An Early Look at Bourbon Steak

DC is packed with steakhouses. So why is celebrity chef Michael Mina opening one?

This past Wednesday afternoon, a fleet of uniformed servers were getting drilled by Bourbon Steak’s general manager, Mark Politzer. Dressed in a crisp suit, the former CityZen manager rattles off a list of hard-to-pronounce menu items, and the servers dutifully repeat him. “Aioli,” Politzer booms. “Aioli!” the obedient crew echoes.

Tomorrow, Bourbon Steak will open in Georgetown’s Four Seasons hotel, and it comes with high expectations thanks to chef Michael Mina. The latest celebrity chef to swoop into DC is based in California, and his empire includes 15 other restaurants. Although this is the fourth outpost of a Bourbon Steak—the others are in Detroit, Miami, and Scottsdale—it has a distinct personality, different from both its older siblings and other Washington steakhouses.

For one, steak isn’t even the focus of the menu. Instead, many dishes show off what Mina is famous for— seafood, served in dishes such as Jonah-crab beignets, and big-eye-tuna sashimi with white soy, young coconut, and fresh aloe.

The menu also reflects Mina’s belief in a popular kitchen idiom: Fat equals flavor. The welcome fries that land on every table are cooked in duck fat. There are seven cuts of steak, ranging from an eight-ounce American Kobe ribeye to a 28-ounce porterhouse. Each is poached in herb-infused butter, olive oil, or bacon fat, cooked to a near-done temperature, then finished on a wood-burning grill. Mina says his signature method is meant to seal in moisture, not allow the steaks to soak up butter: The kitchen starts dinner with two gallons of butter, and after a full night of poaching, they claim that all but about one cup remains.

We saw unusual garnishes—mustard paper, olive-oil powder—plus recession- and cardiologist-be-damned accompaniments for the steaks including lobster, Perigord truffles, grilled foie gras, and marrow bones. Even the lunchtime salads—which each come with a different homemade bread—sound rich: A pork schnitzel version is drizzled with caper/brown-butter, and another bowl’s lobster is butter-poached.

The coffee-colored interior, conceived by New York designer David Rockwell, houses a 40-seat lounge with a small-plates menu and a 120-seat dining room flanked with long banquettes and private booths. Instead of the dark-wood paneling and brass fixtures that are often associated with steakhouses, Bourbon Steak gets its warmth from sleek wood tabletops, mahogany water glasses, and dark leather chairs.

For those in search of the restaurant’s namesake drink, the bar menu offers more than 100 varieties of American whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon.

We’d love to see the servers reciting that list.Click here to view Bourbon Steak's menu