Good news first: The fresh face in the Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City looks nothing like its staid predecessor.
Fyve Restaurant Lounge, which replaced the Grill at the luxury hotel in May, is instead a room of real personality. Get past the noisy lounge that you must stroll through en route to breakfast, lunch or dinner at Fyve, and you'll find a seductive oasis fashioned from walls that appear to pick up their shimmer from spun gold; large, comfortable chairs in burnt-orange fabric; and broad tables decorated with frosted-glass votives. The contemporary art on the walls repeats the autumnal palette, and the wine display in the center of the 45-seat room includes raised globes of flowers.
The chef, Amy Brandwein, hails from Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City, so it is not surprising to receive an Italian-themed amuse bouche (in my case, a marble of cheesy risotto). At Fyve, whose name recognizes the nearby Pentagon, she's looking beyond a single country; thus barbecued shrimp, crab cakes and grilled filet mignon with chimichurri are among the flavors on her evening menu.
So, too, is salt. Did the kitchen mean to douse that barbecued shrimp with so much sodium that the flavors of the sauce and seafood are totally obscured? A side order of golden french fries could double as a deer lick. More bad news: We're asked to order dessert in advance, presumably because the apple tart is baked to order, but what we end up with is a fruit pastry that only Hostess could be proud of. And wines by the glass show faint imagination. Robert Mondavi chardonnay and Beaulieu Vineyard pinot noir are the stuff of airline drink carts, not upscale hotel menus.
The veal chop, a recent special, is plenty tasty, however, and Amy's Purse, cod and a light tomato broth presented in a clear tent of cellophane, gives me a fragrant facial when it's unwrapped at the table.
Why the makeover? The Ritz-Carlton lavished close to $10 million on guest room renovations last year, which left behind a mismatched restaurant, says Jill Torke, the hotel's director of sales and marketing. Next to go under the knife: the meeting rooms on the second floor.
What this food lover would rather see: more focus in the kitchen.
--Tom Sietsema (First Bite, July 9, 2008)
Worth the Trip: Grilled Octopus With Potato Salad
This appetizer could be the best way to work more low-fat, high-iron purple food into your diet. Chef de cuisine Amy Brandwein poaches, marinates, then grills already-tenderized baby octopus from the Mediterranean. Chewy, chopped bits with a slight char are tossed with similarly sized pieces of house-dried cherry tomatoes, celery leaves and Ligurian olives, plus cubes of Yukon gold potatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil. The colors and taste are rich.
Upon request, the chef will leave the tentacles intact, which is the way some of her Italian patrons have told her they prefer their polpi.
-- Bonnie S. Benwick (June 4, 2008)