By Debbie Siegelbaum - 09/19/12 10:35 PM EDT
If there is one thing Washington, D.C., isn’t lacking, it’s steakhouses. The city is chock-full of power-lunch porterhouse places with dim lighting, white tablecloths and high price tags.
Appealing to this already well-covered suit-and-tie crowd can be tough for a new eatery, but Del Frisco’s Grille is looking to target a different, less stuffy demographic.
“We wanted to make it more a casual but upscale experience for the guest,” CEO Mark Mednansky said. “A place you don’t really go to do a business deal, but you go to celebrate.”
All of the typical steakhouse staples are present at Del Frisco’s, but with a slight twist. The decor in the 8,000-square-foot restaurant is decidedly modern and sleek, but features warm, rich colors and inviting, cushy booths. The lighting is still subdued, but huge sliding windows open out onto a large front patio area, bringing in lots of natural light.
The bar is also massive and front and center, a trademark of Del Frisco’s locations. But according to Mednansky, the D.C. restaurant features some unusual touches that pay tribute to the nation’s capital.
A wall in the bar area contains 3,000 pennies, an “homage to the Treasury Department,” he said.
And “the grid system of the lights in the restaurant … mirrors the street grids,” Mednansky added. “The lights are actually the major intersections.”
The steakhouse-with-a-twist vibe extends to Del Frisco’s menu, which includes plenty of expected items done just a bit differently. Present are high-end appetizers like oysters and bisques, but the eatery also offers flatbreads and fun eats like deviled eggs and dumplings.
There’s cheesesteak — to be expected, but served here as a creative eggroll with a sweet-and-spicy chili sauce. It’s a tasty, tangy, ooey-gooey take on a classic dish. Also on appetizer offering are Ahi tuna tacos, the rich fattiness of the raw fish pairing perfectly with the crunchy fried-bread shell and spicy citrus mayo.
If you’re at a steakhouse, though, no matter how different or casual, you really do have to try the steak. Del Frisco’s offers several different cuts, ranging from filet mignon to New York strip to prime rib-eye.
But the prime Delmonico, a 12 oz. cut with blackened barbecue rub, is as near to absolute perfection as grilled meat can get. The steak was beautifully seared, cooked to a glorious medium rare and incredibly juicy. The rub also elevated the meat to a new level of flavor, adding a delectable salty, savory kick to every bite.
Those diners not in the mood for beef can choose between a variety of fish, poultry, pork and pasta dishes, including salmon, sea scallops and veal meatloaf. There are also several sandwich options, running from beef, lamb and veggie burgers to steak sandwiches and chicken wraps.
The other tried-and-true staple of the local steakhouse experience, the crab cake, was meaty and flaky but a tad on the dry side here. A fellow diner also discovered bits of shell inside the cake, a definite drawback.
The chicken schnitzel, a surprising find on the menu, was far more successful. The meat was pounded thin, succulent and perfectly battered. Both the crab cake and schnitzel were paired with pappardelle pastas that, though enjoyable, were mostly devoid of vegetables and came off a bit starchy as the sole side dishes.
With rather sizable entrée portions at Del Frisco’s, it’s difficult to envision leaving any room for dessert. There is a limited after-dinner menu here, but just enough variety for those with a serious sweet tooth.
The wait staff-recommended Nutella bread pudding was sadly underwhelming, far too dry and containing a cloying amount of chocolate. The six-layer lemon cake was a lighter option, but as one guest described, tasted far too much like standard “wedding cake.” If anyone has gone to a wedding recently, that’s not a significant compliment.
Something that should be noted here is the service. Restaurant management was incredibly friendly and stopped by multiple times to ensure we enjoyed our meal. But our waiter — who had few other tables to oversee — was distracted and a tad rude. He also repeatedly forgot our orders and had to return to ask again, brought out the incorrect food multiple times and even charged us for items we did not order.
In a restaurant that prides itself on casual dining, the prices at Del Frisco’s still reflect more of a fine-dining establishment, and service should represent that. With appetizers that range from $9 to $16, entrees that can run nearly $40 and desserts at around $10 each, a meal here is not a cheap one, no matter how relaxed the restaurant purports to be.
In a city that counts dozens of similar dining spots, Del Frisco’s is attempting to take the stuffiness out of the steakhouse experience. And when it comes to its main star, the steak, it very much succeeds.
For those looking for a more laid-back atmosphere, patio dining and just a tad out-of-the-ordinary eats, it’s a fine addition to the District’s dining scene. But for those expecting service to match the price tag, along with candles and white tablecloths, their money might be better spent elsewhere.
Del Frisco’s Grille
1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Hours: Lunch, Monday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.; Dinner, Monday – Thursday, 4 – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 12 a.m., Sunday, 4 – 9:30 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers range from $9 to $16, entrees from $16 to $39 and desserts are around $10 each.
Ideal meal: Ahi tuna tacos, prime Delmonico, lemon Doberge cake