The Culinary Diplomat has featured plenty of restaurant discoveries from our travels, but it’s nice also to share the joys of discovering new places in your own backyard. While having favorite local restaurants to call “home” has no equivalent, it’s also wonderful to discover new arrivals to the restaurant scene in familiar places. This week, we bring you Annabelle, a recent (pandemic-era) arrival to the New American staple of restaurants in northwest Washington, DC. Annabelle’s grand 2020 opening had the misfortune of coming just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, so two years later, our visit found the restaurant still feeling itself out – providing an overall charming experience as it continues to seek its stride.
Tucked just off the well-trodden path between Dupont Circle and Kalorama, between commercial and residential properties, the restaurant is easily accessible to many, but its charm transcends the typical Dupont restaurant. Annabelle’s decor and atmosphere, completely renovated since the space’s days as the home of former restaurant Nora, set an inviting tone for the meal. Step through its front entrance into a small room devoted to the restaurant’s shining, geometrically styled bar, and you’ll then be directed into ivy-covered white brick walls of the first of several successive dining rooms. The individual dining rooms lend a cozy intimacy to the Annabelle experience (not pictured, but I wish I’d snapped a few photos!).
We opened our evening with Annabelle’s pate en croute, a curiously refined version of the country pate of pork that is ubiquitous in northern and central Europe and a (very reasonably priced) bottle of Priorat red wine, a clean balance of fruit, minerality, and tannins from the dry, craggy mountains of Priorat, Spain.
We also shared the winter Bolognese, a seasonal menu addition that proved sensational. A traditional Italian Bolognese, rich with pork and veal tops a very non-traditional pasta substitution of winter vegetables, crisply roasted Maitake mushroom, Endive, and celeriac. These vegetables were roasted to caramelized perfection, their flavors (especially from the typically bland celeriac and Endive) standing out and holding up to the flavorful Bolognese.
For entrees, he chose the skate wing, which was poached in a seafood stew with mussels and clams in tomato broth. It was light, but I was told the skate wing was not the best preparation. I chose the skirt steak with roasted vegetables. The skirt steak also was prepared differently than I would have expected, a sizably thick steak left unsliced, and it could have used a bit more of a sear/char to vary its texture. The roasted vegetables included harissa glazed carrots, a nice spicy note paired with the steak. Overall, the entrees were the least memorable aspect of the overall meal, but they certainly showed promise as the restaurant continues to build up to its promise.
Dessert – aside from the Bolognese – proved to be the crowning glory of the meal. We chose the Gianduja ganache. Its portion was plenty for two to share, and its eye catching presentation was matched by its wonderful trio of flavors and textures – from the dense chocolate hazelnut ganache to a light orange-cinnamon ice cream, garnished with peanut butter powder that resembled the recent snowfalls in our area. The dessert was truly memorable for all the best reasons, and it helped us end the meal with a very positive perception. I hope to make it back to try Annabelle again as its seasonal menu shifts towards spring and summer.