Equinox, Downtown

Now that Todd and Ellen Gray have opened their second restaurant, Watershed, their flagship, Equinox, might take a temporary hit in quality. But it sure didn’t the night I went – I had the best meal I’ve had in quite awhile.

I started off nursing a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold at the painful price of $9, and then everything blossomed.

A fine little bread basket arrived containing two pieces of good bread, salted butter (thank you!), and two surprisingly great gougères – who would have thought that Equinox might just be serving the best gougères in DC right now? Even though they had cooled to room temperature, they were still compelling.

Gnocchi of Wild Nettles ($14) with Spring garlic, roasted maitake mushrooms, chive butter, and shaved Parmesan “reads” like it has unlimited potential for greatness, and this amazing dish was a best-case scenario. I don’t care what your favorite gnocchi in this town is – Tosca, Palena, Galileo III – you will not find a better gnocchi dish than this one. It was just about perfect, and there’s nothing that could have been added or removed to make it any better than it was.

Even though I ordered small, I ordered heavy since I was pretty hungry, and another appetizer of Sauteed Lower Virginia Shad Roe ($14) with sweet red pepper coulis, house cured bacon, and hazelnut-parsley butter was also just about as good as it could be. Rich almost to the point of being overwhelming, yes, and gloriously so.

I paired this with a generously poured glass of 2007 Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (a good deal at $9) which is the type of wine you want with such an assertive dish.

Along with the Shad Roe, a side order of Roasted Fingerling and Blue Potatoes ($8) with cracked green olives and roasted shallots was a perfect partner – heavy enough to stand up to the shad roe, but lending a silken component to its coarse companion. This was a large side order that was easily enough for two – after two appetizers and a side, I was stuffed.

With the check came another surprise: two shortbread cookies, and two awesome little white chocolate confections stuffed with nut and caramel. Who on earth is putting out these fabulous breads and mignardises at Equinox now? The same pastry chef who has been here for a couple of years – Tom Wellings, formerly of Fiamma in New York City, and before that, Maestro.

More than any other area restaurant I can think of right now, Equinox reminds me of Restaurant Eve – exquisite ingredients, prepared in a deceptively simple fashion, with an unapologetic use of “weight” as a characteristic. An outstanding dinner at what has now become one of our most underrated restaurants.

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