Fancy Dinner Club has officially expanded! After 31 meals with FDC in Minneapolis, a new chapter has started in Washington, DC. So we’re…still in one state. Crap. Well at least I still get to be represented in Congress and wear flips flops into bars without being ridiculed. Right? RIGHT?!?
To jump start the movement I recruited my new friends Becky and Nico. Becky also happens to run her own food blog in DC (check out The District Table!), so the food photo game for FDCDC is going to be real. For our first meeting, we perused lists of new up-and-coming restaurants in the area and landed on The Dabney, which has become known for their bad-ass in-restaurant hearth they use to cook food. An easy sell.
One unique thing right away is the locale for The Dabney; it’s tucked into a weird alleyway around the corner from the convention center. It seemed like the type of place where you’d need a secret code to get in. Now that I think of it we kind of did need a secret code to get in. It was “I have a reservation.” The Dabney didn’t have a reservation available before 8:45pm for at least two weeks out, so apparently people weren’t having any trouble finding said weird alley. The alley was even more eerie due to all streets being cleared out for the upcoming Nuclear Summit. I’m not sure why that made it more eerie. Who did I think was going to pop out of the shadows? Kim Jong Un? I don’t know. The street was called “Blagden Alley,” which sounded like a place that evil wizards or pirates would hang out, so my sense of unease seemed warranted.
The Dabney feels a lot like the restaurant version of the cool kids table. Not only is it tucked inside one of the odd nooks created by DC’s city planners, but you also have an open view into the kitchen where they were literally cooking things in a giant fireplace. I found my companions sitting at a table with a great view of the haps in the kitchen. I also noticed that the place was still packed for it being 8:45 on a Tuesday night.
We started off the meal with a round of cocktails. I got some drink with egg white and a bunch of ingredients that I didn’t recognize. It was a rare cocktail that got worse as I went through it. The name “Bittersweet Ending” was apt because it got hella bitter at the bottom. Later I got a drink with one of the ingredients listed as “bubbles,” which was also very accurate (and also much tastier). At least you know what you’re going to get. Becky and Nico both seemed pleased with their choices, too.
For the first course, we ordered a meat plate and a pumpernickel toast. The meats were good, though the biscuit and apricot jam that came with were the standouts. We wished we had more of the biscuit; it was quite small. The toast had ricotta, honey, and fancy lil micro greens on it. It was rich and delicious. We also simultaneously received the house ciabatta (free bread!), which actually might have been the best of the bunch. Whatever the butter was with that bread was dynamite. Basically we just hit the bottom level of the food pyramid pretty hard in the appetizer course. Or is it the left side of the food pyramid now? Thanks, (Michelle) Obama.
The next round was pheasant, black bass, and hearth-roasted veggies. The pheasant was super tender, and the mustard seeds, beans, and carrots gave it a nice variety of textures. Lots o’ great flavors. It also came with a little pumpernickel cracker, because The Dabney was super into pumpernickel in that iteration of the menu. The fish was the unanimous favorite dish of the evening. The fish itself was seasoned and cooked perfectly, and it also came with an entourage of ground sausage and lil tiny clams. The real star though, was the broth with the fish. It was kind of spicy and tangy and just ridiculously good. We tried to get the broth into our mouths in any way possible. I went for the scraps of bread left on the table. Nico just went at it with a spoon. Probably a good thing they took that plate away…that broth changes you, man. The veggies were just okay. The presentation was fantastic, but they kind of tasted like a handful of terrarium plants that had just survived a house fire (just go with it). I don’t think it was the preparation that was the issue, there’s just only so much you can do to gussy up a turnip. In other words, as Becky put it, “The vegetable dish was a bit odd. I wanted to see more actual veggies.”
With still a little room for dessert (probably because we didn’t eat all our veggies), we ordered the devil’s food cake. It was pretty damn tasty; I really liked the ice cream and candied ginger that went with the cake, which it did need as it was a tad dry. The cake had a pumpernickel streusel underneath which was a) awesome and b) The Dabney’s way of sneaking pumpernickel into the appetizer, entree and dessert. It was like the chefs were contestants on Chopped, but the producers got lazy and just put only pumpernickel in every basket. Pro tip though: we got our bill soon after, and each person gets a mini ginger snap and pecan sandy with the tab so if you’re looking for something sweet to top of the meal, that’s already built in. The cookies were seriously amazing. Becky even asked for the recipe for the pecan cookies, which the kitchen agreed to do! It did feel like they were messing with us a little bit; it was the recipe the baker uses to make the batch for 250 guests every day, so the first ingredient on the list was something like 4 quarts of butter.
All in all, a pretty successful first FDCDC. I hadn’t mentioned up to this point, but the service was also great all evening. Not too overbearing. Not too absent. Just right. The baby bear of restaurant service. The atmosphere, location, and of course the food were all great, and the fact that The Dabney modifies its menu based on the season changes means there’s always something new (I checked and the pheasant/bass have already been rotated out just a few week later). There’s also something pretty cool about seeing a legit fire place burning in the back of restaurant. In a city with as much history as the nation’s capital, I felt a little piece of that history while we ate. Overall experience at The Dabney was excellent. The food, service, and atmosphere all lived up to the hype and earned it 3.5 out of 4 om noms.