Don’t Wait Until Next Valentine’s Day
Restaurant Antiquity makes any night of the year a great date night
From the moment I stepped in the door at Restaurant Antiquity, any notion of this evening being for work kind of drifted into the ether. I found my phone staying solidly in my pocket all night and my restaurant critic self taking a back seat. She made the occasional comment from back there, but mostly she was just enjoying the scenery.
I wanted to feature Antiquity in this issue because it’s known as a romantic place to take a date and, you know, Valentine’s Day. On this particular night my date was my old friend Natalie, who never fails to make me laugh embarrassingly loud in public, and who cleans up nicer than me but lets me choose the wine. I think it’s a pretty good dynamic.
We walk in a few minutes before my 7pm reservation and sit on the built-in benches by the front door to wait for our table. The roaring wood-fired grill that cooks all the meat entrées at Antiquity is right by the door, making for a warm and bracing entrance on a cold February night. Cooks stoke the fire and shuffle pans in and out, the stove’s polished brick façade reflects the flickering light of the flames. Yeah, I can pick up on the romantic vibe already.
The maitre d’ seats us in a narrow booth with a small tableside lamp where we can observe the rest of the restaurant easily but still feel cloistered away from prying eyes. We hang our coats on the hooks conveniently placed at the outside of the booth. Our server, James, quickly comes to tell us the specials. We look over the wine list and giggle at the header “distinctive whites” (“like us,” I say, stupidly), then ask James for a recommendation. I walked in already knowing I wanted to order the scallops, so he suggests the Joseph Drouhin Pouilly-Fuissé ($56 bottle), a white Burgundy made from Chardonnay grapes. It’s the color of white gold in the glass, with a distinct buttery flavor and very mellow acidity throughout. It’s very dry, definitely minerally, with notes of orange blossom, jasmine and green apple. “I guess I don’t hate all Chardonnay,” says Natalie. I’ll call it a hit. We ruminate over our glasses for a while before ordering our meal.
Natalie orders the tenderloin au poivre ($28.95) and I get the scallops jalapeño ($30.95), a house specialty made with giant scallops that are delivered fresh daily. Every entrée comes with a choice of appetizer and side dish, and we both order the soup of the day—a cremini cream soup—and the potatoes in cream sauce. It’s cold outside, and we’re not in a salad mood tonight.
By the time our food comes out from the kitchen we’ve made each other laugh-cry at least once, and wondered, too loudly, why the table across from us had brought what seems to be a newborn infant to the restaurant. We’re having too much fun for such a well-heeled venue, probably, but there’s nobody who feels compelled to shush us.
The scallops are gorgeous. Three jumbo scallops cooked in a citrus cream sauce with tarragon and fresh jalapeño, which is surprisingly mild on the spice scale. That’s fine by me—I haven’t had scallops in forever, and I’m just savoring the clean, ocean flavor of these barely pan-seared little medallions with a squeeze of lemon on top. Steamed zucchini, carrots and broccolini with a little olive oil and salt accompany, along with crispy potatoes in a lightly sweet cream sauce.
When Natalie bites into her tenderloin au poivre her eyes flutter closed, and I think I hear her whisper “good god,” under her breath. “That good?” I ask, and she nods seriously. The two tenderloin medallions are served with a mushroom cream sauce on top that’s rich and savory and totally indulgent. They’re cooked beautifully rare as requested.
Natalie says she thinks this is an ideal date. “Two women getting a little drunk, talking about their projects and accomplishments, getting served by a man.” It’s both meant to be funny and also not a joke at all, you know?
The food is delicious, the wine list is ridiculous, the space is lovely, but Antiquity wins most of its points in the ambiance department. All of the servers are friendly and attentive without being overbearing—they know that people come here to have a special night, a quiet and intimate dinner that’s more about the company than it is about what precisely is on the plate. Those details are brushstrokes on the canvas, but the focal point is the two people sitting at a table together—two people who really like each other, and who hopefully like each other a little bit more when they walk out of the room.
There’s only one thing in the note file on my phone from that night: “It feels like the bottom and the top of the Titanic had a baby,” which is something Natalie said regarding the ambiance of the restaurant, and which I can’t really elaborate on further, honestly. That was before we’d had anything to drink, too. I think she was saying something about the low wooden ceilings juxtaposed next to the smartly-dressed servers and the romantic lighting. There is nothing shiny or trendy about the way Antiquity looks, inside or out. It’s all original unpolished wood, a warm fire and simplicity. Which is what makes it such a wonderful place to take somebody you care about, and not just on Valentine’s or your anniversary or when one of you lands a promotion. Antiquity is a testament to things that endure for the right reasons. That kind of enduring is about what happens between the big milestones: the everyday, the unglamorous and the subtle. The Thursday night dinners when nothing big is really happening, but you’re just glad to be together.
112 Romero St NW
Hours: Mon-Thu 5-9pm Fri-Sat 5-10pm
Vibe: Romantic, cozy and candlelit. Really an escape from the rest of the world.
Alibi Recommends: The tenderloin au poivre and whatever’s on special.