Pool Boy

Mirabelle, the Return of James Beard Winning Chef Frank Ruta and Pastry Chef Aggie Chin at 16th and I Street Downtown

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Once I get my sciatica under control and can comfortably work in my office again, I selflessly volunteer to go by Mirabelle for lunch one day and have what is sure to be an extremely tasty meal for myself, to put my money where my mouth is.

Not ordering the ham sandwich, though. ^_^

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My wife and I went last night for our inaugural dinner at Mirabelle.

In short - Wow.

In shortish - Amazing space, great service, great food and drink. A place to linger and indulge. Not cheap. At all. But for me, worth it.

And now for the long form review.

Parking - It's a little tricky in that area. They have valet right out front, so you always have that option. Fortunately, we only spent a couple of minutes circline and we found a great spot less than two blocks away.

The Space - They have outdoor seating, but it was not yet ready. They are apparently planning on installing large patio umbrella over the whole space as well. The main doors are twofold right at the corner of the building. There's an interior door and the host stand is immediately to your left at the head of the main walkway toward the bar. We were a little early but they were able to seat us immediately in a booth (yay!) - big enough for four, but most of the booths had two people in them. It was not crazy busy when we got there, but filled up during the course of the evening (we were there from 8 to midnight). It really is a beautiful space with a lot of attention to detail. The chairs, the bar chairs and the booth seating is at the same time beautiful, sumptuous and above all comfortable. I especially like that the bar seating has seat backs (note, they are still not serving the menu at the bar). Designs are echoed across elements as well - it's well thought out. And the bathrooms are on the way to the kitchen and that hallway is where a lot of wine is stored/displayed (similar to my experience at Tin Lung Heen). It was funny, I mentioned to my wife that the space was not technically authentic Parisian, because the tables were not close enough together (haha - just kidding, I love the spacing here!).

The Service - What a treat. Warm, well-informed staff are thorough and engaging, and know very well how to be unobtrusive as needed. They almost all predicted things we'd want or need before we ourselves knew. Katy was our server, and we hope to be always be under her care on all of our future visits. Jaren and Jennifer kept us well taken care of with some half glass pairings for our first course. Jaren in particular helped, when we decided to go Rhone instead of Burgundy, not only nailed the selection, he did it in a way that made it work with a difficult to manage line-up of courses we'd picked. We saw some Palena alums there as well - glad to see them again. Though we did not really experience the tableside finally delivery from pan to plate (exception - our first course soups), we did see this happen quite a bit. Fun. And though we did not see the actually cheese trolley, we were seated right next to the trolley of brandies and other goodies. I found it quite wonderful to watch how the staff managed a demanding customer with grace and professionalism - ultimately addressing the customer's desires while maintaining perfect decorum. Lastly, I forgot to mention the cocktails. They have a fairly sizable list of their own creations/variations. We tried the Coda (really, really good) and the Paul's Spritz (a little weak as compared to the Coda, but interesting).

The food. Frank and Aggie have been on their game, both of them, for years. At Palena, then at Grill Room and now here at Mirabelle. But I have to admit, I think it is possible that they have raised their game again. While I will miss the sprinkling of Italian bits and pieces through Ruta's dishes, he just adapts to the situation and makes things fun. And, I am getting ahead of myself here, but Chin's desserts are exceptional. Truly. Bear in mind you will have two paths to follow on the menu - 1) a six course proposed meal (4 savory, 1 cheese, 1 dessert) with optional wine pairings and 2) picking from the regular menu (I 

So, without any further delay, here are the courses we selected--
 

Spring Soup

Spring soup with buckwheat tempura walleye pike, tapioca with curry flavors and coconut. This dish was so good. The coconut and the curry were such great elements and the crisp of the tempura really held up in the soup and provided a nice textural contrast. Jaren helped us pair this with a 2015 Domaine Mardon 'Tre Vielles Vignes' Quincy (a sauvignon blanc I believe). 

