Uneven Exploration


Hudson Shouldn’t Get Too Comfortable With Its Comfort Food

The prime piece of real estate at 2030 M St., NW, reopened last month after considerable anticipation of what Alan Popovsky, owner of Adams Morgan hotspots Felix and Spy Lounge, would do in the space previously occupied by David Greggory. Named after the early 17th-century explorer Henry Hudson—who in his search for the Northwest Passage made it to this area briefly, with forays up the Chesapeake and Delaware bays—Hudson restaurant and lounge aims to be a home away from home, with plans to offer breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and late-night snacks.

The space is certainly comfortable, with windows offering wonderful city views of the busy corner at 21st Street, so that you almost feel like an armchair explorer watching as the world moves by. The bold colors and art collections of David Greggory have been replaced with a retro chic design concept. Using dark and light woods and a more subdued palate of raspberry, chocolate and cream, designer Belinda Ramos has created a luscious confection. One only hopes the food is as delicious as the décor.

Executive chef Kyle J. Schroeder has created a menu that is eclectic but grounded in the increasingly popular comfort food concept. Although the kitchen offers dishes from far-flung cuisines, in some cases the particular preparations seem to minimize their uniqueness, creating more homogenized versions.

A recent meal began well with scallops—two perfectly cooked large sea scallops sitting atop a ragout of mushroom enhanced with applewood smoked bacon and a mild pistou. But the calamari that followed was frankly disappointing. The two tasty dipping sauces—a spicy tomato and a creamy dill—could not rescue the dish from a cornmeal crust that was hard and squid that was overcooked and dried out.

The mussels, available in two flavors—white wine and garlic or red Thai curry—were plump, well steamed and sand free, but were nonetheless surprisingly bland. With ingredients such as coconut milk, lemon grass, Thai basil and green onions, one expects a bit of a kick, but this unfortunately didn’t emerge above a whisper in the lackluster dish.

The crab cake entree consists of one large cake stuffed with thick chunks of crabmeat bound together with a filling that tastes sharply of mustard and Old Bay, which was a bit on the salty side. A loose jalapeno polenta and sweet-corn coulis added an interesting spicy-sweet dynamic to the dish, and the seared veal chop was nicely cooked, although the tiny round Yukon gold gnocchi were shriveled and dry despite swimming in a barely reduced veal jus. The wild mushroom risotto, meanwhile, sounded inviting with its smoked gouda, grilled asparagus and white truffle oil, but the preparation did not live up to its ingredients. The dish was rather pasty and there was a faintly chemical flavor that we could not place.

Pizzas offer a better option. The crusts are thin and crisp, and the toppings are applied liberally. The mushroom version, with Portobello, shitake and white mushrooms complemented by garlic confit, brie and white truffle oil, is really delicious. The Santa Fe—with hot-grilled chicken, chili peppers, pepper jack, cilantro, black bean and corn salsa, and barbecue sauce—is an interesting Southwestern departure. The Hudson burger—angus beef, served on a toasted brioche with hand-cut French fries—is good but a bit pricey at .

Pastry chef Yasmin Russell is highly capable—a fact that is immediately apparent when the onion-charged parker house rolls arrive to start off the meal. Soft and buttery, they make it clear that comfort is on everybody’s mind here. The biscuits served with the fried chicken entrée tell the same tale.

Russell’s desserts are simple and classic. A root beer float is assembled at the table from a carafe of mild soda, a mug of rich vanilla ice cream and whipped cream from a gleaming dispenser, which the staff treats the same was as the omnipresent large fresh pepper grinder, a nice touch that we can only hopes becomes as trendy as the pepper mill. The chocolate cake is very striking and tasty—a tall slice of many layers of very dark and moist cake sandwiched with a rich genache. The apple pie is deep with layers of crispy apple slices, a buttery crumb topping and a rich pastry crust below.

Mixologist John Hogan is harnessing his creativity at Hudson, concocting drinks with as much care as any chef does with his dishes. And the steady flow of traffic to the bar on several visits suggests he is just as successful in his attempts. Drinks are whimsical and often delicious. For instance, the Better Two Pear—Absolut pear vodka, Bartlett prickly pear puree, house-made sour mix, mint bitters and a dry pear wheel garnish—is sweet and smooth and only falters from the excessive amount of ice in the drink (straight up would work better). The sour apple and cinnamon martini is also a perfect fall libation.

Service at Hudson has been agreeable but erratic, and may be the source of some of the problems with the food. The crab cake, which should have been delicious, was dried out on the outside, almost as though it had been sitting under a hot lamp for a long time—and given how long it took to arrive, that could very well have been the case. The calamari and gnocchi too could have been the victims of poor timing.

Hudson has much going for it: great location and inviting space, creative and talented chefs, willing front-of-the-house staff and a menu concept that’s working well in the area. But the unevenness we’ve observed could spell disaster if the glitches aren’t worked out quickly. In such a competitive market, the honeymoon period is short and Washington diners will soon expect better value than they can get right now. Let’s hope that Hudson has better luck in finding its way and doesn’t end up cast adrift like its namesake.

Hudson 2030 M St., NW (202) 872-8700 www.hudson-dc.com

Hudson’s serves breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner and late-night meals.

Hours: Mon. to Thu. 11 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Fri. 11 a.m. – 2:30 a.m.; Sat. 5 p.m. – 2:30 a.m. ; Sun. 10 a.m. – midnight

Prices: Small plates: – ; Pizzas: –

Main courses: – ; Desserts: –

Dress: Anything goes, and some nights at the bar people take this to heart.

About the Author

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