“I’ve never opened a restaurant,” says veteran Washington chef Will Artley, whose credits include Pizzeria Orso in Falls Church and Nonna’s Kitchen in the District. “I’m usually hired to fix restaurants.”
Scotts is therefore a departure for the 41-year-old chef. Not only does it represent his first rollout, but the venue also offers a style of cooking new to Artley: English. The “British brasserie,” as he calls Scotts, is the creation of Nevis-based Simon Lowe, an English hotelier, restaurateur and philanthropist. The establishment, which includes a members-only, library-esque club for Scotch fans, follows the space previously occupied by Co Co. Sala in Penn Quarter.
While the chef was given leeway on the menu, “Simon was adamant about a trolley,” says Artley, who returned from almost a year of cooking at the Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach, Fla., to help develop Scotts.
Good call. The silver cart bearing a hunk of meat in rotation — roast beef, leg of lamb, pork rack — is a substantial pleasure, part entertainment, part feast. Conversation pauses as diners watch a server decorate a plate with just-carved slices of roast (crisp-edged rosy beef, in my case), and make it more of a meal with creamed horseradish, Yorkshire pudding and a choice of two vegetables. (Pro tip: Go with the flow and ask for the cream-bound mushy peas.)
But first, you’ll want some sunny Scotch eggs, pleasantly runny and encased in a thin band of Cumberland (pork) sausage, or a salad of endive and grilled onions tossed with crumbled Stilton and sweet pear. The salad gets its edge from the bitter endive and sharp cheese as well as a dusting of red chile flakes. A diner could also throw caution to the wind and tuck into a ramekin of cognac-spiked chicken liver pâté, its surface paved with a shimmering port gelee. There are crab cakes, too, built with Maryland crab and positioned on rémoulade.
BLT gnocchi harks back to Artley’s time at Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria. The dish is rich with truffle cream, bacon and Parmesan, but surprisingly one-dimensional, even with roasted tomato in the assembly. It doesn’t help that the spinach-potato gnocchi are gummy.
That just means there’s more room for the hand-cranked pappardelle, draped with a lovely ragu of wild boar and sweet roasted pumpkin; a fist-size pork shank, rising from a puddle of butternut squash polenta; or a swirl of steamed mussels, showered with crumbled housemade Italian sausage and flavorful from their hot bath of wine, butter and garlic.
Scotts’ English sundae is a nod to the owner, whose favorite childhood treat was vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and slivered almonds. (Kids shouldn’t have all the fun: Indulge away.)
The 70-seat dining room is clubby without being fusty. Sharing the interior with book shelves and tartan pillows are orange chairs and green banquettes, as well as a wall made lively with a mural of floating vegetables.
Lowe, who has a daughter in the Washington area, has every intention of rolling out more Scotts. Next stop, says Artley: Miami, followed by New York and Boston.
“I missed D.C. when I got to Florida,” says the chef. Scotts is proof the scene is better for his return.
927 F St. NW. 202-628-7000. scottsrestaurants.com. Entrees, $16 to $39.