It has a French name, a German chef and a Japanese owner, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for the Lafayette Restaurant in the historic Hay-Adams Hotel.
Even though the French and the Germans are currently persona non grata across Lafayette Park at the White House because of their stand on the Iraq war, and the Japanese economy is as fragile as the cherry blossoms, the Lafayette is thriving now that the tourists are back in town, undaunted by wartime worries and ready to see Washington in its springtime glory.
The seafood Cobb salad is a palate-pleasing favorite at The Lafayette Restaurant.
Combine that with the impressive culinary skills of executive chef Peter Schaffrath, a beautifully renovated dining room — part of an overall $18 million restoration of the hotel on its 75th anniversary last year — silky smooth service and the choicest location in town, and you’ve got all the ingredients of a memorable dining experience.
There’s also a good chance you’ll dine with some prominent figures.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue and Motion Picture Association President Jack Valenti, who work nearby, are regulars, as are author historian David McCullough, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and George Stephanopolous, who often joins his ABC-TV colleagues for telecasts from the hotel’s rooftop with its White House backdrop. Former President Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and the mayor of Berlin were also recent guests.
The Lafayette Restaurant Hay-Adams Hotel 800 – 16th St. N.W. (202) 638-2570
HOURS: Breakfast, 6:30 a.m.-11 a.m. daily; Lunch, 11-30 a.m.- 2 p.m. daily; Dinner, 5:30 p.m.- 10 p.m., except Saturday and Sunday; Sunday brunch, 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m. PRICES: Expensive: Luncheon prices average $25-35 per person; dinner $60-$75 for three courses with glass of wine, 10 percent D.C. tax and 15 percent tip.
Ratings: Based on one-to-10 scale for food, service, ambiance and price/value; up to five domes based on reviewer’s judgment.
I treat myself to breakfast occasionally, since the Hay-Adams is just two blocks from my office. It’s a great way to start off my day with Irish oatmeal, applewood smoked bacon, an English muffin and some of the best coffee in town. You’ll also enjoy the excellent service, especially if Victor is one of your waiters, and the exotic artesian water from Fiji, which is served at all meals.
Schaffrath, a native of Aachen, Germany (it was the first German city liberated by the Americans in World War Two), credits his interest in cooking to working as a boy at his uncle’s restaurant in southern Germany. He learned his trade at restaurants in France, Switzerland, England, the Middle East and Dallas before coming to Washington in 1989, where he spent 12 years as executive chef at another historic hotel, the Willard Inter-Continental, before moving on to the Hay-Adams in 2001.
“I love this restaurant, it’s beautiful,” said Schaffrath, 52. He also loves his work, which includes daily responsibility for breakfasts, lunches, afternoon teas, dinners — except on Saturday and Sunday nights — and a Sunday ala carte brunch, as well as the informal Off the Record bar downstairs, banquets and 24-hour room service.
“I enjoy cooking,” the personable Schaffrath said last week as he prepared for an elaborate five-course Japanese sake dinner for 85 people as part of the Cherry Blossom Week festivities. “It’s not really hard work, except that it’s sometimes overwhelming when we’re extremely busy. But I’ve always enjoyed being a chef.”
Executive Chef Peter Schaffrath takes the first step in preparing lobster bisque.
Schaffrath’s cooking reflects that attitude. “I work with the freshest ingredients I can get on a daily basis,” he explained. “My style is to go with the seasons. I always try to cook with ingredients that are in season, and I try to use local products so we can have them as fresh as possible.”
For example, the Pennsylvania wild mushroom soup is nothing short of sensational. It’s made with porcini, chanterelle, shitake and oyster mushrooms, cooked slowly with chicken stock and onions and garlic and garnished with fresh thyme and a little bit of cream. So is another appetizer, the smoked Atlantic salmon on crisp puff pastry, served with cr