$$$$ ($25-$34)

Editorial Review

It’s not hard to figure out the Sax appeal
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011

Sax might be the only restaurant in Washington to list a choreographer on its payroll.

Like a little action with your yellowfin tuna? Beginning each night around 6:30, the newcomer to downtown accompanies dinner with performances by eight or so dancers who gyrate on a glass-front 20-foot "infinity" stage above the bar. The cabaret - ballet meets burlesque meets Cirque du Soleil - lets the owners take advantage of the cavernous space left behind by Posh but also "add more visuals to just dining," says Nancy Koide, who co-owns Sax in addition to Oya and Sei, both in Penn Quarter.

Sax opened in May with a side of controversy: murals poking fun at official Washington, including one of a bare-chested Bill Clinton cavorting with a familiar-looking brunette in front of the Capitol. Within three weeks, the titillating scenes had been painted over. What remained was still an eye-opener dressed with reclaimed chandeliers, wrought iron, even a big church door. What's not gold leaf is red velvet.

Factor in the ornate balcony seating and the cleavage-baring servers, and you could be in Las Vegas, Versailles, the Playboy Mansion.

The food comes as a surprise. Much of it is more refined than you might expect given everything that surrounds it. A bowl of corn soup arrives with icy islands of red pepper sorbet on its surface. Scallop carpaccio is set off with refreshing grapefruit, biting ginger and a froth of coconut milk. Deeply flavored, shredded braised lamb gets its crunch from red quinoa and sweetness from an apple sabayon. It should come as no surprise that the wine list in this over-the-top oasis tilts in favor of champagne.

Jonathan Seningen, who comes to this kitchen from Oya, knows he faces stiff competition in the dining room. "I have to draw people away from the show and the room and the servers - the eye candy," says the chef, 33.

Good luck, sir.

As our waitress runs down the dessert choices, she purrs her preference for what amounts to a giant petit four: "My favorite is the Saxual chocolate cake."