Tom Sietsema wrote Old Hickory for his First Bite column on Nov. 12, 2008.
A diner could be forgiven for slipping on sneakers once he sizes up one of the area's newest meat mansions. The distance from the stately foyer, warmed by a glowing fire, to one of the prime tables overlooking the Potomac River is enough of a journey that a customer seeking the restroom asks a waiter, "Got a scooter to get there and back?"
I'm sympathetic to the hostess escorting a friend and me to one of the more distant tables at Old Hickory Steakhouse (201 Waterfront St., National Harbor; 301-965-5100), the signature restaurant at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center. By the end of her shift, she must feel as if she has run a marathon. But right now, she's doing an admirable job of selling us on the 220-seat restaurant, pausing here and there to show off its assets. "Here's our cheese cave," she says as we stroll past more than 20 different kinds of you-know-what. "We have our own maitre de fromage," she adds with a note of pride.
In room after room on this early-autumn night, we see servers in white jackets polishing silver and inspecting stemware in preparation for all the meat eaters to come. "I'm going to get some basil for some drinks," I overhear a bartender saying to a colleague before slipping through a side door of the dining room to the Cigar Terrace and an herb garden. When we finally get to our seats -- a table near a window with an impressive view of water and Washington in what's known as the Riverview Room -- we feel as if we've been given a backstage tour of a colorful play. And we're famished.
The bread basket comes to our rescue with cheese puffs, baguette slices and cracker-y flatbread. So does the onion soup, which is as much cheese and bread as it is broth sweetened with onions. I hardly notice the seafood in an almond-crusted crab cake appetizer, which is overdressed with garniture, but there's no missing the beef on the satisfying porterhouse, which practically hides the plate it's served on.
The sides we try -- lightly creamed spinach, truffle-flavored macaroni and cheese -- are solid supports for the entrees, which include a pleasant surprise for those who might not want beef: crisp, herby roast chicken.
Though the menu doesn't read much differently from those of many other steakhouses, and the tabs prove competitive, Old Hickory serves up what might be the best treat of them all: a vista worthy of a postcard.