An Ambitious Addition to Bethesda Dining (Full Review)

In the debate over whether Bethesda’s dining scene is worthy of acclaim, Newton’s Table—the brainchild of former Bezu co-owner Dennis Friedman—is seeking to make the answer yes.

The dining room has a hotel feel, but spirited, informed service and an appealing menu help overcome the bland, shoddy decor. So does a cocktail, such as a refreshing basil-grapefruit-gin concoction or a Drunken Palmer, made with Firefly sweet-tea vodka. Tastes of wine are proffered if you’re trying to decide among selections.

Servers can be pushy in steering patrons toward their favorites on the menu—but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. One recommendation, a fan of rosy tuna slices atop a creamy soy-mustard sauce, was luscious and flavorful. A metal cone of herb-flecked, cheesy gougères—the French answer to popovers—were perfectly brittle on the outside and puffy on the inside. Duck-confit nachos, the meat livened up with sweet hoisin sauce, are an elegant take on bar food.

Appetizer portions are so abundant that you could make a light meal out of just one. But don’t overlook such entrées as a patty of grass-fed sirloin on a buttery potato-brioche bun or a succulent piece of sea bass served over udon noodles in a veal demi-glace. Even better are the grilled Berkshire pork chop with warm stone fruits and a 12-to-14-ounce bison rib eye rubbed with cocoa nibs.

A smoked-trout salad and an entrée of Asian rice noodles tossed with egg, shrimp, scallops, and chicken in a salty soy sauce were respectable but not as exciting as other dishes sampled.

Desserts, made by the kitchen’s chef de cuisine, are very good but could use some tweaks. Do the plates really need squiggly sugar garnishes? And the house-made vanilla gelato could be creamier. But the toffee-like Pig Brittle, studded with prosciutto and served with the gelato, is a tasty (if trendy) way to end the meal. The Chocolate Crunch, yet another take on Michel Richard’s “Kit Kat bar,” satisfied this chocoholic. A plum tart had a lovely walnut-butter crust but could have used more plums.

The problems here are relatively easy fixes and perhaps are a byproduct of the restaurant’s newness—it opened four months ago. If chef/owner Friedman makes some adjustments, Newton’s Table will be poised to become one of Bethesda’s top dining destinations.

This article appears in the August 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.