At Penn Quarter's Menu MBK, the exclusive-feeling six-seat chef's table -- dubbed Kitchen because of its prime view of chefs in action -- is devoting the month to summer's bounty, going all-vegetarian for July.
As with all dinners at restaurant-within-a-restaurant Kitchen, each of the five courses is meant to be a revelatory distillation of a single ingredient. In this case, basil, tomato, and mere lettuce are some of the vegetables getting the treatment from chef de cuisine Keith Cabot. Here is a closer look at two of the courses Kitchen is whipping up.
Sounds simple enough, right? But Cabot, who commandeers Kitchen, has created a plate that combines several treatments of the summertime staple on a single plate. At the heart of the dish is a kind of modernist Jell-O, a clarified tomato gel that doesn't look like much, but tastes precisely like biting into a fresh plum tomato. Dotting it are grilled, greenish oxheart tomatoes; tiny Sungolds Cabot fries till their skins crackle like the wrappers of butterscotch candies; matchsticks of spicy watermelon radish; and tiny cakes of polenta for heft. Cabot adds a touch of Pepto-hued radish-and-tomato vinaigrette, but with the tomato gel working its magic, I hardly needed it.
The first course starts strong, with the sweet, herbal punch of basil, cooked up three ways by Cabot. Inspired by the flavors of the Greek vegetarian staple spanakopita, the chef presents a sampler featuring his own deep-fried dumpling tucked with spinach and chewy, yellow feta from Jersey cows. The next bite might be even better: The kitchen created crunchy, grassy basil meringues filled with a pureed gel of the same spinach and feta; pop in your mouth and it explodes in a sweet, fragrant bite that feels like inhaling the leaves of a sweet basil plant. Vegetarians, however, will take special pleasure in the final bite, a pinched soup dumpling. A Chinese staple typically filled with just enough pork soup inside to burst when bitten, it's filled here with meat-free spinach and basil bouillon.
Dinners at Kitchen are $65 per person. Make reservations by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 202-347-7491.
Vegans: Some, but not all, courses can be made vegan; call ahead to see whether you can be accommodated.
See the full menu below.
liquid dumplings, spinach, feta
vegetable "croutons", grilled onion vinaigrette, glazed little gem
corn sticks, brioche, pea tendrils
pole bean linguini, hazelnut foam
chocolate, candies blossom