A few weeks back I was in the midst of plotting our 14th wedding anniversary. Usually we take a trip, but this year due to economy and employment, we decided to “stay in” town and dine. But where?
I was reminded by a passing acquaintance that the Jefferson was re-opening during that time, including Plume, the hotel’s restaurant offering. So I quickly set up a reservation for dinner and prepared for another fine dining experience in DC. Especially after Jenn and Catherine had enjoyed their first look at the place.
What we had that night was not just a dining experience, it was dining heaven.
We arrived for our seating about 20 minutes early, so we were escorted to the Plume bar. Here we met Ivan the bartender. After initial introduction and drink presentation – a very fine glass of Selbach-Oster Riesling, 2007 – he proceeded to lovingly tell us all about the Jefferson and its renovations. Turns out he’s one of 15 staffers from the pre-renovation days who came back.
While we waited and chatted, he proceeded to give us a tour of the main lobby and reception area, some of the meeting rooms and Quill bar. Everyone we met on staff was friendly and smiling, which gives one a sense of ease and comfort. Much like, I daresay, the way service was back in Jefferson’s time.
We were then seated near the grand fireplace in Plume’s main dining room and, to our delightful surprise, was poured a complimentary glass of champagne (Gaston Chiquet, “Blanc de Blancs”) for our anniversary. (We’d mentioned as such to Ivan, who apparently communicated with the Plume staff.)
We took one look at the tasting menu and it pretty much decided the issue. We wanted to see what culinary art Executive Chef Damon Gordon had in store for us. (Keep in mind that the Tasting Menu changes at the chef’s whim, so if you go now, it’s not going to necessarily be the same courses.)
First to the table was a sampling of canapes featuring salmon tartare. Not on the menu but compliments again by chef. It left us eager for more.
It only got better.
The amuse bouche was a splendidly creamy butternut squash soup. So light and tasty we nearly licked the small bowls they were served in! Following that was our first course on the tasting menu, warm poached egg with seasonal mushrooms. A light, earthy taste really grounded the sweet yoke of the egg and the caramelized foie gras added a nice crunch.
Next up, a salad of Belguim endive and walnuts, with a green apple “sponge” and lightly touched with a lavender honey vinaigrette. Yes, I said “sponge”; perfectly square and so light it practically melted in your mouth, the apple’s tart sweetness really mixed well with the bitter endive and walnut. It was a great compliment to the egg and mushroom starter we’d completed earlier; not so tart it stayed with you, but enough to really perk your taste buds for the next course.
The Jon Dory a la Nage came next. We’ve never had this New Zealand fish before – it’s a bit more meaty than halibut, with a slightly sweeter taste – and it was splendid with the fingerling potatoes and lemon grass broth.
At this point I have to mention the utter attention to detail by the wait staff. We never lacked for water in our glass (filtered by a process that Jefferson created back on Monticello, no less) nor clean silver. At several points, my wife and I would be deep in conversation and oblivious to their ministrations, which speaks volumes to their quickness and attentiveness.
Our main course was a roasted filet of dry aged beef, set atop some grilled asparagus and crowned with herbed bone marrow. A slightly-sweet but lightly spicy bordelaise reduction was set to the side, a nice complement to the perfectly-cooked beef.
While awaiting our dessert course, we were presented with the Plume’s cheese cart and was quickly educated on cheeses and their tastes by our very knowledgeable waiter. Soon after our partaking, a small sampling of desserts was placed before us to try – again, compliments of the chef for our special occasion. The bite-sized key lime tort was the best of the five, with full lime flavor and the perfect tartness I expect. (I’m a big fan of key lime pie.)
Coffee arrived before our final course, a Sumatra coffee parfait sitting atop a chocolate crisp and anointed with cherries griottines. The coffee they served, by the way, was a perfect match to the dessert, so as to not spoil the flavors. My wife enjoyed a hot lemon water that refreshed her fully after such a rich and diverse meal.
So if you can’t guess by this point, our tasting dinner was exquisite. The pace is set by you, by the way – the staff adjusts to your dining pleasure. Our overall dinner experience, from early arrival to departure, lasted four-and-a-half hours; the experience was so enjoyable, we had no idea time had flown by. A few other tables who also partook of the tasting menu arrived well after we did and departed before us and the staff never seemed overwhelmed.
Oh, and the service didn’t end with the meal. The sommelier talked with us in the beautiful tea room and as we prepared to leave, the maitre d’ presented us not only with our jackets but also with a printed copy of the menu we’d just enjoyed and a small gift to celebrate our anniversary. Fantastique.
My wife and I have eaten at many fine restaurants around the country and the world for our anniversary; Plume, by far and away, has been the best experience we’ve ever had. DC should be proud to have such a master as Chef Gordon practicing his art here; Food & Beverage Manager Mario Bevilacqua Von Günderrode has trained a magnificent staff to serve you. Truly a fine dining heaven that you have to experience, even if only once.
It’s the way a meal should be.
Plume is located at 1200 16th St. NW. Closest Metro stop: Farragut North (Red line). For more information, call (202) 448-2300.
All photos courtesy of myself. See the full set of shots from that evening here.