Bourbon Steak Sizzles With Meaty Menu of Options
Washington diners received an early Christmas present in December when Bourbon Steak opened at the recently renovated Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. The newest in chef-restaurateur Michael Mina’s family of restaurants (which includes several other Bourbons Steaks), this is the Washington area’s first chance to experience the work of this heavy-hitting West Coast chef.
To serve as his executive chef, Mina selected David Varley, a culinary whiz from the East Coast who grew up in New Jersey and thus brings an understanding of the seasonal rhythms in resource availability that pose a challenge to working with locally sourced ingredients in the mid-Atlantic region.
Though its name suggests a steakhouse, Bourbon’s appeal is much broader and some of the most memorable dishes have no meat in them at all. Certainly steak is on the menu, and diners can choose from various cuts and sources, including dry-aged New York, American Kobe and Japanese A5 Kobe beef, as well as a lean and tender Buffalo tenderloin.
What stands out among all the meats though is Mina’s preparation — and the key word here isn’t bourbon, but rather butter. Before being put on the oak-fired grill for finishing, beef is slow poached in butter (lamb is done in olive oil and pork in bacon fat) to seal in the flavor and promote even cooking throughout. The results are excellent and the technique works just as well on fish. Firm-fleshed cobia out of Florida fares particularly well under this treatment, coming out rich and buttery with a slight crust on the outside and perfectly moist and tender flakes inside.
From the start this emphasis on fat — the flavorful kind — is clear. Shortly after you’re seated, a tasty trio of duck fat fries — rather than bread — with three dipping sauces arrives at the table. They can be quite a distraction from the menu, particularly the black truffle variety, but press on because there are many other such surprises.
In keeping with the steakhouse theme, the menu offers a number of simply prepared shellfish starters and the ubiquitous lettuce wedge (though with smoked bacon, avocado and blue cheese, it is simple but not plain). Distinctions begin to emerge though with a number of innovative and carefully crafted starters. The root vegetable soup is exceptional, featuring small, even-size chunks of vegetables cooked in a simple chicken stock then, at the table, poured over roasted chestnuts, vanilla cream and green peppercorns. Lobster claw meat, meanwhile, is paired with a small, folded sweet potato crêpe and Thai curry cream. It’s hard to imagine the inspiration for such an unlikely combination but it works wonderfully. So too does the pressed Hudson Valley foie gras that is surprisingly, and deliciously, paired with satsuma tangerine and cauliflower couscous. By contrast, the black truffle tortellini — prepared with Iberico ham, lacinato kale and parmesan, served in a mushroom broth — is a classically elegant dish that would be at home in any fine Italian kitchen. Another classic, the fall-off-the-bone tender ox tail is served with a silken bone marrow custard that melts in your mouth.
Main dishes are as inventive as the starters, with seafood preparations such as seared scallops — accompanied by kuri squash, malted milk, black trumpet mushrooms and hazelnuts — as well as stripped bass, perfectly crisp and accented with a rich romesco sauce, onion brulée, chorizo and Castelvetrano olives.
The duck and pork options demonstrate Mina and Varley’s flexibility and creativity with a single meat. The pork is particularly notable. Pieces of belly, cheek and loin meat are served with caramelized pear, parsnip, arugula and black truffle jus. The preparation highlights the different tastes and textures of each pork part and demonstrates the remarkable range in a single meat. And the pork belly, perfectly crisp and melting on the fat layers, is perhaps the best I’ve ever had.
Bourbon also offers an unusually varied group of sides, all of which are worth trying, especially the Brussels sprouts and leeks. The sprouts are separated into leaves, caramelized and served with small chunks of apple and bacon, while the leeks — baked in vinaigrette under a topping of mustard breadcrumbs — taste almost like young spring asparagus. The black truffle mac and cheese is a sophisticated take on the classic comfort food, while the chick peas — mashed and shaped into fries, cooked in deep fat, and served with harissa — are yet another example of the kitchen’s creativity.
Following Mina and Varley’s focus on elegance in the construction of their dishes, pastry chef Jerome Colin prepares several masterful creations that are as beautiful as they are delicious. Truly outstanding is the passion fruit panna cotta, a sweet but tart creamy custard that is balanced by a small dollop of rich coconut sorbet. Also accented with small chunks of fresh passion fruit and almost paper-thin slices of bright green avocado, the dessert is a pastel pleasure for the palate and eye alike. For chocolate lovers, the bitter chocolate cake is a delectably nice choice. A small cake breaks open to reveal a molten interior of dark chocolate that has been paired with an intense, gritty but not-too-sweet hazelnut ice cream, as well as a smoothly sweet milk and honey chocolate ganache.
Bourbon Steak is located in the space that used to house the Garden Terrace Lounge of the Four Seasons. Transformed by the Rockwell Group, the elegant space is now understatedly modern, with earth tones, natural materials, soft lighting and an open, airy feel. One downside of the openness though is the noise level, which increases with the adjacent bar, already a popular destination.
Still, there is good reason for the popularity. Mina’s staff has put together an excellent beverage program with a diverse wine list that focuses on Burgundy and Rhone, but also offers choices from other major wine-producing regions throughout the world. Bourbon also offers an extensive cocktail menu that includes the classics (they do a really wonderful gimlet), updated classics (the pomegranate side car is an interesting twist), and some totally new creations (try the aviation, built around that mysterious ingredient crème de violette). And of course, in keeping with the restaurant’s namesake, the menu offers a large selection of bourbons.
Though open barely a month, there aren’t any signs of new-restaurant glitches. The staff is skilled, with excellent working knowledge of the menu and superior customer service. Altogether, Bourbon Steak gives Washington diners another good reason to brave Georgetown traffic for a special meal, whether it’s a buttery steak, exotic fish or just a good old-fashioned shot of bourbon.
Rachel Hunt is the restaurant reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.
Bourbon Steak – located in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown 2800 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Phone: (202) 944-2026
Lunch: Daily, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday to Wednesday, 5:30 to 10 p.m., and Thursday to Saturday 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Entrees: to 5
Dress: Business casual, but not too casual
Valet parking: Available with partial validation
About the Author
Rachel Hunt is the restaurant reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.