Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Dinner at Elysium


Wilfrid
 Share

Recommended Posts

Thanks to a recommendation from Steve Klc, I had dinner at the Elysium restaurant on Saturday evening, and was delighted to be joined by Steve and his wife and Malawry. Elysium is in the Morrison House hotel, a Relais and Chateaux property designed in the style of an eighteenth century mansion, with some period furnishings, and a maze of public spaces - parlor, library, bar and two restaurants, Elysium and a more informal grill room.

Elysium is a small space, which makes it practicable for the chef, Gian Piero Mazzi, to offer bespoke meals. He comes to the table, describes the produce available in the kitchen, consults on preferences, and then retires to send out dishes tailored to each diner. This presents considerably more flexibility than tasting menus which must be taken by the whole table, and might be difficult with larger numbers of covers.

We received eight courses each, by my count, and with the exception of the amuse bouche and the desserts, each diner received a different dish in each course. Even Cabrales would have had trouble noting all this down, especially as each dish was intriguingly garnished - so I'll only attempt to describe my own menu - it goes without saying that Steve and Malawry can, should and probably will correct me:

A pair of amuse bouches of raw tuna and raw escobar

Filet of escobar with English peas

Seared foie gras with sun-dried tomatoes and frisee salad

Buffalo flank steak wrapped in maple smoked bacon, peas and black beans

Salad of corn kernels and crab meat, wrapped in a strip of cucumber

Peach sorbet with pieces of fresh white peach

***

A tray of chocolates and petits fours, including a spong cake coated with coconut, star-shaped lemon jellies, and a delicate version of what the Brits call "cream horns"

I have forgotten a bunch of ingredients, but worse than that I have not written the main dessert in my notes - hence the ***. I remember it came with a delicious syrup - someone help me out. :sad:

Those of us drinking took a wine pairing with each dish - and I was surprised and impressed that different wines came out with the salad -a Riesling - and each of the dessert courses - Sauternes, port; New York wine-pairing menus usually give up at that point. The wine (and water) service struggled to keep pace with the food. The young matire d' and sommelier is a fairly recent arrival - I spoke with him the next morning - a nice guy from South Africa who is still feeling his way.

Highlights: the pairing of foie gras with sun-dried tomatoes, a nice change from the sweet fruit garnishes ubiquitous in NY; the explosive crab flavor in the salad; I liked that dessert too - what the heck was it? And presentation was thoughtul and colorful. Manhattanites might regard it as a steal - the chef-designed menu priced around $67, with the wine pairing $30 plus dollars more - for seven or eight small tastings.

And the conversation piece, which momentarily distressed and bewildered the chef when he saw it, was the bottle of Jamaican Ting soda which Malawary brought for me and which I proudly placed in the center of the table.

:laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wilfrid--the little plated dessert was a tiny jiggly panna cotta with a mostly red berry sauce and brunoise sprinkled about. I agree with you it was by far the most successful of the dessert offerings--which otherwise underwhelmed--and was beautifully presented in the well of a square clear bluish-green glass plate. I, too, enjoyed the small dessert amuse of peach and peach sorbet served in a sleek, sophisticated clear flute most of all. Desserts have improved steadily but remain a weakness.

This was my third time here, the first being on my birthday in March, so I've experienced it now three times in the past 3 months. I remain quite taken with the charm, elegance and accessibility of the place, which belies its formal atmosphere, the intimate dining room of 24 or so seats and especially the enthusiasm of the chef, who is a natural at composing artistic plates. It remains an under-appreciated gem on the DC high-end dining scene and while recognized early on by Washingtonian magazine's Cynthia Hacinli it has not yet been reviewed by the Post's Tom Sietsema. I am sooo very glad it did not disappoint Wilfrid, who, shall we say, was quite nattily attired.

Valet parking service is complimentary (which is nice since Old Town is tough to park in) with polite and charming attendants to greet you instantly at the front gate and also to open the front door for you before you even realize they are aware of your presence.

We dined at the peak of service, about 8:30 by the time we sat down. If you want more face-time with Gian Piero at your table, dine early, say 6PM, and chat away. They call this "A Chef of Your Own." He's careful to ask if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies and a young server takes written notes the whole time in the background.

The bread is still a weakness, typically crappy soft, indistinct rolls and spongy focaccia, made in house. I'd rather they outsource to a bread specialist.

I'll add in and around Wilfrid's comments--the amuse tartars were served on little crisp but indeterminate triangles on a rectangular white flat plate. Elegant. Clean. The rectangular white plates would reappear throughout the meal. I thought pate a brick but Colleen quickly said no. It was a paper thin and perfectly crisp if not identifiable tuile. A pretty good start.

