The design and food of Jean Louis at Watergate is an understated as Clyde's is flamboyant. Just as Clyde's offers a cornicopia of foods; Jean Louis is very specialized in chef Jean Louis's nouvelle cuisine.
Elizabeth Siber, head of the Restaurant Corporation of America, overseeing all the Watergate restaurants, once was with the World Trade Center. With architects Harper & George of New York, she deliberately planned the small intimate restaurant in the same taste as the food: expert, restrained, sophiscated.
"We're a private club at lunch," she said. (Prix fixe at $20, $25 with wine. Membership $100 a quarter) "Not everybody wants their luncheon dates in the newspaper. We're quiet and secluded." And the docor is planned toemphasis that image.
We came into Jean Louis through the winecaves -- certainly an appetizing entrance. The first cave, enclosed in a glass wall, holds wine cases. On the other side is the cave de jour full of bottles in racks behind glass, controlled to 55 percent humidity, 50-degree temperature. "We had to have the wine storage somewhere," Siber said. "So why hide it?"
"This was a wine barrel restaurant," said Siber. "Tacky, with barrel chairs and a barrel-shaped wall. Actually, the area was designed to be a garage in the first place -- that's why the ceilings are so low. We notice how low it is when a tall man comes in."
Siber decided to have only 12 tables to keep the exclusive, intimate quality and also because the kitchen is small, and the chef is a perfectionist.
The walls are hung with small squares of silk, like hankerchiefs. "The first batch was awful, like dirty laundry," Siber said. A mirrored niche holds flowers. A brass conceals the air conditioning.
A small oriental garden, which actually is the room's light well, holds three Chinese pottery tables and stools.
The glassware was originally designed for the Four Seasons by Bob Minners. The leather sofas are copied from the same source. The chairs also were designed especially for Jean Louis. "We all sat in them and brought people of other sizes to sit in them," Siber said.
She is now planning to redo other Watergate restaurants.
Overton and Ogburn Associates Inc. of Hyattsville were contractors.
Jean Louis' air of quiet privacy and delicious dainties is just right for those who are surfeited with drama and too much fried rice. Besides, where else would you find napkins to match the anchovy butter or vice versa?