Chef Frank Ruta began his tenure as the White House chef in 1979, ultimately cooking for three administrations—Carter, Reagan and H.W. Bush. A quarter of a century and a James Beard Award later, he’s back in the neighborhood on the corner of 16th and I streets at Mirabelle, a gorgeously appointed, high-end Parisian-minded restaurant with an enviable view of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from its see-and-be-seen patio.
It’s a welcome return for the chef who earned fans outside of the Oval Office at Cleveland Park’s Palena and Georgetown’s Grill Room at the Rosewood hotel. His latest venture—which takes its name from a small French plum—is très chic and magnifique. The embodiment of a classic DC power spot, it’s outfitted with plenty of luxe touches courtesy of Norris Design Studio. Dark wood and leather walls are complemented by dapper brass accenting. At the center of the room, a maze of Tetris-shaped golden light fixtures illuminates a cluster of always-in-demand booths. Brick-red leather stools are lined up along the gleaming white marble bar skeined with gray veins. Staff in smart gray suits move smoothly through the scene soundtracked by sultry, slinking songs by French lounge acts and Frank Sinatra.
Ruta’s menu is tightly focused on classic French-American cuisine, but that doesn’t mean the man can’t have a little fun. Emerald-green watercress soup is spring in a bowl, enlivened with a piece of preserved lemon-stained glass, lightly fried walleye pike and just a whisper of curry—a winsome and winning addition. Dig deep into the grassy depths to discover hidden tapioca pearls. Next up, there’s a clever spring roll. Pink folds of coriander and juniper-cured smoked trout are wrapped around seasonal greens, shaved fennel panna cotta, pickled blood orange and marcona almonds. It’s ever so light and restrained, but deeply satisfying.
Other openers hew closer to the original. Boudin blanc forged with foie gras cuts as easily as warm butter and is even richer. Chewy lardons and pickled raisins decorate the plate, the latter adding a hit of sweet ’n’ sour.
When it comes to entrees, Ruta is known for his deft touch with roast chicken, which was a signature dish at Palena. Here he takes a half a poussin and roasts it golden, so the skin crackles, but the meat stays tender. It arrives atop al dente stalks of asparagus, tiny crayfish, wheat berries and freshly foraged morel mushrooms lathered in cream sauce. On the sea side of the options, a dazzler is the turbot rubbed with cardamom, which adds an ethereal quality to the fish. Resting on a bed of sprouted brown rice stew, the filet sits next to a band of coffee froth—the beans sourced from DC’s Compass Coffee—recalling a puff of ocean foam.
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