One week earlier, Features Editor Jeff Dufour and I tried the Wisconsin-day menu, starting with a bowl of the famous Senate Bean Soup ($4.50) and moving on to Sheboygan-style grilled bratwurst with onions, German potato salad and sauerkraut ($12.95), meatloaf with mashed potatoes ($12.25) and an order of down-home macaroni and cheese ($3.95). It was all delicious and sure tasted like Wisconsin.
Executive Chef Perez knows his cooking. He trained at the former Ritz-Carlton Hotel in downtown D.C. and under Michelin-starred chef Gerard Pangaud at his restaurant on McPherson Square, and at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He describes his style of cooking as “progressive American,” with an emphasis on local fresh seasonal produce, meat and seafood.
“I try to take the high road with no shortcuts,” said the 42-year-old Perez, who is also in charge of the only other restaurant on the Senate side of the Capitol, the senators’ private dining room. “I look for the freshest seasonal ingredients. Quality and service are what keep them coming back.”
Senators and their staffs, Senate officers and visiting dignitaries can eat at the Senate Dining Room, as well as senators’ constituents if they have a letter from a senator. For visiting firefighters, it’s the highlight of any trip to the nation’s capital.
And it’s a real treat for those who are able to dine here on a regular basis.
From pilot to the Hill
Robert Savidge isn’t your typical restaurant manager, and wouldn’t be even if he weren’t in charge of a restaurant that’s anything but typical.
Savidge, who oversees the two Senate Dining Rooms in the Capitol, is an Air Force veteran who doubles as a corporate jet pilot in his spare time. Among his clients are such luminaries as World Bank President James Wolfensohn.
The 48-year-old Florida native has been involved in hospitality all his life. A former executive chef and standards watchdog for the Marriott Corp. and owner of a food-service company for country clubs in Florida, he and his wife also ran a country inn in Vermont.
He stumbled onto his present job almost by accident in 1994 when he answered a newspaper ad for a general manager of the Senate restaurants while operating his company in Florida.
Savidge points out that the Senate restaurant operation isn’t subsidized by the Senate and has to show a profit like any commercial restaurant. “Senators pay the going price for their meals,” he notes.
The Senate Dining Room is open only to those authorized by the Rules Committee, such as senators, their spouses, children and guests, staffers, Senate officers , foreign dignitaries and senators’ constituents with a letter from their senator.
They’re seated after 1:30 p.m. If there’s room, others who aren’t officially authorized can often gain admission “because we need the revenue,” Savidge says.