Despite the cast and set, everything is not OK
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011
Med Lahlou did an inventory of his Washington businesses - including Tunnicliff's on Capitol Hill, Ulah in the U Street corridor and Stoney's in Logan Circle - and counted "a tavern, a bistro and a hole-in-the-wall." What his collection lacked, he says, "was something nicer, with a little bit better food."
Station 4, near Arena Stage, is the restaurateur's attempt at something nicer. The managers walk around in suits that I wish were hanging in my closet, while the main dining room brings together red faux-leather banquettes, impressive chandeliers, an electric fireplace and leafy dividers separating drinkers from eaters. (The accents appear to be metal; recycled paper does the trick.)
Lahlou's most expensive dining room to date opened in June in a part of the city that has long lacked reliable dining choices and with a chef, Orlando Amaro, whose online résumé features this tantalizing morsel: "In 2009, Amaro worked under the direction of Chef Ferran Adria at El Bulli in Girona, Spain." During his six-month stint, the bio of the Venezuelan native reads, "Amaro gained priceless knowledge in fine dining and application as well as new techniques and unique ingredients in the use of immersion circulators, hydrocolloids, methocells, and modified starches - all have been proven to inspire the most creative and incredible new dishes."
Precious little of that magic surfaced in a recent dinner at Station 4, which started with breadsticks flavored with dried black olives and continued with a riff on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich using almonds, tomato jelly, foie gras and brioche. (Imagine really sweet French toast with some meat in each bite.) Amaro's "San Francisco style" cioppino is something no Bay Area resident would recognize as the classic robust seafood stew. "At least the kitchen didn't overcook the seafood," said the optimist at the table.
A waiter talks up the octopus, and we follow his lead. The herb-marinated, char-grilled seafood with potato confit cooked in duck fat and a trail of smoked paprika mayonnaise is the best thing we eat all night.
Station 4's pizza may be the worst. The pie is so without charm, we leave all but two slices behind.
Come to think of it, the previously frozen french fries, supposedly cooked in duck fat but revealing no such sign, are mediocre, too. Pappardelle with short ribs, thick and heavy, ignore the reality show outside, where the thermometer is pushing triple digits. A side dish of Brussels sprouts (hey, chef, it's summer!) is overcooked.
"The cast of 'Oklahoma!' eats here," a server tells us as we're paying the bill.