Critic rating
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Neighborhood: Downtown
Cuisine: American
Price: $$$ ($25-$34)
Sound check: 76 decibels (Must speak with raised voice)
Our Review

The best face-lifts make people think you’ve been on vacation. Oval Room took a month off this summer, emerging from a million-dollar operation that erased some of its 20 years while adding fresh lighting, cool art and a bar that no longer feels like an afterthought but a genuine drinking destination. The modern American menu reveals a chef, Tony Conte, who digs Asian flavors — and a craftsman at the top of his game. At the new! improved! restaurant, green mango and shaved fennel make a nest for sweetbreads, gently smoked and soft as custard, and kimchi provides fiery support for duck, marvelous in a glaze of soy sauce, honey and thyme. Not even the strip loin, bedded on multigrain risotto, is standard issue: gougeres with centers of liquid blue cheese make the plate (and your eyes) pop. That said, if you just want a nice pasta, you can have it here; agnolotti plumped with goat cheese is also light with lemon butter and fresh sorrel. See the cart rolling by with what appears to be a chemistry set? The Oval Room now brews its coffee tableside, using elegant glass siphons for smooth effect. In a part of the city with lots of distinguished addresses, this White House neighbor ranks as one of its most reputable.

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