I hardly remember my life before Bourbon Steak (that life of six hours ago). Back then, I could walk into a restaurant, confidently order, resist being overwhelmed, confidently talk to waiters, and competently photograph the food. Perhaps because I've not dined critically or dined alone in a while, these skills are less refined, but I doubt it. Also, perhaps passing the shiny black sports cars in the parking lot and changing from flip flops to grown-up shoes in Georgetown's Four Seasons lobby humbled me somehow, but I really don't think that's true either. I think I just genuinely enjoyed being put in my place by a restaurant tonight, in the nicest of ways...it's refreshing to be so overwhelmed by good food and service that your critical eye just stops working (well, mostly).
Tonight was a Kennedy Center ballet night. So, instead of getting a Subway sandwich to go and spilling lettuce all over myself while I hurriedly eat it on the Kennedy Center terrace, I decided to plan ahead, meander through Georgetown, and find a nice place to eat. After scoping out other recommendations, The Four Seasons seemed fine: good location so when I was running late before the show, I wouldn't have far to go (I anticipated correctly).
So, I changed shoes, walked on an important-feeling black carpet, and approached the hostess stand. And they were friendly; if there was false pretense, my fevered brow (it's summertime) distracted me from it. They were genuinely nice, asked for my name (last name included), asked if I wanted reading materials (accommodation of solo diners?!), and walked me to my table.
Half my view was obscured by booth or pillar, but I could catch a glimpse of the Georgetown canal and the large important man down the banquette from me. And the fabulous-looking wait staff who were all pleasant. I ordered then my waiter guided me in the direction of the ladies room. I returned and my askew napkin was re-folded, my glass of wine was waiting for me, and after I sat down, another waiter put the napkin in my lap. I know I sound green, but the flutter of linen delights.
So, one sip later, I get amuse-bouche one: french fries. Three types with three sauces, so nine ways to celebrate a fried potato stick. On the left are duck-fat fries with pickled ketchup, in the middle are onion fries with onion mayonnaise (which I almost ate by the spoonful), and the third were cheddar fries with barbecue sauce or something. My bouche was amused.
"And for more free food," my waiter introduced, "a lobster corn dog." I'm not kidding. Tonight I had some of the best fair food I've had so far away from Big Tex.
(I hate acknowledging any utility Texas offers so present my sidenote in parantheses to deride its importance to my broader story and the world. Big Tex, above, presides over the Texas State Fair, where one can get a foot-long corn dog, quite possibly the best fair food ever.)
And then the bread came out: four beautiful rolls that had merged together (and had to be plied apart as they were baked in one cast iron pan) that were covered with truffle butter and sea salt. As part of my overwhelmedness, I don't have photos of them. Or my appetizer or entree. I tried, but either out of forgetfulness or impatience with my phone's limited memory (that petulantly told me twice after photographing my food that they wouldn't save), there is no visual record.
But, for my appetizer, I had citrus cured fluke sashimi. It was beautiful, really. Thin slices of opaque white fish, strewn with wisps of radish, hibiscus, aromatic herbs, and spicy flowers and drizzled with oil and vingear and a red flower reduction (I think). But it was festive and light and I surgically had two bites a minute to prolong my enjoyment of it. I think the waiter may have been a bit confused why it took so long to eat, but he patiently endured my silent gushing and timed every interaction perfectly.
My entree was surprisingly unfabulous, but somehow this was less damning than it usually is. With the price I paid for it, I could have bought off half the catch from the guy fishing on the Key Bridge, but it eventually worked out ok (only a few paragraphs more, I promise). I got wood-grilled halibut that had been basted with some vinaigrette. The presentation was nice...enthusiastic looking fish with bit of green herb on top, a stroke of balsamic vinegar reduction across the plate, and a grilled lemon, but it didn't taste like much and needed salt. Of this $36 piece of fish, I probably didn't eat the last $9 of it because I was bored with it. Plus it was mushy and took too much effort to put on my gleaming fork. Criminal.
I didn't feel like telling the waiter though, in unsurprising passive-agressive fashion, so just simmered as he convinced me to order a single espresso and dessert. I wanted to, but after I did a little eviscerating. But I forgot my wrath when I sipped from my mini cup. Then any remnant of anger was hewn away by my dessert: passion fruit panna cotta. In a large, shallow bowl, panna cotta was covered by three little mounds of grapefruit, passion fruit, passion fruit seeds, and avocado and a small oval of coconut sorbet. After presenting the dessert, my waiter drizzled a lemon grass concoction over all of it.
The service was stellar: attentive all around, cooperative, friendly. With two espresso sips left, the general manager approached me to ensure everything was ok. He was charming, so I was fine and we discussed what brought me here and how I liked it. Then he asked about the food and I inquired if halibut was typically mushy (slightly less confrontational than that). I confessed my distaste, he apologized, and mentioned I should come back and he would buy me a glass of wine. Then he fetched his card, gave it to me, and insisted again I should come back. And that I should e-mail him. I think I missed the explicit instruction as to whether I was supposed to email him when I was coming so he could prepare the glass of wine ahead of time or if he was hospitably offering me an online ear to which I could therapeutically explain my inevitable nightmares of being haunted by limp, flavorless halibut.
$102 shorter but with a free glass of wine in my future, I bounded out of the restaurant and headed toward three (!) hours of ballet. In the lobby, I saw a young woman who looked like Reese Witherspoon holding hands with a guy who looked like Jake Gyllenhaal. The goofy grin of a hotel bellhop bragging about the photo he took confirmed it. They might get free fries and lobster corn dogs, but I doubt free wines from general managers are in their futures.