Ever since Neanderthals discovered fire, people have been gathering around flames to seek warmth, companionship and whatever was cooking over the coals. Even without mastodon on the menu, a blazing hearth still draws a hungry crowd. When temperatures dip, “you want to rub your elbows and order something hearty,” says Equinox chef-owner Todd Gray. “You don’t want to be eating tomatoes and mozzarella.” Here are four of our favorite hot spots for huddling up and getting in touch with your inner caveperson.
Circle One Bistro
7920 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va.; 703-761-5131, Harthrestaurant.com.Executive chef Ethan McKee knows firsthand that having a wood-burning fireplace can be a lifesaver. “I was trapped in [One Washington Circle Hotel, where the restaurant is] for almost a week during Snowmageddon,” he says. A blizzard doesn’t have to be the reason you cozy up to this bistro’s roaring fireplace. A bowl of Chesapeake Oyster Chowder dotted with applewood bacon and topped with crispy leeks ($8, below) can be enjoyed anytime. It pairs well with a Mad Men Manhattan, sweetened with a dash of vermouth ($12).
Circle One Bistro, 1 Washington Circle NW; 202-293-5390. (Foggy Bottom)
This eatery’s name is synonymous with “fireplace,” so warming up guests is a top priority. Get fired up near one of three glass-enclosed fireplaces with the Härth Flame ($12, below). The spicy cocktail combines a chili-infused simple syrup with mandarin vodka, cranberry juice and lemon, and is garnished with a mild serrano pepper. “We didn’t want to toss in a ghost chili,” says executive chef Tom Elder. “People might hurt themselves.” If you want to finish on a sweet note, order a caramel-drizzled cinnamon apple tart served with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream ($8).
Harth, 7920 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va.; 703-761-5131.
Before the restaurant underwent renovations in 2009, Gray dreaded seating diners at the table tucked away in the corner. But the addition of a fireplace turned the worst seats in the house into the hottest. “It’s a great place to wind down with a bottle of wine after dinner or do some business on a chilly winter day,” says the chef. While you’re getting toasty, he recommends ordering the chestnut-stuffed agnolotti ($14 for appetizer, $27 for entrée, inset). Pair that with a Mulled Bourbon Manhattan spiced with ginger, star anise, cinnamon and cardamom ($12) and you’ll think you scored the best table in the world.
Equinox, 818 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-331-8118. (Farragut West)
The name of this bistro, housed in the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, alludes to the building’s past life as a trash incinerator. The only burning that goes on now is in the lobby’s centerpiece fireplace, where you can enjoy some of executive chef Quang Duong’s comforting cuisine. Start off with a bowl of roast butternut squash soup ($11; see recipe below). “When you come in from the cold, you need something hot,” says the chef. “This is the perfect cure for winter weather.” Another remedy is the Valrhona hot chocolate crowned with a peak of whipped cream and marshmallows, and a chili chocolate truffle on the side ($8, above).
Degress Bistro, 3100 South St. NW; 202-912-4100. (Foggy Bottom)
Take-Home Taste: Roast Butternut Squash Soup by Quang Duong
1/4 cup honey (or to taste)
3 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground nutmeg
3-4 large carrots, sliced
1 onion, julienned
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 butternut squash, cut in half with seeds scooped out
salt and pepper to taste
1. Rub butternut squash with oil, salt, pepper, brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of the cinnamon.
2. Roast facedown in a sheet pan at 350 F for 30 minutes or until fork-tender.
3. When done, pull out and leave to cool down. Scoop out the squash from the skin and set aside.
4. Saute carrots and onions on low heat until tender.
5. Add the butternut squash to the carrots and onions, and add the rest of the cinnamon.
6. Saute for one more minute, then add enough water until it’s 1 inch above the vegetables. (It’s possible to use less water and add heavy cream for more body.)
7. Simmer (very low boil) for 15 to 20 minutes; add salt, pepper and honey to taste.
8. Puree and strain.
Note: To make it your own, try adding spices, such as ginger or ancho chili, for a kick, or toss in some herbs, such as thyme, sage or rosemary.