 

Consomme

Ruta's consomme is legendary. I crave this at the center of my being. I live for his endless variations of this dish and this one did not disappoint at all. Consomme...enveloping poached foie fras with chrysanthemum and spring radish. Hoo boy so good. And what a heady aroma. Anytime anythig with consomme or other brothy variants are on the dish, we have a standing rule that one of us needs to order it. Jaren suggested the pairing of a 2014 J. Fritsch 'Schlosserg'Riesling that I think was not only one of the best pairings I have ever had, but was also one of the best Rieslings I have ever had. Wow.

 

Boudin Blanc

Boudin blanc - cicken and foie fras sausage with house made lardons, spinach coulis and poached raisins. Clearly house made everything. The sausage was so fresh and perfectly prepared, it was almost quivering with glee as to got it in to your mouth. So damn good. And, while picking rankings of dishes is splitting hairs, this was on the bottom of the list of dishes we tried not for lack of being an excellent dish, but just because there was so much strong competition from the rest of the dishes we had at this meal.

 

Tete du Porc

Tete du porc with baby leeks and truffle vinaigrette. I love all of the bits and parts of the meats I love so much and this, this is me on a dish in many ways.The mustard was clearly house made and provided the sharpness and mild sting to counter the richness of the planks of this pork. But there were also the lightly pickled carrots to help provide texture and zing. They event rolled up the carrots and stuffed it with a çarrot green top'on the one in the foreground. Too fun! I would order this again and again.

 

Beef Tartare

We fell in love with beef tartare on our Alpine trip several years ago, liking perhaps the best the variants in Lucerne, Switzerland and Schladming, Austria (though the versions in Verona, Italy were amazing, though different). So we had to try this.

This version is quite good. My wife liked it less than I, mainly because she pines for the more 'Germanic versions indicate above (the Germanic versions tend to only very lightly bind the meat, and leave all of the various pickled and other additions off to the side for you to endlessly experiment with combinations - sometimes even adding butter to the plate - note the butter in the background, but this was not served with the dish but the lovely breads we had earlier in the meal) - but I digress.

I totally loved this dish. It's rich and decadent and wonderful - especially with the poached egg broken and leaked all over the lovely tartare. The brioche was a nice textural play and IIRC there were tiny potatoe strings spinkled on the top of the tartare that were tasty and provided more textural fun. The razor clams, I think, were added to the dish so as to cleanse your palate a bit between bites of the tartare. I didn't eat them that way as I slurped it all down before jumping in to the tartare. But I can see how and why it was added to the dish, I just personally think it was unnecessary.

 

Squab and Morels

Squab nantua, the breast roasted with spices, the leg braised with morels, crayfish and spring asparagus. This was a spectacular dish. Perfectly cooked squab, well seasoned and just fantastic. The underpinning of the sauce (likely the braising liquid for the legs?) was the star of the show - it seemed almost ever so lightly goulash-y with a hint of light paprika and other mystery spices (maybe marjoram? no idea). So.Damn.Good. Order this.

This paired really well with the 2014 Domaine Tunnel St. Joseph that we selected off the list with Jaren's help. It threaded the needle of fruitiness, but also a meatiness to it. Honeyed elements and a more thick viscosity revealed itself well after being open for a while. Yum.

Bouef

I went for this dish since we veered in to squab. It was a hard decision because there were other significantly tempting other mains to consider (the chicken, the bouillabaisse, the turbot, and more). But I went here and was not disappointed.

Angus beef sirloin, dauphin potatoes, with beef tongue, bone marrow glazed carrots and spring onions, sauce bordelaise. I reallynot need to say anything more about this dish, right? :)  The spring onions under there seemed to have been first grilled or seared, and then lightly braised. Wow. Again, a role player basically stealing the show again. And this on a plate of spectacular food. It's what Ruta does all the damn time. The Domaine Tunnel St. Joseph also paired well with this.

 

Strawberry Mille Feuille

Strawberry 'mille feuille' - buckwheat puff pastry, vanilla fromage blanc, strawberries, toasted buckwheat ice cream

Where Chin got these strawberries this early in the season is curious, but they delivered for sure. And the buckwheat elements to this dish were lovely. It makes us want to experiment with this in the kitchen when strawberry season is in full swing as well.
 

