Let’s be real: One of the best parts about having your parents come into town is that they’ll bring you food from home and sometimes take you out for meals at expensive D.C. restaurants. Yes, you welcome the chance to leave campus, where Leo’s, Wisey’s takeout and Kraft mac and cheese have become tiresome usuals, for a more upscale dining experience, just as I did when parents visited me last week.
Since the Hilltop has been abuzz with political chatter concerning November’s elections, I decided to take my parents to The Federalist, a restaurant whose theme and menu are inspired by 18th-centuryAmerica. Located in The Madison Hotel downtown, The Federalist tips its hat to Thomas Jefferson’sepicurean roots by preparing seasonal mid-Atlantic fare and 18th-century delights with a modern splash. Dishes like lobster pappardelle and roasted moulard duck breast are served in a modern farmhouse setting. Whitewashed wood walls, tufted couches and oversized mirrors contribute to the theme with splashes of red, pewter and black.
Upon being seated, a basket of brashly baked corn bread and baguettes graced the table. Deliciously sweet and soft, the meal was off to a good start. My mind drifts to Jefferson enjoying his own cornbread in Monticello, not too far away. Appetizers of lobster hush puppies and grilled Judith Point calamari were delightful. The calamari, seasoned with a roasted garlic puree, was accompanied by handmade gnocchi that provided a tender, satisfying bite. The lobster hush puppies were an upscale rendition of a beach classic: fried cornbread with chunks of lobster and a creamy Vermouth sauce for drizzling.
The Federalist offers entrees guaranteed to satisfy any taste bud — many dishes are even offered gluten free. My dish, the Chesapeake rockfish, was so rich and robust that I could not finish it. The tender, flaky pan-seared fish was layered atop Carolina gold rice risotto with crabmeat. The buttery fish and creamy risotto were the perfect accompaniment. Sides of fresh heirloom tomatoes and baked macaroni were shared among the table. The tomatoes were bursting with ripe, juicy flavor, and the macaroni was unreal — thick pappardelle pasta baked in creamy white cheddar until crispy on top. My mouth watered as soon as the macaroni was placed on the table. In the midst of this gastronomic feast, however, was a glaring blemish. My dad ordered the night’s special, the lobsterpappardelle pasta with a white cream sauce. The dish came out ice cold, and took three attempts of reheating before becoming edible. This is not the sort of service expected at a restaurant featuring renowned Chef Harper McClure. Certainly Thomas Jefferson would not have approved.
The dessert selection helped the restaurant recover from its fall. Fall-spiced fancies of pumpkin custard, quince gallette and chocolate and crepe napoleon were shared among the table. There was no declared favorite: our group of four was equally torn. The chocolate and crepe napoleon featured paper-thin layers of chocolate and hazelnut and was garnished with a dollop of rich vanilla cream spiked with chocolate chips. The quince gallete provided a flaky, buttery crust and soft broiled fruit, while the pumpkin custard was spiced with all of fall’s favorite spices: cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg dance on your taste buds while a ginger biscotti adds a bite to cut the creaminess and the pumpkin seed brittle brings a sticky, chewy sweetness to round out the dish.
The Federalist offers a fresh, delectable feast fit for celebrating — perhaps after your preferred candidate wins on November 6th. The restaurant is definitely worth a meal; hopefully management works out the kinks in service. It may be awhile before I return, but I will definitely keep The Federalist in my repertoire for elegant nights out.