When your parents are in town and you’re looking to be treated to some fresh, organic and extremely pricey food after weeks of Leo’s chicken fingers, venture just outside of the Georgetown area to Restaurant Nora, which opened in 1979 as the the first certified organic restaurant in the United States.
Nora offers an eclectic menu mainly focused on upscale American cuisine, but also has a few Asian-inspired main courses such as an Indonesian glazed pork chop, a sake glazed tuna and a Pad Thai noodle dish.
After reading about Restaurant Nora’s approach to “environmentally conscious cuisine,” use of organic ingredients and commitment to local farmers, I expected a modern and trendy environment to match its contemporary food ethos. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the quaint brick building at the corner of Florida and R Street. The interior of the restaurant is reminiscent of an understated neighborhood restaurant that one might find somewhere in a European city. The exposed brick walls and dimly lit dining room gave the impression of a casual dining experience, but the menu told a very different story.
The menu provides guests with an expansive list of dinner choices without being overwhelming. What was overwhelming, however, was the price of the ribeye steak — a whopping $42.
While I opted for the a la carte menu options, my parents went with the set-price tasting menu ($69 total). Their meals consisted of a tower of fresh crab and avocado salad to start, an Asian-style sake glazed Maldives tuna served with bok choy and ginger as a main course and a strawberry shortcake dessert.
The starter was beautifully presented as a cylindrical tower of crab and avocado layers topped with crispy tortilla strips, and it was equally beautifully flavored. It was undoubtedly clear through both the crab and the tuna main course that Nora stays true to its promise of fresh and unprocessed cooking.
I decided to start with the local fried green tomatoes and goat cheese stuffed peppers ($16), followed by the grilled sustainable salmon served with lentils and wilted kale as a main course ($38) and the rhubarb strawberry crisp for dessert ($13).
My starter was also elegantly presented: the bright stuffed peppers sat atop the fried patties of green tomatoes, and the chef finished off the plate with an artistic swirl of vinaigrette. The salmon was perfectly done, and although not executed with the same aesthetic prowess as the starter, made up for looks with the fresh, untainted grilled flavor I was hoping for.
The overall dining experience was excellent. The calm and intimate dining atmosphere was definitely a plus, as was the efficient wait staff who left just enough time between courses for hungry anticipation, but not so much as to yield grumpy impatience.
We encountered few problems apart from the odd lumps of bread offered at the beginning of the meal that looked like they had already been gnawed on, and our unfortunately overzealous waiter serving a medium tuna steak rather than the requested rare.
Restaurant Nora as a whole was traditional without being boring. The healthy, creative and detailed menu options allow for a fun twist on the classic three- course sit down meal. Nora’s cuisine was homey — though more elegant and much lighter than a traditional home style meal.
Restaurant Nora is a restaurant to go to when your parents are feeling generous. Regardless, Nora should definitely make it on your D.C. eatery bucket list for a swanky, fresh and delicious meal.
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