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Monday, May 7, 2007

Thing 32: Corduroy

Have you been wondering where my fancy power lunches have gone? Because I sure was. But then wouldn't you know that a friend of mine just got a job with a pretty big client and voila - a leisurely lunch at Corduroy on a Friday afternoon is in order.

"Have you ever been there? It looks like a hotel restaurant," my coworker tells me before I head downtown.

"But, it is a hotel restaurant," I reply, puzzled.

"Well, you'll see when you get there." And I did. The thing is, for the talented chef that Corduroy boasts, and the beautiful and delicious food that he delivers, the decor looks like a hotel restaurant. The room feels impersonal. It feels like any number of hotel restaurants from Portland to Little Rock to Wilmington. Which is a shame, because the food is really good.

Corduroy: The Interior
When I arrive for our one o'clock lunch, my friend is already there and seated, tucked into the beige banquette running along the far wall of the restaurant. The wall behind her is mirrored, allowing me to scope out the action of the dining room behind me. The waitress comes over to give us menus and take our drink orders. She helps me pick a light red wine offered by the glass, a Cote du Rhone that is delicious and winds up going well with the rest of my meal.

My friend and I open the menus, which are covered in grey corduroy, and spend a long time deciding what we want to eat. It all looks really delicious and we want to take full advantage of my expense account.

After we order, we spend time catching up. My friend was recently married and has just started a new job, so there is a lot to talk about. The woman at the table next to us is dining alone and at one point joins in our conversation. She comments on my digital camera; it's pink and cute as a button (thank you Boyfriend) and she wants to know what kind it is so she can get one too. We talk with her for bit. She's a regular at the restaurant and tells us that we are in for a treat.

Corduroy First Course: Oysters on the Half Shell with Seaweed SaladThe first courses come, and they are beautiful to look at. I've ordered the oysters on the half shell, and six large, fresh Atlantic oysters arrive nestled in a small mound of ice and garnished with a spot of seaweed salad. The Asian salad reinforces the salty taste of the ocean in the oysters and is a nice complement. My friend has the asparagus salad -- six spears of asparagus dressed up with a creamy dressing and some frisee leaves. The pale yellow of the frisee and the bright green of the asparagus, streaked with the white creamy dressing are a beautiful combination on the plate.

Our plates are cleared just as our entrees arrive. Again, mine is beautiful to look at. I've ordered a salad nicoise, the traditional french composed salad with haricots vert (green beans), hard boiled egg, canned tuna, tomato, and olives arranged on bed of lettuce. This version, unsurprisingly, is a bit more modern and sophisticated. In the center of the plate, lightly dressed watercress is piled high and studded with carmelized red onions. The various elements of the salad rest around the watercress -- long, thin haricots verts, tiny black olives that taste like they've been cured in-house with generous quantities of thyme, and two beautifully pink, rare pieces of tuna steak, seared with black pepper to form a crust and garnished with a few large flakes of salt. Two poached quail eggs sit at the very top of the lettuce, replacing the traditional hard boiled chicken eggs. When I cut into them, the soft yoke runs across the greens, dressing them further with their richness.

Corduory Entree: Tuna Steak Nicoise
My friend has ordered steak frites, and while less pretty to look at, the steak arrives glistening and juicy, with a generous portion of thin, golden, crispy french fries. I wish I could tell you how they were, but we both eat selfishly from our own plates, without even offering a taste. We want every bite for ourselves.

Corduroy Dessert: Fresh Berries, Creme Anglaise and Banana SorbetIt is, after all, a late Friday lunch, and being in no rush to get back to our offices we order dessert. Fresh berries with creme anglaise for me, and vanilla creme brulee for my friend. The only disappointment of the meal came in the form of very sour blackberries, and a very skimpy creme anglaise. The blackberries were a disappointment because Corduroy's chef, Tom Powers, is known for using local, seasonal ingredients, and I am disappointed that he chose to serve a fruit that was so obviously unripe. And the very meager portion of creme anglaise -- that rich vanilla sauce made with creme and eggs -- is probably a kindness for diners who may order fruit to stay on a diet, but I love the stuff and wanted more. However, the berries do come served with a homemade banana sorbet which is wonderful and tastes of the concentrated essence of bananas.

Our lunch is drawing to a close, and we've enjoyed the food, the service, and of course the catching up between friends. I pay the bill, which comes to about $90 (including a generous tip), which seems completely reasonable given a glass of wine and three courses each. If you were to scale back the ordering just a bit, you could have a really special and delicious lunch for around $30, from one of DC's better chefs. It is completely worth it.

Side note: I stopped by Eastern Market Day on Sunday, and got my first look at the damage.

Eastern Market: The Damage Eastern Market: Holes in the Roof
There is an easy way to help. Tomorrow, many establishments will be donating a portion of their profits to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Click here for more details, or go out and buy a meal and a round of drinks at any of the following:

18th Amendment
Belga Cafe
Ebenezer's Coffeehouse
Express Business Center & Lounge
Fin McCool's
Hawk & Dove
Lounge 201
Marvelous Market
Murky Coffee
Pour House
Schneider's of Capitol Hill
Science Club
Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar
The Old Siam
The Ugly Mug
Trattoria Alberto
Union Pub
Ventor Sports Bar