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If I were ever to compile a list of the District’s most creative chefs, the ones who strive for unusual flavor combinations or push their ingredients in unusual directions, I would put the Oval Room’s Tony Conte right near the top. How inventive is Conte? In the past, he’s paired a beet salad with passion-fruit gelee and veal slices with a Parmesan sauce and menthol purée. His latest menu features butter-poached lobster lounging in a shallow pool of young coconut milk, which itself is bobbing with peach and wasabi pearls. Sometimes this is all too much, and Conte is just overmanipulating his dishes to his (and my) detriment. I’d point to that lobster as a fine example. The shellfish in my recent order was poached to a downy consistency, but its accompanying liquid was far too sweet for my palate, the result, it seems, of Conte’s line cooks not adding enough wasabi pearls for balance. But here’s the thing: Conte fascinates me, even when he doesn’t always please me. When he hits the mark, though, few chefs in town can touch him. Period. His roast chicken with barbecue consommé—that’s right, consommé—and smoked mushroom is a knockout. So is his appetizer of foie gras brûlé, a small cap of caramelized terrine perched on toasted brioche and served with Meyer lemon and lavender. The thing is so good, I’d run through a gantlet of angry animal protectionists to eat it.800 Connecticut Ave. NW, (202) 463-8700
Next up: Pete’s Apizza