By Suzanne Struglinski - 02/18/11 12:11 AM EST
Finding a way to cross a go-to neighborhood restaurant with a fine dining destination is a hard goal to manage, but Ashok Bajaj has somehow figured out how to do just that at the newly updated Ardeo+Bardeo in Cleveland Park.
The restaurant was once two distinct but related establishments — Ardeo, a dining room, and Bardeo, a wine bar. The redesign puts a bar in the middle of the expanded space, with huge, throwback, black-and-white photographs of restaurant scenes plastered on the wall. The simple design and neutral palette lets diners know they are in an upscale place, but does not distract from the food. Wine flights are available, and cheese plates, “small bites” and charcuterie can create a lively evening for a group clustered around one of the pub tables. But the space also has intimate, quiet options in its booths and tables for two.
The new menu offers wide-ranging options. Diners can enjoy brunch or salads and pizzas for a quick bite, or linger over modern American dishes from steak to scallops to suckling pig for a drawn-out dinner.
Garyantes comes to the restaurant with plenty of experience. He was the chef and co-owner of the acclaimed Restaurant 821 in Wilmington, Del., and in Washington worked under celebrity chef José Andrés as the executive sous chef at Café Atlantico. In 2009 Garyantes created dishes for Andres’s concept restaurant-within-a-restaurant, Minibar. He also made an appearance last September on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, competing in Kitchen Stadium as a sous chef with Minibar’s Ruben Garcia and Katsuya Fukushima during their victorious cook-off against Iron Chef Jose Garces in Battle Mahi Mahi.
At Ardeo+Bardeo, Garyantes takes simple and familiar flavors and turns them into fine dining dishes, but does not allow them to lose their classic tastes.
For brunch, the restaurant takes on a modern diner persona, with a more casual feel as servers continuously refill coffee cups and casually let patrons catch up over plates of eggs and other dishes. The one element that goes beyond the diner feel is the helping of chocolate chip biscuits and raisin bread that arrives quickly upon being seated. The bread basket is paired with a deliciously soft butter.
But Garyantes proves that even the tried-and-true brunch menu has room for creativity. Salmon rillettes come in a tiny pot accompanied by a matching pot full of cream cheese and chives with a mini-everything bagel.
The rillettes — similar to paté — is salty, as it should be, and has a good smoked flavor, which nicely cuts the oniony cream cheese that comes with it. The “everything” bagel, however, runs out before the spreads do. Meanwhile, the beef carpaccio, also available at dinner, delicately balances thinly sliced beef with a sweet slaw mixture and crispy cheese crisps, making it a must-order-again appetizer.
Brunchers can have oatmeal or yogurt with fresh fruit, but those seeking more heft in their meal can feast on the crab omelet breakfast pizza.
The omelet comes stocked with lump crab meat, topped with chunks of avocado and bathed in hollandaise sauce. It is a rich breakfast, and surprisingly lacked Old Bay or any other salt-based seasoning, but is satisfying as is.
The breakfast pizza is big enough to share, and comes as a brick-oven crust topped with a spicy sausage, bacon, roasted garlic and eggs. At first it appears awkward to eat, with an over-easy egg sitting tenuously atop the pie. But the ensuing yolk river can easily be sopped up with the pizza crust.
For dinner, the rock shrimp risotto has a slightly soupy consistency, but the garlic-based sauce meets its perfect sponge in the accompanying bread. Fat pieces of shrimp and rice struggle to swim in the sauce; a good dose of lemon helps balance what could otherwise be a heavy dish.
A Pork Milanaise appetizer takes a tenderized, pan-fried chop and tops it with a dollop of goat cheese. The crispy but not-overly-fried breading pairs well with the rich cheese, and another dose of lemon from the kitchen helps balances the dish.
For entrees, the slow-roasted suckling pig benefits from care. It’s incredibly tender, and comes on top of a mound of black-eyed peas and roasted peanuts, garnished with a pork rind. The nuts add a welcome crunchy texture to the otherwise mushy peas. The meat, though, is the star here. It falls apart with just the touch of the fork — no knife needed.
In the seafood department, the silver-dollar-sized Day Boat Scallops arrive with lemon-braised artichokes and an artichoke puree with pumpkin seeds, which enhances the texture. This dish is the favorite at the table, primarily because it’s not every day you get scallops so large that they yield four or five bites each.
Dessert shouldn’t be ignored. The lemon meringue pie surprises diners with its square shape. Creamy lemon filling strikes a nice note (if not an unfamiliar one, considering the presence of lemon elsewhere on the menu), and the portion is mercifully moderate. The pecan pie arrives as a round tart and has a bourbon caramel ice cream on the side. Not too sticky, the dessert stays true to tradition with a gooey middle and a generous helping of pecans.
Ardeo+Bardeo’s transformation isn’t just superficial. The dining room’s new sophistication matches the food the kitchen produces, but the Cleveland Park establishment also knows well enough to make itself approachable to the neighborhood walk-ins.