1731 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20009 (http://www.theriggsby.com/)
* and 1/2 (Satisfactory/Good)
Expectations were high heading into dinner at The Riggsby, Boston-based Chef Michael Schlow’s newest addition to his D.C. contingent (Schlow also owns Tico, the well-reviewed restaurant on 14th Street). My go-to food source, Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post, had high praise for The Riggsby. The Washingtonian had fond words. Friends were excited and noted all the positive reviews being heaped on the restaurant. Located on the bottom floor of The Carlyle, a swanky Kimpton Hotel nestled a few blocks from Dupont Circle, the restaurant had prime real estate and a very cool vibe. If only the quality of the food matched the digs, I too, would be singing the praises of The Riggsby.
Entering the restaurant, which sits right off of the hotel lobby, I get the sense that I’ve stepped into a time machine. With its dark red banquettes, warm woods, mood lighting, white tablecloths, and bright pops of color, the restaurant has a fun and throwback feel to it.
We’re sat right away at a small table, which is tucked rather snugly alongside three others:
chairs on one side, and a long banquette on the other. Service is attentive and informative, but I cannot help but feel as though we’re being pressed for time; turn and burn. After going over the evening’s specials, we decide on to try one of the bar snacks, Homemade Potato Chips, and one of the specials, Duck Confit Hash. The chips, presented alongside a green onion dip, are crisp, but a bore. Even the aforementioned dip does little to justify the snack and its $6 price tag. On the other end of the spectrum, the hash is fantastic. Potatoes, wonderfully tender duck, cheese, and green onions are melded into a singular, savory bite when mixed with the runny yolk of the egg perched atop. Brunch for dinner anyone?
Moving on to the entrees, we decided to go surf and turf: the Seared Scallops for me, the Barrel Cut NY Strip Filet for my wife, and a side of Broccoli Rabe to share. While a perfect course in theory, the dishes fall short in their execution. The scallops, seared to a perfect medium rare, are served with a mixture of mushrooms,
onions, and asparagus – a delicious mix – which also arrive lukewarm. Streaked across the plate is a mushroom emulsion which comes off too acidic; the weakest point on an otherwise solid dish. The NY strip filet, like its seafood companion, is cooked as requested. Unfortunately, it too, is served with a cold side; this time, sautéed spinach. The chosen cut also misses the fattiness and unctuousness normally associated with a NY strip. Without the fat, the texture leans a bit mealy, albeit tender. The broccoli rabe, meanwhile, is a disaster. Cooked with olive oil, garlic, and chiles, I discern none of the freshness of the vegetable. Rather, the not-so-delightful flavors of burnt garlic and heavy-handed chiles completely dominate the dish. A miss on all accounts.
Dessert helped demonstrate some of the promise of the restaurant. Pecan Bourbon Pie has a delicious crust and a filling that is satisfyingly sweet without becoming cloying. Its companion, a bourbon gelato, is a letdown. We get none of the creaminess of a gelato, just the powerful flavor of bourbon. My wife, ever the ice cream lover, can’t bring herself for a second spoonful.
The Riggsby is still young, and still very popular. New restaurants need a chance to grow, to experiment, and to figure out an identity. While there were plenty of misfires during our meal, the well executed cooking techniques leave reason for hope. Bottom line: though far from perfect, The Riggsby offers unique takes on classic dishes and strong technical skills; both of which make it worthy of a second chance.
Atmosphere: The restaurant sits on the ground floor of The Carlyle Dupont Circle, and features comfortable banquettes, warm woods, and fun pops of color. It would be a cool place to grab a drink and a snack at the bar. Service is attentive – sometimes overly so – and informative.
Noise: Lively. With a crowd that ranges from hotel guests to people [like us] rolling in from the suburbs, the restaurant is full of hustle and bustle. While there’s no need to yell, a raised voice will come into play here and there.
Recommended Dishes: Duck Confit Hash, Seared Scallops
Reservations: Recommended. Our dinner, at 6:15pm, had some open tables here and there, but by the time we were finishing our meal, there was hardly a seat to be found.
$$$$ – $100 to $150 for dinner for two