 

Rhubarb Roulade

Matcha Rhubarb Roulade, matcha cake, yuzu cream, rhubarb compote, rhubarb sorbet. We have decided that if Chin has a dessert on the menu that involves anything on the tea spectrum, one of us needs to order it. I fell in love with and still dream about her 'Spot of Tea'dish she came up with while at Grill Room. This is a worthy successor in that line of thinking. I mean, this was the piece de resistance. A triumph. A masterpiece in flavor, subtle sweetness and amazing texture and flavor interplay.

Wrapping things up on things I forgot to mention - they had three breads offered up for service - a pumpernickel, a baguette and something else. We tried the two I mentioned and enjoyed them a lot. The butter is whipped and the proper temperature and seasoning. If you got some off of the serving dish on to your knife, you were left with a peaked swirl on the butter still on the serving dish. Amazing!  The cheese was excellent and they had maybe 12 to 15 to choose from. Katy offered to have us come look at the trolley to view them, but we were too lazy and ordered off of the list instead. Much to explore there. Enjoyed a 1975 Calvet-Thunevin GRenache 'Maury' Vin Doux Naturale from Roussillon, France with dessert. And then one of the Absinthes at a 3-to-1 ratio that we doctored up with a little more ice and water to probably the 4-to-1 ratio. Interesting to try but not my thing. I'll explore the brandies the next time.

 

The thing is, it was almost unbearable that we did not order the proposed menu, because there was so much amazing stuff on that list that we knew we were passing on, but hey we will just have to come back. One thing to remember, you cannot currently order anything off of the proposed menu as an a la carte item. Yet, anyway. However, if one person in your party wants to the proposed menu, and others do not, they will happily accommodate you. Oh and you also get tasty petit fours at the end!

All in all, I was very pleased with our first experience there. Dinner will often be our main experiences there, though lunch I am sure will be excellent as will the coming breakfast. Not sure if they are ever doing brunch, but you never know. It is expensive, I will admit. But the attention to detail here on not just the food front, but the service and the beverage program, not to mention the space and everything else that goes in to the experience, is, in my opinion, worth it. Plus, it is relatively easy to keep a lid on costs - we ordered a lot - cocktails, a couple of half glasses of wine, a total of 5 appetizers, a nice bottle of wine, two mains, a cheese course, two deserts, a dessert wine, a try at the absinthe and the petit fours at the end. You could easily omit several of these things and be full, satisfied, and drop a lot fewer dollars there as a result. And to experience the food elsewise, there is always lunch and the coming breakfast to allow you other opportunities to get back more often.

And now...I'm hungry for more.

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Dinner a week ago at Mirabelle was such a let down that it made me wonder whether I would still love Palena if I could go back in time and eat there today. Is my memory of my first time in the cafe, at the bar, eating a hamburger, the old fry plate with lemons, and Ann Amernick's platonic ideal of a brownie sundae, a meal which to this day remains a favorite, simply an experience I wouldn't enjoy today?

Putting aside some issues with oversalting, nothing was all that tasty at Mirabelle. We ate 1 tasting menu, and a few first courses. Best part of the meal was the cheese course. The spring soup with buckwheat tempura walleye pike that Pool Boy enjoyed was gross during our visit. One note bitterness with stale curry flavors.

The lobster plate had an interesting texture, neither raw nor fully cooked, and quite chewy.

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The cured trout that started the tasting menu was bland, forgettable, ho-hum, and worsened with an over salty potato bite. o-6.jpg.604a936aa80ea82b9744a500812a55f0.jpg

A salmon and white asparagus plate was also bland and boring. 

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The john dory with sauce americaine was the best dish on the tasting menu yet nothing special.

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The lamb shoulder was too salty and plated with pretty vegetables that were pretty flavorless.

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The souffle to finish the meal was fine as in passable, decent, ok.

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Ruta and Chin were in the house so not entirely sure what to make of such a lackluster meal. 

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8 hours ago, peasoup said:

Ruta and Chin were in the house so not entirely sure what to make of such a lackluster meal. 

Maybe your palate has moved to the point where you want more done with the food than simple ingredients presented simply?

