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Mark Sommelier

Nectar

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I love it when a cool new restau opens in my neighborhood. 2 buddies of mine opened this about 3 months ago. It resides in the old Zuki Moon space, near the Watergate and Kennedy Center. They told the friends to stay away for a while. Being a good boy, I did what they asked. I had lunch there recently and was blown away. 42 seat place. A handful of tables. Very sophisticated food. A fun winelist. The staff was vey well trained. They work quietly and efficiently. Food was awesome: English pea soup with Austrian speck, tiny soft shell jimmies tempura fried with cucumber gazpacho and seaweed underneath, Scuba scallops with chorizo and snap peas. The stinkiest cheese I ever did put in my mouf (called Stinking Bishop or some such). The finale was a warm chocolate milkshake with Grand Marnier that was absolutely nap inducing. Lunch is serene. Dinner might require reservations after Tom's review on 6/22.


Edited by Mark Sommelier (log)

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That's for that review. I will take a group there this Friday.

Will give a detailed report when we get back :)

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Sounds very promising, Mark. I understand they are committed to developing a quality cheese program. Could you comment on the quantity and quality of offerings beyond the stinking bishop?

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I understand they are committed to developing a quality cheese program.  Could you comment on the quantity and quality of offerings beyond the stinking bishop?

The cheese plates we were served had 5 cheeses served with excellent nut bread. All the breads we had were wonderful, especially the taleggio. The cheeses were : goat cheese with ash, Reblochon, a very hard aged English cheddar, an English blue cheese and the stinky one. The stinker was served in a small dish because it was runny like Epoisses. This cheese was so pungent, I had visions of bacteria line dancing on my tongue. :raz: We washed this course down with a Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Spatlese 2002 from the Saar.

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And that worked with how many of the cheeses? Who put together their list?

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And that worked with how many of the cheeses?  Who put together their list?

The spatlese was marvelous with the blue cheese. We had some pinot noirs and chardonnay on the table, also.

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Who put together their list?

Jarad Slipp put the list together. It is maxi-eclectic. Cool assortment of dessert wines, too. This place is worth checking out before they get inundated from the Post exposure.

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It's on New Hampshire Ave, NW, about two blocks from the Watergate and Kennedy Center.

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Woohoo! I'm going this weekend with a friend who's visiting from Seattle.

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I'm stopping by Friday night for dinner.. Looking forward to it!

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This cheese was so pungent, I had visions of bacteria line dancing on my tongue.  :raz:

Can I just say how much I love this description? :laugh: What an image.

I'm looking forward to your report, Vengroff. We're trying Jaleo in Bethesda for the first time on Sat night. We've only ever been to the downtown location. It will be interesting to compare them.

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Yo hjs. I look forward to hearing about the Bethesda Jaleo. I've also only ever been downtown.

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Sorry in advance--rant coming.

The other aspect to this Nectar story--which I find fascinating and has yet to be remarked upon--is that, according to Sietsema in his Post preview, the restaurant is owned by George Washington University. That backstory, that potentially forward-thinking, should be explored by someone somewhere. GWU has always had a very diverse business base. Small eclectic interesting creative restaurant--one of but a handful in DC which could stand on its own terms if dropped into NYC, let alone onto Clinton Street on the Lower East Side--alongside an Alias or Salt Bar or Chubo--and it is owned by a University. GWU! (And I'm a Hoya.) I can't tell you how many times I wondered what would happen if Georgetown University got behind some talented chef in town or behind some of its graduates who later went on to become chefs and set them up in one of their townhouse properties and said go ahead--be consummate professionals and be as creative as you'd like. Make us proud. What a media story--Georgetown rewrites definition of liberal arts graduate. GU owns practically all the properties on those blocks bordering its campus from 37th on out--why deal solely with the culinary dullness of the Tombs and 1789? Why bemoan the lack of serious restaurants in Georgetown and the inability of whichever Marriott spinoff company who holds their on-campus contract to execute interesting fine dining.

