Corduroy is a luxury restaurant with a dash of pomp in the dining room, navigated by servers in dark suits, and a soupçon of surprise on the menu. Tomato tonnato, anyone? The first course presents a layer of warm chopped tomatoes, burning with chipotle, scattered with glistening cubes of big-eye tuna that are nearly indistinguishable from their chunky base. Red-on-red against a black plate, the appetizer is a summertime-only riff on classic vitello tonnato. Still, there’s more where that came from in this sedate townhouse, a pioneer on increasingly busy Ninth Street NW. A pan-fried blintz packed with sweet Maryland crab reclines on a cool nest of shredded chayote. Chef-owner Tom Power plays with contrasting temperatures the way his onetime mentor, Michel Richard, dramatizes textures. The choosy shopper also knows that wild king salmon from Alaska has more flavor than the farmed fish too many restaurants rely on, so Power’s menu goes wild. A few main courses taste routine — lamb loin with clumps of bok choy comes to mind — although every dish has something to sustain your interest (in this case, rich Lyonnaise potatoes). Whatever fruit is in season generally stars in a lovely tart, and the flourless chocolate cake, while decadent, eats like a cloud. (The trick to the lightness, shares the chef: beating the egg yolks and egg whites separately.) Less fun are wine prices that tempt us to sip water through dinner. But a bargain awaits upstairs, on the bar menu: three courses for $30, every dish as polished as what’s playing downstairs.
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013
Then: An understated menu with pleasant surprises(2008)
Again: Getting a clothes-minded neighbor
The chef-owner of Corduroy never shouts to be heard. Rather, Tom Power merely buys good ingredients, prepares them to best advantage, and arranges them in such a way that first your eyes and then your tongue are entertained. So your scallop appetizer might be from Maine, offered in its fancy shell along with its roe and seasoned with just a sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil: brilliant restraint.
I almost always order soup here, and I'm almost always delighted by what I find in the bowl, most recently chilled burdock soup broadened with dashi, kelp and bonito flakes for a smoky, mushroom-like effect. The lovely green-and-white shiso salad glossed with grapeseed oil and rice wine vinegar is a trick Power gleaned after seeing his wife's family's shiso farm in Japan.
You can pretty much go anywhere on the list and find yourself in good company; Corduroy's pastas are equal to his Italian counterparts', and if you want a change from beef, lean antelope with haricots verts and a wash of juniper and red wine should be your destination. An on-the-spot request for a meatless main course is followed by (grrr) a plate with a bunch of side dishes on it, but the seven (count 'em!) elements also include some Indian-inspired choices. The mood of the staff is cool some nights, and there's a tendency to up-sell on occasion. "Champagne would go well with your appetizers," a server coos -- an entreaty we ignore. Other kitchens do better cheese plates; few competitors bake an apple tart as well as Corduroy, where a wisp of pastry, plump fruit and velvety ice cream can lead to another order.
The sleek, two-story townhouse across from the city's convention center is, like the cooking here, subtle but not without splashes of color. If there are two of you and you want some privacy, ask for Table 24, a trim booth facing the open kitchen. Coming up next, next door: Baby Wale, another fabric-inspired place to eat, this one more casual and serving pizza and "fun things," Power promises.