Tom Sietsema's Dish: A departure at the Jockey Club

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fans of the sea bass balancing wafer-thin sauteed bread and jazzed up with tamarind, cilantro and kaffir lime at the Jockey Club have until Saturday to get their fill. May 15 is the last day for Levi Mezick, the chef who created the luscious dish. He resigned May 5 from the historic venue in the Fairfax Hotel after less than nine months in the kitchen.

"I tried to bring it back," says Mezick, 33, who had been hired by the hotel last fall to add luster and fill empty seats at the recently renovated restaurant at Embassy Row. "It takes a lot of dedication to make a great restaurant," he says, and "commitment has to come from every staff member."

This patron can sympathize. The Jockey Club's union servers, simultaneously intrusive and absent, are poor representatives for his clean and focused cooking. While Mezick was reluctant to go into specifics about why he was leaving, he referred to "staffing challenges" behind the scenes as well.

So did general manager William Washington, who leaves the Jockey Club today. The restaurant veteran plans to return to his former job as general manager at the Blue Duck Tavern in the Park Hyatt Washington.

Mezick will be replaced by the Fairfax Hotel's executive chef, Ralf Hofmann, who will introduce a streamlined dinner menu Tuesday. Hours at the Jockey Club will be trimmed, too: No more lunch after Monday.

Mezick's plans? "I'm hoping to stay in the area," he says. An alumnus of the respected Oceana, Per Se, Daniel and Cafe Boulud, all in New York, the chef has the résumé to open doors. And as anyone who experienced his lush crab salad or robust pork tasting at the Jockey Club might agree, his careful cooking merits serious support.

-- Tom Sietsema

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