Everyone treats themselves, especially around this time of year. You’re in a shop or online, looking for gifts and you see the perfect thing… for yourself. You throw caution to the wind and say "Why not? I deserve this!" Well, as you might have guessed from where it resides, Bourbon Steak DC is like that, a dining treat for the well-deserving individual be it yourself and/or others. An advance look at the menu also confirmed that. It’s not super expensive, but definitely a "steakhouse" and the prices are higher than your neighborhood "steak place" but the dishes are a serious cut above and everything else about the place, service, atmosphere, etc. lends itself to the experience.
Bourbon Steak is a place that could be pretentious, it could be home to horror stories of snooty hosts and maître d’s but clearly chooses not to be so. Still, when the lovely woman behind Adventures in Shaw (Shaw Girl or SG for short) suggested it to our little family of friends, bloggers and foodies, I had a bit of trepidation. I’m a classy enough guy, but it’s so rare that I go someplace really classy. The prices didn’t scare me off so much as the idea of "Will I feel out of place?" The answer was a resounding "No!" but let me back up a bit to explain why.
As anyone should know, the DC foodie crowd is on twitter and we are quite active. As I mentioned the other day, we really appreciate local eateries that have a strong and active social media presence. Not to swipe her story, but SG happened to mention on twitter that she was looking for a local source for duck fat. She soon got a response from Bourbon Steak DC’s twitter account that they would check for her and they came back with an answer. The mere fact that she was just throwing out a question into the wilds and they took it upon themselves to answer encouraged her to check them out and make us a reservation. And when you get the twitter foodies excited about an upcoming meal, we aren’t quiet about it at all. So we were commenting to and about @BourbonSteakDC and they were responding right back. Most notably, I noticed the dress code on the website–I’m not a fan of having to dress up for dinner that isn’t business or a date. I mentioned this on twitter and within 30 seconds Colleen, the person behind their twitter account, sent me a note clarifying things. It’s that attention to hospitality, especially for customers that haven’t even eaten there before, that sets a higher bar for dining out.
I should stop here and say that this entry could never be long enough and certainly won’t be brief. Our experience was that good and I’m hoping that my dining companions write about it as well so that you can read about it from different perspectives.
After a few of us arrived by various means–one slight drawback about the Four Seasons for DC residents is that it isn’t easily reachable via metro–we checked in, checked coats, weren’t admonished for being early and were invited to have a drink in the bar area while we waited for the rest of our party. Oh my word, the bar! It was gorgeous, of course, more of a lounge in and of itself and their cocktail menu is extensive: hand-squeezed juices, small batch cordials, house-made bitters and syrups and house-grown herbs. Enjoyed by our party were a Sazerac, a Corpse Reviver (No. 2), their Hot Cocoa and Spiced Cider. The latter was with Maker’s Mark and the former… I can’t recall. Hopefully either SG or MM will write about it. We were still soaking in the luxury when they informed us that our table was ready and offered to either let us finish our drinks and close out the bill in the lounge or transfer the drinks to our table, both on the bill and literally. They would have gladly taken the drinks over for us and since I was having a stemmed cocktail, I took them up on it. What’s the point of classy if you can’t take advantage of it?
As MM does in his Yelp review, it may be best if I try to break it down into courses and I apologize in advance, because I know I won’t be able to remember what everyone around the table ordered.
I was coaxed into ordering the Fresh Louisiana Gulf Shrimp (Cocktail) by our server who was insidious when it came to our indecision. He never directly suggested we order something, but was instead a gentle and calming voice just over your shoulder pushing you over the edge from an “No, perhaps not” to a “Yes, definitely.” Also around the table were the Iceberg Wedge salad, Ahi Tuna Tartare (prepared tableside) and Roasted Chestnut Soup (with Foie Gras). For those of us not partaking in a starter, they provided lovely house treats: Duck Fat French Fries in 3 seasoning styles with 3 sauces and Truffle Butter Rolls. Truffles are slowly, but surely, making their way back into consumer market, but subtly. Often in–now–not too expensive oils, or butter. I didn’t always have much of a taste for them, but now I can’t get enough when in the right dishes.
There was more than enough of everything to go around and to share. I nabbed a bite of the tuna tartare and a slurp of the soup which definitely wins for at least presentation. The server sat the bowl down and it was empty, save for a few roasted chestnuts and slices of foie gras. Just as I thought to ask “And… where’s the soup?” the server poured it in from a small carafe and the sensory experience tripled. And I was only sitting next to the person that had ordered it.
I believe everyone ordered a steak. It was our first time there, save one, so it made sense to order what they’re named for. We got 16 Oz Boneless Rib Eyes and 14 Oz Dry-Aged New York Strips at varying temperatures. Their steaks are butter poached and then finished on a wood-fired grill. I’ve never had them in that style before and unfortunately it isn’t the kind of thing that’s easy to repeat at home without tons of clarified butter on hand. Our steaks arrived exactly as ordered and when we did order them, our server didn’t talk down to us or turn up his nose when we specified a temperature. He simply confirmed it, told us “that’s pink throughout” or “that’s pink with a warm red center” and that was that. Now, I would like to know what they’ve been advised to say should a customer order a steak in a manner that would–in most opinions–ruin it, but I imagine that they would still be polite about it.
