Tried, true and new at Woodward Table


Chef-owner Jeff Buben calls Woodward Table in downtown Washington a “collective effort” by his team. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)
November 27, 2012

The owner of Vidalia in the West End and Bistro Bis on Capitol Hill says opening a third restaurant, the freshly minted Woodward Table downtown, was “like deciding to have another kid”: a “collective effort” on the part of his company. The addition to the family, says Jeff Buben, meant “an opportunity to grow” for his staff.

In other words, “everybody got a promotion!” jokes the veteran Washington chef and restaurateur, who installed Joe Harran, a former chef at his boss’s Southern- and French-themed establishments, as the culinary chief at Woodward Table. The arrival fits three ideas under one roof: a dining room with more than 200 seats, a bar and a carryout operation, Woodward Takeout Food.

“It was like opening two restaurants in one day,” recalls Buben.

Pumpkin-colored pipes draw diners’ eyes to the broad open kitchen as well as the ceiling. The warm color is repeated in both the leather seating and the bar top. A forest of white-washed oak and several images of tables complete the interior.

With my eyes closed at dinner, I could be at Vidalia. Shrimp and grits fuel the feeling, except the seafood here is barbecue-flavored. Woodward Table’s crisp sweetbreads remind me of the restaurant’s sibling as well, although the dish downtown comes not with golden waffles but with salsify puree and red cabbage marmalade.


Crisp sweetbreads come with a salsify puree and red cabbage marmalade. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Are Buben and crew dishing out just the tried and true? Harran’s smoky-sweet glazed lamb ribs sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds signal they are not. So do his terrific flatbreads, born of the gas-burning oven Woodward Table inherited from the previous occupant at 15th and H streets, Potenza. Blue cheese ice cream, better than it sounds, alongside a pear tart with salty caramel sauce is a departure from Buben’s other locations, too.

Early on, dinner goes down better than lunch, where a slick crab cake overwhelmed with mustard, indifferent battered cod and cloying braised greens generate far less interest.

To the left of the restaurant entrance, the gleaming Woodward Takeout Food finds made-to-order sandwiches and salads along with some raised eyebrows. Buben swears he didn’t know what else the shop’s initials stood for until it was too late to change the signs.

One thing’s for sure: WTF is easy to remember.

1426 H St. NW. 202-347-5353. www.woodwardtable.com. Dinner entrees, $25 to $32.

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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