Maybe it’s our status as a tourist destination.  Or maybe it’s a question of smart use of existing resources.  Whatever the reason, Washington has an abundance of surprisingly good restaurants that just happen to be located in hotels.  CityZen, Blue Duck Tavern, Corduroy’s first incarnation: all technically hotel restaurants.  Even some of the biggest names to arrive on the scene in recent memory (BourbonSteak, WestEnd Bistro, Adour) are situated in high-end hotels.

Even among all these standouts, we remain consistently impressed with the restaurants attached to Kimpton hotels in the area.  We’ve made no secret of our deep, abiding love for Poste, and we’ve had positive experiences at Urbana, Brabo, Bistro Bis and Firefly.  In each case the restaurant’s ambience makes it very easy to forget that there’s a hotel here, as well…it just feels like another dining destination.  It’s not until the bill comes and that “charge it to my room” option appears that we’re reminded of the connection.

Image from Morrison House website

A few weeks ago we learned that that’s not the case at every Kimpton restaurant, when we had the opportunity to check out the Grille at Morrison House.  As an incentive to register for the Modern Gentleman series they held last year, Morrison House offered participants a complimentary dinner for two (to show off what you’ve learned).  All that’s to say that we may have had a less than representative dining experience, though it had nothing to do with our status as bloggers.

The kind of meal we wish we could get from room service after the jump.

Unlike many of the other restaurants attached to Kimpton hotels in the DC area, the Grille embraces its role as the hotel’s dining spot.  Diners arrive and enter via the (beautiful) front the door of the Morrison House; Frankly, the name should be something of a tip-off.  Nothing about “the Grille at Morrison House” creates any separation between the restaurant and the hotel.

Upon our arrival, we’re greeted by the maitre d’ and led down a hallway to a series of small dining rooms.  If you’re just looking for a casual bite, or if you’ve come for one of the legendary sing-alongs that take place just about nightly, then you’ll want to head for the piano bar up ahead on the right.  If you’re planning on a more formal sit-down dinner, you’ll be seated with no more than a handful of other guests in one of those plush rooms decked out with side tables for service and a general air of refinement.

We start off with cocktails, intrigued by a fig Manhattan that tastes every bit as smooth as it sounds.  Once we’ve made our selections, we’re greeted with an amuse bouche: a small slice of beef carpaccio deftly sprinkled with fresh herbs and a little bright, acidic sauce.  It’s an impressive bite, suggesting that the chef has big plans and that he assumes you want to be along for the ride.

Although the Grille offers several prix-fixe menu options, we decided to order a la carte as there were seveal dishes that caught our eyes.  For our appetizers, I order escargots and Elizabeth opts for a presentation described as umami. The escargot was delicious, served up in a rich, garlicky sauce and accompanied by toasted baguette slices ideal for spooning on the snails.  But it faded into the background when compared to Elizabeth’s tasty starter.  Sashimi-style yellowfin tuna is served with pickled red onions and seaweed salad and then topped with a broth that ties all the elements together into an earthy, savory whole.

Our entrees were equally impressive.  Elizabeth’s meal was perhaps one of the most refined versions of a seafood platter you’re likely to see in a restaurant.  It featured a whole softshell crab, a bass filet and even a small clam to bring it all back together on the plate.

For my meal, I couldn’t resist the siren song of a pan-roasted pork loin that also boasted something described as “bacon jam.”  I found the loin moist and meaty, but the accompaniments all tended to run together on the plate making it difficult for me to get a real feel for the flavors in the bacon jam.  Bummer – guess that just means more visits are in store.

We found ourselves impressed with everything we tasted, surprised by the incongruity of such a refined menu in a hotel restaurant.  Service was attentive, if a bit misinformed about a few ingredients and cooking methods.  And the little touches along the way – warm butter, adjustments to the room’s lighting as darkness fell, etc. – added up to a decidedly positive dining experience.

Because of its location inside an off-the-beaten-path boutique hotel in Old Town, it’s pretty easy to pass over the Grille at Morrison House.  But the quality of the meal we had was equal to some of the most noted restaurants in the area.  Do yourself a favor and stop in next time you’re in town.

Grille at Morrison House
116 S. Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA
Grille at Morrison House on Urbanspoon