- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Melrose comes into full bloom Friday and Saturday nights, when chef Brian McBride's cooking is complemented by music from the James Jelasic Dance Band and the dancing of customers, who glide smoothly over the marble floor.
The music tunes associated with big-band jazz and swing has been featured for at least 10 years, but Mr. McBride this month is celebrating the 15th anniversary of his arrival at Melrose, the restaurant in the Park Hyatt Washington, in the city's West End. For the anniversary observance, Mr. McBride has planned three-course menus $25 per person for lunch and $35 per person for dinner. The special lunch menus are not available on Sundays, and the dinner menus are not served on Saturdays.
The anniversary lunches and dinners this week are: red-pepper-and-mussel bisque with chervil or pheasant, foie gras and truffle ravioli with date-and-cumin puree, double consomme reduction; braised beef brisket with creamy garlic polenta, baby carrots and braising jus or poached Norwegian salmon over baby bok choy and honshimeji mushrooms, champagne cream and cardamom oil; and lime curd flan with rhubarb-strawberry compote and strawberry sorbet or frozen tiramisu with pine-nut biscotti and hot fudge.
With warm weather around the corner, especially Melrose's corner at 24th and M streets NW, diners can enjoy the outdoor seating area for hot, sunny days, Melrose has large canvas umbrellas to keep the customers cool. This setting, below street level, is protected from the streets by evergreens and flowers and a bubbling fountain in the corner. As a friend remarked, "It looks so civilized." It is.
The entrance to Melrose is closer to M Street than is the hotel entrance. Immediately inside is a black-and-white Picasso tapestry, and if visitors turn to the left and walk into the Park Hyatt lobby, they will see a painting of stripes by Gene Davis and a three-dimensional work by Sam Gilliam. Such artworks are not unusual for Park Hyatt hotels, the top echelon of the Hyatt brand, which includes the Park Hyatts in Melbourne, Australia, in Tokyo, a spectacular new property in Chicago, and the Villa Magna in Madrid.
Melrose is a fitting example of Park Hyatt restaurants. It is furnished in light woods; the goblets sparkle on tables covered with white linens. The ceiling is about two stories high.
Melrose is elegant and comfortable, not stuffy. Some of the patrons seem a bit underdressed for the setting, but this is the millennium of casual.
At the far end of the L-shaped seating area is a round table for eight or more that looks important and makes the people sitting there feel just as important. The chairs are comfortable, but the banquettes, as at too many restaurants, are rather low and must be uncomfortable for a short person.
Among the standouts on the dinner menu are Mr. McBride's much-praised shrimp ravioli with cracked black pepper, sweet corn and lemon grass ($15), and sauteed shad roe with a hash of Yukon Gold potatoes and thyme, a crisp pancetta disc and balsamic-vinegar reduction ($14). A waiter said Mr. McBride refers to this as his "ham and eggs" appetizer. The shad roe was cooked perfectly, still soft in the center, with the slightest hint of a crust the way shad roe should be cooked.
Other appetizers include sauteed Hudson Valley foie gras with black currants, cassis liqueur and fond de veau ($19) and a trio of salmon: smoked salmon terrine, gravlax ravioli filled with jumbo lump crabmeat and smoked salmon mousse with sevruga caviar ($16).
The white china is in different shapes, from the conventional round to square plates; the presentations are handsome, and the food is not crowded onto the plates, although the portions are generous.
As Melrose is among the very top hotel restaurants in Washington, Mr. McBride's crab cakes at least tie for first place. At most, they are the best. Mr. McBride, who likes to go fishing and is very adept at seafood dishes, lets the jumbo lump crabmeat stand out in all its goodness. The crab cakes are thick. There is no trace of a binding; no mustard paints a yellow marbling among the lumps of crab. What holds them together? The crab cakes come with grilled asparagus, plum tomatoes and zucchini, served with remoulade ($34).
The pan-seared veal chop with herb butter and black truffle sauce, potato cake with sunchoke puree and white asparagus ($34) was cooked exactly as ordered. The potato cake was not the size of a crab cake, but a wedge of a deep-dish affair, baked like a cake and with a deliciously browned crust on the side and bottom. The thick herb-butter topping was not necessary.
Among the other especially tempting entrees are pan-roasted Dover sole with oyster mushrooms, salsify, garlic confit and Sauternes sauce ($32); four-peppercorn-seared Virginia bison filet mignon with shiitake mushrooms and pecorino-cheese-flavored arborio rice cake, savoy cabbage and Madeira sauce ($32); and the grilled breast of squab and confit of leg over parsnip puree, pea shoots, pepas and spring pea sauce ($28).
For diners wanting their fish simply grilled and served with seasonal grilled vegetables, the choices are red snapper, tuna or rockfish at $27, salmon at $26 and Dover sole at $31.
The pastry chef has created several memorable chocolate desserts, especially the warm chocolate bread pudding, which is soufflelike in texture and served with a deliciously dense chocolate sorbet, and a chocolate macadamia tart, in which a warm, fudgelike sauce is poured over macadamia nuts in a warm pastry shell. Other desserts are on the menu, but in this age of chocolate, go for the pudding or tart.
While most Washington restaurants serve only lunch and dinner, Melrose is a hotel restaurant and also serves breakfast, even a Continental breakfast and an American breakfast. The usual a-la-carte breakfast entrees are available, such as three-egg omelets and egg-white omelets, but consider the homemade corned-beef hash with poached eggs for a special morning out. Or a grapefruit brulee something we don't take time to prepare at home on usual workdays.
Now, Melrose, raise the service a couple of notches and serve a hot caffe latte like the other Park Hyatts, and the overall dining experience will equal Brian McBride's crab cakes and line-caught rockfish. A happy anniversary to the chef.


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