D.C.'s modern farm-to-table favorite
Since Blue Duck Tavern opened its modern-rustic dining room in Park Hyatt Washington in 2003, Washingtonians, in-the-know out-of-towners and politicians have clamored for its contemporary farm-to-table meals. Designer Tony Chi incorporated handmade, sleek wood furnishings, creating a gentleman’s farmhouse atmosphere that reflects chef Sebastien Archambault’s market-fresh, ingredient-driven menu.
Between the farm and the table is, of course, the kitchen, and you are treated to views of Blue Duck’s extraordinary toques working in an open area with a gleaming, room-sized French Molteni range and wood-burning oven. That oven turns out everything from Wagyu beef from Snake River Farms in Idaho to roasted baby vegetables from Path Valley, Pennsylvania. (The menu lists each item’s origin, underlining Blue Duck’s commitment to top products.)
Such dishes are served under the watchful eye of Archambault, trained in France under Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy and transplanted to D.C. via Los Angeles’ RH Restaurant. Foodie Washingtonians white-knuckled the short period after Blue Duck’s first and longtime chef Brian McBride announced his departure in 2011, holding our breath to see if favorites like wood-oven marrow bones and BDT fries (triple cooked in duck fat) would stay on the menu. But Archambault, whom McBride has assisted in opening RH, has proved a worthy successor. Loyalists sigh with relief that the high-end, convivial atmosphere and strong flavors with quality ingredients remain as reliable and delicious as ever. Noteworthy additions to the seasonally changing menu include rainbow trout that is first brined, then smoked and finally seared in the wood oven, lending the mild fish complex layers of flavor.
On sunny days, snag a table in the small courtyard that lines M Street — set near a tiny fresh herb garden, it is more casual than the dining room, where servers often place ladies’ purses on small wooden footstools (a lost nicety rarely seen in the most luxury-oriented restaurants).
Blue Duck is one of a handful of high-end restaurants creating memorable dishes any time of day. Breakfast is spectacular, including the short rib hash topped with a sunny-side-up egg and horseradish. The idea that you could cut into the runny yolk and scoop up hash with a housemade biscuit while lying in bed at the Park Hyatt is almost scandalous.
At lunch as well, Archambault’s touch complements Blue Duck’s mainstays, and his dishes have become new staples of their own. The 12-hour suckling pig sandwich arrives from the kitchen with the servers’ efficient ease, betraying the time the meat slowly cooked its way to tender perfection. From its first day, Blue Duck has occupied a slot among D.C.’s destination restaurants, and dishes like the suckling pig ensure its place as a scene stalwart.