Old World Calm


Tabard Inn Restaurant Offers Lush American Cuisine In Soothing Setting

Moments after we entered the quaint and counter-trendy restaurant in the Tabard Inn, we felt a tranquility settle over us as if we had walked into a small European café. But the Tabard Inn, one of Washington’s oldest hotels, is just five blocks from the White House. And like the hotel lobby and sitting rooms you pass through to get to the restaurant, the ambiance of the dining room goes against the current grain of local décor with an interior that is soothing in Old World charm and coziness.

The dining room and bar are in an English basement (which means it’s a few feet below ground), but the section in which we were sitting had windows mounted at ground level that overlooked the restaurant’s outdoor patio in a picturesque courtyard that was defined by a brick garden wall. There were several parties of diners outdoor who were enjoying the first really warm day of the year.

Inside, the ceilings are slightly low and the dining room proper is segmented with connecting arched entryways. Also low was the lighting, which was cast by dim wall sconces and votive candles on the tables, creating a soft midnight glow that made the paintings hanging on the eggshell stucco walls seem shadowy.

We ordered three of what looked like the most unusual appetizers listed on the menu. The house-made potato gnocchi () started us out on the right path with a knockout combination of small potato-stuffed pasta with sautéed sliced wild mushrooms, chopped scallions and cherry tomato pieces in a creamy blue cheese sauce.

The lemongrass coconut chicken soup (.50) was an admirable attempt at a rendition of the honored Thai dish, thom ka kai, with a coconut milk base, lemongrass and chicken pieces, but it was not up to a serving from a competent Thai carryout. Likewise, the arugula and prosciutto salad (.50) was inviting although typical, with shaved parmesan and pickled red pepper chunks.

Because the Tabard Inn restaurant and chef Pedro Matamoros are focused on keeping things simple and seasonal, we tried oysters among the appetizers and a boar chop entree among a sheet of daily specials.

Our waitress was unobtrusive and friendly but did not have a deep knowledge of the food or drinks, although she promised to answer our questions by asking someone who knew.

The presentation was artistic, yet spare and visually appetizing. The rockfish () was masterfully pan fried to a chestnut brown and served with a fine and rich cone of corn flan and sautéed spinach. The grilled wild boar chop () was juicy and enchanting. With a coarse salt crust on one side, the meat lacked any gaminess and was as tender as pork. It was suitably well matched with the accompanying sautéed Brussels sprouts, sweet potato gratin and subtle blueberry sauce.

The prime rib-eye steak () was accompanied by a ribbed mound of potato puree with chives and sautéed string beans. The wallet-shaped slab of steak was cooked medium rare as requested and varied in texture from buttery and tender to lightly marbled with grizzle, depending on where you cut into it.

The seared sea scallops () were cooked in the same expert manner as the rockfish. Three silver dollar-size scallops formed the points of a triangle around a bed of house-made black-ink fettuccine—topped with a spoonful of fire engine-red caviar, all in a pool of a thin sauce made of sweet wine and mussels.

The entrees seemed to go by too quickly and suddenly we were faced with choosing the right dessert. The apple-date sticky toffee pudding cake () was roundly sweet and flavorful and had a combination of flavors that was familiar, but we never figured out what exactly they were.

The chocolate hazelnut praline dacquoise () was a charming variation on the traditional dessert. It was served with crème anglaise, making the whole concoction cool, creamy and decadently rich.

In keeping with Old World tradition after an excellent meal, we ordered two glasses of digestive wine: one white and one red—both delicious. It was the moment when we clinked our glasses that we realized we were in an unusual state for this hectic city: thoroughly satisfied and relaxed.

Tabard Inn 1739 N St., NW. (202) 331-8528

Breakfast: Mon. to Fri. 7 – 10 a.m. Brunch: Sat. 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.; Sun. 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Lunch: Mon. to Fri. 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon. to Thu. 6 – 9:30 p.m.; Fri., 6 – 10:30 p.m.; Sat. 6 – 10 p.m. Dress: Business Casual Note: All major credit cards are accepted.

About the Author

Rachel Hunt and Stephen are the restaurant reviewers for The Washington Diplomat.