27 June 2007

Poste Brassiere, Washington, DC

When I first started Krik’s Picks, I thought I’d be writing a lot more frequently about restaurants in Washington, DC. After all, as I explained in a post on August 31, I travel to Washington regularly for my work at Land O'Lakes. In fact, the name of the blog comes from DC restaurant recommendations that I’ve made for friends, co-workers, and colleagues. So I’m a little surprised myself that I haven’t actually written about too many DC restaurants. As of today, out of 39 restaurant reviews, I’ve written about 12 California restaurants and 18 Minneapolis/St. Paul restaurants. With today’s post, I’ll have five reviews of DC restaurants.

I think that part of the problem is that often in DC, my dinners are working dinners. We don’t necessarily pick a restaurant for its innovative food, and since we spend the meal talking business, I don’t always do a good job of noting my reactions to the food.

Well, not this time. Today I’m writing about Poste Brassiere, located in the Hotel Monaco in the Penn Quarter neighborhood of Washington. A small group of us from Land O'Lakes found ourselves at loose ends after the first day of a conference we were attending. I was assigned the job of finding a good place to eat. I had heard of Poste, and after checking it out on the internet and in the Where Magazine for DC, I suggested we go there. It was an easy four block walk from the hotel where we were staying.

Based on what I’d read, I described the place to the other diners as ‘innovative American.’ I was challenged to define what that meant. Poste describes itself as contemporary brasserie – hardly more descriptive. I still think my description is more accurate. Traditionally, a French brasserie is more formal than a bistro but doesn’t have all of the features of a full-fledged restaurant. Often at a brassiere, menu items are complete meals rather than individual courses like you see at a restaurant.

But the fact is that in America, we hang the labels ‘brasserie,’ ‘bistro,’ café, etc. on the names of eating establishments without much thought about the traditional definition or presumed differences between them. (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the same is true in France.)

When I describe Poste as ‘innovative America,’ I mean creative combinations of flavors, not too heavy on sauces, artful presentation, and easily recognizable menu items. Here’s what we had at Poste. You be the judge if it fits my description.

The three of us started by splitting two appetizers – a grilled kielbasa cut into thirds and a very nice selection of house-made charcuterie. The starters overcame any hesitancy my friends might have had about Poste; they quit caring if it was ‘innovative American’ or ‘contemporary brasserie.’ I thought the charcuterie plate was particularly good. The selection offered a nice variety of styles, and the flavors were also varied,

Both of my compatriots had the hanger steak and ‘pommes frites.’ Hanger steak is a traditional bistro fare. My carnivorous friends loved the steak served at Poste. It was tender, excellently prepared, very flavorful. Pommes frites are often defined as French fries. But the wonderfully prepared, crisp potatos served with the steak at Poste bore very little resemblance to the typical, greasy, mealy fries served at many American restaurants. These were truly exceptional. When we ordered, our server asked if we wanted the frites to be sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Hey! She was talking to a milk producer and a couple of Land O'Lakes staff. Of course we wanted them with parmesan. Wow! That was a fabulous addition.

I decided to go for a fish entrée. I ordered wild bass served with a potato mash (the menu calls it ‘champ’ potatoes) and caper beurre noisette. I didn’t know what that sauce was either. It was light and nutty and the capers added a tangy flavor that really enhanced the fish. So as I was writing this blog, I looked it up. Beurre noisette is a simple butter sauce. The butter is cooked over a gentle heat until the solids separate and begin to brown. It was a great meal.

One of our group was from California, so I asked him to select the wine. He picked a 2003 Clos du Val merlot. It was an excellent choice.

My rep as a restaurant picker in DC was maintained. Poste Brasserie – give it a try.

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