Medium Rare, Cleveland Park

(See the March 27th, 2011 Review here.)

When Medium Rare first opened – even before it first opened – I expressed to myself a quiet concern. I had questions about whether a restaurant serving essentially one thing only – steak frites, salad, and bread – could possibly survive in DC, especially in the somewhat remote Cleveland Park neighborhood which is already heavily populated with restaurants.

After my first meal here two months before, I was extremely impressed (and somewhat skeptical) that they could offer what they did for the price: good homemade bread, a properly dressed salad, and tranches of prime, dry-aged culotte steak served with hot, crispy fries along with a pitcher of “secret sauce” so good that it should be illegal – all for only $19.95?

Then, after a second visit with diverse guests ranging from my hungry fourteen-year-old son to a couple of old-school French senior citizens who have dined on steak frites for decades, I have my answers.

If Medium Rare served only their three-course meal, they would soon go out of business due to all the other expenses involved in running a restaurant – food, rent, wages – because you don’t stay afloat by selling $19.95 steak dinners for very long in a small, civilized Cleveland Park restaurant.

My french house guests were extremely impressed with their meal, but then their jaws dropped when our server came out and offered us seconds. “How do they do this?” one of them asked me.

It’s because they sell wines and desserts, and these represent the slim difference between being in business, or not. (Pssst … don’t tell anyone, but Medium Rare has a $12 per bottle ($24 per magnum) bring-your-own wine policy, and the outstanding retailer Weygandt Wines is just across the street. “Isn’t that an amazing deal?” their salesman said to me. Also, Medium Rare’s desserts are enough for two to share. Shhhh …)

One of my house guests was comfortably full after her first helping, and declined seconds. Aha! That’s how the restaurant hopes to survive, right? By little old ladies passing on the second helping? Nope – they packed it up for us, and we had it for lunch the next day.

There are murmurs about Medium Rare being a one-trick pony, and I don’t accept that as a flaw. This restaurant is no different than a pizza parlor or a burger joint, except that it’s move elevated and refined, and you don’t see those places hurting for business. It’s better to do one thing well, than to do many things poorly. Consistency will be the key to Medium Rare’s success, and if they’re able to pull it off, then they have a winner on their hands – and so do we.

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