- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

What happens when you combine the talents of David Hagedorn, former chef-owner of Trumpets, and Greggory Hill, former chef of New Heights and Gabriel? The answer is David Greggory, the new restaurant at 21st and M streets NW.

What you get is an interesting medley of modern American cuisine with touches of unusual spice. Not everything is perfect (some portions are minuscule), but David Greggory is first class.

The restaurant, cool and spacious, was the home of the Red Tomato and later Shelly’s West End. Tables are topped with brown leatherette, chairs and benches are comfortable. Bright colors on the walls and around the bar enliven the room with its tall ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s a spacious outdoor area on 21st Street when weather permits.

The service can be lackadaisical or it can be perfect, as it was at a recent dinner. Our waiter was attentive, amusing without being overbearing, and knowledgeable about all the dishes. Lunch was a different story; we had to call for a waiter several times.

David Greggory’s starters are unique and outstanding. Mysteriously divided into “appetizers” and “appas” (tapas without a T or appetizers without the Z?), they’re original and delicious. Moroccan shrimp are marvelous. Four large shrimp are impaled on sticks, then grilled and served with an excellent remoulade sauce, enlivened with Moroccan harissa. Harissa adds heat but not enough to burn the taste buds.

A cold avocado and pea soup of the day is another winner. Bright green, creamy without being rich, the soup had a pleasant jalapena-induced zing. A few English peas and slices of mushroom float atop the soup, topped with crumbled bacon — lovely.

A corn cake, which looks like a round-layered pastry but is actually a moist mound of corn, oven-dried tomatoes and avocado, is subtle and delicious. Equally fine was a special of the day, another version of a corn cake, this one mixed with tasso ham in a fine, creamy sauce.

A “greenless green” salad, although very good, is too tiny a portion to warrant the $10 tariff. Four snap peas, five French beans, a spoonful of sauteed leeks, two spoonfuls of pale green fava beans look very pretty. The green goddess dressing is similar to the remoulade served with the shrimp, but without the spices. Good enough to eat, as the saying goes, but one wished for more.

Main courses are not as consistently successful as the appetizers. A special of roast pork tenderloin was good, but nothing unusual. Similarly, crabcakes, served as a whole (two cakes) or half (one cake) portion, are adequate but tired. The crab could have been fresher and of higher quality and the tartar sauce lacked character. The dish is accompanied by a non-cabbage slaw (fennel and carrots). While it is pleasant to have a change from the usual cabbage, this version was overly acidic, and the Old Bay spiced chips were merely lukewarm.

Roasted chicken is a juicy half a bird with a sweet ancho honey coating. Beneath its coating of sauce, the chicken is moist, tender and flavorful. The accompanying mashed potatoes, which should have been flavored with garlic, were swimming in the chicken’s ancho honey sauce. The corn relish served with the chicken, like the fennel slaw, was vinegary.

Chefs Hill and Hagedorn go to some length to give traditional dishes an unusual international twist: Skate — most welcome on a restaurant menu — is prepared in a Japanese sake miso broth with seaweed; salmon is enhanced with garam masala and grilled; rabbit is prepared as a cassoulet.

At lunch, the menu includes a “salad bar,” which comes to the table on a plate reminiscent of a flat porcelain tiffin box with lots of little compartments. The salad consists of a large portion of field greens or Caesar salad topped with one of seven items: portobello mushroom, chicken breast, pork tenderloin, grilled beef, salmon, shrimp or scallops.

The diner has a choice of three composed side salads, such as beets and feta (the feta adds little to the deliciously tender golden beets), excellent braised lemon squash, a combination of radish, avocado and carrot, among others. The price of the meat or fish determines the price of the “salad bar.” It’s a wonderful idea, although half the portion of greens would be ample. The salmon version was fresh and altogether lovely.

Desserts, divided into “chocolate” and “not chocolate,” vary. A “s’more in Greek’s clothing” is a small, individual chocolate cake, presented between two flaky phyllo “cookies” with a dab of marshmallow cream on the side. Unfortunately, at our meal, the cake was slightly stale and the filo had lost its flakiness.

We had better luck with a yummy, white chocolate, coconut layer cake. The large-enough-for-three slice of cake is served with a rich, gooey rum caramel sauce and some delicious macadamia nut brittle. Delectable.

David Greggory has a good wine list with several very pleasant wines under $30. Coffee is very good, and tea, at $4.75, is unusually dear.

David and Greggory are sure to entertain and delight Washington diners with lots of new and enticing creations. And don’t forget to pick up a matchbox of tiny, red cinnamon hearts from the table at the entrance as you leave. But choose carefully: some of the matchboxes contain cinnamon hearts, and some actually contain matches.

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