The Jardenea Restaurant at the Melrose Georgetown Hotel
(Washington, DC, USA) A recent stay at the Melrose Georgetown Hotel, allowed an opportunity to nearly eat my way through the creative menu of their Jardenea Restaurant, voted “Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant” in Washington DC by LUX Life Magazine.
This was possible because the menu is not overly extensive. It has an unconfusing selection of six appetizers ($10-$14), four salads ($9-$11) and eight entrees ($27-$32). Each was labeled gluten-free and/or vegetarian, with a few labeled PT (pre-theater) for a three-course, pre fixe dinner ($44) before a show. It is a most accessible and accommodating menu, much like the staff. Fortunately, I built up a good appetite each day by walking everywhere. Otherwise, consuming that much food would have been impossible!
There are an impressive 46 offerings on their wine list, many by the bottle (more than half in the $40-$60 range) and several available by the glass ($10-$12), but only one was “local”. That is, if local is a New York Finger Lakes Reisling (Red Tail Ridge). It is certainly a good wine, but Virginia and Maryland’s nearby excellent vineyards were totally absent from the list. Just to be mischievous I asked for a Boordy Vineyards Chesapeake Icons Terrapin, a petit cabernet of entirely drinkable soft tannins, rich with red fruit and a silken mouthfeel, to pair with the lamb. The waiter knew the vineyard and applauded my choice, but had to admit they did not stock their wines. Apparently, the farm-to-table sensibility does not extend to the beverages, which is usually the case.
I didn’t get to meet Jardenea’s Executive Chef, Nelson Erazo, because of scheduling conflicts. But I did meet Executive Sous Chef Patrick Knott when he joined me at my table one evening. Through a bit of serendipity, we grew up in neighboring towns in New York’s Hudson Valley and know some of the same people. He even worked at some of the restaurants I frequented, so I’d probably eaten his cooking before. He’s a very nice and talented young man.
Jardenea’s menu had so many ingredients I really love: lamb, duck, soft shell crabs, and crab cakes, that I knew I was in for some fine eating. Here are descriptions of some of the dishes I was served while staying at the Melrose Georgetown Hotel.
This was my first foray to the Chesapeake region to taste their classic crab cakes. (Crab Cake Appetizer $14) Traditionally, crab cakes are served with as few additions as possible, minimally seasoned, with some breadcrumbs and an egg mixed in just enough to hold it loosely together. Often it is plated without garnishes or condiments, alone on a dish letting the pure taste of the crab shine through. Even I, as a northerner, know that.
My crab cake came smothered in fresh peas, corn, and sprouted vegetables, with red peppers and onions and sautéed collard greens in an apple cider sauce. There were so many flavors it was difficult to get a pure taste of crab! But, the eight hour slow-cooked collard greens were very good, their sweet/sour taste reminding me a little of red cabbage. All the different and colorful ingredients really dressed up the plate, and their flavors came together nicely. The bottom line – I really enjoyed the dish, but purists beware.
Another appetizer I really enjoyed was the Coriander Dusted Soft Shell Crab ($14). That was the dish that was carried past me as I checked in earlier in the day, and it smelled as good at my dinner table. It was served on a bed of sautéed spinach with red onions, tomatoes, shallots, garlic and sweet corn, surrounded by a buttery, lemon sauce, and topped with the cutest little seedling vegetables and a flower that looked like the fanciest chapeau. This was another dish almost too pretty to eat, and too mouthwateringly delicious to ignore. But again, if you were just looking for a simple crab, this wasn’t it.
A less tarted-up, but just as delicious entree of Juniper Spiced Lamb Rack ($32) reminded me again why I love lamb. The “rack” was two double-rib chops, crisp with a peppery sear on the outside and moistly reddish in the center. I cooked my first rack of lamb at the invitation of the Culinary Institute of America, the sous chef Patrick Knott’s alma mater, and was chided for overcooking it when it came out pink in the middle. So, while here the chef recommended it be served medium, I opted for medium rare and had perfectly cooked lamb chops.
A note about ordering ribs: It is important to note that the best meat is impossible to carve off the bones. The ribs must be picked up and gnawed to get the best parts. If you won’t handle the bones – I suggest ordering your meat ground.
It’s time I mentioned the table setting. Eating those ribs made me very happy to have the huge Frette linen napkin. The mustard-colored napkin and the notable Sant’Andrea Flatware complimented the understated elegance of the Jardenea Restaurant. A gerbera daisy and a basket of warm bread with medallions of butter completed a very lovely table.
An ambitious entrée was the Maple Leaf Smoked Duck Wellington ($27) which was very tasty but actually smoked over cherry wood. Instead of coating the crispy skin-on duck with mushroom paste, the Wellington was semi-deconstructed, with slices of the pastry-wrapped duck displayed on top of a wild mushroom duxelle.
I pushed aside the by now ubiquitous blanket of vegetables to see the intricate construction of the Wellington, then pulled them back to include their delicate flavor in each taste. The Gran Marnier sauce with dried currants was a little too sweet for me, and left the crust somewhat mushy. But, all-in-all, the sauce was a good foil for the rich duck, and the smoked flavor made the dish shine. I really love duck.
What came next was a delightful surprise! An unordered dish of wonderful invention – pine nut risotto – wowed me with its novelty. Pine nuts, enough pureed to hold it together, but most mimicking al dente rice, were mixed with vegetables to achieve a vegetarian dish of enormous complexity. I could get used to this kind of off-menu dining – it was delicious!
By now you know you could eat very healthy here without ordering a salad. The appetizers and entrees come with ample portions of thoughtfully prepared fresh vegetables. But, instead of a salad or a dessert, I will always order a cheese plate when it is offered. At the Jardenea, they combined the cheese with cured meats for a wonderfully diverse platter of tastes and textures that you curate yourself.
The Cheese and Charcuterie ($12-$17) course listed three cheeses (I ordered the two from Maryland) and three cured meats. I was sorely tempted by the house-smoked duck again, this time unadorned, but to get a better sampling I went with the Bresaola, an Italian air-dried and salt-cured beef I hadn’t tasted before. I found it very similar to the Spanish cured beef called cecina, and really enjoyed it. Picking just three selections ($12) was enough for a couple to share. Since I dined alone, I brought the plate to my room and enjoyed the leftovers as lunch the next day. With the accompanying fruit, bread and relish, it was a refined and complex combination of texture and taste. That and a Jardenea Caesar Salad ($10) would make a perfect meal.
The ample servings of fresh food carried over to the breakfast menu. While there was simpler fare, I ate a hearty “Everything Omelet” ($15) that nearly covered my plate and was stuffed with cheese, vegetables, and meat. That with juice and coffee fortified me for a day of museums on the mall.
So, when you’re in Washington DC, whether as a tourist or on business, not only should you stay at the Melrose Georgetown Hotel, you should sample the creative, fresh dishes at the Jardenea Restaurant too!
Melrose Georgetown Hotel
2430 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037
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