For those planning a trip to our nation's capital, The Federalist in Washington D.C. offers refined dining inspired by the epicurean spirit of Thomas Jefferson and The Federalists. Led by chef de cuisine Harper McClure, The Federalist references Jefferson's commitment to culinary discovery, which included transporting foreign spices to the New World and maintaining an herb garden of more than 300 crops, to craft a menu that revives 18th century mid-Atlantic cuisine.
The restaurant itself is the culinary centerpiece of The Madison Hotel, which underwent a swanky $22 million renovation through last year, is rife with Washington D.C.'s cultural history. The Federalist has accommodated a clientele of foreign dignitaries and Presidents, notably President John F. Kennedy and President George W. Bush.
Though the restaurant may bring in a slew of suit and tie guys, think twice before writing the place off as another expense account eatery. The interior is colorful and comfortable, classy enough for a mixologist and private dining rooms, but still a place where guests can grab a drink and enjoy summer on the outside patio. Chef McClure, who is only 25 years old, keeps the vibrancy alive with his buoyant demeanor and hand-selected playlists that feature songs from The Shins, Belle & Sebastian, and The Beatles.
When drinks are over and it's time to eat, what is strikingly obvious about chef McClure's menu is the joy he takes in creating it. At such an impressive young age, McClure is able to transform the commonplace dishes of early America into bright, refreshingly youthful re-interpretations of traditional New England ingredients.
To start the meal, simple, savory dishes (like lobster and corn fritters with warm vermouth cream) remind diners of the finger foods they wish they had while growing up. The vine ripe tomato gazpacho with croutons, Nasturtium blossoms, and extra virgin olive oil is another highlight, packing acidity that sends out shocks of flavor.
The real stand-outs from the kitchen, however, are the roasted moulard duck breast with grilled white peaches, lacinato kale, and macadamia nut butter; and Martin's Angus beef flatiron with roasted heirloom tomato, marble potatoes, and rosemary-lavender-garlic butter.
While the duck is tender and tasty on its own, the addition of sliced peach is so tantalizingly good that guests are left questioning why no common law exists to ensure the two ingredients are always paired together.
The beef, which comes with a dollop of the rosemary-lavender-garlic butter on top, is so rich that it may force guests to take a break if they overdo the garlic butter-to-beef ratio. However, after a few moments, the memory of the flavor has guests crawling back for more.
By dessert, which includes classic syllabub with sweetly stewed apricots, the table is standing up for an encore of early-American gastronomy. If this is how Thomas Jefferson and his crew chowed down, McClure makes it abundantly clear that we were all born in the wrong generation.