Mark--do we know whether GWU owns the space and how Jarad came to be involved with GWU and this space? Is any owner an alum of GWU? Was this pitched to GWU or pitched by GWU?

The closer I look, the more I find that is just a little extra special about this place and I hope it bodes well for even more small, personal, creative cooking in this city. If more restaurants like this continue to open up with "maxi-eclectic" wine lists, willing to do more than nod in the direction of dessert and dessert wine, we just might shake that nagging national perception of second tier food city status--with too many steak houses and franchises and usual suspects mailing it in, a Chinatown that never was, with our once vibrant diverse ethnic and cheap eats now homogenized in order to please our conservative suburban tastes and with our rash of dull American and not-so-"new-American" cooking readily accepted by too many complacent unadventurous palates.

Rant over. Darren--let's have the report of your visit.

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Steve,

This is what I know: GWU owns the building. I live in the neighborhood, they've been buying like crazy recently. They bought the famous Watergate Howard Johnson's and turned it into a dorm. They also own One Washington Circle Hotel. GWU Inn and One Washington Circle are managed by the former owner: Conrad Cafritz/Potomac Hotel Group. The consultant working with the university on the food service in their boutique hotels is my friend Janet Cam. She hooked up George Veitsch at Circle Bistro. She has limited if any involvement at Nectar. The drag part at Nectar is room service and breakfast, by the way. Those are not fun.

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No matter what I think of a restaurant, what really matters can always be boiled down to one simple question: would I choose to dine there again? Sure, there are shades and nuances, choices of appropriate occasion, and so on, but really, that's the ultimate question. It's payoff pitch with two out and two on in the bottom of the ninth. Nectar knocked it out of the park.

Chef Jamison Blankenship and his staff work wonders in their small galley kitchen. Book now for what is going to undoubtedly become a very tough table to secure once all the reviews are in.

Our party sampled four breads, three different appetizers, four mains, two wines, cheese, three desserts, French press coffee, herbal tea, and calvados. There was not a single miss. Everything was intelligently conceived and beautifully executed. Our starters ranged from $9-15; entrees were clustered in the mid twenties.

The evening begins with a roving bread basket reminiscent of the Bouley bakery in its heyday. Offerings included raisin, a soft asiago cheese bread, and a beautifully textured pain de campagne. A crock of soft sweet butter topped with a sprinkling of sea salt allows guests to season their various breads as they see fit.

For me, the transformational event of the evening came in the form of soft-shell crabs. I have been waiting a long time for a dish to convince me that the world of crabs should be viewed as anything more than Dungeness and other. This was the one. Three half-crabs, in a crisp-edged cloud of fluffy tempura, with two dipping sauces and a ginger pickle. The mustard oil dipping sauce put the crabs over the top. They were crisp, smooth, piquant and creamy all in a single bite.

Rounding out the appetizers, the pea soup with speck was springtime in a bowl, from the color to the aroma, to the flavor. Foie gras was seared to just pink inside, and served with thin slices of fresh banana, each with a glassy coating of caramelized sugar on one side. A very nice twist on the fruit and foie motif.

For main courses, we had meltingly-tender braised veal cheeks topped with subtly tea-smoked baby carrots on a butternut squash puree, diver scallops bisected and seared to a perfect golden brown along their cut edge then topped with an arrangement of haricots verts, nuts, and pea pods, a delightfully crispy-skinned filet of char with speck and lentils, and a New York strip, cut lengthwise to reveal a perfect medium-rare interior, then topped with morels.

Along with the steak, Nectar served a side dish that I can only hope points the way for the future of foams--a cup of mashed potatoes topped with a horseradish espuma. The dish was beautifully presented, but with no, "look at me, I'm a foam, isn't that great" pretense. Instead, the espuma simply did what any component of any dish should do; it meshed with the flavors and textures of the other components to produce an enticing whole.