I asked Gian Piero for a little something of each of the fish and shellfish offerings of that day, so he served me a progression from 1) "tuna two ways" with tiny, light gnocchi pillows, a composed salad, several drizzles of wine and balsamic reductions and an herb oil, to 2) another two component dish: an angular piece of escobar filet with seared foie gras resting atop a quenelle shaped watercress panna cotta (a la Thomas Keller--that's my note, not Gian Piero's) which could have been a bit more delicate or smooth. The foie and escobar combination worked AND on the other end of the plate a little stacked scene of a sea bass-type fish assuredly not the politically incorrect Chilean-type with some of Wilfrid's English peas to 3) a "lobster two ways" dish, a piece of a warm roasted tail stacked presented with a cold composed lobster claw/leg meat salad.

(I am a sucker for these cold garde manger-type presentations and commented as such to Wilfrid about how I liked NYC's L'Absinthe so much for that very reason. Neither of us, under the pressure of the moment could remember the exact name of the chef. It's Jean-Michel Bergougnoux.)

Clearly, Gian Piero works the same things from the market, like the peas and beans, or sides like the different risottos and gnocchi, into different combinations/substitutions/additions for each diner and each dish. Loved the way the plates are presented--angled from say 5 o'clock stretching to say 10 o'clock--and with Gian Piero's inherent artistic sense and eye for plating this invariably looks like a little tapestry of color. Refined, stylish, sophisticated and urbane.

Wilfrid had some funky yellow bean cradling his slab of Hudson Valley foie gras--do you remember the name of that bean?

I had the same salad as Wilfrid and found it a gift of cool, clean flavors. I enjoyed the slender yellow corn shoots, too, picking them out and eating them separately.

Service in the dining room has not improved over the course of my three visits--in fact there were all new, young faces in the dining room this time. The previous young faces were earnest, professional and perfectly attentive. If anything, it slid back two steps which I'd attribute to the same things Wilfrid noted--the less experienced maitre'd/sommelier that night rather than the more assured Edward Berriman. We had to wait for our very nicely matched wines too long, too often after several courses were already served.

And Wilfrid, don't forget you were asked if you'd like that bottle of Ting put on ice for you!

The next time I go--I'm picking the wines I want off the list first--and then saying to Gian Piero create a dish around each wine.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wasn't sure whether we should have had the Ting decanted?

Thanks for reminding me of the panna cotta. It is one of my preferred dsserts - Odette Fada used to serve a killer panna cotta with a balsamic reduction at San Domenico in New York, but recently she has bowed to convention and served it with a fruit coulis. And of the subject of New York, yes, M. Bergougnoux, and I think L'Absinthe, despite its bumpy service, is an underrated restaurant.

The big, lemon-coloured bean was called a "dragonhead", for no apparent reason, and it was crisp and sweet. I did remember the corn shoots, but not which dish they accompanied!

Finally, I could kick myself: I typed "tuile", then deleted it because I thought I was probably wrong. You see, Steve, you did intimidate me! :shock:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wilfrid--perhaps you'd like to add a few words about how you found the accomodations as a guest? Were you glad you chose to stay in Old Town, as it turned out, versus downtown DC? And could the action in that raucous piano bar be heard up in your room?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's my husband's birthday tomorrow. We are great fans of tasting menus and wine pairings (the last two birthday dinners were at Galileo and Charlie Trotter's in Chicago). I had been torn between Obelisk and Palena for dinner until I read your reviews of Elysium -- so now I am even in a bigger quandary! Elysium sounds perfect, just like the interactive experience we like. Have you eaten at either Palena or Obelisk? Which would you recommend?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The accommodation suited my taste very well. I spend too much time in efficient but faceless modern chain hotels, so I like fireplaces, four-poster beds and unusually shaped rooms. And I thought the service was a distinct step up from what I would expect in a fairly small hotel. I would never have thought of Alexandria if it hadn't been suggested, but it worked fine. The downtown area of DC is about twenty minutes away by subway (add a ten minute walk to that). I didn't have enough time to snoop around the shops, galleries and cafes of the old town. Next time, maybe.

I cannot, sadly, give an authoritative opinion on whether the piano bar sounds penetrated my bedroom, as of course I stayed there until it closed! :rolleyes:

But I shouldn't have thought so - seems a solidly built place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had a great time at Elysium, and have thought a lot about the foods we ate since the night of the dinner. It was impressive that even Steve and I, who stuck to fish dishes, didn't get the same foods or similar progressions of dishes. I got one dish nobody else got in any form: two large shrimp atop a pan-fried ravioli (I'd asked for ravioli after hearing Chefette's recommendation). There were also some concepts I'd read about but not actually sampled since I thought they wouldn't work, such as risotto with avocado. I was pleasantly surprised that the creamy avocado wasn't lost in the risotto, and that the flavor worked with the rice nicely.

