As a Georgetown undergrad, one of the first things I learned during New Student Orientation was that there were precious few dining options within walking distance of the campus. There was Wisemiller’s for sandwiches and the Tombs for bar food and beyond, and of course M Street and Wisconsin were only a few blocks away. But there was one restaurant that stood out head and shoulders from the rest, in terms of quality, service…and price.
That restaurant was 1789, and for almost fifty years now it has represented the pinnacle of Hoya dining opportunities. Just try to get a reservation during Parents’ Weekend, and you’ll see what I mean. With its jackets-required policy and its classic decor, 1789 is a perfect way to remind a Georgetown parent of why they’re spending all that tuition money.
Last week, we were invited to dine as guests of 1789 and experience some of Chef Daniel Giusti’s seasonally-inspired fall menu. It was a great way to reacquaint ourselves with a restaurant we’ve enjoyed on several previous visits.
Tastes of autumn – food and drink – in a tasteful setting after the jump.
Located in the heart of Georgetown, 1789 isn’t exactly Metro-accessible. Thankfully, they offer valet parking so you won’t have to circle the neighborhood looking for a spot. Step inside the Federal home at the corner of 36th and Prospect (the door will be held open for you) and you find yourself in a foyer that feels like an 18th-Century public house or tavern.
From there, you’ll be escorted to one of five dining rooms or the cozy pub. Each room has its own unique feel, but they all offer a combination of prints and paintings, antique china and accent pieces that conspire to make you feel at once pampered and at ease. The waitstaff, of whom there are several on call in each dining room, are quick to fill your water glass and attend to any other desires you might have.
Upon opening the menu, my first desire practically leapt off the page: a “1789 Dark and Cider” cocktail. If you’re a fan of the classic Dark and Stormy (ginger beer and dark rum), chances are you’ll be as impressed as I was by the way the housemade apple cider complements the flavors of the ginger and the rum. Garnished with a slice of green apple, it had a sweet-tart taste from the cider but a familiar warm and spicy bite. It made an appropriately seasonal way to kick off the meal.
1789 offers a seasonal three-course tasting menu inspired by current local ingredients. Priced at $40 per person, it’s a more cost-conscious way to experience the restaurant. During our visit, the menu was built around apples – in soup, roasted alongside pork shank, and baked into a strudel.
But we turned our attention to the main menu, which is organized into first courses, second courses, and main courses. Firsts include lighter dishes like salads, shellfish and carpaccio. Elizabeth was drawn to a broiled oyster dish that offered a take on the classic Rockefeller presentation. Served atop a bed of colorful peppercorns and sea salt, the three oysters made for a lovely – if short-lived – presentation. The dish was a hit, delivering a deep smoky flavor while still managing to be light and briny.
I chose a second course for my starter, opting for a soup of wild mushrooms, arborio rice and poached egg. The dish (pictured above) came together once all of the components were stirred together, with the egg’s yolk adding a richness to the broth. The rice was perfectly al dente, and the mushrooms were earthy and firm. My only complaint was that the dish could have used more salt or an acidic note to wake it up just a bit.
For our entrees, we looked to some of the plates that seemed to make the best use of local vegetables. I opted for a monkfish that was wrapped in Surryano ham (a local version of Serrano ham made from Berkshire pork in Surry , VA) and served with black-eyed peas and sweet-and-sour onions. The fish was moist and meaty, while the ham had been crisped nicely. Elizabeth’s entree was a roast pheasant served alongside braised greens and sweet potatoes. The dish was balanced and put together nicely, but the bird was a bit dry for our tastes. Even so, both of our entrees were satisfying and flavorful.
We found just enough room to share a dessert – a trio of cider doughnuts that were glazed and served with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream and some confited fruit (apples, raisins and quince). From past experience, we expected the cider doughnuts to be dense and cakey, but they were surprisingly light and airy. They went perfectly with the fruit and the ice cream…and they didn’t stand a chance.
Even fifty years later, 1789 remains a destination in Georgetown for those who wish to dine well. The prices (first and second courses from $12-16, entrees from $28-$38) are high enough to make this a special occasion location, and the jacket requirement adds an element of refinement that all but a few local establishments have retired. As I mentioned at the beginning of this write-up, we’ve dined at 1789 on previous occasions without the knowledge of the staff, and I’m pleased to report that the great service we received at this meal is par for the course. All diners can expect to be treated like honored guests, whether you’re attending at their invitation or on your own initiative.
It was great to have another chance to visit 1789 and to enjoy Chef Giusti’s seasonal menu. Maybe another visit with my parents is in order…though this time it should probably be my treat to return the favor.