By Suzanne Struglinski - 07/29/10 10:10 PM EDT
Eating at The Chesapeake Room is like being invited into a Capitol Hill home. It’s a beautifully decorated, narrow space with a prime location, and it has lots of shared seating and a basic menu of familiar favorites.
It’s a welcome addition to the growing number of popular dining destinations on Barracks Row, and the third spot for owner Xavier Cervera, who is also behind Lola’s Barracks Bar and Grill and Molly Malone’s. The Chesapeake Room is more restaurant, though, than the neighborhood-bar style of Cervera’s other endeavors. The new restaurant’s menu and website make clear the goal is “to bring our guest an organic, sustainable and free-range dining experience while bringing to life the natural and fresh taste of each season.”
But whether dining alone, with a friend or at the communal table, diners will get simple, familiar dishes with a few new tastes sprinkled in.
A long, gorgeous bar lines the other end of the restaurant with a giant fish tank built into the wall just above the bar. It’s almost sensory overload, though, with the nearly 12-foot tableau of live fish competing with the hunting- and outdoor-themed paintings that dot the room.
The porch offers a bit more elbow room. The airy space has ceiling fans that make dining outside in the District’s steamy summers pleasant, and it’s a perfect place to escape with a cocktail or grab some dessert, the restaurant’s two best offerings.
The bartenders know their stuff, and while it is not strange to find a $10 cocktail downtown, these are worth their price. The Sunset on Round Pond takes Cold River Blueberry Vodka, Cointreau and white cranberry juice with a splash of lemon juice and a lemon-peel twist floating on top. This is a clean-tasting yet subtly fruity cocktail, thanks to the blueberry. It is a clear cocktail — not fake blue, as feared — and the lemony citrus notes make this a fine summer sip.
Meanwhile, the Army-Navy Daiquiri, which the menu claims was “brought from Havana, Cuba, in 1909 to the Army-Navy Club,” has rum, simple syrup and lime juice. It is strong and tastes like a mojito without the mint.
As for the food, the menu is short and basic, based on meat and fish options (vegetarians may have a hard time here).
To start, the fried green tomato crab stack provides a different take on the traditional crab cake. Two fried tomato slices serve as the bread of a “sandwich,” covering a delicate pile of cold crab lightly seasoned with lemon, black pepper and just enough mayonnaise to hold the dish together — a nice change from the normal Old Bay-covered, fried pile of crab we are all used to. The crab flavor is the star here, and the tomato’s crunchy texture offers a nice contrast to the soft and creamy texture of the crab.
The wild boar and goat cheese starter, however, may need some work. The meat comes in a stew-like texture next to a pile of baby greens dressed with a light oil vinaigrette. On top of this is a slab of goat cheese that sits with a thinly sliced potato tart. The boar is gamey-tasting and comes in a somewhat flavorless gravy. If there’s one word to describe the dish, it’s busy.
The Amish Chicken, on the other hand, comes perfectly juicy and in a red wine and cherry reduction sauce. The fingerling potatoes and slightly salted cooked greens make it a simple dish — one that could use a bit more flavor.
The pork chop entree has a deep smoky flavor and comes with what could be the creamiest sweet potato dish in the city, as well as a peppery coleslaw and chunky fig chutney.
While the entrees passed muster, the desserts shone brightly.
The homemade ginger cheesecake at first tastes like just a really well-crafted piece of cheesecake. But after the first two or so bites, the ginger flavor bursts through.
The champagne-soaked oranges are a nice garnish, but that ginger surprise carries you to the last bite. (Warning: You will be tempted to lick the gingersnap crust crumbs off the plate.)
For a lighter option, the berry parfait is also a sweet ending. The lingering blueberry flavor from the meal’s earlier cocktail just makes the blueberry and blackberry compote that much more powerful. The summer’s fruit really comes to life, having been cooked down in sugar and also soaked in champagne. Simple and sweet. A dollop of heavy whipped cream balances out the dish.
This neighborhood spot might not be the District’s latest destination restaurant, but if Capitol Hill residents are looking for a place to grab some food and relax, they should check out The Chesapeake Room.