From all appearances, Hawthorne presents itself as an antidote to all those popular restaurants where you can’t get a reservation after 5:30 or before 10: a good place to know about midweek when you don’t feel like cooking but also don’t want dinner to be an event.
The menu, from veteran chef Dot Steck, takes into consideration that some of us might want seafood (enter steamed mussels in eight guises), some diners don’t eat meat (think tomato soup and falafel) and others might be hankering for steak frites or duck breast. The list is neither too short nor too long, and it’s doled out by a hostess who seems genuinely glad to see you.
Wavy hummus, slicked with olive oil and framed with sails of fried pita, comes with a cute flavoring kit: currants, toasted pine nuts and minced herbs in a shallow tray. I’m digging it. The roasted vegetable salad shows care, too, with precise chopped apples and squash in a mix of arugula and spinach glossed with roasted garlic vinaigrette.
So far, so fine, and isn’t it nice to know about a restaurant with a rooftop deck where you can sip and sup under the stars? Hawthorne, named for the Upper Northwest D.C. neighborhood where co-owner Fritz Brogan met his wife, replaces the four-floor Tabaq Bistro in the U Street corridor.
Come the entrees, however, and things unravel. We place orders for salt cod croquettes and four-cheese pasta, only to have a waiter return and tell us the kitchen is out of both. At 6 p.m.? It might not matter if the food were good, but that’s not the case. I’ve had better Caesar salads in an airport lounge.
The menu suggests fire in a pot of mussels dubbed Green Hornet, but its cloudy liquid smacks of little more than warm water. When I mention the lack of punch, my waiter insists that he dropped off the right mussels. That may in fact be true, but he certainly forgot to deliver the fries, the bread and a bowl for the empty shells, all of which we have to ask for. Dry (but spicy) chicken wings segue to dry (olive-scattered) braised chicken. Might a pastry chef have assembled the lamb sandwich with soft onions and pomegranate barbecue sauce? Despite feta in the filling, the combination tilts sweet. The kitchen seems to be struggling, as does the server who says our bottle of wine is only the second she has ever presented.
Co-owner Reed Landry says the restaurant’s goal is “upscale bar food.” Evidence suggests Hawthorne is barely going through the motions.
1336 U St. NW. 202-853-9194. hawthornedc.com. Entrees, $15 to $24.