701 is the type of restaurant that doesn’t exist anymore. Let me explain. It is reminiscent of a time gone by – when men in dinner jackets and ladies in bias cut gowns (think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) dined in beautiful surroundings and sipped champagne from wide tulip glasses. But don’t be misled by the chic, supper club vibe; 701 is anything but dated.
Rejuvenated by an almost million dollar renovation in 2009, 701 is a large space made intimate with undulating walls of silk threads that create separate dining areas, some with cozy banquettes and others with tables and chairs of baby-soft leather. The color palette of robin’s egg blue, browns and beige add to the sophisticated ambiance. When we were there as guests of the restaurant, the filled to capacity dining room included couples quietly toasting some special event and large, animated groups out for an after work dinner. 701 is a place for everyone.
The food is as elegant at the surroundings. Executive Chef Ed Witt has created a menu of modern American cuisine. Deeply committed to sourcing ingredients, Witt is meticulous in determining the provenance of the restaurant’s meat, fish, poultry and produce, ensuring only the freshest ingredients make it to the table. The wine list is superb, with approximately 180 selections evenly distributed between Old World and New World wines. Our sommelier for the evening was knowledgeable and helpful. After a long discussion about Pinot Noir (my dinner companion loves to talk wine), he even brought over 2 glasses of his favorite Pinot for us to try.
Our food for the evening was creative and delicious. A simple salad of baby greens was transformed with a sprinkling of crispy fried shallots and a mustard and lavender vinaigrette. It was the first time I actually finished a green salad. Rockfish Tartare with green gazpacho and jalapeno-prosecco granite was a fresh combination of salty, hot and sweet. Our mouths literally came alive. A dish of Salt Cod and Potato Ravioli with parsley sauce and grapefruit zest that was another study in contrasts that worked perfectly, punched up with the tang of citrus.
Being a card-carrying carnivore, I took the opportunity to have the Prime Strip Steak. I opted to skip the smoked potato and bone marrow puree that accompanies it in a nod to cholesterol control (more symbolic than real). The chef replaced it with pureed celeriac that was so smooth and spicy, I suggest it be considered as a permanent replacement. My dinner companion, a salmon “purist,” opted for the Scottish Salmon, which he declared outstanding. The horseradish crust was just spicy enough to stand up to the fish without overpowering it.
Dessert, the purview of Pastry Chef Melanie Parker, is a revelation. Lemon Meringue pie, with a filling so tart it makes your mouth pucker and a light, not too sweet topping, is nothing like the old diner stand-by. Chocolate Hazelnut Terrine is like a candy bar for dessert. Salty, sweet, crunchy with that unmistakable deliciousness of gianduiotto, it qualifies as “the best thing I ever ate.”
701 is located at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. between Capitol Hill and the White House. Reservations can be made by calling 202-393-0701. Visit www.701restaurant.com for more information.
Photo credit: All photos by Powers & Crewe Photography, except for photo of Rockfish Tartare by Andrew Lightman Photography.