If you’ve still not been to the H Street Corridor, or refuse to go because of all the road construction, The Atlas Room is your excuse.
I had many hours of free time the other night, and couldn’t think of a better way to use them than having an extended dinner at this gem of a restaurant.
I took a seat at the bar, where the ultra-talented Chris Surrusco (who was previously GM at Granville Moore’s, then Marvin) is featuring a whole sheet of cocktails. I started off with a couple highballs: an Old Tom Collins ($8) with Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, lemon juice, and Fever Tree soda; then moved on to the K.A.’s Vesper ($8) with Beefeater London Dry Gin, Finlandia Vodka, Lillet Blanc, & lavender kiss. Many of Surrusco’s ingredients are made or infused in-house, such as his gin and spiced rum (which he is now serving with Mexican coke). The bar here is a great place to have dinner.
The Atlas Room’s menu is divided up into matrix format to great success. There are six categories of cuisine: seafood, chicken, pork, beef, vegetable, and lamb; and within each there are three different dishes: nosh size, shared-appetizer size, and entree size. Although this might sound formulaic when you read my words, it works, and it works well.
The GM at The Atlas Room is Mark Medley, formerly the “Mark” of the underrated and much-missed Mark and Orlando’s on P Street. Mark recognized me, and after we chatted for a bit, I asked him for his recommendations, telling him that I wanted a good cross-section of the menu. All four of his recommendations were very good to excellent:
A nosh portion of Short Rib Ravioli ($10) with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and herbed demi-glace was three medium-large, housemade raviolis, chock full of good, stringy short ribs, with stove-hot sauce ladled atop.
A shared-appetizer portion of Pork Loin ($14) was served with white yam and pineapple mash, zucchini, and a delicious chili-caramel sauce that brought everything together and somehow managed not to be overtly sweet despite its description.
Saddle of Lamb ($15) with chick pea puree, fennel, tomato, olive ragout and parsley sauce was a 180-degree turn from the pork, and a welcome shock to my palate – the dishes all of a sudden went from light, sweet, and mild, to dark, salty, and assertive. This ordering was a fine call.
And then going one step further on the flavor spectrum was the Grilled Indian-Spiced Beef Loin ($13) with roasted cauliflower, eggplant puree, caper raisin sauce, and curry oil.
The quality of all the meats was excellent, and the saucing complex and perfectly executed. Mark took me into the kitchen where I had the pleasure of seeing owner Matt Cordes and Chef de Cuisine Bobby Beard working side-by-side which explains how The Atlas Room can pull off dishes of such variety and intricacy. If you take a close look at the range of plates I had, they’re all variations of meat, sauce, and vegetables, but the variety and execution lead the diner to believe otherwise. Simple ingredients, bold presentations, and wonderful execution.
If The Atlas Room can retain all four of these talented individuals (Cordes the owner, Beard, Medley, Surrusco), it will have a winning team for a long time. Not only is it the best restaurant in the Atlas District, it’s also the best restaurant in all of Northeast or Southeast DC, including everything on Capitol Hill.
Two weeks later, I was back. I shook hands with Mark, took a seat at the bar, and asked Chris to make an Old Tom Collins, and to keep ’em coming whenever the glass gets empty: Mark had told me the two daily specials, and I knew this cocktail would go very well with both.
The nosh special was an Arugula Salad ($8) with goat cheese, shaved carrots, radish, celery root, and toasted walnut vinaigrette. The only salad I’ve had recently that can compare to this is a brilliant one at 2 Amys – ultra high-quality vegetables (the arugula in particular was impressive), all coming from Path Valley Farms, dressed properly and with just enough acidity to tease the palate into more; the goat cheese puts it over the top.
The shared-appetizer special was a Pan-Roasted Chicken Breast ($12) with toasted garlic sunchoke purée, baby carrots, asparagus, and scallion cream sauce. If you think you’ll be bored with a “chicken breast,” then I urge you to think again because this is, to the best of my knowledge, the most hauntingly perfect chicken breast dish being served in the entire DC area right now. It was judiciously brined, moist throughout, and probably just rubbed with salt and pepper before being grilled in an ultra-hot skillet. Pick your favorite chicken dish in the city (yes, even Palena’s), and this will be its equal. Get this, and write to thank me when you do.
How good was this dish? Good enough where I got the same thing for my third course. There is no way I was going to stop with just one.
And for my fourth course? I ordered a second Arugula Salad, this time focusing more on the goat cheese. It was a true ABBA meal, in musical form.
The Atlas Room is a great restaurant, and now that I’ve mentioned Palena’s chicken, I’ll add that it reminds me very much of Palena Cafe, both in terms of style and quality.