The cheese course is a very carefully designed progression of five cheeses: a goat, a young triple cream, and aged hard cheese, a blue, and a runny stinky cheese. Within this framework, the cheeses are subject to change based on availability and market conditions. It's really a fantastic approach for a small restaurant that had neither the space nor the staff resources to devote to a full cheese cart. It shows that quality cheeses can be presented affordably and effectively. I only wish more restaurants realized this.

Finally, the deserts. The favorite was one listed on the menu simply as oatmeal creme brulee with blueberries. Like the steak, it read as the menu item that was included out of necessity rather than choice. But as with the steak, there was something special lurking behind the banal description. As our server explained, the dish was deconstructed. The creme was presented as a cone, held in place with agar agar. The bruleed sugar was alongside it, in wafers that sandwiched fresh blueberries in a mini Napoleon.

The wine list emphasizes careful selection over expansiveness. Around twenty whites and twenty reds are available, from wine producing regions all over the globe. Our waiter knew each and every one of them inside out. One really nice feature of the list is that everything is available by the glass, half-bottle, or bottle. This makes it very easy to tailor your wine selections to your particular preferences, course selections, and drinking habits.

A selection of French pressed coffees and an assortment of teas are available to complete the evening.

The front of the house staff, from restaurant director and Gordon Ramsay alumnus Jarad Slipp on down, were cordial, knowledgeable, and fluid. The small room was fully booked, but service remained smooth and effective, right down to escorting guests back past the kitchen to the restrooms. In addition to his duties in the front of the house, Slipp is also behind Nectar's pastry offerings, which makes for a very long day indeed.

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Finally, the deserts.  The favorite was one listed on the menu simply as oatmeal creme brulee with blueberries.  Like the steak, it read as the menu item that was included out of necessity rather than choice.  But as with the steak, there was something special lurking behind the banal description.  As our server explained, the dish was deconstructed.  The creme was presented as a cone, held in place with agar agar.  The bruleed sugar was alongside it, in wafers that sandwiched fresh blueberries in a mini Napoleon.

This was the dish that I re-named the "Quivering Nipple".

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Here is Tom Sietsema's review of Nectar.

Remember the thread where Tom discussed umami? It seems he may have been thinking of Nectar at the time.

Note also the point he makes about how chef Blankenship "is a careful shopper and displays enough confidence to let ingredients speak for themselves." We had many of the same dishes Tom mentions, but with subtle variations based on what was available on the day. Blankenship and Slipp do an incredible job of putting bringing the dining experience together, from start to finish.

If you haven't been, get over to opentable.com and book now. It only seats 42, and it's likely to fill up fast once this review hits the streets.

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Fantastic review. The thing is, it does seem Tom has a more inclusive--and more mystical--definition of what umami is. The jinmyo and torakris definitions (following your link) seem a little less inclusive.

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I should also mention that I had my first Gruner Veltliner experience at Nectar. I'm now eager to get my hands on more of this groovy Austrian grape, and find out what it's all about.

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I should also mention that I had my first Gruner Veltliner experience at Nectar.  I'm now eager to get my hands on more of this groovy Austrian grape, and find out what it's all about.

Last year the Wine Spectator called GV the "Sexiest Wine of the Year".

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Ok, I just reread vengroff's post and my mouth is watering. This will be my birthday dinner destination next month. I just wish there was something worth seeing at the Kennedy Center that night. :sad:

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Going to Nectar tonite...Just two of us, and unfortunately one doesn't drink wine. (But at least I'm not paying!!) Any specific standout recommendations? And any wines by the glass you thought were exceptional?

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Sara,

The servers we dealt with were all quite knowledgable about the wine list and how to pair the wines with the dishes on the menu. Also, if you let them know your personal tastes, they can guide you to something on the list that will match them.

Every wine on the list is available by the glass, so even though only one of you is drinking, you can have different wines to match your different courses. As I said above, I thought the GV was outstanding. I also had a Verget that I liked a lot.

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