Fri 25 Mar 2011
An expanding chain of burger restaurants might be enough for some guys (I can think of five), but Mark Bucher is getting ready to go beyond BGR in Cleveland Park. Medium Rare, his new prix-fixe steak bistro, opens for dinner at 5 on Monday, and we had a chance to take a look as they were putting on the finishing touches and training staff on the finer points of cafe latte. We even saw some of Washington’s best-known chefs stopping by to wish the newcomer well.
But most exciting of all was the advance look at the menus (“fresh from the printer today”) that confirmed what other sites have been reporting for some time now: a full dinner of bread, salad, steak and fries for a mere $19.50. At that price saving room for dessert seems like a really good idea, and Medium Rare is happy to oblige with one of five sweet options.
We’ve got some interior shots and a copy of the menu – not that you need to take any time with it before you visit – after the jump.
Medium Rare is opening in the space formerly occupied by Yanni’s Greek Taverna, but you’d hardly recognize the place after its facelift. Gone are the plaster walls and the claustrophobic ceiling, which revealed original brickwork that has been touched up and featured throughout the restaurant. Light wood and a pair of tall wine refrigerators add sleek, modern touches without straying too far from the “neighborhood bistro” concept that the team is seeking to convey. The white tile in the bathroom and the kitchen help to reinforce the image.
At the rear of the dining room is a tiny kitchen. There’s barely enough room back there for two people to work. According to Chef Cedric Maupillier, who has been consulting on the execution of the new restaurant’s menu, you really don’t need much more room: “In this case, you’re only working with one meal the whole time.” The chefs can get into a rhythm and avoid getting in each other’s way.
Which brings us to the Medium Rare Menu. For $19.50, you’ll be served artisan rustic bread, a mixed green salad, and sliced sirloin cap steak with hand-cut fries. Not in the mood for steak? You may want to consider dining elsewhere, as you can see by the image of the menu on the right. That’s pretty much all there is. But fear not, vegetarians: you’re covered in the form of a sliced portobello mushroom in a roasted red pepper sauce to go with your salad and fries.
Now I don’t know about you, but I was already pretty pleased with the price point before co-owner Tom Gregg let me in on something of a secret: You’re welcome to have seconds on your steak and fries! Once you’ve had a chance to work through most of your initial plate, a server will come to you with a hot plate of sliced steak, a bowl of fries and a pitcher of sauce. Just say the word, and all this can be yours for no additional charge.
Beverage options include a well-edited list of five red wines, four white wines, a sparkling wine and a rose, most of which are available by the glass as well as by the bottle. If you’d rather pair your beef with beer, you can choose from Delirium Tremens (one of our favorites), Harpoon IPA, Stoudt’s Pilsener and the ever adventurous Miller Light. After dinner drinks are being made on a state-of-the-art espresso machine, turning out lattes and cappuccinos in case you’d like something more exotic than coffee or tea. And diners can expect to receive a bit of nostalgia with their checks in the form of Bazooka Joe bubblegum.
Medium Rare will open for dinner from 5 PM to 10:30 on weeknights (and an odd half-hour later on Fridays and Saturdays), but it will also open for brunch from 11 AM to 2:30 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. They’ll offer steak and egg dishes with salad and fries for $14.50 – no seconds at brunch – as well as mimosas and Bloody Marys.
When I was talking to Gregg, there were lots of light touches that he was especially pleased about. He wanted to stress that the team behind Medium Rare aren’t taking things TOO seriously. Gregg invited me over to his laptop, where he opened his iTunes and hit play. I found myself listening to a suave gentleman working his way through some increasingly flirtatious phrases in both English and French. It’s no Rosetta Stone, but it will definitely spice up dinner conversation when you get back to your table. He also drew my attention to the signage on the window, identifying Medium Rare as an “appelation controlee” steak-frites restaurant – a wink to the French wine regional designations.
Medium Rare will eventually follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and offer outdoor seating, though they probably won’t pack people onto the patio the way Yanni’s used to. Instead, expect well-spaced seating that is likely to be in high demand in warmer weather.
Realistically, demand should be high for any seating at Medium Rare for a while. They don’t intend to take reservations, though they will have a profile on OpenTable and may accept bookings for the last seating of the night (10 PM or later). They hope these practices will help achieve their goal of becoming primarily a “neighborhood restaurant” that encourages regulars.
Time will tell if they succeed, but even my visit today suggests that they’ll be welcoming guests from all over the city. Two of the city’s most well-known chefs, Roberto Donna and Kaz Okochi, were just a few steps ahead of me when I arrived. I got the impression it wouldn’t be the last time either chef paid a visit.
I’m definitely planning to check it out the next time I catch a movie at the Uptown. What better way to cap off a movie at a classic theater than with an equally classic dinner of steak frites?