By Amanda McDougall - 12/08/11 01:03 AM EST
Lost Society — there’s an air of exclusivity in the name. Will there be a sign out front? Is there a password to get in? Self-described as having an “underground, Victorian atmosphere,” the new restaurant and lounge inhabits the second and third floors of a corner building at 14th and U streets NW. “Underground” is not to be taken literally.
There’s really nothing hidden at all about Lost Society. Its signage is prominent and well-lit. There is, however, a bouncer at the door checking ID; it’s an odd encounter when you’re just going to the restaurant for an 8 p.m. dinner. (It begs the question: Are those under 21 not welcome for a meal?)
The cocktail menu has a dozen options that mix classics (Manhattans and Southsides) with riffs (one a D.C.-inspired U Street ’Tini); the wine list seems stunted, especially for a restaurant that features steak on the menu, with 11 wines by the glass and just 23 bottles. Nonetheless, the cocktails were well-crafted and the wines somewhat intriguing.
The food menu isn’t overly elaborate, either, but still offers a good range of moderately priced options, from $7 salads to a $30 T-bone steak and $5 sides. Roasted bone marrow, two thick, 3-inch-tall bones served with an herb salad, large flake sea salt and grilled bread, was a good value at $7. The crispy pork belly ($10), a prerequisite to any hip menu these days, had a crispy skin and tender bite of meat but was forgettable beyond those qualifications.
A steakhouse classic, on the other hand, the wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and nuggets of bacon looked fetching from across the room and delivered on all fronts. The lettuce was fresh and snappy, Maytag dressing tangy, bacon bits fatty and smoky, and it looked chic on a long rectangular plate.
The steak selection comprises seven options, including country-fried, filet, T-bone, rib-eye, sirloin and strip. Compared to most steakhouses, the prices are almost a steal, topping out at $32. Keep in mind that the steaks fly solo on the plates, other than their listed accompaniments (e.g., compound butter or a sauce), so add in a few extra bucks for a side dish or two.
Cooked to their specified doneness (medium-rare and rare), both the bone-in rib-eye and filet were tasty hunks of beef. The rib-eye’s sauce of chanterelle cream robed the 20-ounce steak in a white blanket flecked with pieces of mushroom and browned specks from a quick dash under a broiler; it added a subtle depth of flavor that jibed well with the earthy mushrooms. The tower of filet seemed particularly lonesome on the large white plate, but cheered up considerably with the addition of a couple of sides.
A large ramekin of smooth mashed potatoes was a satisfactory backdrop for steak, but the side dish was lackluster on its own. A plate of brilliantly green broccolini made up for what the tubers lacked in flavor. They were not only expertly al dente (tender with a bite) but also strewn with crunchy bits of fried shallots and a dose of spicy chili oil that burned just enough to make you want to come back for another slender tree. Miso-butter Brussels sprouts also packed a lot of flavor into the petit cabbages. While not everyone will love the slightly grainy texture of the miso, the layered sprout leaves accommodated the umami-rich flavor of the miso like few other vegetables can.
The kitchen has a handle on the steaks, without a doubt, but other main courses could use a bit more TLC. Wild mushroom risotto was lacking in wild mushrooms and flavor in general; Cornish game hen — a fickle little bird to cook to begin with — was dry; country ham-wrapped rockfish had promise but was too salty. A graham cracker crusted tartlet called a Nutella S’more, by contrast, blended nostalgia, chilled Nutella and a toasted marshmallow topping with sweet success.
The dishes are uneven, but with some winners to be sure. One constant is that the dining room revs up quickly on weekend nights. On one Friday night, the place had a quiet buzz at 8 p.m., with a mix of customers in terms of age, ranging from early 20s to 60s. But within an hour the crowd and noise level changed: out with the old and in with the young — and lively.
This crowd at Lost Society is anything but lost. It’s the typical 20- and 30-something trendy types who flock to the U Street Corridor on Friday and Saturday nights. The lads in untucked collared shirts with jeans and loafers; the lasses strapped into stilettos and skinny jeans paired with low-cut blouses. They aren’t at Lost Society for the dry-aged, certified Angus beef. The boisterous barflies are there for the meet market. So go early for dinner without the scene, or don your swankest outfit and save the quiet dinner conversation for another date.
2001 14th St. NW
Hours: Dinner: Tuesday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-12 a.m.; bars, Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Dinner reservations recommended for weekends.
Prices: Appetizers $7-17; entrees $9-18; steaks $25-32; sides $5-6.
Ideal Meal: Baby wedge salad; bone-in rib-eye with chanterelle cream; broccolini; Nutella S’mores.