Wed 12 Jan 2011
When a restaurant routinely appears among the top 20 of Washingtonian’s best restaurant lists, it can hardly be called “under the radar.” Even so, it seems like 2941 frequently fades into the background when DC diners are thinking about places to celebrate a special occasion with a high-end meal. We’ve had a few in-the-know friends recommend it, but it just doesn’t come up among suggestions as often as you might expect.
Maybe it’s the location – 2941 is just inside the Beltway in the Falls Church/Tysons Corner/Mclean area. It’s not Metro accessible, and it’s even off the beaten path relative to most of what you think of when you think of Tysons. But it’s precisely that remove that made 2941 a great choice for a recent birthday dinner.
The setting feels like a rural retreat once you get past the fact that it’s located inside an office building. Couple that with attentive, helpful service and a tasting menu that is changing almost constantly to reflect the season’s bounty and you’ve got the makings of a fuss-free gourmet getaway.
More on the food and everything else that makes 2941 such a good time after the jump.
We arrived at the multi-story office building where 2941 is located and turned up the driveway, confident that we had the address right (the name helped) despite the apparent lack of anything even remotely resembling a restaurant in the area. When we pulled up to the valet stand, the often-praised surroundings revealed themselves even in the fading light of dusk. The koi pond and the patio overlooking a beautiful green space were gorgeous. I can only imagine how much more attractive they must look to the lunch crowd.
Once inside, the lofty ceilings and gallery-quality artwork give the main dining room and bar an air of majesty. There’s a low hum of conversation, much less than you might expect in such an open space but still indicative of people enjoying themselves. And the attentive service begins right away with a greeting from the host stand in front of you.
As we’ve learned from experiences both good and bad, service can take a meal from great to truly memorable or it can drag down an otherwise outstanding evening. Our server at 2941 was everything we could have hoped for: she was attentive without being overbearing; she was friendly without being overly casual; she wasn’t just knowledgeable, she was happy to share. When we asked about a spice we couldn’t quite place in one dish, she made it a point to ask the kitchen and reported back with the answer before our next course arrived. She gave us every opportunity to love the food we would be tasting, and it had an impact.
Because we were celebrating, we opted for the six-course tasting menu. Priced at $110 per person, it’s well within the range of similar menus at top-tier establishments in the area. And like those other restaurants’ menus, it really ends up being more like nine or ten courses when you factor in first bites, plated duos and additional sweet treats at the end of the meal.
It should be noted that Chef Bertrand Chemel and his team pride themselves on receiving fresh ingredients every morning, resulting in a menu that changes almost daily: the dishes we had less than a month ago are likely to be completely different from those you would encounter this week, nevermind months or years from now.
The kitchen wasted no time sending a message with the first course: a set of four canapes atop a visually impressive hollow glass serving dish. Sprigs of fresh herbs and greens could be seen inside the tube below the bite-sized appetizers. Our favorite among the bites was an oyster brightened up with homemade ginger “Dippin’ Dots.”
From there we moved on to a duo of lobster presentations: a rich and silken bisque paired with the poached morsel you saw before the jump. They were both perfectly executed, with the lobster meat still sweet and tender and the bisque featuring a subtle but insistent sherry note. This may have been the least impressive of the courses we enjoyed (which says a lot), if only because it felt like something we could have found at any number of other restaurants.
Not so the next course, a plate of raviolini topped with shaved truffles and cauliflower and served in a creamy, salty sauce that offset the truffles’ earthy funk perfectly. We could have easily made a meal of this single course and gone home happy. Instead, we found ourselves satisfied and eagerly awaiting the next offering.
A good piece of fish can be perfect on its own (just ask the folks at Hook), but there was something about the pairing of grilled escolar with a generous cut of pork belly that elevated both. Throw in some local sunchokes for good measure and you can see why we were starting to get full at this point. Thankfully, there was only one more savory course to go.
Our entree, if you’d like, was another duo. In this case, venison loin was matched up with beef short ribs. The venison was firm and dense, with that tongue-tingling tang of iron that really good game meats provide. The short ribs were fork-shreddingly tender, with all of the intramuscular fat rendered and suffused throughout the meat. It was a carnivore’s delight.
Just in case we had room for more (and somehow we did), the kitchen sent out a pomegranate sorbet to cleanse our palates and then offered us a pair of desserts. In lieu of cake we received a “Pumpkin Baked Alaska” with a base of spice cake and a topping of spiced meringue. We were sent on our way with a trio of homemade sweets and a souvenir, a box of peppermint bark.
The meal was rich and indulgent without feeling overly heavy. Each dish was balanced and the portion sizes were reasonable enough to leave us wanting more throughout. And we were pleased to note that the meal’s overall effect was one of creativity – we didn’t leave feeling like we had received a generic tasting menu experience. Coupled with the service and the atmosphere, it made for one of the best high-end dining experiences we’ve had in a while.