The company couldn't be beat, either. Wilfrid clearly enjoyed all the Ting humor that came out that evening. I'll have to remember to bring it to future dinners out. I enjoyed chatting with him about musicals. Chefette regaled us with tales of learning pastry arts, and Steve offered some suggestions for Wilfrid to use when exploring the BBQ cook-off. After the piano bar kicked into high gear Wilfrid and Chefette seemed to have difficulty not singing along. (Maybe I should have ordered wine pairings with everybody else. Then again, maybe not. :rolleyes: )

A few days ago I was sitting in a waiting room and flipped through a recent copy of Southern Living magazine. There was a one-page feature about Elysium. Basically echoed the pleasant experience we shared.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I restrained my natural melodic gifts once I got into the piano bar. Quite creepy. The trilling tenor voices we had been listening to all evening belonged to these huge, husky 400 lb guys who looked like they could bit my head off between verses. And you told me Murphy's was dangerous!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess I should contribute some thoughts on dinner at Elysium as well.

This was my 3rd visit, and most successful to date I think. Reading about the 'Chef of Your Own' concept initially sounded pretty cool and I was very enthusiastic. Once involved in the evening I started having second thoughts about it. I realized that there are things I really LIKE about having a menu. I realized that many times I order items specifically because of something on the ingredient list like pine nuts, sun dried tomatos, cherries, whatever. It just captures my imagination and I order it. At Elysium, you basically hear about the meat, poultry, fish, etc the Chef has on hand and chat about likes, dislikes, and allergies.

My first visit I had to confess to my rather significant (and for a food person fairly embarassing) list of dislikes (anything that relies on mucus for transportation, anything that derives its oxygen from water, mushrooms, most vegetables despised by children...I know, that basically leaves Chicken, pork, beef, tomatos, corn, pasta, lettuce... :-) But I AM adventurous in my own way.

Oddly, this seemed to inspire the chef to send out exactly the things I did NOT want. I missed the control over my meal available through the menu. I found that getting what I DID want was not so easy. I wanted the duck breast and corn ravioli that Steve got - not the raw fish with whatever that showed up in front of me (dismay).

On my second visit I tried a new approach. I asked about sauces and sides available. This worked a little better, but still did not get me the desired results.

This last time I just sort of let go on it all and just asked for a couple of meats. It worked better I guess .

I know that reading over a tasting menu doesn't eactly tell you what you are going to get, but it DOES give you something on which to base your expectations and prep those ole taste buds.

All, in all I like Elysium but you definitely have to be in the right mind set. Sort of like paying to go to a dinner party.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In light of this, what does the restaurant gain besides a potential marketing concept?

Do you think this concept will eventually be seen as fatally flawed: that it puts too much pressure on the diner to 1) be knowledgeable and proactive rather than reactive (to a menu) and 2) forces the diner to expose--and then rattle off what they don't want rather than what they do?

They save time and expense by not printing up daily menus;

Since they aren't promising certain combinations of things--like the peas with the escobar--on the menu they probably don't have to prep as many portions of things and don't have anywhere near the waste or unused ingredients hanging around.

Anything else?

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1- Many diners might not like what they get, but it seems that most people hesitate to ever complain or be too demanding when it comes to re-working their meal. This is especially true if others at the table are satisfied or even more timid. It leaves the complainer alone with nothing to eat and then you are all out of sequence. There is also the significant '...FEAR FACTOR...' in sending anything BACK TO THE KITCHEN. Argh! WHAT will happen to my food. :shock:

2- There is a built-in audience selection in this concept. Reinforced to some extent by the price point. This will primarily bring in those who the concept appeals to. This does leave the restaurant open to creating disappointment though since it isn't exactly offering what one might think of with a name like "A Chef of your Own" This conjurs up images of specifying to an attentive chef exactly what you visualize as a perfect meal (Side note - try verbalizing this some time. One of the opportunities to get $1000 off your tuition for New England Culinary Institute when I applied was to write a succinct essay on "The Ultimate Meal" Harder to settle on a precise menu - I ended up with Watermelon, seaside table in Tahiti by moonlight, mystery companion in a white dinner jacket...but I digress)

:smile: My POINT here is that, at least at Elysium, the chef isn't really looking to find out specifically what you want. He is looking roughly to determine the base building blocks around which to compose your meal. You get whatever HE decides to give you. I also noticed that the chef might not be as attentive as some diners might desire...on one occaision, I witnessed someone send their plate back - turns out she received something she had specified she was allergic to.

3- Given the above, this is a concept that will fly best in the long run with true foodies who actually will eat - or at least TRY - anything. In this case, why even bother chatting with them? You just sit down implying your consent and they send you food. If there is something you want - or something you do NOT want you are better off with the modicum of control offered through a menu.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, there's an important distinction there. You may have a chef of your own, but it's not as if you are invited to say: "Okay, I want you take whatever fish you've got, and make a fish pie with mashed potato on top. I liked my steak with a fried egg on top. And if you must make sauces, please serve them on the side." It's very much Gian Piero's own agenda, but tailored to your likes and dislikes.

