It’s not often that you can consume a history lesson along with your steak dinner. That’s why I’m a fan of the Capital Countdown menu at Charlie Palmer Steak (101 Constitution Ave. NW; 202-547-8100). Each week through January, the restaurant is serving a dinner special ($28-$35) in honor of a president from the past 60 years, usually featuring his favorite food.
This week (through Saturday), the dish is in Lyndon B. Johnson’s name: filet mignon. Starting Sunday and running through Dec. 8, the special is in honor of Richard M. Nixon: beef Wellington. The “Nixon” led me to some amusing historical trivia.
As I learned from executive chef Jeffrey Russell (and my own research), beef Wellington was one of Nixon’s favorite dishes. The English-born meal traditionally consists of tenderloin that is covered in pate and a mixture of mushrooms, wrapped in dough and baked. It was trendy in the U.S. during the ’60s and ’70s, and Nixon is said to have served it at all of his state dinners. (Can you imagine a president getting away with that repetition today?)
Russell gives the Wellington a creative, modern update, simply grilling the beef and topping it with a crispy layer of pastry, a dense knob of foie gras and truffles. Mushrooms and potatoes are served on the side.
No amount of research can tell us whether Nixon would have approved of this significant change. But I’d like to think he would have resigned himself to the fact that this is a better beef Wellington.