- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Degrees is hot; Fahrenheit is cool — very cool but not a bit cold. The former is the bar and the latter the restaurant in the new Ritz-Carlton hotel on South Street at the bottom of Georgetown. The sizzling names honor Georgetown’s incinerator, its 130-foot brick smokestack intact and incorporated into the hotel as a private dining room for 12.

Old-timers will remember the working incinerator and the rendering plant on the Georgetown waterfront, and the unpleasant aroma that drifted over the neighborhood when the wind was just right (or wrong). All are gone now, and for years, the southern side of the one-block South Street between M and K streets, running between Wisconsin Avenue and 31st Street, was a wasteland.

No more. Since the beginning of April, everything has changed: The hotel has taken over and brought with it a classy new restaurant and bar (separated by a floor) that appears to be Georgetown’s newest meet-and-greet spot.

In a word, the restaurant is gorgeous, especially in the daytime, when the colors of deep purple and red and smooth dark wood combine to create a sophisticated, elegant environment. Add a sensational deep gray triptych of Roosevelt Island, painted by local artist Stephen Hannock; stylish candleholders; silvery vases; unusual tabletops; silken, gauzy draperies that stretch up, up, up almost to the high ceiling; and tall vases of exotic floral arrangements. Tables are far enough apart so your conversation remains private; rugs echoing the colors of the upholstery mute sound; and service, beginning with a warm greeting by charming hostess Annette, is smooth and professional (though on occasion a bit slow).



The kitchen is under the direction of chef Joseph Pesner, who offers a short but well-prepared and well-presented menu of American cuisine with Italian accents. It’s expensive, but you get what you pay for, which is not the usual hotel food.

The rustic country bread (and single roll) come to the table quickly; it’s fresh and crunchy and replaced without a request. Of the four starters on the dinner menu, two of them soup, the grilled spicy Italian sausage is splendid. The sausage isn’t really spicy, but it takes on an unusual sweet-smoky flavor from the caramelized onion marmalade and crumbled feta cheese on which it is served. The dish is completed with creamy polenta; the combination is rich, complex and delicious.

An appetizer of room-temperature seared tuna, although fresh, is lackluster — and expensive at $13 for three minuscule medallions. The tuna needs a touch of sauce to balance its natural dryness. The spoonful of lentil and bulgur salad is bland and needs zest in the dressing. The small mound of mache and fennel could use a little spice, too.

A salad of arugula and radicchio with thin slices of raw mushroom and apple and bits of Parmesan cheese, on the other hand, is fresh and well-sauced with a lemon vinaigrette. It’s a nice-size portion and a perfect starter for a summer meal.

Tomato soup, made with roasted tomatoes and fresh basil, is light and straightforward, if not particularly inspired. The soup is served with a drizzle of sour cream and two little cheese toasts on the side.

At lunchtime, starters also include house-cured gravlax and eggplant lasagna. At both lunch and dinner, a “family style” platter of antipasti is available. It consists of grilled vegetables, a variety of smoked meats, cheeses and artichoke bruschetta.

@$:Main courses are substantial and well-conceived, both for taste and eye appeal. A seafood risotto, for example, is a plate of deliciously creamy pale risotto with just a hint of bite to the rice. A single scallop and a single shrimp swim on top of the rice at one side of the plate; mussels in the shell float together at another side; two bright green chives add a touch of color. It’s a dish lovely to behold and fine to taste.

Crab cakes are made with lump crab meat and a lemony filler that adds a summery, fragrant touch to the crab. At lunch the crab cake is served with excellent saffron risotto (although the menu-described avocado relish was missing); at dinner the crab cakes are combined with a salad of grapefruit and jicama and roasted potatoes. The kitchen will oblige with a single cake rather than the two on the menu.

An unusual saltimbocca uses a grilled veal chop on the bone in lieu of the usual veal scallops. The chop is slit and stuffed with fontina cheese and bits of prosciutto; it comes to the table perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. The cheese, melted in the grilling, makes a sauce for the meat. Served with a ragout of wild mushrooms and wide slices of fried potatoes, it’s an outstanding dish.

A New York strip steak, although cooked to order, disappointed — a little tough and not much flavor. It’s served with a good leek-potato gratin and the restaurant’s steak sauce, which, like some of the vinaigrettes, could use a little more zip.

Fahrenheit continues a recent food trend of combining two different cuts of meat in a single dish: a lamb shank and lamb chop come with white beans stewed in tomatoes, garlic and bacon.

Be sure to try the luscious chocolate cake, a creamy mousse concoction served with creme anglaise and a smattering of raspberries. The combination of the chocolate and the raspberries is splendid.

Fahrenheit has a conservative wine list of mostly well-known wines. Wines by the glass are expensive, averaging $8 to $14 per glass. While most wines are $40 and up, there are several, both red and white, at $30 and less.Fahrenheit is a restaurant to savor a leisurely, delicious meal. The food is fine, the surroundings splendid, the service almost just right. Ritz-Carlton, you done good.

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