There’s no gas in the kitchen of the new Cherry restaurant in the W Washington D.C. hotel. If someone were to ask for french fries, chef de cuisine William Morris says he would have to prepare them elsewhere on the property. Cherry doesn’t have a fryer, either.
What the restaurant does have is a 15-foot-long, custom-designed hearth and grill from Grillworks, a design feature that Morris says drew him to the freshly renovated dining room, formerly home to the Mediterranean-focused Pinea.
“We try to make as much as possible in the hearth,” says the chef, whose credits include Vermilion in Alexandria and Bourbon Steak in Georgetown. From the eggs baked with black-eyed peas and ham hocks, a breakfast choice, to “Grandma’s” cherry pie, a dessert selection, the bulk of the food comes with a whiff of smoke or a stripe from the grill — some sign that live fire was involved before it ended up on the table.
This being a hotel restaurant, the list embraces a burger and steaks. But it also addresses mindful diners with a pleasing grain bowl (farro and quinoa with pistachio vinaigrette) and food enthusiasts with several novelties. The most vivid appetizer is sweet pea puree, thinned with coconut water, poured into a blue bowl containing lightly pickled shrimp. If you need cooling off, here’s your solution. Just as revivifying is tuna crudo and compressed grilled watermelon in a fire-and-ice salad slicked with Thai chile oil and garnished with airy chicharrones.
Seafood dishes — simply grilled rockfish with eggplant, wood-fired shrimp — call to me most. The shrimp is joined in its bowl by potatoes, chorizo and green olives, plus a raft of grilled bread for soaking up the juices.
A few items suggest that the kitchen team is still getting a feel for the behemoth heat source. Roast chicken was unevenly cooked the night I ordered it. Morris also combines white and dark chicken with coriander and chorizo spices to make a poultry version of Spam, which he turns into a sandwich with the help of a monster Hawaiian roll. The dish is an acquired taste, and definitely a challenge to tackle. Across the dining room, I spotted someone else trying to bite down on the construction.
Why Cherry? While cherries are the District’s official fruit and cherry wood is used to cook here, Cherry “has a nice ring to it, and it’s easy to remember,” says Garth Welsh, the hotel’s director of food and beverages. The cavernous room is dressed with comfortable padded chairs, soaring windows and splashes of orange, in the form of glass globes and a glow near the ceiling, that underscore the restaurant’s fire theme. Look closely and you’ll see that the wood-stoked ovens facing the dining room are shiny with thousands of pennies, a nod to the nearby Treasury Building. Welsh says the owners spent $50 million to redo the entire hotel, with other draws including Corner Office, a casual watering hole serving pizzas and craft beers.
The six-bottle wine list I got shortly after opening has been expanded, thank goodness, and I can only hope subsequent customers don’t have to deal with the inaugural clamor. I’m all for live music in the lobby, but not when it follows me into the restaurant, where even a seat in a distant corner feels like a boombox. “No business meetings here!” a companion shouted across the table.
515 15th St. NW. 202-661-2400. Dinner entrees, $26 to $99 (for dry-aged rib-eye).