Wouldn't the concept be difficult to execute if there were significantly more covers?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wilfrid--most definitely yes, I think the concept works largely because it is a small 24 seat dining room--and Gian Piero's personalizing influence in that dining room.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Here's another review of Elysium which appeared in the Washington Flyer magazine:

http://www.fly2dc.com/articles/2002/2002_03_dn1.asp

The reviewer, Ben Giliberti, is a very, very knowledgeable wine guy who every other week writes a spot-on wine column in the Washington Post Food section. He added this restaurant gig last year and seems--how shall I put this--less than helpful critically. He's not quite a shill, but to take just one example--he seems to think desserts are a specialty or special treat everywhere! His typical dessert approach? Delectable, outrageously good , gorgeous miniatures, impossible to pick a favorite, not to be missed, truly inspired have all been used recently.

Who knew there were so many really good pastry chefs in this town? I certainly didn't.

And if Ben somehow fails to mention desserts in a review--they must really, really suck rather than just typically underwhelm. They must truly suck in a "Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon" Joe Queenan way of sucking.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Wash Post finally made it over there. Read the review here:

http://eg.washingtonpost.com/profile/97730...ext=restaurants

He says most of the same things we observed about service, timing (especially with the wines), and desserts.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I first posted to eGullet about the Elysium back in March--I reported excellent attentive service even on busy nights. Wines, water, bread, dishes explained, dishes carried and presented properly so no fingerprints found their way onto a rim. Servers were superb--mostly young and female--several were there on R&C internship programs from abroad and had experience at other R&C properties. Edward Berriman was there every time I was.

That's clearly changed since--and over the course of four visits those familiar faces have left and inexperienced, though eager, servers and runners have replaced them. As Wilfrid noted Edward has help now--a green, but charming and earnest recruit from South Africa. It's probably only natural as not too many restaurants have found economic models to support professional waiters anymore even at the level of the finest dining. Still, the young attractive female servers back in March were way better than any of the very attractive but still young male servers who have supplanted them.

I asked Tom Sietsema at the Beard journalism awards dinner if he had been yet and he said no, but that someone else had just reported a great experience there to him as well. Malawry--thanks for the link--his review is eminently fair, well-crafted and does a beautiful job addressing the reservations which potential diners like Colleen might have toward taking a meal there. He clearly "got" the food and the concept--and liked it nearly as much--though perhaps was not as impressed as Wilfrid and I both seem to be, nor did he view the full tasting menu option at $67 as the financial fine dining value we do. My favorite description? "Salads with more of a point of view than most."

I do hope it brings more of an audience to Gian Piero. He deserves it.

He's the problem though--I wish the review ran a month or two ago. No one is in the city right now and July and August are very down times both for restaurant goers and Post readers. I fear this will fly in under the radar and it shouldn't have--Elysium has been doing good work for some time. The Washingtonian magazine Virginia beat reviewer had already written up this new incarnation of a "Chef of your own" at Elysium in January! Six months is too long to wait. It's not like we have so many interesting new restaurant openings or worthy fine dining experiences that this shouldn't have been a higher priority.

It's one of the few new DC delights that we'd be able to point to and say "see, we're not going to stay a second-rate food town for long!"

And a word about the desserts. They're not that bad in the larger context of DC dining. Sietsema could write the same cute line about bringing his flight in for a landing before dessert about the disappointing dessert efforts at numerous other higher end places. At least Elysium employs a baker/pastry chef, Annie Meighan, albeit a bit undertrained and inexperienced at an elite NYC or R&C level, a bit distracted by having to produce all the mediocre breads in house and being asked to work too many hours with too little support at this price point. It's really not her fault--she works her butt off and isn't getting the proper support from her chef or the management to compete properly.

It's not like Annie is Valerie Hill to Susan Lindeborg. In fact, if she were asked to do inelegant unsophisticated comfort-style Majestic Cafe desserts, she'd be every bit as competent as Valerie.

But then, I've said as much to Gian Piero and to the management of Elysium. Now that Sietsema has highlighted it in the Post, I hope they don't make her the scapegoat and instead realize she wasn't part of the problem, the problem was their lack of emphasis on and support for dessert.

Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for posting those reviews. There's a lot of luck in this restaurant game, isn't there? I was just thinking that it would be interesting to see how the Elysium style would work in Manhattan, but I suspect the overheads would make it difficult to work on such a small scale. Maybe a dining room at a hotel? In fact, Peacock Alley used to be so empty, there would have been plenty of time for the chef to discuss the menu with his guests. :sad:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...