Even though everyone was excited about the Black Truffle Mac & Cheese, their side orders are sort of family style in that one side is definitely bigger than a one-person serving, but you’d still want to order at least one side for every two people. In addition to the mac & cheese we ordered the Red Pontiac Potatoes w/Hand-Churned Butter, Roasted Spaghetti Squash w/La Quercia Prosciutto, Wood-Roasted “Magical” Mushrooms and Sautéed Brussels Sprouts w/Apples & Bacon.
To make a long story short, everything was delicious. I’m not even a fan of spaghetti squash or Brussels sprouts but I had no trouble finishing the modest portions that I scooped onto my plate. My steak was perfectly cooked to medium-rare. Even though it was a Rib-Eye cut and there was some fat, it didn’t have that “strip o’ fat” that sometimes surrounds a steak even in the nicest of restaurants. Tender throughout, nicely seasoned–I usually ask for salt with my steak, didn’t have to this time–and such a thick cut of meat that not only did we make naughty jokes about our steaks, we all had trouble finishing them off.
By now, I have to say that I was full. Honest to goodness, “can’t eat another bite” full. So I passed on dessert, but thankfully the rest of the table wasn’t similarly afflicted and they brought spoons for all of us, anyway. I got to sample a bit of:
- Tiramisu (mascarpone mousse, espresso sponge, cocoa sorbet)
- Bitter Chocolate Cake (hazelnut ice cream, milk & honey ganache)
- Coconut Candy Bar (milk chocolate, praline caramel, Marcona almonds)
- Michael’s Root Beer Float (sassafras ice cream, root beer sorbet, chocolate chip walnut cookies)
Well, not the last one as its owner was pretty selfish–though he did share the cookies, and not the candy bar since I’m not really a fan of coconut. The tiramisu literally made me yell “Shut. UP!” it was so good. Yeah, I know, you can’t take me anyplace nice. An ordered Maker’s Mark on the rocks was low on rocks, heavy on Maker’s Mark–I heard no complaints. Coffee arrived in a cafetière–french press for you yokels–and fresh herbal tea in a small steeping pot. The meal began and ended with elegance, so nice!
I can’t really say enough about how welcome they made us feel. Just because we mention a restaurant over and over on twitter or in our blogs, you don’t really expect them to be responsive or even care. It’s not about getting their attention, it’s about discussing what we love. Even so, Bourbon Steak was very appreciative of us “waving the flag” as the manager said.
In addition to their already great hospitality, they were expecting “the twitter foodie party.” Both the manager and their social media person came out to say hello, welcome us and thank us for choosing the place and talking it up online. I will disclose that they gifted our table a bottle of complimentary champagne, but this was not a payment for the free PR, just in appreciation of it. We’d have eaten there even if their twitter account wasn’t as active as it is. And while foodies appreciate freebies, we never demand them. In fact, as I’ve said before, I think it’s very brave for any restaurant to host foodies, especially those with blogs because we do talk about what and where we eat.
If you’re on twitter, you can ask any of us about our experience: @Shaw_Girl, @floridagirlindc, @mazzie, @theblackdog2071, @stopthepota & @urbanbohemian (me). Some of our accounts are locked to friends-only, but we can still see @-replies. And you can contact @BourbonSteakDC directly with any questions about the restaurant.
And while I’m now biased towards our server, from looking around the dining room, it seemed that each table was getting the same attention to detail, expertise and advice with the menu and their choices and I didn’t see anyone that looked impatient or as if they weren’t having a good time. We were not rushed, our server didn’t linger or completely vanish and the only time he did sort of hover was after we’d requested the bill.
To be frank, it wasn’t cheap. For our party it came to about $100 per person before gratuity. Comparing this to other places you could get steak, or even picking up a nice cut from the butcher, it is high, but every piece of the experience made it worth it. Not that I don’t want to try butter poaching a steak at home, but as I said, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon. Comparing it to the all-you-can-eat Churrascaria downtown which comes to about $50 per person before drinks, this was a bit more upscale and a very different experience. Also, as is apparent from the menu, it is perfectly possible to have dinner there and not spend that much but still have an excellent meal.
This would be an grand (and impressive) choice to have lunch with a client–especially if it’s expensed, or celebrate a special occasion with a group or someone special. If you’re planning a stay (or stay-cation) at the Four Seasons, even though all of Georgetown is available a few blocks away, I’d still suggest you reserve a table at Bourbon Steak.
A good meal, great friends and a restaurant that goes above and beyond to make their guests feel special. It might not be tomorrow, but I’ll definitely make plans to back to Bourbon Steak DC soon!