By Alexander Bolton - 12/05/12 11:47 PM EST
Succeeding as a restaurant in the bustling 14th Street corridor is like getting into an Ivy League college: The competition is fierce and it helps to have a good hook.
Drafting Table’s is summed up by its name. Its four-tops are vintage architectural drafting tables and its spare metal and wooden chairs conjure images of a designer hunched over a blueprint. In case you miss the point, there’s an oversize drafting compass hanging on the wall, and the menus have a graph-paper motif.
Gordon asked his friend to build the pub’s bar and a high-table section, which ended up looking like “retro draft tables,” he said. After an online search turned up a set of drafting tables from the architectural department of an old girls school, the theme was hatched.
Gordon is not such a stickler for his theme to preclude two large flat-screen TVs from hanging behind the bar and in the dining area. I was a little taken aback at first because it would have been anathema to my mother to let us watch television at the dinner table (though I expect my dad would have been all for it).
The TVs, along with the quirky tables and chairs and the unfinished ceiling, give the restaurant a relaxed air, and if I happened to miss some of the conversation at the table, at least I got to witness third-ranked Georgia blow a lead in the fourth quarter against second-ranked Alabama.
The food menu is fairly short and simple. It’s a hodgepodge of French, Belgian, Italian, Russian and American with a unifying theme: comfort food, as is true of many mid-scale restaurants in neighborhoods attracting young, fashionable crowds. But, hey, who doesn’t want to be comfortable on a chilly evening, especially in football season?
The sense of well-being is helped by the prices, which are cheap next to the restaurant’s nearby competitors, who have more polished kitchens but aren’t shy about charging fancy prices. Main courses at Drafting Table run from $12 to $16.
One of my vegetarian dining companions immediately homed in on the plate of mixed pickled vegetables. Biting into their vinegary crunch reminded me of Moscow, where pickled anything is a great way to cut a chilled glass of Russky Standart vodka.
The curry seasoning on the cauliflower stood out nicely while the lemon and ginger complemented the pear well. So well, in fact, that I overheard one diner behind me moaning, “Ummm …. Ummm … I can’t wait to eat more pickled pears.” But while my tablemates finished the pears, we left some of the pickles and green beans to be taken away. The serving was too generous to keep our attention.
The mushroom crostini, a ragout of wild fungi complemented by smoky pecorino cheese atop a toasted slice of rustic bread, is well worth ordering off the appetizer menu.
The mussels in a white wine and garlic broth were less successful. While the broth was tasty and happily soaked up into servings of Italian bread, the mussels were not as fresh as the ones I had at home over Thanksgiving. Could I be spoiled?
The menu’s star is the fish ‘n chips. The cod tastes fresh and succulent and is coated in a light batter that could pass for tempura. The lumpy homemade tartar sauce and the tangy lemon curd made us wish we had more to dip. Drafting Table’s french fries have received mixed reviews, but my dining companions liked them. I thought there were a few too many soggy ones, but I liked the look of their rough cut.
The slow-braised brisket with red wine gravy, served over roasted vegetables, comes in a hearty portion. The brisket and vegetables had enough flavor to render the dipping gravy superfluous, and I thought the meat mouthwatering, but one of my companions insisted his grandmother’s brisket is much more tender.
The draftsman burger is a plump beef patty garnished with blue cheese, apricot chutney and bacon-onion jam served on a small Kaiser roll. It was a bouquet of smoky, sweet and meaty flavors. It reminded me of the fantastic burgers at the locally famous Bull City brewery in Durham, N.C. My friend who ordered it thought the accouterments overwhelmed the burger. He was disappointed the medium he ordered turned out more on the rare side, but I have to take the chef’s side in this dispute. It’s a sin to cook a thick hamburger to an even gray.
I would not recommend the duck ragout over pappardelle pasta. The dish had too little duck and the noodles were overcooked and under-sauced.
Drafting Table is worth a visit for the desserts alone. All three on the menu were hits. The chocolate pudding verges on a creamy mousse and is a far cry from Jell-O, but it still takes you back to happy childhood days. The Snickers pie, with chocolate cookie crust and peanut butter mousse, has surprising lightness. The grilled pound cake has a subtle orange flavor that matches well with the pecan sauce. Any would be perfect to split on a date (just make sure your back is to the TV if there’s a football game on).
1529 14th St. NW
Hours: Monday – Wednesday, 4 – 11 p.m.; Thursday, 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.; Friday, 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Saturday, 7:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Sunday, 7:30 a.m. – 12 a.m
Prices: Starters, $5 - $21; main entrees, $10 - $16.
Ideal meal: Mushroom crostini, fish ‘n chips, chocolate pudding.