By Reid Wilson - 07/23/09 05:55 PM EDT
To the north, you can spot the top of the National Cathedral. To the south, you can make out the spire of the Masonic temple in Alexandria, Va. And there are few sights more captivating than the setting sun over the White House. You’re so close you can even make eye contact with the snipers on the roof while taking it all in.
Point of View is one of four restaurants at the new W Hotel. The others are J&G Steakhouse; a speakeasy-themed wine bar; and an indoor lounge with views of the Capitol and the Washington Monument.
Point of View is the star attraction, and management has done all it can to convince patrons no expense has been spared. Still, it has a way to go before it reaches its potential as a premier spot.
Plush red couches and wide, cushy chairs stand next to more standard fixtures. Wide wine glasses, all the rage at the moment, dot the tables, as do sleek, stylish forks (which happen to be difficult to pick up, my companions noted). Cocktails froth with tropical colors and fancy-cut garnishes.
It is a classy joint, the restaurant seems to say, and it will let in only those dressed well enough — and, at times, powerful and well-known enough — to deserve entrance.
The lounge even makes customers line up to take the bar’s dedicated elevator at times when space is ample upstairs. It’s an effort to exude the sense that this is a place that you, the patron, want to get into.
That air of exclusivity is present throughout the Point of View experience. In some cases, it is justified. In others, it is not — yet.
For one thing, serving $15 cocktails is a strong method of self-selection in the first place. One must realize the view costs that much, and it is worth it. And the food, at times, can be impressive. Try the summery watermelon salad with goat cheese and white pepper, elegantly presented with tastes that hit every part of one’s palate.
The sauces that accompany several dishes, like the satays, calamari or samosas, are also notable. Beautifully presented satays, for instance, are complemented by subtle dips that bring out flavors one might not expect, including a sublime basil sauce.
When restaurants first open, they have kinks to work out, and Point of View is no exception. Some blemishes may be dismissed as opening-day jitters — on a recent visit, only two of the bottled beers on the limited list remained in stock, and some thirsty patrons were also denied mixers and liquors because of depleted reserves.
Another early issue was waiters uncertain of who was attending to which table. Some patrons simply got up and went to the bar to get their drinks.
And the food? While the sauces are good and sometimes great, the menu offers few surprises. Many of the items can be found at many mid- or upscale bars where the ratio of price to quality is less exacting. What happy-hour destination does not offer the hamburger and BLT sandwich Point of View does?
A menu created by legendary Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, winner of the James Beard award for best chef and proprietor of one of just four New York City restaurants to achieve three Michelin stars, should inspire more than it does at Point of View.
And while the scenery within the restaurant competes with the scenery outside — this is the new place where beautiful people come to see and be seen — the staff will, one hopes, become more accommodating.
On a recent Sunday night, when space 10 floors above street level remained ample, one woman was left stranded in the downstairs lobby because her party had yet to check in. A line behind her built to half a dozen people, standing behind an ostentatious red velvet rope, while the elevator operator denied them entrance. The sense one got was that the restaurant cared more for its image than for its guests’ satisfaction, comfort and experience.
The Point of View lounge has potential — with the vistas, it is hard not to see the sky as the limit. But the outstanding location is not yet matched by an outstanding menu or service. It’s a steep price for a sunset aided by cocktails.