Tucked among office buildings housing lawyers and doctors and adjacent to the Park Hyatt in the West End is the Blue Duck Tavern. Calling this restaurant a “tavern” is a bit of a misnomer with its high ceilings, natural light and open floor plan. Still, the homespun emphasis comes through in the menu and Americana touches like quilts on the wall and Shaker-style benches (the overall effect is like visiting the sophisticated younger sibling of local organic food hero Restaurant Nora).
Blue Duck’s vision is to serve seasonal meats and produce prepared with “time honored” methods including smoking, roasting and preserving. The open fire is an influential kitchen element for Blue Duck and a number of items are wood-fired or roasted, including rock fish, diver scallops and steak. The Blue Duck menu, which changes to reflect produce peaks, highlights the point of origin of each item.
We arrived about 30 minutes before our reservation to take advantage of Blue Duck’s spacious and comfortable lounge and we were well-rewarded. While the wine list is extensive, the real gems here are the seasonal cocktails. The bourbon peach bellini, with peaches pureed per order, was so fragrant I wanted to bury my nose into its fruity bouquet. The cucumber white sangria was everything you could want from a summer time cocktail: fresh, crisp and quenching.
A solid menu of charcuterie, cheeses, and a selection of entrees is also available in the lounge, and we were pleased to see that they don’t leave you to guess which cheeses you’ll like best – they offer thorough descriptions of each. Their offerings ranged from a bandage-wrapped aged cheddar to Meadow Creek Dairy’s flavorful Grayson and the wittily named Oregonzola blue, with each available at $4 per ounce to allow you to create your own cheese plate as you see fit. If you’re just looking for a quick bite or a casual place to meet, drink and eat with some friends after work, the lounge seems more than capable of fitting the bill.
By design, our recent trip came during the high season for heirloom tomatoes and we weren’t disappointed. Eating a delcious, fresh heirloom tomato is akin to flying first class after years of coach. You can go back to the every day (in this case genetically modified, road-weary, beautiful but-not-tasty tomatoes) but you’ll be far less happy about it. We started our meal with a bowl of the chilled Cherokee purple tomato soup – a smooth gazapacho with just a tiny kick (white pepper?) to keep your tongue interested – and the heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese. Mind you, this isn’t any ordinary goat cheese…this is Brad Parker’s Pipe Dreams chevre, an artisanal cheese that is in such high demand that you’re unlikely to see it for retail sale in our area (it sells out as soon as they can get it at Cheesetique). Pipe Dreams goat cheese has that wonderful tang that you expect, but it is so smooth and creamy as to immediately mellow the more assertive barnyard flavors that other goat cheeses bring to the table. It was a perfect complement to the acidity of the tomatoes and the creative balsamic vinegar jelly that studded the dish.
For our main course, I selected the smoked and pastrami spiced duck breast with the confit. The pastrami spicing was subtle and the overall duck dish was delcious. However, Mike completely out-ordered me with the hot mettwurst, which became the real star of the table. The dish came with three links of tightly packed, flavorful sausage that tasted unbelievably fresh.
The family-style side dishes of potatoes, grains or vegetables offer a tempting array of seasonal options. Driven mostly by the type, we ordered the hand cut BDT Triple fries, which are fried three times in duck fat to attain the perfect crisp on the outside, soft in on the inside consistency. Honestly, they were good – I like thick cut fries every once in a while – but we agreed they weren’t as great as our favorite DC frites. Keeping with the tomato theme of the night, we also selected pickled tomatoes which were light, refreshing and not as tart as we expected.
Alas, after all the meat and potatoes, we were in no shape to take advantage of the dessert menu or cheese selection. Our loss, I’m sure. It gives us an excuse to go back soon. Before walking out, we discovered two reasons compelling us to plot a return trip: Every Wednesday night Blue Duck celebrates the mighty swine with “The Glory of Pork and Pinot.” Menu items feature a whole roasted pig and paleta iberico de bellota. Of course, all we had to hear was the phrase “bacon popcorn” and we were clearing our calendars. Plus, Blue Duck features an extensive tea menu in their lounge area, offering a beautiful, airy place to sit back with a few girlfriends and catch up.
If both our wallets and stomachs were bottomless, I’m pretty sure Mike and I would visit Blue Duck a couple of times each season. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on the online menu and strike again during the peak of fall’s harvest.