I went to the The Dabney right when it opened, and liked it well enough, but what I experienced there this week was a restaurant that has started to come into its own – the entire experience being at a much higher level.
Even when it opened, The Dabney had a strong beverage program, but not what it is now. Paying homage to The Dabney’s commitment towards “local,” I started out with a draft of Right Proper Ornithology, brewed right up the street, and weighing in at a refreshingly light 3.9% alcohol – a Grisette – closely related to a Saison in that it’s meant to keep you light on your feet, and can be had in multiples during a single sitting.
Here’s a slight mistake I made so you don’t have to: I began my meal with an order of Pumpernickel Toast ($4), topped with ricotta, smoked honey, and charred Spring onions. The mistake was not in ordering this delightful bread course, but in forgetting that The Dabney serves you a complimentary slice of grilled ciabatta, with flavored sorghum butter that is, in itself, a wonderful course, and more than enough to satisfy any bread cravings a single person may have. Remember this if you go there alone, but don’t neglect the Pumpernickel Toast just because of this, because both bread plates are delicious.
Then came the 1-2 punch of the main course: Lacquered Quail ($25) with Chesapeake Oyster Stuffing (inside the deboned quail), brown butter, greens, and golden raisins – the only bones that remained were the legs, so you could pick each one up and finish off the dish. It was fantastic, and even better with a side of Ember-Roasted Young Potatoes ($8) – make sure to turn your head towards the kitchen when ordering, because the wood-burning fire is raging, several feet high, and these clearly picked up some of the smoke, and were served with pork sausage, sour cream, and mustard. The two dishes as a combination worked brilliantly, and I couldn’t help myself in getting two different reds: a Beaujolais, and a Chinon.
The Beaujolais ($12) was a 2014 Château Cambon, which, although not from a single village, had a reasonably full body and a delicious palate presence. However, even this fine example of Gamay was dwarfed by the Chinon ($11), a 2014 Fabrice Gasnier “Les Graves” – a single-vineyard, 100% Cabernet Franc with a body that would put many a St. Emilion to shame. This is a red wine I could drink every day and not get tired of, and I made sure to save half a glass of it for my dessert, which I knew in advance would be chocolate.
Devil’s Food Cake ($9 (all desserts are $9)) came with Sour Cream Ice Cream, Pumpernickel Streusel (closing the circuit from the first course of the dinner), and Candied Ginger, and went splendidly with the Chinon. Has anyone noticed that we’re having an ice-cream spurt in town of late? We’re seeing flavors now that we’ve never seen before, and we’re seeing them at many, many restaurants. Ten years ago? It was 2 Amys; now, there are fully two dozen restaurants serving homemade ice cream filled with heart and soul.
My bartender was fabulous, and this meal at The Dabney solidifies the restaurant in my mind as one of the very greatest newcomers on the scene (I had some doubts after my first visit, but no longer). Well-worth the time and effort to get into Blagden Alley early, right at 5:30 when they open.