(I'm talking about Ruta, not Chin.)

To be honest, both the pictures and your descriptions of them look and sound wonderful *to me at this point in my life* - that doesn't mean they work with you, or that I'm right and you're wrong. Believe me, I appreciate what I think you're searching for as well; it's just that I've had it done poorly *so many times* that I often yearn for simplicity.

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10 hours ago, peasoup said:

 

Putting aside some issues with oversalting, nothing was all that tasty at Mirabelle. We ate 1 tasting menu, and a few first courses. Best part of the meal was the cheese course. The spring soup with buckwheat tempura walleye pike that Pool Boy enjoyed was gross during our visit. One note bitterness with stale curry flavors.

I found the seasoning throughout our dinner was spot on. While I am surprised about your comment about the spring soup, it is possible that the dish evolved from your experience to our experience. Curious, did you happen to mention to your server that you thought the dish was gross (thus providing the team the opportunity to correct the situation)?

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13 hours ago, DonRocks said:

Maybe your palate has moved to the point where you want more done with the food than simple ingredients presented simply?

(I'm talking about Ruta, not Chin.)

To be honest, both the pictures and your descriptions of them look and sound wonderful *to me at this point in my life* - that doesn't mean they work with you, or that I'm right and you're wrong. Believe me, I appreciate what I think you're searching for as well; it's just that I've had it done poorly *so many times* that I often yearn for simplicity.

Actually, over the years my palate has moved more towards preferring good ingredients cooked or prepared in a way that highlights their innate flavors. But even a long time ago Palena quite impressed with: ground beef, cheese, toasted bun; fried potatoes and lemon; chocolate, flour, egg, baked.

And I agree, the dishes at Mirabelle looked nice (except for the "spring soup" which looked like an algae bloom). 

They just did not taste very good!

Bad nights can happen, sure. But I also think an underdone, chewy lobster, multiple over-salted items, and a permeating blandness make for a highly disappointing dinner.

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3 hours ago, Pool Boy said:

I found the seasoning throughout our dinner was spot on. While I am surprised about your comment about the spring soup, it is possible that the dish evolved from your experience to our experience. Curious, did you happen to mention to your server that you thought the dish was gross (thus providing the team the opportunity to correct the situation)?

The server said the kitchen purees whatever leaves they have in that day for the soup. So entirely possible we ate different pureed leaves.

And yes, we mentioned our dislike of the soup. We weren't charged for it.

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7 hours ago, peasoup said:

The server said the kitchen purees whatever leaves they have in that day for the soup. So entirely possible we ate different pureed leaves.

And yes, we mentioned our dislike of the soup. We weren't charged for it.

It sounds like that was the case. The dish was perhaps not the most impressive looking, but as stated, I thought it was a very good dish. Not as good as the consomme for sure, but a very good dish. Well, as with all new restaurant opening, I would imagine things can often be less than perfect. Perhaps you'll consider trying Mirabelle at another time in the future.

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9 hours ago, peasoup said:

Actually, over the years my palate has moved more towards preferring good ingredients cooked or prepared in a way that highlights their innate flavors. But even a long time ago Palena quite impressed with: ground beef, cheese, toasted bun; fried potatoes and lemon; chocolate, flour, egg, baked.

And I agree, the dishes at Mirabelle looked nice (except for the "spring soup" which looked like an algae bloom). 

They just did not taste very good!

Bad nights can happen, sure. But I also think an underdone, chewy lobster, multiple over-salted items, and a permeating blandness make for a highly disappointing dinner.

You absolutely come across as someone who knows what they're talking about. I believe you.

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3 hours ago, DaveO said:

If you haven't seen this a thoughtful perspective on dining on at Mirabelle by Mark Furstenberg.  He and Frank Ruta are friends and you might recall that after Palena closed Ruta cooked for a short while at BreadFurst

Quite an interesting essay, indeed.

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3 hours ago, DaveO said:

If you haven't seen this a thoughtful perspective on dining on at Mirabelle by Mark Furstenberg.  He and Frank Ruta are friends and you might recall that after Palena closed Ruta cooked for a short while at BreadFurst

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch ...
Becky Beck and the Krystal Lunch ...

