Washington needs more steakhouses like “Real Housewives” needs another spinoff. Yet outsiders keep coming to town with brands they believe to be distinctive. Herewith, some thoughts on two additions to the pack.
DEL FRISCO’S DOUBLE EAGLE STEAK HOUSE
Surely, I thought on an early visit to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, there was a hidden camera trained on my table and a jokester nearby, ready to punk me. How else to explain the young sommelier who suggested an $800 bottle of wine to pair with my meal, or the waiter whose flowery introduction flagged steaks “broiled to perfection”?
While entirely predictable, the menu, from a Texas-based chain, revealed glimmers of promise: I ate more of the 22-ounce bone-in rib-eye than I would have imagined before the succulent slab landed on my table, and admired the careful way with which the kitchen treated sea bass, with shaved raw vegetables on top and a bed of crab fried rice. So back and back I went.
“Best crab cake in D.C., guaranteed,” crowed a waiter, who clearly hasn’t sampled the goods at Vidalia or Boss Shepherd’s. Hyberbole, if you haven’t noticed, is part of the DNA of most steakhouses. Del Frisco’s crab cake, threaded with herbs and red pepper, is respectable if not great, unlike its Caesar salad, a bland bore.
The staff would do better to talk up the lobster bisque, a sensational version that tastes first of seafood, then of sherry and finally hot cream. Hit replay until the bowl is clean. Among the less traditional steakhouse starters: pillowy gnocchi scattered with velvety mushrooms and shredded smoked chicken.
Del Frisco’s buys very good meat, some of it scarce prime. Filet mignon is more about texture than taste; anything with a bone, including the fabulous lamb chops, makes my mouth start to water. The porterhouse weighs in at two pounds and costs $62, but it’s entree enough for three and resonates with beefy character. Servers define the doneness of the meat when you order it and ask diners to verify the grill work by slicing into the steaks once they’re dropped off. Smart move.
Sides are outsize, and mostly terrific. While I had to fish to find the seafood in the lobster macaroni and cheese, the barge of creamy pasta sprinkled with toasted bread crumbs found me removing the load by the spoonful. Glossy sauteed spinach and buttery “Chateau” mashed potatoes are basics done exceptionally well.
Looks matter, and Del Frisco’s knows it. The restaurant’s capacious, charcoal-hued chairs and Jacuzzi-size booths are made for lingering. Handsome green drapes dress the windows, and amber lights lend romance to the ground-floor bar. As vast as the restaurant is — Del Frisco’s counts more than 400 seats spread across several levels — the space feels warm and welcoming. At least most of the time. One night, when my party was about to be seated at a table near the upstairs host stand — and when I could see more than a dozen unoccupied alternatives — I requested a landing place near the front window. Long minutes later, the hostess led us to the desired spot and said, “You’re very lucky to get this table. Very lucky.” (I was also fortunate to encounter, after my maiden meal, a senior sommelier who kept me sipping swell for well under three digits.)
If you can bear the thought of dessert, splurge on the butter cake, one of the best steakhouse endings in recent memory. Served warm on a pool of caramel sauce, the golden confection smells of butter and sugar. A tuft of whipped cream and a scoop of butter pecan ice cream turn comfort into decadence.
The city might not need Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, but half a dozen meals since the restaurant’s fall debut have convinced me of this: Bite for bite, the CityCenterDC arrival offers the finest two-fisted dining around.
Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House: 950 I St. NW. 202-289-0201. www.delfriscos.com/steakhouse/washington-dc.
Open: Daily for lunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and dinner 4 to 11 p.m.
Prices: Dinner appetizers $10-$19, main courses $32-$80.
Sound check: 80 decibels/Must speak with a raised voice.
Among the tasks of a restaurant critic is to judge an establishment based on what it aims to do rather than what the reviewer wants it to be. Before I started typing these words, I went online to see what STK DC, an import from New York, had to say about itself.
“STK’s vibe-driven atmosphere challenges the traditional modern steakhouse mold, with DJs spinning nightly and inspired cocktails to dazzle even the most discerning dining enthusiast” reads part of the venue’s breathless mission statement.
STK, in other words, is a club where grilled beef gets served to the beat of “Don’t You Want Me.”
STK, in reality, is a sad follow-up to Casa Nonna in Dupont Circle, a sprawling, multipurpose meat market whose short name underscores its limitations. A visitor discovers this early in the meal, when he orders steak tartare, ground to a near puree and lacking in any meaty flavor, or foie gras and poached apples atop a raft of French toast, a combination that’s more breakfast sandwich than prelude to a night on the town.
The designer deserves a high-five for the ebony-and-ivory decor, or most of it. The white horns protruding from the wall of the bar look like something the Flintstones might have used for coat hooks. Otherwise, the dining room makes itself swank with low, curvy couches near where the drinks are doled out, and raised seating with circular booths that suggest docked yachts. Glowing in the rear of STK is a small fire. Circling the room are an upbeat bunch of servers who have committed the corporate script to memory.
Meat, at least of the four-legged variety, is generally not a good reason to drop in. With the exception of a juicy rib-eye, the steaks I’ve tried are lean on flavor and sometimes overcooked. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to add the brown steak sauce that rides shotgun with some of the cuts, sweet enough to qualify as a dessert topping. STK’s arid veal chop is a $55 disappointment upstaged by the grilled sweetbreads that top the meat. Twin mini-burgers, said to be made with designer Wagyu beef, mimic Big Macs for all their cheese and a “special sauce” that’s a ringer for Thousand Island dressing. The distractions make it a challenge to taste the meat. Brick roasted chicken on spaghetti squash turns out to be the entree of least resistance.
White foods — twice-baked potatoes, macaroni and cheese — make the best belly-fillers, er, side dishes. In contrast, broccolini comes with enough garlic to scare away half of Anne Rice’s characters. Desserts entice in print, but not up close. Spice cake with caramel sauce and pumpkin-flavored doughnuts will have you scratching your teeth. Both are excessively sweet.
The most consistent dish, the best take-away from all my meals at STK, is gratis: a skillet of warm, pull-apart rolls sprinkled with blue cheese crumbles and deposited with chive oil for dunking. If only I could have stopped there. If only STK were meatier.
STK DC: 1250 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-296-1880. www.stkhouse.com.
Open: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday; dinner 6 to 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 6 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday;brunch 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Dinner appetizers $11 to $20, main courses $26 to $89.
Sound check: 73 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.