The Hamilton: Bigger, Not Better

At the Hamilton—supersized and serving a wildly eclectic menu—it’s best to stick to the simple stuff.

The Hamilton, a restaurant/music space from the owners of Clyde’s, sprawls across 37,000 square feet. Photograph by Maddie Meyer.

With the exception of 1789 restaurant, a Georgetown institution, the places run by the Clyde’s Restaurant Group–which include Old Ebbitt Grill, the Tombs, and many Clyde’s locations–serve mostly straightforward food: jumbo lump crabcakes, French onion soup, meatloaf topped with onion straws. The group’s newest venture, the Hamilton, is more ambitious. The 37,000-square-foot restaurant and concert venue caters to customers around the clock and requires 300 employees, 24 of whom work for the sushi bar under Zentan alum Jason Zheng.

Chef Brian Stickel, who has cooked at both Clyde’s and 1789, helms the main kitchen. The sprawling menu reflects the ambition of the restaurant, but so far the execution hasn’t matched up. A dense dish of flatiron steak and poutine is made even denser by stringy pieces of short rib swimming in salty gravy. Nantucket bay scallops lose their rich sweetness in an acrid brown-butter sauce with capers and golden raisins.

Sushi is generally better. A generously portioned tuna tartare, topped with quail egg and caviar and served with wasabi and soy sauce, was the highlight of one dinner. And at $27, a sampler of sashimi, nigiri, and rolls is a fresh and elegantly presented bargain.

On the rest of the menu, look to the simple stuff. The Swanky Grilled Cheese is a sweet-and-salty indulgence with fontina, date purée, and Virginia-made Surryano ham between two slices of brioche. Izakaya-invoking District Wings, deep-fried and painted with sweet-tangy Mumbo sauce–a native DC condiment usually found in Chinese takeout joints–are crisp and juicy, and tender slices of miso-marinated steak fill the Korean lettuce-wrap appetizer.

The desserts are hit-or-miss, but the kitchen nailed a rich vanilla milkshake. Let’s hope the rest of the menu starts to measure up soon.

This article appears in the March 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.