Even with so many highly-recommended restaurants out there that we have yet to try, there are some spots we return to time and time again.  Sometimes there’s a specific dish (or cocktail) that keeps us coming back, but more often than not it’s a combination of the food, the service and the atmosphere that makes a favorite. 

Such is the case with Poste Brasserie, the restaurant in the courtyard of Kimpton Hotels’ Hotel Monaco in Penn Quarter.  Situated in the original sorting room of the 1841 General Post Office, Poste calls to mind European settings with its spacious, enclosed courtyard sheltered from the frenetic pace of the surrounding neighborhood.  Cocktails, created by the bar staff, are inventive and tasty, with new classics like the Basil Lemontini and fresh offerings that make creative use of seasonal ingredients.  The commitment to fresh and local ingredients at the bar echoes Chef Robert Weland’s focus in the kitchen, where he creates dishes that can be comforting and high-end (his smoked duck reuben is an all-time favorite) or simple and fresh (a tomato gazpacho served over a dollop of dijon ice cream fills your mouth with the intensity of its flavor).

Weland doesn’t just put the ‘fresh and local’ mantra to use in his menu – he is an ardent advocate who grows his own lettuces, herbs and heirloom tomatoes in the courtyard outside the restaurant and who shops the local Penn Quarter farmers’ market.  Poste has found a great way to reflect this: their “Market to Market” dinner series.  What is that, you ask?  Find out after the jump.

Every Thursday night from now until fall, Poste will be offering a unique experience that goes above and beyond the typical tasting menu.  Patrons gather at the restaurant around 6 PM, where they are met by Chef Weland and escorted to the Penn Quarter Market.  There they get to shadow the chef as he makes his way from vendor to vendor.  It was abundantly clear when we walked with him that this wasn’t just for show – most of the folks in the market recognized him immediately, and he knew many of them by name, as well.

Chef Weland at the Penn Quarter MarketAfter a walk through the market, during which the chef continued to extol the virtues of knowing the people who grow and produce your food (and supporting their local endeavors), we made our way back to Poste and were seated at a table that had been set up in the chef’s garden.  We were then treated to a seven-course menu that was clearly being revised even as the meal went along (a souvenir menu provided at the end of the meal confirmed that some of the courses had been last-minute improvisations).

And it was as delicious as you would imagine such a meal to be.  We began with an amuse bouche that offered bites of hamachi, barbecued pork, and a briny, sweet oyster – familiar flavors to anyone who has dined at the restaurant before.  But the meal quickly veered off into new territory with a green gazpacho made from pureed lettuce that had been growing where we sat just a few hours earlier.  A salad featured more of the chef’s garden topped with candied marcona almonds, fresh local goat cheese and beets.  And then we got into the entree courses, where Chef Weland’s talents really shone through.  He started with a poached halibut served atop a pistou of fiddleheads, lima beans and other green spring vegetables and crowned with a slice of delicious applewood-smoked bacon.  Then he gave us a succulent soft-shell crab that was lightly fried and served with a shot of rich foie gras that complemented the crab’s slightly sour taste surprisingly well.  And although the menu suggests that we were originally slated to have braised rabbit, the chef gave us one more twist with a spiced section of goat’s meat that was tough but not stringy.

For dessert, we were treated to not one, but three different confections, including a sweet banana cake and a pandan ice cream that tasted fresh and grassy without being off-putting.  Finally, when we were satisfied but not uncomfortably full, the evening was capped off with jars of homemade madeleines, brownies and creme caramels, as well as individual jars of strawberry-rhubarb preserves for us to take home.

Coming in at $75 per person, the Market to Market dinner is by no means a cheap evening, but it compares very favorably with other tasting menus around the city, especially when you factor in the fun of touring the market with Chef Weland and the showmanship that goes into the affair.  Biodynamic and organic wines are paired with the meal for an additional $40 per person, though Elizabeth and I were perfectly content to enjoy a cocktail before dinner and then just a single glass as the evening went on.

Without a doubt, this is an experience that locavores and foodies will love and most diners will appreciate.  It’s a great way to celebrate a special occasion (as the three women who dined with us were doing), or simply enjoy the great weather and the vibe of Poste in a more refined setting.

Amuse BoucheSalad with Beets and Goat CheeseGreen Gazpacho

Poached HalibutGoat!Homemade madeleines, brownies and caramels

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