Fri 18 Sep 2009
Looking for a Penn Quarter destination with creative cocktails and a bar menu to match? Eager for a sit-down dinner that impresses with its ingredients as well as its execution? Okay…there are actually several places in that part of town that fit the bill. But there are few that have consistently impressed us the way PS7′s has.
Your experience at Peter Smith’s restaurant is entirely up to you. Upon arriving at the host stand, you can choose to turn left and enter the dining room. If you do so, a menu that reflects PS7′s commitment to freshness and seasonal fare awaits. But turn right, and you’ll enter the realm of “Mixtress” Gina Chersevani, whose inventive beverages have lured us from Poste to Rasika to EatBar and now back to Penn Quarter. Pair those drinks up with some killer appetizers and sandwiches, and you’ve got a bar that more than holds its own.
Our most recent visit to PS7′s came after this month’s Food Blogger Happy Hour, so we were primed for a great dining experience. As it turns out, we were visiting during their extended Restaurant Week offering – fitting, as our first visit was during another Restaurant Week a few years ago.
Three courses on your left, cocktails and bar food on your right; you can find both after the jump.
We arrived at PS7′s at 8:30, wondering just how full the dining room would be. We were pleased to see that there were a few other tables occupied, even on a Wednesday night. The hostess showed us to our table and we wasted no time settling with a couple of wines by the glass.
While we perused the menu, paying special attention to the unexpected Restaurant Week specials, we were distracted by the heavenly aroma of warm, freshly baked bread. This has always been PS7′s secret weapon: house-baked breads that could easily be a course on their own. We’re talking flaky biscuits with bacon baked right in, and rolls whose firm exterior reveals a positively airy crumb once they’re pulled apart. The fact that they’re served with a ribbon of room-temperature butter only makes them more alluring. Yeah…that’s right. I’m gushing about the bread. When you catch yourself doing that, you know you’re in for a good time.
Since we had the opportunity, we both decided to make our selections from the Restaurant Week offerings. It had been a while since we’d enjoyed a dinner at PS7′s (Note to self: Why? Don’t let this happen again!), so we went for the full three-course experience. Elizabeth was a bit more restrained, going for the warm spinach salad that was dressed with an earthy mustard-thyme dressing. I wasn’t quite as good…the caprese flatbread was calling my name and it just wouldn’t be ignored. So I enjoyed the upscale equivalent of a personal pizza, which came topped with chunks of fresh tomato, creamy mozarella and even a handful of greens that had just started to wilt from the heat of the flatbread. It was a classic combination that hit the spot.
For our entrees, we both selected dishes that highlighted Chef Smith’s skill when it comes to preparing fish. This round went to Elizabeth: While my tuna au poivre was spot-on medium-rare and well balanced by the acid in its accompanying greens, it was overshadowed by her cornmeal-crusted trout. Her fish was moist and tender inside a crisp and satisfying shell, and the flavors were just a touch more subtle than the meaty notes that dominated my tuna. By the time our entrees had arrived, all but two of the tables near us had cleared out, and it was obvious that those of us who remained were all intently focused on the dishes in front of us…the dining room was comfortably quiet.
Dessert is almost always an afterthought for us (one of the reasons that we’re not usually drawn to the Restaurant Week promotion), but it’s certainly not for the kitchen at PS7′s. While Michel Richard gets the attention for his take on the Kit Kat Bar, served at Central, Peter Smith definitely deserves his fair share of credit for his rendition of a Snickers – the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar. It features two logs of decadent chocolate topped with whipped cream and surrounded by peanuts, caramel and cocoa nibs…a deconstructed version of the treat that ‘really satisfies.’ And it lived up to its promise, leaving us satisfied and impressed. Elizabeth’s Strawberry Shortcake was no less enjoyable; it combined the flavors of fresh strawberries, cream and lemony cake in a way that was both bright and light. Even so, I’d say the edge for the dessert round had to go to the Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar, giving me a narrow win for the evening’s orders.
But what if your taste on a given evening leans more toward big, bold flavors and craft cocktails? Perhaps you’ll want to head right at the host stand and make your way to the sleek lounge at PS7′s. Grab a seat at one of the low-slung tables or pull up a stool at the bar, and you’ll be rewarded with a completely different menu than the one offered in the main dining room.
The stars of the show here are Gina Chersevani’s cocktails, to be sure. Where else can you find a Cure for the “Recession Blues” that combines Miller Lite, Domaine de Canton and ginger as a cocktail…and for only $5! Gina’s claim to fame is her ability to marry flavors in unexpected ways, and she’s doing what she does best here at PS7′s. Check out all-stars like the Gnome’s Water, or just ask the Mixtress what she recommends for a real treat.
And once you’ve got something to wash them down, you need to pick out a few bar snacks to match up with them. First up: oxtail tots whose deep, meaty flavors are complemented by a rich gravy. Or maybe you’d prefer Peter Smith’s take on a Pittsburgh classic: the Primanti Brothers’ sandwich that stuffs thin matchstick fries into a sandwich of Italian cold cuts, fried egg and pepper slaw. It’s not the original, but it’s a respectable tribute. Also on the lounge menu: those tempting flatbreads from the main dining room’s menu, including one topped with duck confit, gouda, sage and red onion marmelade. Hungry yet?
If you’re really ambitious, you could probably attempt both sides in one night: start with a cocktail or two and a shared appetizer in the bar before heading to the host stand and checking in for a dinner (sans starter). But we’re just as happy focusing on one experience or the other depending on how we’re feeling. The choice is yours…and either way you choose, you win.