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It wouldn’t have been hard to include every one of Ashok Bajaj’s seven restaurants on this list. Not that I would ever do that. I mean, I’ve never been very fond of ball hogs, if you’ll allow me to use such a crude metaphor in reference to one of the most refined restaurateurs in town. But the Oval Room continues to be Bajaj’s standout, and here’s why: chef Tony Conte. His mind seems to be orbiting alone in another sphere, far removed from the work of mere mortals with cutting boards and circulators. Let me tell you about one of Conte’s latest creations, a white-asparagus soup. No big deal, eh? Just one more chef squeezing seasonal ingredients for a spring menu? Well, yes and no. Conte’s soup isn’t just an expression of spring; it’s an experience. His delicate liquid conceals treasures of great rarity: miniature ravioli packed with explosive bursts of Meyer lemon, which shoot tart juice right through that creamy wall of white asparagus. It’s a bold dish in that there are moments of utter imbalance as those ravioli break open, but that imbalance is also its genius. The soup has an impudence that’s hard to find in the increasingly jaded gastronomic playground known as fine dining.
800 Connecticut Ave. NW (202) 463-8700
Photo courtesy of the Oval Room