May 3, 2012 | by Jonathan Howard
Dialing up 901

Mushroom Rahgou, a dish at 901. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

901 Restaurant + Bar (901 9th St., N.W.), is a new Penn Quarter eatery owned by gay D.C. businessman David von Storch. From the moment you step in, you get the sense this won’t be an ordinary dinner, and you’re right. As soon as you arrive, you become a part of the show — a well-choreographed one with moments of unexpected magic and drama.

My partner and I walked in on a Saturday evening. We were whisked to our seats even though another person joining us had not yet arrived. At first, I was disappointed because I was hoping to be seated in the sleek-yet-comfortable waiting area that lurked behind the hostess stand. Our table in the dining area, however, was just as aesthetically pleasing. The dining room is creatively divided into separate eating areas with sheer fabric and lights. From it, you can see the open kitchen with the chefs bustling around. The feel is warm, rich and dramatic.

Envy (Blade photo by Michael Key)

We were delighted by the fact that when you open the menu it lights up. A simple “magic trick” that is both thoughtful and cool. 901 Restaurant + Bar staff brews their own beer so one of us selected the 901 Lager, which was a clean non-hoppy lager that was good but not extraordinary. Two of us selected the “Envy.” When the drinks arrived, the brilliant show continued, because while it is not indicated on the menu, the “Envy” is served over dry ice and arrived at the table bubbling and smoking. The dry ice made this simple-yet-tasty drink noteworthy and I recommend having one just for the fun of it.

The menu is designed for sharing so we selected a few items to split; the Kobe Beef Sliders with smoked cheddar and spicy aioli; the Roasted Hoisin Duck Roll with mozzarella wasabi cilantro sauce and Thai chili crème; the Seared Scallop Risotto with wild mushroom asparagus risotto, bacon jam and sweet soy drizzle; and the Yaki Soba Mushroom Ragout. And since we were having a wide range of foods, we decided to accompany the meal with a white wine — the Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris.

The Kobe Beef Sliders were light and fluffy, perfectly cooked, though somewhat short on flavor. I hoped to taste some of the smoked cheddar or the spice in the aioli. The scallops were quite good and the risotto they were served over was divine. The duck rolls were delightful with the rich flavor of the meat and warmth of the wasabi sauce and chili cream proving a delightful combination.

The winning dish of the evening was the vegetarian Yaki Soba Mushroom Ragout. It was earthy, rich and perfectly balanced — a real treat that paired perfectly with the crispy citrus flavors of the wine. Overall, a very good meal.

The dessert menu was as tempting as the rest. The dessert sampler had coffee and donuts, cheesecake with sour cherries, caramel and chocolate cake and chocolate chipotle brulee. The two strongest desserts on the plate by far were the cheesecake and the brulee. The rich and creamy cheesecake is made with ricotta and goat cheese; the sour cherry compote, candied orange and black cherry balsamic brought this dessert together perfectly with a delicious melding of flavors in every bite. The brulee, with its mixed berries, hazelnuts, Chantilly cream and strawberry coulis was the other star of the plate. The rich warmth of the chocolate chipotle and the refreshing coolness of the berries was an excellent way to end a meal.

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