Nibbles and Sips Around Town: ‘The Occidental, Forever Young’ by Jordan Wright

In the shadow of the White House a special watering hole welcomes celebrities, power brokers and out-of-towners in equal measure. Occidental Grill and Seafood situated beside the Willard Hotel continues its reputation as a swank establishment where legions of notable devotees have long gathered to drink, dine, swap State secrets, and make policy. That it continues to attract both the well-heeled and influential for over one hundred years is a tribute to its reverence for fine food and superb service. But what’s more impressive is, though it boasts a clientele of famous politicians and a roster of international scene-stealers, The Occidental has kept pace with the contemporary food scene. It’s one DC spot that doesn’t rest on its considerably august laurels but continues to forge ahead with innovative American cuisine.

Occidental Grill and Seafood Executive Chef Rodney Scruggs. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Executive Chef Rodney Scruggs has been steering the kitchen’s progress over the past seven years buying locally as much as he can and delivering the kind of elegant dishes his guests expect.  Oysters hail from and sustainable seafood is delivered six days a week from Prime Seafood. On a recent visit he beamed like a proud papa over a tray of biodynamically-raised heirloom tomatoes from Virginia’s Whipple Farms and patiently explained how Molly Visosky’s famers co-op, The Fresh Link a system that links farms, food artisans and farmers markets, provides the restaurant with the best local produce farmers have to offer on any given week. The spectacular steaks the Occidental is known for are from Rosetta Farms in Baltimore County who supply Scruggs with top quality naturally raised meat.

Matt Baker. Photo courtesy of The Washington Loyalist.

The recent hire of Chef de Cuisine Matt Baker ups the game with his edgy twist to food styling and concept. Also new is Mixologist/Sommelier Jo-Jo Valenzuela who is quite literally stirring things up with craft sodas and artisanal cocktails, plucking sprigs from the hotel’s herb garden and hunting down exotic spices, to create infused liquors and bring a fresh creative approach to the overall program.

Lobster roll with fennel at the Occidental. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Last week over Maryland lump crab cakes, yellow fin tuna burgers and lobster rolls with fresh fennel, and pleasantly ensconced beneath hundreds of framed photographs of the restaurant’s legendary clientele, tales of the town were swapped with a convivial group that included Metropolitan Opera star Alessandra Marc, über-defense lawyer and former DC Baseball Commissioner, Marc Tuohey III, National Theatre’s Executive Director Tom Lee, and Sean Graystone who currently oversees the restoration of the magnificent Temple of the Scottish Rite one of DC’s most iconic historic buildings.

As we talked our indoor table looked out over the pretty patio with its royal blue umbrellas and cast iron jardinères and window boxes spilling over with herbs and bright pink flowers reminiscent of a sidewalk café along the Champs Élysées. You could almost sense the city’s original designer, Pierre L’Enfant, smiling down in approval, his vision realized and still very much alive.

 Summer is Peachy Keen at Station 4

Executive Chef Orlando Amaro of Station 4. Photo by Jordan Wright.

 The sleek interior of Station 4 is a fitting stage for the playful cuisine of Executive Chef Orlando AmarorDecor is a mix of campy chic and studied casualness with lipstick red button tuck leather banquettes, honey-toned pearlized leather chairs and shaded chandeliers. The space is large and lively, with a bar that runs the length of the room, but the tables are well spaced, affording easy conversation. On summer evenings opt for the outdoor patio separated from the street by a pathway lined with rosebushes and shaded by white umbrellas.

In honor of National Peach Month Amaro has embraced the summer fruit, giving it a supporting role in any number of dishes. Raw oysters become a cradle for a sweet tart peach mignonette; watercress is the underlying base for a piquant salad with blue cheese and pecans toasted with oregano and cayenne; and seared foie gras meets lightly charred peaches. Of particular note recently was an appetizer of watermelon topped with lump crabmeat, halved yellow grape tomatoes and speckles of dehydrated Kalamata olives – an alluring partner to a glass of Schramsberg Brut Rosé.

Appetizer of watermelon topped with crab at Station 4. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Most conveniently Station 4 is located across the street from the Waterfront Metro Station, next door to Arena Stage, and walking distance from Nationals Park making it a terrific gathering place before or after a boffo show or a winning season Nationals game. Check with the restaurant for Nats ticket promos. 

Piaf Would Love This Place

Chicken with mushrooms and summer vegetables at Bistrot Lafayette. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Along Old Town Alexandria’s well-trodden King Street is where you’ll find Bistrot Lafayette.  A cozy intimate restaurant – a little shabby, a little chic – just how the legendary French chanteuse would prefer. Last week a memorable soupe du jour was cream of spinach served with a dollop of fresh goat cheese and a ribbon of olive oil laced with fresh herbs. Expect to find classics like steamed mussels in white wine as well as roast leg of lamb and duck confit. When the weather turns chilly try the beef bourguignon with a cabernet sauce, or a silken foie gras from Hudson Valley served with pears poached in a soupçon of lemon, honey and five spices.

Every weekend best friends and owners Isabelle Zorro and Marie Sinclair throw a party in their quaint two-story brownstone. Aprés dinner those in the know head upstairs on Friday and Saturday nights to carouse with fellow songsters and Francophiles where live piano accompaniment is in full swing until the last drink is served.

Throughout the steamy month of August Bistrot Lafayette will celebrate their 10th Anniversary with champagne (Mais pourquoi pas, chéri?) offering guests a complimentary glass of French bubbly with each entrée and a full bottle for a table of four.

Cream of Spinach soup at Bistrot Lafayette. Photo by Jordan Wright.

Zorro sends out, “A big thank you to our loyal clientele who have supported us for the past ten years, with many more great times to come!” To that end they are offering another special extending past Restaurant Week. Lunch is $20 for two courses or $25 for three sans the champers.  And Mondays are far from blue with half price on all bottles of wine during dinner hours.

Vive la France!


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