Poste, the glossy new ultra-modern American brasserie at the equally glossy new ultra-modern American Hotel Monaco inside the 19th century Tariff Building, has been open less than two months and already Executive Chef Jon Mathieson has one foot out the door.
Ratings: Based on a 1-to-10 scale for food, service, ambiance and price/value; up to 5 domes awarded on the basis of reviewers judgment.
Thats not necessarily bad news, since Mathieson managed to pass on at least some of his considerable culinary talents to his assistants before being lured away this month by an offer too good to refuse, as chef and part owner of a new restaurant in Brookfield, Conn. Whether Postes kitchen will perform as well under his successor remains to be seen, but odds are that it will since the owners are conducting a rigorous national search for a new chef.
PRICES: Moderate: Luncheon prices average $25-$35 per person; dinner $50-$60, for appetizer, main course, dessert and coffee; beverage, tax and tip extra.
A blooming brasserie: Poste is a mixture of the classic and ultramodern.
Mattheison, who earned his toque during a five-year apprenticeship at Lespinasse the one in New York, not the one that went belly-up here two years ago works wonders with some of his dishes. The risotto, made with fat-grained, high-in-starch Arborio rice and served with fava beans and wild mushrooms ($13.50 at lunch, $16 at dinner) is nothing short of sensational, although you can skip the fava beans as far as Im concerned.
So are starters like the warm goat cheese tart with tiny heirloom tomatoes ($9) and the crab cocktail with pickled papaya and green Zebra tomatoes ($11), or entrees like the duck confit with field greens, balsamic and pistachio oil ($15) and salmon paillard with baby watercress and warm herb emulsion ($14), all of which I sampled at several lunches with colleagues and ex-colleagues in August.
Still, even with Mattheisons skilled hand at the range, which is in open view of half the restaurant, there can be mishaps. That was the case with the Atlantic halibut I ordered at dinner one Code Red evening when the temperature was still in the 90s at 7 p.m.
I chose the dish, as I often do, by noting what people at nearby tables were eating. When it arrived, it looked just like the fish my neighbor was enjoying: lightly browned on top and perched atop a bed of haricots verts and baby red and yellow tomatoes, bathed in herb vinaigrette and accompanied by Yukon Gold potato gnocchi ($20). It was served in a white dish the size of a TV satellite dish.
But when I cut into the alabaster flesh, it was obviously undercooked, so I asked our waiter to take it back to the kitchen. He apologized and did so with dispatch, returning shortly with a replacement that was cooked perfectly throughout. Its a superb dish.
My wife, meanwhile, tackled her huge bone-in rib eye steak ($26), which I talked her into ordering because a woman at the next table was eating it and it looked tantalizing. Also, I knew she wouldnt let a recovering heart patient like me order it, and wouldnt be able to finish it and shed take it home and Id have it for dinner the next day which is exactly what happened.
The steak, from Georgetown Farms I didnt know they had farms in Georgetown was served with dandelion greens and pommes frites. I sampled it and although it was great, Ive come to the conclusion that steak, no matter how well prepared, is essentially boring after a few bites.
The best part was the frites, served in a conical metal contraption and wrapped in a page of The Washington Post that proclaimed, D.C. tax-free week! The frites were better than McDonalds, but unfortunately, the tax moratorium applies only to back-to-school clothing and not to food.
We shared an order of Prince Edward Island mussels, served with tiny slices of Serrano chiles, thyme and lemon verbana ($9). But the dish would have been better off without the mouth-searing chiles.
Poste offers some excellent side dishes, including the frites ($4); a succulent summer squash and eggplant combination ($4) that my wife loved, as well as saut