Features on StarChefs.com

Button It Up: Service Notes

First Impressions In DC
October 2006

On Capitol Hill politicians and deal-makers seek out dining experiences that lean right on the culinary spectrum. Among the grand monuments in the perfect grid of numbered streets of Washington DC, it can be hard for a chef to stand out. But restaurants can tailor small service aspects like their amuse bouches and bread and butter services to suit their dining philosophy without frightening off their diners. It’s a sensible move that creates a stand-out first impression and adds a little personal style to the service experience.

The Amuse Bouche, a l’Americaine
Figs with Prosciutto replace the amuse bouche at Blue Duck Tavern on StarChefs.com Who could fault the amuse bouche? It’s a lovely concept: a tiny promise of a spectacular meal in the form of an intense, flavor-rich mouthful or two that stimulate the palate. While the amuse bouche could be a way of experimenting with new techniques and flavor combinations on one’s clientele, or creating a dish that impresses and entices the guest, in truth it has often become a way to use up weekly scraps in a section of the kitchen usually run by stagiers and first year cooks. While the amuse is technically meant to begin the meal as a welcome from the chef, it is sent out after diners have ordered their meals and the menus are cleared, meaning ten minutes or so have elapsed since your guests sat down at their table. The amuse, in its traditional sense, is not for every restaurant.

For chefs who want to keep things more casual while maintaining a high level of service, Chef de Cuisine Mark Hellyer at The Blue Duck Tavern has the right idea. Seated guests are immediately greeted with snacks: a couple of plates of seasonal fruit from local farms and some house-cured meats. During the ten minutes or so that they go over the menu and get settled, they nibble happily on slices of plums and ripe halved figs. The idea is the same – a little welcome from the chef that begins the meal – but the result is less pretentious, more familiar, and perfectly in tune with the restaurant’s philosophy of showcasing local products without a lot of fuss.

Bread and Butter
A lacquered cigar box full of mini Parker House Rolls personalizes the bread service at CityZen on StarChefs.comWhile rummaging through an antique store, Chef Eric Ziebold came across an antique cigar box with a lot of character that he wanted to put to use in his restaurant. He sought out replicas and decided to incorporate them into his bread service at Cityzen in The Mandarin Oriental Washington DC. Ziebold presents his diners with the traditional bread basket at the beginning of the meal but during the meal his servers present a second bread service: a lacquered cigar box full of 10 snugly-packed mini Parker House Rolls. This extra touch, not just in presentation but in timing, is sophisticated and playful, and keeps with Cityzen’s contemporary American theme as well as DC’s old gentleman club style.

Roast Marrow with Rosemary replace the regular bread service at the Blue Duck Tavern on StarChefs.comWhen the menus are cleared and the platters of fruit and meat at The Blue Duck Tavern are thoroughly picked through, the bread and butter arrives. For VIP guests, the restaurant foregoes the delicious, cheesy cultured Pennsylvanian butter and sends out a dish of marrow with roasted garlic and shallots and some crispy grilled bread. The presentation of two beef bones crossing each other over an entire head of browned garlic is simple and rustic; the smell of the hot marrow jelly and roasted rosemary is head-filling. The dish serves the same purpose as the traditional bread and butter – a tasty fat to spread on bread – but The Blue Duck Tavern has created an unforgettable version to neatly fit their image and philosophy.