We'll Always Have Paris
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, January 15, 2006
I've always enjoyed sitting in Fahrenheit. With its never-ending brick walls and epic windows framed by sheer, champagne-colored curtains, this airy and modern restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown nods to the future as it pays respect to the past: Some tables take in a view of a slender chimney outside, a reminder that the setting was carved from a former municipal incinerator (hence the name Fahrenheit). The chairs are comfortable, the music is jazzy and the gratis nosh from the chef -- creamy butternut squash one night, a refreshing bite of spring roll another time -- leads you to believe great things are in store.
Sometimes they are. Chef Terence Feury, hired from the Ritz-Carlton in Philadelphia to take over the kitchen last fall, has some great ideas on his menu: His creamy peanut soup, garnished with tiny chicken croquettes and jalapeno slivers, is an elegant twist on tradition, and bites of tuna banded in seaweed and served as tempura with a salad of pickled ginger are light and luscious. Short ribs are charmingly staged in a little black casserole, with a rainbow of vegetables and a drizzle of horseradish cream. And I applaud a kitchen that (food fashion alert!) serves its savory dishes in two sizes: appetizers are available "small" or "medium," and entrees can be ordered "medium" or "large."
The problem is, you might not want some items in any amount. Roasted prawns, for instance, are chokingly salty, rest on a bed of oddly crunchy red lentils and show no signs of the chili vinaigrette promised in the menu. Pumpkin risotto lacks any evidence of the vegetable. A side dish of black-eyed peas is so sweet it could pass for the third course. Some of the desserts make me wonder when they were made. Peanut butter cheesecake does a great imitation of a stale Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. And a lemon tart is defeated by its bland and rubbery crust. The lunch menu reads like a hotel room service document -- really safe and truly unimaginative.
It doesn't help that the service is inconsistent. One visit, no one bothers to take our coats, which we end up bunching on our chairs. On another visit, a managerial type shows up with our appetizers and informs us, "You'll be seeing a lot of me tonight. An SA decided not to show up." Huh? "Service assistant," he explains. That's TMI -- too much information -- when I'm shelling out $150 for dinner for two. Yet other days, diners dressed in dark clothes are thoughtfully handed black linen napkins, and my coat is ready and waiting as I bid adieu.
Fahrenheit is a Ritz-Carlton property that looks as if W Hotel designed it, and sometimes acts as if the Super 8 were running it.