Romance returns to the Iron Gate Inn


At the reincarnated Iron Gate, chef Anthony Chittum offers food that ranges from simple to refined, with four- or six-course tasting menus and a la carte entrees. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
December 10, 2013

From my vantage point on the street, Iron Gate is the most romantic restaurant of this year’s crop of fresh faces. Tall lanterns line the walkway leading to the massive front door, which is partially made of glass and lets me glimpse the zinc-paved bar beyond, a scene in which more lanterns grace white brick walls. Long and narrow — and dreamy — the interior stretch could pass for a hall in an Old World cathedral.

More than a year after Vermilion chef Anthony Chittum and the Neighborhood Restaurant Group announced plans to take over the historic Iron Gate Inn in Dupont Circle, which shuttered in 2010 after an 87-year run, they’ve created a dining destination that gives the chef something he has desired for a long time: “A place where I can play with tweezers” and create refined food, Chittum says, but also a place for diners to get “simple pasta a couple times a week.”

The front of the house is where you’ll find those noodles, on an a la carte menu that brings together house-made crackers with a trio of dips, crisped Jerusalem artichokes stacked in a tiny wire fry basket, nettle-green pasta accented with chilies and clams, plump pork sausage sharpened with fennel and a daily-changing whole animal roasted on a spit. Turkey was the featured beast on a recent visit; a tray of flattering condiments, including sweet potato moutarde, suggested Thanksgiving by way of Greece.

Greece and Italy inform Chittum’s cooking at Iron Gate, no surprise given his wife’s Greek heritage (she’s the one who brought from back home the wild fennel seed from Syros) and the chef’s years spent cooking Italian around town, including at Notti Bianche. Navigate a courtyard exposed to the sky and you find Iron Gate’s handsome main restaurant, the source of two tasting menus. A carriage house in another era, here’s where those tweezers come into play. Tufted red leather banquettes, a peaked roof and shelves displaying a season’s worth of pickles and preserves make for a supremely cozy retreat.

Whether you opt for four or six courses, dinner commences with a flurry of mezze for the table to share: crisp cardoons, octopus terrine, house-baked foccacia. A standout among the entrees is lamb staged three ways: as a mustard-crusted chop, spicy sausage and ragout made with neck meat. A gianduja terrine with hazelnut ice cream has even those of us who don’t care for chocolate licking their spoons.

Chittum is supported by a dream team. Sommelier Brent Kroll, formerly of Adour and the Oval Room, is in charge of Iron Gate’s wine program, while Jeff Faile, late of Fiola, oversees its cocktail list. Without your even asking, Kroll might send you home with the labels of the wines you’ve enjoyed on a sheet of sturdy paper. Gracious touch.

The only problem I see at the moment? Fewer than 30 seats up front and 50 in the back.

1734 N St. NW. 202-524-5202. irongaterestaurantdc.com. Four-course tasting menu $50; six-course tasting menu $75; a la carte entrees, $16 to $45.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.
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