21 Jan 2011

First Bite: The Atlas Room

So this post was going to be written … oh a month or so ago.  You know, when the The Atlas Room first opened. But life, holidays and those pesky children kept getting in the way. My guilt and shame were only increased when H Street Great Street posted a smashing review followed shortly by Tom Sietsema’s nice write up in the Post.

But darn it I said I would do it so when both wee darlings were invited to a sleepover last weekend I took that long trip around the corner to the restaurant. My husband and I were the only folks in there when we arrived at 6pm on a Friday. We were both terrified for them, having lived through the sad experience of rooting for their sweet but ultimately unsuccessful predecessor, Napa 1015. We needn’t have worried, the restaurant soon filled up and was packed when we left. Whew.

We started off with a drink: the Atlas Room is becoming known for their Pre-Prohibition era cocktails so I decided to be less lame than I usually am (glass of wine, snore) and tried one. I thought Sazerac sounded like  something Dorothy Parker might have tossed back so I gave it a try. It was tasty, boozier than what I’m used to but enjoyable.  It was my first taste of absinthe and I lived to tell the tale. Hints of anise and a lemon peel made me feel more sophisticated than I really am.

The Atlas Room takes a different approach to meal/portion sizes. Rather than dividing up the menu by appetizers, salads and entrees it does so by protein.  Those proteins are prepared in three different ways, so you could have an all chicken meal with the bird appearing in a different format in small bite form, small plate and not-quite-big-enough-for-an-entree.  I have heard a few complaints about this approach to menu design but I think it makes perfect sense. It’s more fun and social to try several small dishes.  I do hope they add a few more meatless items to give us vegetarians something else to try on a return visit.

I’m glad I brought my omnivorous husband because this vegetarian couldn’t really give a fair review of all the Atlas Room can do. I tried my hardest, even eating dessert, all for you dear readers.

For starters, my spouse had the chicken croquettes which came with a bright green cilantro yogurt sauce. He thought they were perfectly prepared, light and crispy with an aromatic Indian spice profile. The yogurt sauce could have packed more punch but he was pleased.

I started with a salad. I know you are thinking  “Ooh really vegetarian? How daring of you!” This is actually a really great salad! Shaved carrot, field greens and a fantastic sherry vinaigrette with some  almonds which really sent me over the moon.  Well done.

For the entree my husband chose seafood stew which was very tasty but rich.  I opted for the vegetable cassoulet. I’m always excited when a chef gives us vegetarians something more interesting than pasta and vegetables so I had to try. It was a deceptive dish. Legumes and veggies came in a light broth topped with a creamy mound of walnut pesto. My husband swiped a spoonful of the broth shortly after is was served and pronounced the thin liquid as being  “kind of Oliver Twist.”  Ah but the seemingly humble dish took on different dimensions as you ate it. First swirling in that pesto adding some depth. Then I noticed these adorable crackers on the side. One nibble of the crumbly shortbread, rich with what I assume was parmeggiano and I knew I had to crumble them in. Yum. What had begun as a light soup of beans became a rich, almost meaty dish.

Our waiter suggested we try the chocolate tart filled with a vanilla pudding which was served with a lavender ice cream. All of the parts of the dessert were fantastic but I couldn’t quite make the taste connection between the pudding and the ice cream. But there are no complaints here.

The Atlas Room is filling the need for high level cooking that has been lacking on H Street. I anticipate it being a perfect pre-show destination for the two theaters on the street.

The Atlas Room is located at 1015 H Street NE.  202.388.4020 www.theatlasroom.com

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