100 Best Restaurants 2011: Oval Room

No. 16

Only the top 40 restaurants were ranked in 2011's Best Restaurants list.

When he plucked chef Tony Conte from New York’s Jean Georges a few years ago, restaurateur Ashok Bajaj began transforming this pale-green dining room from a power-lunch spot most notable for its proximity to the Old Executive Office Building into a foodie destination. And although Cobb salad is still on the lunch menu, we consider the job done. Conte is turning out some of the most exciting cooking in DC—always surprising but more about flavor than about look-at-me innovation.

His mentor, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is known for clean, bright pops of flavor. Conte shows the same ingenuity in such salads as a palette-like array of beets with cubes of passionfruit gelatin and an ice-wine mignonette or a layering of peekytoe crab with lime gelatin, chili oil, and Old Bay mayonnaise. For bigger plates, look to slices of tender duck marinated in Kazu sake and sided with duck-confit “tots” or lobster lightly scented with rum and vanilla.

Not all dishes succeed—a loofah-like rectangle of aerated foie gras lacked both savor and visual appeal, and an egg cooked sous-vide gained nothing from the trendy preparation. But more often than not, Conte gets it right. You might still catch a boldface name in the crowd, but now that’s the least of the attractions here.

Also good: Chilled shrimp noodles with black vinegar and soy sauce; a slab of kampachi, a type of yellowtail, cured in pastrami-inspired spices; butternut-squash soup with Asian pear; seared salmon with herbed yogurt; beef strip loin with tamarind and red wine; green-apple vacherin.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

>> See all of 2011's Best Restaurants


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.