North Gate Grill

American
$$$$ ($15-$24)
North Gate Grill photo
Bill O'Leary/The Post
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Editorial Review

From Twigs, the Hilton branches out with a fresher look
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011

As part of a $30 million renovation at the Capital Hilton, Twigs restaurant has been replaced by North Gate Grill. Its fresh American menu runs from smoked salmon tacos to a hand-carved turkey sandwich with Mornay sauce.

"Everything is new except us old people," my kindly senior server says of the transition. She is a more welcoming presence than the two waiters I overheard arguing in the dining room earlier in the week, when I was also warned on the phone by an in-room dining attendant that lunch ended promptly at 2.

After a 35-year run, "Twigs needed to be renovated. We all knew that," says Chris Cronkhite, the restaurant's general manager. The makeover, unveiled late last month, involves a palette of soft blues and browns and a gallery of outsize photographs in two dining rooms. The pictures - area nature scenes that include cherry blossoms and a snowy forest floor - are meant to emphasize a more local approach by the hotel kitchen, under the watch of chef Daniel Murray, who came to the property in March of last year from the Renaissance Cleveland in Ohio.

The prettiest appetizer is also the most problematic. A trio of hard-shell tacos, presented in a sleek metal rack, shatter upon impact, sending pink bits of smoked salmon, capers and creme fraiche in all directions; not the sort of scene you want for a business meeting. Easier to maneuver (and fun to share) are fritters filled with melted Camembert and sweetened with lingonberry jam.

The main course that least reminds me of hotel dining (that's a compliment) is Murray's juicy, crisp-skinned roast chicken, bedded on grits and served with sauteed kale. An Army-green plate of artichoke-and-goat-cheese ravioli tastes better than what it resembles: "the bottom of a brook," suggests a tablemate. The batter on an order of cod goes soggy moments after it lands on the table, but I'd be happy to eat more of the entree's creamy coleslaw.

The only two dishes to transfer from Twigs to North Gate Grill are the burger and the crab cake, says Cronkhite, although the recipes for both have been updated. My mushy crab cake begs for still more reform.

Named for its proximity to the White House entrance, North Gate Grill is open for breakfast and lunch. Murray plans to roll out dinner service later this month - sufficient time to brush up on his delivery.