Seasonal Plates Worthy of a Presidential Name
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 22:01
In an 1887 letter describing the deceased United States President Abraham Lincoln, William H. Herndon wrote that “Lincoln’s voice was, when he first began speaking, shrill, squeaking, piping, unpleasant; his general look, his form, his pose, the color of his flesh, wrinkled and dry” But Lincoln, the Vermont Avenue restaurant opened in 2011 by proprietor Alan Popovsky is far from dull and lifeless. Rather, it is a stunning celebration of America’s 16th president, and is bursting with energy and style.
The floors are made of a dazzling array of pennies — whoever said that they never amounted to anything? — and the Emancipation Proclamation, backlit in a soft blue, spans a wall underneath demure Mason jar chandeliers. Additionally, the wall in the adjoining room is a breathtaking American flag mural a la Jasper Johns.) In the center of all of it, the restaurant boasts a massive, custom-made white leather chair, a piece that designer Maggie O’Neill based off the colossal white seat of the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln, much like the man to whom it pays tribute, is incontestably iconic. Bright colors and life radiate throughout the all-American eatery.
Perhaps, however, it is too lively. While its design is impeccable, Lincoln’s noise level is startlingly high; people chatter incessantly while music booms in the background. At times, I couldn’t hear my dining companion from just across the table.
Then again, maybe Lincoln’s diners are just raving about the food, for it is quite good. The restaurant serves seasonal American small plates in a “free flow” style. In other words, whatever is finished in the kitchen is served to the tables. Plates come one after the other. Sharing is encouraged and manageable: For small plates, portions are quite generous. Executive chef Demetrio Zavala receives all ingredients from local farms and even makes a few menu nods to Honest Abe’s favorite dishes.
Pumpkin tater tots ($7) were a decent start, although they were almost arbitrarily seasoned, some noticeably more flavorful than others. But they were forgettable in comparison to the succulent Pennsylvania duck sausage ($10) wrapped in airy puff pastry and served with sharp piquant mustard. Honeycomb and poached lobster made quite the pair in the gem lettuce salad ($14), but while its blood-orange dressing was citrus fresh, it was not nearly as perky as the broccoli rabe with olive oil pop rocks and Romano cheese.
The favorite of the night was roasted lamb ragu ($15); its combination of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi and hearty vegetables was reminiscent of a childhood winter. When the waiter asked if we had enjoyed the dish, my dining companion described it as unbelievable. Although that might be a little too much praise, such a reaction shows that Lincoln’s kitchen is clearly doing something right.
Although the dessert selection isn’t overwhelming, the olive oil doughnuts paired with bruleed fruit, farmers cheese, lime scented honey and powdered sugar ($6) or the bourbon pecan bread pudding make for a succulent way to finish the meal.
The wait staff is similarly above par. Water was refilled promptly. Waiters were efficient and friendly. Dishes were served quickly and waiters were available to answer any questions.
In the end, Lincoln was lively and lovely — it might even be on the way to building its own D.C. legacy. The restaurant is definitely worth a return trip, and not just for the meals: With its vast drink list, Lincoln is especially ideal for happy hour. Sunday brunch is offered, as well as a specified gluten-free menu.
Lincoln now has a sister presidential-themed restaurant that pays homage to Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy and the Bully Bar is bringing progressive cuisine to 19th Street, and Popovsky has shared that a Kennedy eatery is currently in the works. With such new additions, Lincoln might have to take the back burner to its younger siblings. After all, there is far more American history to be eaten.