My dad is hard to please when it comes to food. Part of the problem is that he (like all of us in my family) finds pleasure in food more than most other activities. When we talk about travel, we talk about what we ate. When we talk about what we did for the weekend, we talk about what we ate. And when Dad comes to visit, we plan where we’re going to eat. We had a great dinner at Corduroy, a decent dinner at the now defunct 21P, and a bit of a disappointment at Brasserie Beck (which killed me because we had such an incredible meal the time before).
There’s a lot of pressure to pick the right place, and with his wonderful girlfriend and her parents joining us for a holiday dinner out, we decided on our favorite restaurant in DC: Blue Duck Tavern.
Blue Duck is connected to the Park Hyatt in the West End, and the restaurant is reached through massive wooden front doors. The foyer and lounge is sleek marble, with the tables and chairs looking like a Pennsylvania Dutch farmhouse.
As a party of 8, we were seated in an alcove of a room for privacy, away from the hustle of the open kitchen. However, you have to walk through the edge of said kitchen to get to the restrooms – a move that’s strategic since they march you right by the heavenly apple pies.
On this occasion, I asked if I could take a picture of the kitchen, and was jokingly told, “We’re going to have to confiscate your camera.” Alison believed he server (Alexander – who we’ve had before – he’s fabulous) and protested that I had a little food blog and they couldn’t take my camera. Instead, Alexander took me over to meet the chef.
Servers at Blue Duck seem to have just the right balance of formality and familiarity. They were responsive to our needs, and made excellent recommendations (and I should have listened to what our server was suggesting…) I think the vignette above about taking pictures of the kitchen perfectly illustrates the type of service you’ll get at Blue Duck.
I also have to mention because it was so cool when it happened…when we were served our entrees, multiple servers brought the plates and served us from the right side at the same time – it felt very fancy and old school.
To me, what’s so great about the food at Blue Duck is that I recognize what it is and where it came from. The menu lists the farmers who provide the food, and you have the feeling that what you’re eating is seasonal – an old fashioned “new” trend.
Since we were here in winter, it just seemed appropriate to eat meat that had been slow cooked. I opted for the lamb shank, whereas the men in my life (Dad, Brian, and Matt – future brother-in-law) out ordered me with the short ribs.
Oh, those short ribs…to die for. Really. Warm, flavorful, comforting. My lamb shank (above) was good, but the short rib (below) was better.
The sides are my favorite things at Blue Duck, and what side do you think is the best in my humble opinion? You guessed it: the grits. It is very rare to find a restaurant that does grits correctly. I’ve been to many places in the south that don’t make them as well as my grandfather did (one, they were so wonderful…slow cooked over a double boiler with butter and salt…) and it’s usually laughable what passes for grits up here. But Blue Duck makes them creamy and delicious – usually flavored by another ingredient in season. We ordered two for the table to share, and none went to waste.
The duck fat fries are also excellent – triple cooked, one blanched in water, and the twice fried with duck fat – have a great outside crunch with a velvety interior – I just wish I could train my palate not to want ketchup with them!
Even though you might be stuffed from a decadent and heavy dinner, do not forgo dessert. The “individual” (read: feeds 3) apple pie with hand churned ice cream is not to be missed. It isn’t overly sweet, and you can really taste the freshness and wholesomeness of the apples. Delicious.
Blue Duck Tavern is my favorite restaurant in DC for a reason, and it didn’t disappoint on this trip as a great spot for 3 generations at one table, and for impressing a hard to please foodie father…
Best for: Celebrating the little big ocassions - a new job, a holiday, or 11-month anniversary.
Worst for: Watching your budget and waistline.