There just aren’t enough instances in life in which you’re able to proclaim, “I’ll have the pear and blue cheese tart, please!” It’s a shame, really. If the situation presents itself to you, I highly recommend you grab it by the earthy, funky horns and hold on.
That was the end of my meal at Woodward Table in DC, a rather new addition to the Penn Quarter retinue of gastronomic excellence endorsed by my friend Lauren, but I guess I’d better start at the beginning. Namely, this is the ceiling that greets you when you first enter this den of gluttony:
I led a rather large group of colleagues to Woodward – literally led them, as I’ve now stayed at the JW Marriott on 14th so many times, I seem to have become the most familiar member of my team with the neighborhood. Because I was with a group of colleagues, I surrendered to a more traditional mode of dining than I might have if I were with friends. While I kind of wanted to order all appetizers and no entrees, sampling things like crawfish hushpuppies and tuna poke, I succumbed to the charcuterie and fishmonger boards as starters, and then a traditional dinner to follow. But even so, everything that arrived on our Woodward Table was sublime.
I won’t mince words, here. This charcuterie board was gorgeous, and I quite enjoyed the chunky country pates and mortadella – which I explained to my co-workers is grown-up bologna – but it did not outshine the one they’re doing over at the Blue Duck Tavern. A Blue Duck, every morsel melts on your tongue into salty, fatty, ohhhhhh. This selection was a little more rough-hewn, a little less unctuous. All the same, give me a plate of cured meats, some pate, cornichon, and whole grain mustard, and I can’t complain.
I was less a fan of the fishmonger board, as it concentrated on smoked fishes, a genre of food I have just never been able to get on board with. The foundational experience of cleaning out the 30 lb mixer at Chesapeake Bagel Bakery in college after mixing up the smoked salmon cream cheese has just never left me, and the very smell of smoke and fish together turns me off. But colleague B and K were fans, and dug in with gusto, and reported that the house-cured fish and shellfish, cream cheeses, and pickled veg were terrific. I’ll take your word for it, ladies.
I’ll tell you what I could NOT stop eating: the miniature, complimentary dinner rolls our very French waiter brought to the table, with yummy, rich, sweet butter. They were tender, light as air, and that satisfying, pleasing combo of buttery and doughy.
I also need to extoll the virtues of the resplendent side dishes offered at WDT. I ordered the corn with Old Bay butter, and Liz went for the mac and cheese. We were both winners, and passed these back and forth across the table numerous times, even though our entrees provided more than enough food for each of us.
The corn was replete with Old Bay, that most distinctive of seafood seasonings. A little hot, very savory, with the butter and the corn itself fortified with spice, this was a taste of summer. The corn was bursting with the sweetness of summer fields, like you only get with just-picked, in season produce. Fantastic. The mac and cheese was a pleaser as well, thick with sharp cheddar and a well-seasoned mornay sauce, and topped with all-American Ritz cracker crumbs. The depth of flavor showed the hand of someone who cares about mac and cheese truly, and not just to check off a comfort food classic on the menu. It was exceptional, up in the top of the pantheons of mac and cheese with Dinosaur BBQ and The Standard.
For my entrée, I chose the Berkshire pork chop. Obviously. The version of this dish now showing on WDT’s seasonal online menu is different than the version I enjoyed, which was topped with more of that ridiculous, local corn, and anchored by braised kale and pork belly, and some pretty luxurious grits. All the things! The grits and the pork belly cinched this one for me, although it was really that almost obnoxiously fresh corn that brought it all home on the palate. The pork itself was uber thick and cooked just medium well. That mean it was juicy, just pink inside, and both caramelized and crispy on the outside while silky, velvety on the interior. This was not the pork chop of my childhood, for sure. The grits were not the best I’ve ever had – the good state of Georgia still claims all of those champions – but they were dense and creamy, and as a backdrop for the ridiculous, robust greens, so mellow, peppery, and rich, they sang. The faces and yummy noises I was making while putting this plate down were so amusing, Liz thought to take a photo. Luckily for me, it was too blurry to share with you good people. I must have been dancing in my chair, as well.
The other entrée star at our table was the corned beef, ordered by Theresa. Theresa’s a good Irish girl, but you wouldn’t need to be to enjoy this traditional plate that would wow any expat of the Emerald Isle. So many corned beefs just come off as salty, but this was so much more than that. Briny, to be sure, but also packing smoky, beefy, hallmarks and even some earthy floral notes, the meat was juicier than any corned beef I’ve ever had, and the whole plate was just gorgeous. Poor T – we were all sampling her dinner!
Next up, pear tart. If you don’t order this when you go, you and I might not be friends with you anymore. It’s just a matter of time before this thing shows up on Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets. The pastry shell was buttery and flakey, but a mere afterthought to the caramelized, sweet pears, salted caramel sauce which was complex enough to taste of more than salt and sugar, and the mind-bending, seductive blue cheese ice cream. Yes, it was funky, yes, it tasted like cheese, but believe me, there was nothing discordant in this dish. Just as fruit and cheese have been paired together for eons, and honeyed nuts have long served to temper a particularly cranky blue on a cheese platter, the sweet, buttery, salty, rich, and cheesy elements of this tart combined to achieve more than the description suggests. Each bite was a symphony of warm, cold, crisp, soft, savory and sweet sensations. Unique, yes, but not inaccessible.
In addition to all of these wonderful eats, there were really good cocktails, exceptional service, and a cool interior, as if a centuries-old French chateau was renovated by a particularly sensitive hipster. Irreverent, yet classic.
I would easily give Woodward Table a nine on the BHS scale, and I have no doubt my teammates will want to return next summer, when we’re back in the Capitol. You should try it out, too, if you like American comfort food accented by classical French technique and local products – and who doesn’t like that?
I’m in California this week, again for work, but I don’t know if I’ll get to any mom and pop joints in commercialized Anaheim. But next weekend, I’m off to Atlantic City with Big Hungries Jill and Melinda for the Miss America Pageant! We’re eating at Buddakan and Amada there, and I’m sure we’ll hit up some other great places as well, plus I have a review of a fabulous, new-ish Tex Mex place in Ithaca on deck for you, so let’s venture into September, my birthday month, with lots of delicious treats! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!