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Posted at 2:20 PM ET, 09/28/2006

It's Elementary at PS 7's

By Erin

PS 7's is named for chef Peter Smith and the restaurant's address (777 I St.), but it also feels very much like a nod to elementary school. Be it at the bar or a table in the dining room, obsequious staffers harp on enthusiastically about the dishes as if they're following a syllabus, sharing details of preparation, presentation and tastes to come. With such a detailed and complicated menu, this can take a long time, and by the end, I felt I could recite everything from memory if given a test.

Smith spent over a decade at Southern belle Vidalia and hints of his resume pop up in a warm bacon biscuit as well as the spicy tuna tartar with cucumber lemongrass granite, which is better enjoyed without the accompanying sweet sesame crackers. The menu is interesting, if a bit over-ambitious. It reads like it was designed for diners with Appetite Attention Deficit Disorder and I had to wonder: Did the chef spend so much time cooking for other people's restaurants that his pent-up creative energy exploded onto this debut menu?

Smith likes to play with several preparations on each plate, so veal is served as a trio with crispy sweetbreads, a lackluster sautéed loin and, the highlight, a braised breast over mushrooms. Beef arrives with two identities, while lobster arrives as a full degustation with a mug of chowder, over-tough beignets, a light sausage and a mock-egg scramble of lobster. I often bemoan the lack of inspired entrees when appetizers are so fun, but this menu takes my sentiment too much to heart: popcorn-crusted halibut, anyone? Diners are encouraged to each order two appetizers and an entree, but at $10-$15 per appetizer and $22-$23 per entree, that's a high price point and a recipe for taste bud overload. Plus, if you load up on savories, there'll be no room for large dessert bites, like a tres leches cake and a Valrhona mousse, or even smaller bites, like banana cream pie, ice cream cake and, my choice, warm sugar donuts with chocolate sauce and raspberry kirsch dunking sauces.

The design of the space also adds a bit to the elementary theme. The rippling blue ceiling panel makes for an under-the-sea experience that continues in the bathroom. It's a must-see with suspended bowls of fish and dark glass allowing hand-washers to see into the hallway. All in all, I like the warm, soothing blue and brown tones of the space. In fact, I envision the bar becoming a chill lounge destination. Last night seemed like ladies' night with nary a gentleman in sight 'round the bar, but it can and should become a date stop-off spot. There's a new bar menu with items like mini-tuna tartar burgers (taking a hint from Matchbox with orders of three, six or nine) and veal cheek chips earning raves from the women next to me. There are, thankfully, plenty of seats around the bar. The lounge area features low chairs and tables as well as a bench conducive to intimate conversations. The wine list is worth a visit on its own with boutique bottles thoughtfully chosen by Danny Boylen, formerly of Notti Bianche. The cocktails are a mixed experience: the Old Fashioned was scrumptious with cherries that I'd eat on their own, but the restaurant's take on a Dark and Stormy didn't leave me bright and happy. Next time, I'll have to try the Sazerac or stick with wine.

All in all, I applaud the staffers' enthusiasm and involvement when solicited, but PS 7's can feel like equal parts fine dining experience, recitation class and Home Ec cooking experiment.

--Erin

By Erin  | September 28, 2006; 2:20 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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