Unum: Small Wonder

Unum, a snug dining room in Georgetown, is turning out lovely, sharing-friendly plates.

At Unum, chef Phillip Blane turns the ubiquitous beet salad into a standout starter. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Slideshow: Inside Unum

The first thing you notice about Unum is that there’s not a
whole lot of it. Just inside the entrance of this skinny slice of M Street
(formerly home to Mendocino Grille), a snug bar area competes for space
with a hostess stand, where co-owner Laura Schiller, a slight woman with
long brown curls, greets guests with a smile. In the windowless dining
room, soft yellow lighting keep things cheerful despite the tight
quarters. For maximum intimacy, guests can reserve a table inside “the
alcove,” a banquette-lined recess that rivals some of the coziest settings
in town.

Chef Phillip Blane, Schiller’s husband and an alum of Equinox
restaurant, has created a menu on scale with the space: There are just
eight “smaller” plates and eight “larger” ones, plus a brief list of
charcuterie and cheese options. Unum encourages sharing—several dishes are
available by the half order—but servers usually ask what should come out
when, a smart policy often neglected in small-plates spots.

Among the starters is an excellent golden-fried soft-shell crab
over a tangy-sweet chutney of apricot, ginger, and green tomato. The best
of the salads features raw, pickled, and roasted beets and citrusy goat
cheese drizzled with a vanilla-laced balsamic vinaigrette. Caesar salad,
served with a lovely little artichoke-Parmesan custard, is also very good,
and light eaters will appreciate the Unum Salad, with its baby lettuces,
Bartlett and Asian pears, and vibrant sherry vinaigrette. One less
successful small dish: cold corn soup. Blane cleverly tops it with wasabi
popcorn for spice and crunch, but an overdose of vanilla undoes the

Herbs pop up everywhere. Meals begin with a bread basket
accompanied by sage-studded butter and a cilantro-heavy
chimichurri. Perfect pillows of gnocchi with basil, fried
artichokes, mushrooms, peas, and asparagus come tossed in a knockout
verbena-scented butter. A crunchy fennel slaw with mint and basil makes a
terrific companion to green-olive-topped grilled branzino. Herbs even
appear behind the bar, where fresh basil is tossed into the Basilica
Martini, a lovely cocktail with Hendrick’s gin, elderflower liqueur, and
two types of bitters.

Bright and refreshing mint ice cream steals the show in a
sampler of scoops atop cake crumbs, and in a dessert called Chocolate
& Mint, in which it mingles with chocolate ganache, butterscotch
pudding, chocolate “soil,” and slivers of waffle cookie. When sharing
sweets—or any dish, really—err on the side of ordering too much. Like
everything else at this wee Georgetown dining room, most portions run

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