Let's all trek, and go visit Flunch.

1) If it weren't for turborgrrl's Mar 27, 2017 post about the Jambon Beurre, with price and picture, would anyone in Washington, DC even know this sandwich exists right now?

2) If it weren't for porcupine's Apr 7, 2017 post with the opening menu, I wouldn't be able to say that Mirabelle is no more expensive than Restaurant Eve, Fiola, or any of numerous other high-end restaurants in the area - of course, people are free to judge for themselves:

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Paying $26 for a Jambon Beurre stuffed with seemingly 10 ounces of homemade ham, on a homemade baguette with homemade butter (that's according to Frank Ruta's ex-sous chef) - wow - what must people have thought when they were paying $32 for a lobster burger at Central in 2008? Does anyone remember seeing that giant lobster tank at Central? Because I've been racking my brain trying to remember where it was, and I just can't. There's no way that lobster was frozen, is there? Nah ... not at that price.

3) If it weren't for my Mar 28, 2017 post linking Mirabelle's Jambon Beurre with Bread Furst's, I wonder if any inspiration would have come to write an essay about said sad sandwich. Oh, yes, yes - the Post wrote about it on April 4th, I'm sorry.

My bad. Oh God I really *am* sorry: That phrase was so basic, even twenty years ago - Chai Latte at Starbucks, anyone?

And Susan Friedland, good on you for that picture - I would have never known you were the mastermind behind it.

By the way, there's a $45 Dover Sole at La Chaumière right now. Who knows? Maybe somebody will write about it. 

On second thought ... what do I know?

Seriously, what do I know?

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4 hours ago, DaveO said:

If you haven't seen this a thoughtful perspective on dining on at Mirabelle by Mark Furstenberg.

And . . . wow.  I'm genuinely unsure of whether this post is supposed to be a defense or a slam or just assorted musings.  Somehow I managed to feel slightly offended on behalf of both the people who are excited to dine at Mirabelle and the "young people" whose preferred style of dining this is not.

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18 hours ago, jca76 said:

And . . . wow.  I'm genuinely unsure of whether this post is supposed to be a defense or a slam or just assorted musings.  Somehow I managed to feel slightly offended on behalf of both the people who are excited to dine at Mirabelle and the "young people" whose preferred style of dining this is not.

I'd strongly suggest they were just simply musings. 

 

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On 4/18/2017 at 8:11 PM, DonRocks said:

Paying $26 for a Jambon Beurre stuffed with seemingly 10 ounces of homemade ham, on a homemade baguette with homemade butter (that's according to Frank Ruta's ex-sous chef) - wow - what must people have thought when they were paying $32 for a lobster burger at Central in 2008? Does anyone remember seeing that giant lobster tank at Central? Because I've been racking my brain trying to remember where it was, and I just can't. There's no way that lobster was frozen, is there? Nah ... not at that price.

The butter at our dinner was truly amazing.

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On 4/18/2017 at 8:11 PM, DonRocks said:

 wow - what must people have thought when they were paying $32 for a lobster burger at Central in 2008?

By the way, there's a $45 Dover Sole at La Chaumière right now. Who knows? Maybe somebody will write about it. 

But lobster and dover sole are top-shelf products that people have been conditioned to paying top dollar for.

$26 for a ham sandwich is simply a different mindset.

 

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4 hours ago, mtureck said:

But lobster and dover sole are top-shelf products that people have been conditioned to paying top dollar for.

$26 for a ham sandwich is simply a different mindset.

For real Dover sole, you are paying for the airfreight on top of the fish. Not sure you always get what you pay for when you order it. Fish in restaurants and stores is, I hear, the most frequently mislabeled food item. Having fished for decades, I can attest that this happens. Not sure whether it happens at the wholesale or retail level.  Living in the DC area, I never got the lobster thing. Maryland blue crab put lobster to shame in my mind. Then my friend, Jon Mathieson (formerly of 2941 and Inox, now head chef for the Redskins), prepared butter poached lobster for me! Wow! Most people over cook lobster, both professionals and amateurs.

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