My, how I do like them oysters
Downtown's newly opened Hotel Andaluz seems like it was designed to make you feel cool. As we walked through the lobby en route to Lucia, the hotel’s restaurant, the lobby nearly pulled us off course. Semiprivate cubicles with translucent curtains and lushly pillowed couches occupy the south wall, each with its own theme. (One cubicle is adorned with epiphytes and bamboo. Another sports a mother of pearl waterfall.) In the center of the lobby, a fountain is surrounded by an array of couches and coffee tables. As we walked through, groovy jazz-tronica music gently filled the room. There’s even a separate lobby menu, prepared in the Lucia kitchen, but we stayed the course and sat at a table inside the restaurant.
The dining room was dimly lit by low-volt lamps hanging from paper ceilings and the occasional flash of fire from the open kitchen. The chairs were comfortable, with noticeable lumbar support.
“Would you like a cucumber or lemon slice for your water?” a busboy asked.
“A slice of each, please,” I responded, as if I get asked that all the time.
With tongs, he delicately added slices to my glass.
After leaving us for a moment to play with our chain mail napkin holders, our waitress, enthusiastic but not in our faces, brought out an amuse-bouche of Yukon gold potato puree with an herbed flatbread. Two gin-based cocktails—a gin and tonic and a cucumber Martini—were excellent, as were the fancy mashed potatoes, which picked up herbal flavors from the flatbread.
Then the highlight of the meal, if not my life, arrived. Before us was a plate of grilled oysters with smoked chile-chive-oil mojo (a kind of Caribbean mayo) and pancetta, nesting on a bed of pea greens. Grilling the oysters rendered them cooked on the bottom and raw on top, an intriguing contrast of textures. The smoky, spicy mojo and porky pancetta added their two cents to the flavor without upstaging the oysters’ distilled and delicate flavors of the ocean.
Then the highlight of the meal, if not my life, arrived.
A bowl of grilled artichokes smothered in saffron butter and capers was another successful melding of flavors. It was filling, too, with two pieces of grilled bread attending to soak up the buttery jus.
My spinach salad was a good size and richly dressed in a warm bacon vinaigrette. But a salad of field greens, also generously sized, was even better for its effervescent Champagne vinaigrette. Candied walnuts, blue cheese and a fig wrapped in bacon sent it all the way home.
When the bar is set so high by starters, there’s always a chance the main courses will disappoint in comparison. Actually, my herb-crusted lamb rack gave me nothing to complain about, and oil-poached tomatoes in a chick-pea compote were much appreciated—but I couldn’t help calculating that for the price, I could have ordered three more plates of oysters (a plate of six is $12). A roasted Greek chicken was crispy on the outside, juicy inside and nicely seasoned with Mediterranean herbs. But it was small for $22, and the large puck of mediocre falafel it rested on was soggy in the middle.
The waitress walked by with a plate of grilled oysters, destined for another table. We contemplated mugging her.
A dessert of mango-honey-lavender flan had a generous garnish of fresh mango and kiwi; it was unapologetically sweet but not simplistically so, with a sturdy body. If there was lavender, I couldn’t taste it; but its absence didn’t hurt the dish, either.
I went back a week later for breakfast. Again, the service was attentive and classy without being obsequious. I started with a spectacular fresh-squeezed tangerine juice while listening to some mellow morning Afro-Cubantronica.
My lemon ricotta pancakes were subtly flavored and fluffy, but with some toothy texture. The green chile breakfast burrito was super, with bright-yellow organic scrambled eggs and a ton of bacon. The waiter gave me as much extra of the certifiably addictive green as I wanted, and he also brought some excellent house-made roasted garlic ketchup for the rosemary skillet potatoes, which were good, if a bit salty. I washed it all down with another glass of fresh squeezed juice (grapefruit this time) and a bottomless cup of coffee. It was an amazing breakfast. It cost $30, but I wouldn’t have traded it for 15 grilled oysters.
• Did I mention the grilled oysters?
• Field greens salad
• Fresh squeezed juices
• Green chile breakfast burrito
125 Second Street NW (inside the Hotel Andaluz ) • 242-9090
Price range: $10 (breakfast and appetizers) to $35 (rack of lamb)
Vibe: Big city slick
Credit cards: Yes
Extras: Rooftop bar will open in the spring.