On a warm Wednesday evening in a well-kept area of downtown D.C., my guest and I arrived at what the Washingtonian declared as D.C.’s 82nd best restaurant, Chef Daniel Boulud’s DBGB. The name originates from “CBGB,” a club that used to be next to Chef Daniel Boulud’s New York restaurant. DBGB is Boulud’s attempt to pay homage to the evenings that he used to spend there.
The steel and glass entrance hall opens into an amber-lit wood-panelled dining area of the self-described ‘French-America’ kitchen-bar. There is a backlit ‘club-style’ bar area, and diner-style seating areas which flank the restaurant’s interior. Along with the gentle undertones of Ministry of Sounds’ deep house compilation, these elements give off the ambience of New York City’s East Village. As for its clientele, DGBG attracted what can only be described as the government extras in Kevin Spacey’s “House of Cards.”
Within less than a minute of being shown to our seats, a young waitress approached us, offering us a choice of either still, sparkling or ice water. She slid an impressive French and American wine list beneath our noses before offering us a selection of disappointingly cold fresh breads, accompanied by a cylindrical serving of salted butter on a small slate slab — a classy touch.
DBGB offers an impressive array of both French and American dishes, and its menu is a little bit bistro, a little bit diner, a little bit fine dining and a little bit je ne sais quoi. Ranging in price, sophistication, taste and style, variety is without doubt its most impressive feature. If you want to eat like a Parisian prince, you may; oysters (market selection), foie gras ($12), truite au aard et auage ($28) and the chef’s selection of artisanal cheeses are all available to you. If, however, you want to keep it strictly stars and stripes, then the Maryland crab ($16) and either the Yankee burger ($15) or the fried chicken ($26) ought to do the trick. This restaurant also boasts an impressive variety of housemade sausages ($13 each), made from either pork or lamb, each with a different accompaniment, such as basil fried rice ($8), or perhaps hash browns accented by a red onion creme fraiche ($16).
Even though this dish was neither American nor French, my guest and I ordered the crispy calamari ($13) to start. Served in a deep, white bowl with a generous helping of a spicy pickled pepper infused kaffir lime cream, the beer-battered squid was magnificently crispy, and wonderfully moreish. Unfortunately however, the extent to which the calamari was fried detracted from the subtlety of what, in my opinion, ought to be a rather delicate dish. I struggled to taste the squid, and after a while I became a bit overwhelmed by the greasiness of this dish.
As for our main course, my guest ordered the overpriced Yankee burger ($15) with a side of french fries ($8). Being the more adventurous party, I decided to indulge in the lamb and mint merquez sausage, served with braised spinach and chickpeas ($15). Both dishes were thoroughly disappointing. My guest described his burger as “nothing special”— an appropriate description for an oversized tomato and a near flavourless beef patty served in a semi-dry sesame bun. As for my dish, the meager lamb sausage was overpowered by the chilli-like sauce with which it was served, and aside from the mint leaf which was inelegantly placed in the centre of the meal, I could hardly taste the mint. The spinach was wet and flavourless, but the chickpeas were remarkably sweet — although they were few and far between.
Thoroughly disappointed by both our starters and our mains, we attempted to salvage what had begun as such a promising evening by ordering the baked Alaska for two ($21). Again, the service was astounding, and in a matter of minutes, our server was dousing a half-baked pistachio and vanilla ice cream dome with a raspberry sorbet center covered in melted meringue with Chartreuse and setting it alight. The meringue was a soft, marshmallow-like texture, perfectly browned by the liquor flame, and although the ice cream was slightly freezer burned, it was exceptionally creamy, and the raspberry sorbet worked wonderfully to lighten a dessert that has the potential to be slightly overpowering.
However, I couldn’t help but feel as though I had just paid for what was just a plate of ice cream which, judging by the speed with which it was delivered and the texture of the ice cream, had been sitting in the freezer for the duration of the evening.
All in all, this restaurant is “all fur coat no knickers”— a place that gives off an air of sophistication whilst lacking the necessary attributes; the class only runs skin deep. DGBG’s service is fantastic, the environment is buzzy, cool and in an odd way, elegant. The presentation isn’t magnificent, but it is good. Yet, as for the food, it was thoroughly disappointing. Perhaps DGBG could better fill its niche by slimming the menu and going a bit more Parisian and a little less New York diner.
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