Restaurant Week always sounds like a magical opportunity. Twice a year, many of the city’s best restaurants open their doors to the plebeians who can’t normally afford their financially destabilizing fare. For $20, you get a three-course lunch. For $30, you get a three-course dinner. That’s three to four star dining on a half-star budget. Unfortunately, the experience doesn’t always live up to the hype. Servers and hostesses can be downright disrespectful to the invading middle-class masses. Some eateries only offer a few entree choices on their “special” menus and keep their best dishes at full price. You don’t need to be a professional eater to know that you’ve been gypped. This week, we’re breaking down our RW experiences for you.
The RW visit: A Monday lunch at Corduroy, 1201 K Street NW (inside the Four Points by Sheraton), (202) 589-0699
The usual menu: Chef Tom Power typically offers a concise, corduroy-encased menu of 18 or so entrees and apps that are strong on both French techniques and pristinely sourced American ingredients.
The RW menu: A concise, corduroy-encased menu of 15 entrees and apps that are strong on both French techniques and pristinely sourced American ingredients.
The sneaky little surcharges: Four of the 15 apps and entrees on the lunch menu demanded $3 surcharges, including the Vande Rose Farms flat-iron steak and the lobster-and-chervil omelet. In other words, more than a quarter of the items required cash over and above the RW price.
The total cost of the meal: $27.08, which included tax and tip. I didn’t order any dish with a surcharge, and I was satisfied with tap water as a beverage.
The condescension factor: Absolutely none. Our waiter, a towering Lurch of a man, couldn’t have been more cordial. He was attentive, answered all our questions, and even slyly yanked the paper from its corduroy sleeve when I asked for a copy of the RW menu.
Would you go back? It’s not that easy. Power is pulling up stakes at the Four Points, leaving behind that power-broker treehouse of wood and soft light in favor of a 19th-century townhouse at 1122 9th Street NW. His last day will be Jan. 31, and he’s supposed to open the new-look Corduroy in March. But you know how openings go; I wouldn’t exactly rearrange your St. Paddy’s Day plans in hopes of a future rezzie. In the meantime, Power didn’t leave me drooling in expectation for his new place. The cauliflower soup with Parmesan was pretty darn tasty, a pureed mixture of the mild veggie, cheese, cream, and just the right amount of lemon for brightness. But the warm goat cheese in crispy potato was in serious need of an acid kick in the ass; the cheese’s potato crown of thorns was gorgeous, but the appetizer was bland and underseasoned. The entrees were a mixed bag as well: The crispy Long Island striped bass was undercooked; the fillet concealed a little pink circle of flesh in the center, as if someone were directing a laser pointer at the fish. What’s worse, the bass’s accompaniments—-a squash “baghi” and a Thai curry sauce—-provided few interesting counterpoints to the mushy fish, other than the occasional flash of searing, pepper-flake heat. The chicken confit, by contrast, was a true highlight. Slow-cooked in duck fat, the skin was perfectly crisp while the meat was succulent and ever-so-delicately spiced with star anise. The creme brulee was a well-executed yawner, but Power’s chocolate-hazelnut bars—-otherwise known as Michel Richard’s “Le Kit Cat” without the cutesy-poo name—-boasted a thick, rich layer of mousse over a satisfyingly crunchy rail of nuts and God knows what else.