Station 4, Southwest

Considering how much time I’ve spent in (the now torn down) Waterside Mall in the past, it seemed downright bizarre that I was walking right through the middle of it, feeling like I was in a strange, unknown place. I’ll get used to the new development here at some point, but for now, this whole corridor just does not feel like the Washington I know (not necessarily a bad thing, but for me to get lost walking around here is remarkable).

Station 4 is a new restaurant in Southwest from the owners of Tunnicliff’s, Ulah Bistro, Stoney’s, and Bullfeathers – not a particularly pedigreed family. This is their first attempt at fine dining, sort of, and you can tell it’s an awkward one from the moment you walk in and can’t find the host stand (it’s around the corner, to your left). The decor is a hypothetical combination of Napoleon (in Adams Morgan) and Inox, and could have used a woman’s touch to say the least.

But quirky is good, or at least it’s not boring, and there are certainly many things to think about here, starting with our genuinely friendly hostess and server – seemingly as inexperienced as could be, they both made up for it with kindness and a welcoming demeanor.

My young dining companion got his Diet Coke ($2.75) while I got a draft of DC Brau Citizen Ale ($6.00, 7% ABV). We wanted to try a cross-section of things, so we ordered three appetizers and a sandwich.

The ingredients here are pretty similar to the decor: unusual and thought-provoking. Pork Belly ($11) is served with guava rum emulsion and bok choy, was a generous cut, had good ratio of fat to lean, and was crispy on top – there’s nothing much here not to like.

Stuffed Zucchini ($10) was my favorite of the appetizers, the zucchini being stuffed with goat cheese, and topped with toasted almonds and romesco sauce. It was simple, elegant, and had flavors that worked together – the toasted almonds could have been a distraction, but were used in enough moderation to be more of a textural component than anything else.

Sauteed Calamari ($11) was a knife and fork dish, the rings only being partially cut so the perception was more steak-like, which was appropriate given the pool of dark, squid ink vinaigrette. Calamari is a deceptively heavy dish, and this was correctly lightened by a lemon-oil tapenade. All these little counterpoints tell me that the chef who designed the menu is yearning to achieve balance – the menu reads very “busy,” with lots of ingredients in some dishes, and I’m wondering if a “less is more” approach might be better as opposed to adding weights onto both sides of the scale (there is no correct answer here; I’m merely musing aloud (actually not aloud since I’m typing (and also I’m thinking that sometimes I should follow my own “less is more” advice when I write (but I just keep thinking of these little points that I absolutely must convey)))).

I knew going in that I wasn’t a huge fan of the (2010) Domaine Bellevue Touraine Rosé ($8), but it was a near-perfect match for the squid, so if you get one, do get the other (it’s $32 by the bottle).

The Die Hard ($12) is an eight-ounce black Angus burger on a kaiser roll, served with cheddar, bacon, tomato, mayonnaise, tobacco onions, and fries. You don’t see the descriptor “tobacco onions” on menus around here, but after doing some research, I found that they were introduced by Dean Fearing at The Mansion on Turtle Creek in the 1980s (a close approximation are the ones heaped atop the miniburgers at Matchbox).

The Die Hard is a good, second-tier burger (i.e., better than BGR, not as good as PS7’s) that was correctly cooked to medium-rare. It has all the right components to be a crowd pleaser, and even comes with individual glass bottles of Heinz ketchup and mustard (scoff if you will, but Matt’s eyes lit up when these arrived – I have to admit that even I smile whenever these appear on a hotel room service tray).

Station 4 is a large restaurant, and the bar area is well-designed for a bustling, after-work crowd (indeed, on this evening, the bar was fairly crowded, and the restaurant was fairly empty). Would I come back? Sure, why not.

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