Years ago, before I started writing for the Blade, I read Ruth Reichl’s “Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.” I found myself chuckling as this world renowned food critic for the New York Times created extravagant costumes so that she wouldn’t be recognized in New York’s finest restaurants.
All so she could have an authentic experience at every restaurant in which she dined. While I don’t go to this extreme, and I doubt anyone would recognize me anyway, I usually try to remain anonymous so that I get the same dining experience any reader would receive. I never put my name on the reservation, I never conduct in person interviews and I never pay with my credit card. This time, however, was a little bit different because the publicist for Jardenea (2430 Pennsylvania Ave.) contacted me and invited me in for a meal. I hesitated at first, but then decided to accept.
Jardenea is a new “farm-to-fork” concept restaurant in the newly renovated Melrose Hotel and on March 22, its staff launched a new spring menu. The focus is inventive and fresh ingredients sourced from local growers and farmers. The culinary director of the Remington Hotels, Ted Peters, selected young-but-experienced Nate Lindsay as the executive chef. When he came out to the table to speak with us, you could tell that he was passionate about the food he was about to serve and the concept of the restaurant.
I was planning on treating this article as I do all my others: go to the restaurant, sample as many items as possible and see what the overall experience feels like before putting pen to paper (yes, I actually do write out each article before typing it). When I approached the restaurant and the maitre de recognized me and brought us to his “finest table,” I knew things were going to be a little different. From that moment on there were no fewer than three people bustling around our table of four bringing us food, filling up water glasses or pouring us wine. This quiet, unassuming hotel restaurant was suddenly bustling with action.
From the small plate menu, we selected five items: The Chesapeake Bay Crab Bisque, The Jardenea Caesar, the Maryland Crab cake, the cast iron seared Maine Scallops and the lamb meatball sampler. We paired our appetizers with a delicious red wine from local Virginia Vineyard, Breaux. The Caesar salad, which I was told by my dining companion was delicious, was also incredibly artistic in its presentation with a large circular crouton surrounding the lettuce. The crab cakes were crabby, not cakey, exactly as I like them, and the lamb meatballs were a delight when dipped in the sweet stone fruit chutney. Above all else, the freshness of all the ingredients and the flavors was evident.
The main plates menu is divided into four sections: Flight, Fields, Fins and Farm. We selected four entrees: The Bourbon Glazed Manchester Farms Quail, the Jardenea Spiced Ahi Tuna, the Grass Fed Filet of Beef and the Juniper Scented Venison Rack. We only missed the Fields section of the menu, but I almost ordered the Yam Gnocchi because it sounded delightful. Once again, the farm fresh concept was clear with these entrees. The pomegranate essence in the quail-added sweetness to a potentially gamey dish. The beef was tender and moist, but the white truffle potatoes that were served with it stole the show. The spiced ahi tuna was fresh and well prepared but the flavor profile was much too subtle for my liking, then again I am a sucker for bold flavors. To end the meal we selected two desserts, and if you find yourself at Jardenea and the crème brulee is available, do yourself a favor and indulge in this rich creamy dessert.
Lindsay is a talented young chef who has a long career ahead of him in Washington. The dishes that come out of Jardenea’s kitchen are well prepared gems with light fresh flavors. Overall, we were presented with a delightful meal full of local flair. This unsuspecting (and currently unsigned) restaurant is a good addition to the ever-changing restaurant scene in the District, and in a few years, both Lindsay and Jardenea could be serving up masterpieces, not just gems.