- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

Once upon a time, when the country was young, the best place to get a meal was at the hotel, whether a meat-and-potatoes repast on Main Street or a European-style feast at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, the St. Charles or the Monteleone in New Orleans.
Times changed; hotel dining rooms fell into mediocrity. Times changed again. Washington diners can once more enjoy truly haute cuisine created by such artists as Timothy Dean in the St. Regis or Michel Richard in Citronelle at the Latham, to name but two.
Recently, Douglas Anderson arrived as the new executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown and added another star to the galaxy of first-class hotel dining rooms. Mr. Anderson has worked in restaurants of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada, and brings to Seasons his art, his expertise and his interest in local produce.
There's a sophisticated subtlety to Mr. Anderson's dishes; they combine luxury ingredients without being ostentatious; they shine without dazzling; they are elegant without being splashy. Even the most ordinary fish or meat is transformed by a reduction, a vegetable melange or marinade. There are no sleights of hand; it's merely culinary care.
Some of the best dishes are prepared as part of the specially priced menus ($25 at lunch and $35 at dinner) that change daily. These menus offer three courses and are genuine bargains.
At dinner one recent evening, we chose a first course from the special menu of squab with a slice of foie gras in a squash and raisin sauce, followed by sea bass in a mussel broth. Tiny poached vegetables floated in the broth; crisp, pointed, deep-fried wonton wrappers decorated the sides of the dish.
The semiboneless squab, although slightly tough, was plump and delicious. The touch of smooth, rich liver and the mild, almost sweet sauce balanced the assertive flavor of the little bird. I had asked for the bass to be cooked rare, and it was, making the fish both tender and firm. The rich, yet light, broth, redolent with the flavors of mussels and vegetables, enhanced the bass and turned this into a delicate fish presentation.
On another occasion, the special menu included a choice between lobster and sunchoke risotto or crab and avocado "martini"; the second course was roasted lamb loin or Chilean sea bass. Dessert was a chocolate napoleon with fresh raspberries.
At lunch, the special menu often includes pasta sometimes with spicy sausage, roasted peppers and oven-dried tomatoes, or with roasted chicken, mushrooms and asparagus or salmon. At a recent lunch, the salmon was served en papillote in crisp rice paper with a vegetable stir-fry of carrots, portobello mushrooms, celery and leeks. The fish was moist and fragrant.
The salmon filet was preceded by a bright mound of orange couscous with baby carrots and raisins, mixed baby greens in a refreshing citrus vinaigrette and two large poached shrimp. The lively color comes from a carrot reduction, and the whole dish is splendid, although the carrots could have been a mite less crisp. Dessert was a raspberry napoleon, a combination of fresh raspberries, delicate puff pastry, pastry cream and whipped cream. Divine. Pastry chef David Rexford comes up with creations worthy of Mr. Anderson's main courses.
The regular dinner menu includes a wide variety of dishes: charcoal grilled seafood stew, poached lobster, grilled veal chop and lamb, steaks, grilled chicken, roasted cod. All are served with appropriate side dishes.
Crab cakes, served with a crisp, light pommes souffles are as good as Chef Anderson's other seafood. Made almost entirely of shell-less crab meat, they are accompanied by a delicious watercress ginger mayonnaise. When a portion of the two good-sized cakes seemed too much for a companion, our waiter obligingly halved the portion (and the price).
Crab cakes, a petite filet, chicken breast and lamb shank are main courses at lunchtime. The menu also includes simply grilled fish, a hamburger and a lobster club sandwich. The sandwich is made of fresh, well-cooked, tender chunks of lobster meat in a light mayonnaise with slices of peeled tomato, lettuce and hard-boiled egg on brioche bread dressed with mashed avocado. Not everything is perfect. The bread, toasted but cold, was soggy, as though waiting too long to be served. The lobster salad, despite the quality of the lobster, lacked character.
The lunch menu also offers some main-course salads such as a rare tuna salad nicoise, a chopped salad with grilled vegetables, chicken or shrimp and crab.
First courses at both lunch and dinner include such interesting dishes as wild mushroom ravioli with foie gras; seared scallop; several soups, such as a corn and leek bisque; a rich vegetable- and pasta-filled minestrone; creamless tomato soup; or roasted butternut squash bisque. Even a simple salad of baby greens with candied pecans in a grapefruit vinaigrette could not have been better.
Seasons is on the lower floor of the hotel in a large space overlooking Rock Creek. It's an airy, pleasant room. Tables are spaced so that quiet conversations are possible. The service is courteous, professional and pleasant. Seasons isn't inexpensive, but you get your money's worth in terms of ambience, service and, above all, food.


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