corduroy is a place for luxuriating and conversing—rare in this era of high-decibel dining.
The food is at once familiar and new, with the subtle saucings and juxtapositions that have been Power’s trademark since his days with former boss Michel Richard at Citronelle. Though many plates—such as decadently rich duck-egg-and-duck-leg salad and bigeye tuna with exquisite, buttery sushi rice—have carried over, the new setting seems to have energized Power.
You see it in dishes like the vivid chilled green-pea soup of late spring; beautifully crusted turbot with a warm, herby potato salad; and a luscious veal rib eye with chewy maitake mushrooms bathed in a mushroom-and-red-wine reduction.
Desserts are just as noteworthy. A chocolate tart with caramelized banana is all lush elegance. Duck eggs ramp up crème brûlée into the richest of custards. And a strawberry “creamsicle”—house-made vanilla ice cream rolled into strawberry sorbet—melts to fresh strawberries and cream on the tongue; the strawberry tart alongside it makes up in flavor what it lacks in looks.
Though a couple of plates fall short—flabby lobster carpaccio and grainy Peekytoe crab-and-egg-custard soup—most of the menu delivers the finesse and substance Power is known for.
This review appeared in the August, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.