I complain a lot about how high expectations can ruin a meal, but every once in awhile, I have an experience where those expectations are met and I walk away with such a sense of...fulfillment (like when I saw Sin City that one time!). I had been waiting for months to go to Equinox, #95 on Washingtonian's Top 100 list in 2010 - after suffering a serious fire in December 2009, owners Todd and Ellen Gray renovated and reopened this past June. We finally got a chance to visit the restaurant for dinner in its tucked-away little spot on Farragut Square with the lovely CC from DC-Wrapped Dates (disclosure: CC is an Equinox VIP. Well, she's just generally a VIP in our book, but she's specifically an Equinox VIP for purposes of this post). And it was definitely worth the wait.
The renovated interior is elegant and understated. I thought one of the walls looked a little like cubed tofu, but somehow the effect was pleasant. Despite the upscale decor, it didn't feel pretentious.
To go along with the handsome decor, we had wonderful service, friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. CC pointed out all the appetizers we had already tried at the Mid-Atlantic Red Fruit Festival Launch Party a few days prior, so Mark and I both started with the appetizer portions of the pasta dishes.
I ordered the saffron fettucine with sausage ragu, sweetbreads, anise hyssop (a slightly bitter minty herb), and parmesan reggiano (below), and it might have been my favorite of the night. The pasta was one of those great dishes in which all the ingredients bring something fantastic to the table and meld together perfectly - the fettucine was, as promised on the menu, silky, the sausage ragu was rich and complex, and the cornmeal-crusted sweetbreads added deliciously creamy bites.
Mark had the raviolini of sweet corn and Yukon potato, with chanterelle mushrooms, pickled scallion butter, and aged sheep's cheese (below). One surprise was the addition of actual popcorn, which added a great textural contrast. Mark liked the dish a lot, but I preferred my pasta and would go back for an entree-sized portion in a heartbeat.
CC had the roasted red pepper soup (below) off the vegetarian tasting menu, and it was deliciously lush and bright, with a depth of flavor I rarely taste in vegetarian soups. One thing of note about Equinox is that it's one of the few restaurants (that I know of) in the District that offers a full vegetarian tasting menu. While I've never tried it, one of our good vegetarian friends is a raving fan.
At CC's insistence, we ordered a side of the Macaroni and Cheese (below). There are no real bells and whistles here - this is your basic mac and cheese, but it's executed exactly right, rich, buttery and almost overwhelmingly cheesy.
For my entree, I ordered the jumbo lump crabcake, which rested on a bed of black bean/tortilla strip mixture (below). I didn't pay much attention to the black bean concoction, which was pretty good, with slices of bell pepper adding a nice crunchy sweetness. No, I was too busy reveling in the crabcake, which had virtually no filler (just capers, which added a great tanginess), just huge lumps of crab goodness. In fact, the crabcake seemed to be a little magical - I couldn't figure out how it stayed together. It was also perfectly seasoned and cooked.
Mark had the breast of Muscovy duck with slow-cooked confit (below). The dish was very good, a winning combination of juicy duck with sweet figs.
CC had the jumbo sea scallops and Hawaiian blue prawns, with a bouillabaisse jus, roasted baby fennel, and a saffron rouille crouton (below). I had just a bite of the dish, but the scallops were as perfectly cooked as I've ever had, and I loved how roasting the fennel had mellowed the sometimes overwhelming anise flavor.
Mark got the Equinox Chocolate Cream with olive oil ice cream, hazelnuts, and coffee "soil." Without being overly sweet, the dessert had the perfect crunch added by the hazelnuts and coffee/chocolate granules. While it bordered on being too rich for me, Mark found it close to perfection.
CC got the Coconut and Cantaloupe, with cantaloupe sorbet, candied almond, and coconut-lime cream. I didn't have any of this dish (allergic to cantaloupe), but it was a pretty plate and CC and Mark seemed to really enjoy it.
As excited as I was for this meal, I was even more excited afterwards that everything had lived up to my expectations. Chef Todd's seasonal take on Mid-Atlantic cuisine is creative and delicious, and the Grays have combined the wonderful food with a beautiful restaurant and top-notch staff. I'm so happy to welcome Equinox back to the D.C. dining scene after its hiatus, and hope it's around for years to come.