by Xani and Erin
The night after our delicious meal at RA Sushi, the whole BCD family headed down to Washington, DC for yet another birthday celebration. For a family with only four people, it sure seems like we do a LOT of birthday celebrating ! This time it was very belated birthday celebrations for Mom and Xani (whose birthdays were in January and February, if you recall!!). After months of "reminding" everyone of how badly she wanted to go, Xani finally got her chance to eat at Blue Duck Tavern, in the newly renovated Park Hyatt.
Xani first heard about BDT from FoodRockz, a DC-based food blog that she totally lurks on. Anyhow, a Foodrockz review and a few notable mentions on Chowhound earned BDT a place on the "must try" list. They specialize in "wholesome American fare prepared through simple, time-honored cooking methods such as roasting, braising, preserving and smoking." Not to mention their use of local, seasonal ingredients, and plenty of items on the menu you don't see too often (sweetbreads! bone marrow!) But we'll get to that in a moment...
We arrived at BDT and were immediately struck by the HUGE doors-- this picture doesn't even do them justice. They were immense. Inside, the space is airy and open, but with classic, solid wood furniture, and a really cool, very open kitchen. Also, instead of vases of flowers for decoration, there were huge baskets of shallots, bulbs of garlic, fingerling potatoes and other pantry items all over the restaurant-- love it!
We were seated near (or very nearly in) the open kitchen. We could see the big wood-burning oven, and chefs working on the line and prepping the various foods as we looked over the menu. It was so cool! Speaking of the menu, it was clear at first glance how seriously the chefs take the use of local, seasonal ingredients: alongside each menu item was the name of the farm or supplier and where they were located. There was even someone from Fells Point, MD!
We started with a couple of cocktails, and a few nibbles of their very good bread. Then, it was time to order! For the first course, we ordered Braised Pork Belly with Cauliflower and Radishes, Frogs Legs and Sweetbreads, Foie Gras Brûlée with Savory Raisins, Bourbon Preserved Peach, Crumbled Pecans, Toasted Brioche, and Wood Fired Bone Marrow with Garlic Parsley Crust, and Grilled Sourdough. Are you drooling yet?? Let's review each dish:
Braised pork belly: Like most pork belly we've had lately, this was delicious. Very good flavor, well-cooked, and tender. It was not as good as the pork belly Xani had at Craft, which was more moist on the inside and crispier on the outside than the BDT version. But it was quite tasty, and we enjoyed the crunchy radish and cauliflower accompaniments, and especially the extra-crunchy bacon perched on top.
Frog Legs and Sweetbreads: Ooooh yeah this was yummy. The exact preparation isn't on the website so we may have forgotten some of the finer points, but the frog legs were perfectly fried into little "lollipops," and the sweetbreads were sauteed, or maybe braised. Either way, they were GOOD. Just rich and scrumptious. The frogs legs tasted a little bit like chicken, as the saying goes, but like really moist, flavorful chicken with a perfect crunchy exterior. Ribbit-licious.
Bone Marrow: Both of us had been looking forward to this dish the most. We have grown up in a household where it's okay to gnaw on the bones of a steak or lambchop (both BCD Mom and Grandma P. are known for their love of bones), so we were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to get a full serving of the good stuff. The dish came out with three 3-inch long segment of bone, cut laterally to expose the marrow, then roasted. Alongside was a perfectly roasted head of garlic, some roasted cippolini onions, and some toasty bread. This dish was. the. stuff. Anthony Bourdain has been quoted as saying he would want roasted bone marrow as his last meal on Earth and now, we totally get it. Think about the best butter you ever had. Then multiply it by a bajillion. That's what it was like.
Foie Gras Brulee: The surprise hit of the first course. Not that we didn't expect it to be good, but it was SO good, and so unusual. It was served in a shallow bowl with the foie on the bottom, a thin brulee on top, and then all kinds of interesting toppings including little bits of fruit, nuts and poppy seeds (leading to a not-so-subtle game of "is there something in my teeth?"). We were all suprised at the flavor, which reminded us all of a rich, runny cheese. There was also a little bit of spice/heat in the dish, which was unexpected. We're probably not doing a very good job explaining this dish, but that just means you should go and try it yourselves!
Next, the main course. We should mention here that throughout the meal we were drinking a very tasty Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir called Oriel. Props to our waiter for picking something that went well with our eclectic food choices, and which was in our price range! For the main dishes we ordered Kansas City Strip, Grass-Fed with Roasted Lemon, Smoked and Pastrami Spiced Duck Breast and Confit of Leg, and Roasted Casco Bay Cod, Cod Cheeks with Sorrel. We also ordered some sides: the Heirloom Grits with Goat Cheese, Hand Cut BDT Triple Fries, and Morel and Cherries in Papillote (this dish sparked a short debate about what "Papillote" means. BCD Dad said it meant the cherries and mushrooms would be served in puff pastry. Xani was pretty sure it meant they would be served in a package of aluminum foil or parchment paper or the like. Well, would we even be bringing it up if she weren't right!? FYI: "en croute" is when things are baked in puff pasty.)
All of the mains and sides were high-quality, well-executed dishes, even if they weren't quite as exciting or unusual as the dishes from the first course. We really enjoyed the steak, which was a substantial portion and a perfect medium-rare. We were interested to see if having grass-fed beef would taste any different from corn-fed, and it actually was! Not that we are tooting our own palate horns or anything...
Both preparations of the duck were lovely, with the confit of leg being especially moist. The cod was a slight disappointment-- the cheeks were a little fishy-tasting, and the rest of the fish was a bit oily.
The morels with cherries turned out to be the winning side dish-- they were so tender and the sweet-tart cherries really complemented their earthy flavor. The waiters did a table-side presentation where they cut the bag in which the cherries and morels were cooked, and all the wonderful smells released around the table. Very cool.
The grits had excellent texture and flavor, but lost some of their appeal after they cooled a bit. And while we were especially excited about the duck fat fries (since we're always comparing fries in restaurants to Xani's home-cooked recipe), they were a little disappointing. They were very thick, and when they first arrived on the table we thought they were brioche toasts! This thicker shape meant a lower surface/volume ratio, i.e. less crunchy exterior per fry. Xani's recipe triumphs again!!
Finally, dessert. We were all pretty stuffed by this point, but how could we resist homemade apple pie and ice cream!? We couldn't.
Apple Pie, just like Grandma used to make!
Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Cream
The pie was really spectacular, with a flaky crust and big chunks of still-firm apples. The two ice creams (served in adorable slightly frozen mini-ice cream buckets!) were strawberry rhubarb and yogurt-blackberry sorbet. Both were superb-- sweet, smooth and fresh-tasting. Then, a special treat from the kitchen to celebrate the (belated) birthdays:
Chocolate covered apricots! Yum!
We had a wonderful meal and a simply lovely time at Blue Duck Tavern. The use of simple, but very high quality ingredients in classic preparations created an absolutely fantastic meal. The celebrations may have been belated, but thanks to the great food, service and atmosphere of BDT (not to mention the great company) they were no less special. We've already started recommending it to everyone who will listen!
Happy belated birthday, Mom and Xani and Happy Fourth of July everyone!
E & X