23 September 2006

A September lunch at Olives, Washington, DC

I arrived on Tuesday in Washington at 10:30 a.m., on my usual flight. For this trip, I stayed at Hotel Rouge on Embassy Row, walking distance to my meetings on Wednesday. My lunch meeting was cancelled, so I was on my own. I wandered around downtown a little bit and decided on Olives at 1600 K St. NW. If you look at the web site, you’ll see that Todd English has six restaurants called Olives across the United States. I’ve never eaten at any of the others. But I have been to Olives in DC a couple of times. One of the cool things about the restaurant is that it’s two blocks from the White House. It’s impressive to just look down the street and see it as you arrive or as you leave the restaurant.

I decided to have one of the daily specials – trout with a lemon caper sauce served with braised Brussels sprouts and pureed potatoes. The restaurant serves a nice bread basket to nibble on while waiting. The bread is served with a black olive tapenade, a green olive tapenade, and a small assortment of green and black olives. They all were good, but I thought the green tapenade was particularly flavorful. I realized that with the caper sauce on the fish, I must have been in a mood for something salty.

The braised Brussels sprouts were very tasty. But the trout was the best. I’d forgotten how much I like trout. We eat fish quite a lot at home, mostly salmon, tilapia, and various ocean fish. But I grew up eating trout. My grandpa loved to fish, mostly in trout streams that wind through the rolling hills of southeast Minnesota.

I never had the patience for fishing. My idea of fishing was occasional family outings to a ‘trout farm’ near Spring Valley, Minn. We would stand at the edge of a pond stocked with fish, drop in our hooks and within minutes we’d pull out a nice-sized trout. I’m sure my grandpa was mortified.

I discovered that the trout farm went out of business several years ago. A new owner was involved in a controversial plan to reopen the business; he was opposed by sport fishermen who worried that the trout farm would disrupt the fishing in streams that fed the ponds on the farm. The new owner died this summer, and it’s unclear if anyone will pursue his plan any further.

Somewhat ironically, while Gramps loved to fish, he didn’t particularly like to eat fish. But I did. My mom would cook up the trout, usually fried in a cast iron pan. I loved it.

The trout I had at Olives was nicely cooked. It’s easy to overcook trout because the fillets are so thin. But this fish was moist, tender, and very delicate. The caper sauce was a very nice complement to the fish. The trout was served skin side up. That kind of took me aback. I usually take the skin off fish. I ate a few bites including the skin, and it didn’t taste bad. But old habits are hard to break, and I took most of the skin off, exposing a white, succulent, tender fish, almost like lobster.

I enjoyed it very much. It put me in a good mood for my meetings and work the rest of the week.

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