Open seven days a week for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., for dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. AE, MC, V, DC, Choice. Reservations suggested. Complimentary valet parking available. Lunch and dinner entrees $4.95 to $11.50. Full dinner with drinks, tax and tip about $15 to $25 a person.
American kitchens are at last declaring their inence -- this time from the French. American cooking is becoming the stylish cooking of the 1980s. Of course, as with most revolutions, in this new American culinary revolution there are factions: the modernists, the traditionalists and those who try to bridge the two. Thus we have restaurants like G. Pinchot's -- a hybrid, but a most interesting one, and a new old-fashioned American eating house.
First one must discard some prejudices. To dine in a Holiday Inn does not sound like anyone's first -- or even 10th -- choice. But this is a separately owned restaurant within the hotel. Its first asset is its tasteful look; it is a modernized pub, with wood tables and hanging lamps. The tableware is far more stylish than a hotel would suggest, and the large room is subdivided, with much of the seating in booths. It is clean-cut and cozy, with plenty of space for an active bar crowd and quiet dinner.
Even the drinks are out of the ordinary; a tiny bottle of Tabasco is served with the bloody mary, and a lightly alcoholic "fluff" is offered as an alternative to a full drink. The choice of house wines is worthy, the beer selection extensive.
The menu lends itself to nibbling, with appetizers such as nachos, hummos, a lumpfish caviar platter and potato skins. Though most of the food is a cut above standard singles-bar fare, the potato skins are dull stuff. Even more odd, three of the best appetizers -- barbecued wings, chopped chicken livers with cracklings and fish sticks made with real and very good fish -- have been removed from the menu.
Also gone are some very good main dishes, particularly the crunchy fried chicken and the light and moist crab cakes. What's left are some inventive soups (unfortunately watery onion, topped with brie and almonds), sandwiches (roast beef with brie and watercress) and salads (smoked turkey with lingonberries and wild rice, and a high-quality chicken salad that could have used less sesame oil), and that chopped liver, which reappears as a sandwich. The fried chicken has turned into zucchini-stuffed chicken, and the pork chops have been gussied up with cornbread stuffing and apricot honey mustard sauce. Now there is a tempura, veal with mushrooms and madeira and crab-meat ravioli. On the plainer side, there has been a consistently good fresh fish special, a medium-thick and carefully cooked strip steak of decent quality for a mere $13, and a fettucine primavera with bright vegetables and zesty cream sauce that is good enough to overcome primavera boredom. The smoked salmon and onion omelet is soft and moist, with good salmon and a fresh dill decoration; the dish could have been improved only by saut,eeing the onions longer. And there is chili (though it was missing from the menu on several visits). Most important, there are hamburgers. "Our burgers are the best in town," boasted our waitress one day, and she was not wrong. A thick and crusty burger on a pale tan roll was tender, juicy and flavorful. It comes with spinach and provolone with marinara sauce, with blue cheese and red wine marinade, or with jalapenos and monterey jack, as well as the usual versions.
So there are plains and fancies on this menu, and some of the plain things are done unusually well. The oysters and clams come on a bed of ice and a hail of grated fresh horseradish plus an exceptional, original and fresh-tasting chunky tomato sauce. The french fries are tin and crunchy, with the skin left on. Vegetables are the now clich,ed julienned red peppers, zucchini and yellow squash.
As for desserts, they are as rich and gooey as American tradition demands. There are "serious milkshakes" made with Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and such things as apple shortcake and frozen souffl,e. But the killer -- or the one to kill for, as long as clich,es are being bandied about -- is called Chocolatus Maximus. It's a multichocolate bombe of chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate glaze -- a full-blown blizzard of chocolate.
Yep, it's fun -- the kind of place where the milkshakes are serious but nothing else needs to be. The service is sometimes more rushed than dinner would warrant, but it is unfailingly pleasant and comfortable. Perfect? Not by a long shot. But G. Pinchot's has brought bright and fresh cooking that shows what makes American inventiveness such a success.