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Roof Terrace, Kennedy Center - Chef Joe Gurner Takes Over This Largely Food Service-Driven Restaurant


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I wound up running late for my 7:30 curtain last night (tenor Ian Bostridge, program of Schubert Lieder, for the curious smile.gif ) and left my ticket at home requiring a trip to the box office to get a replacement. So, rather than try Notte Bianchi as planned I risked a meal at the bar at the Roof Terrace Restaurant. The two appetizers, while edible, were among the most haphazardly plated offerings I have ever had set in front of me and very poor value for the prices they are charging. The Roof Terrace year after year tries to present itself as a convenient fine dining destination. It's convenient if it's right before curtain and you have no other options, but that is the best that can be said of it.

Baby beet salad arrived as a tangle of frisee next to chunks of quartered beets and a small wedge of nearly flavorless goat cheese. Beets and frisee were underdressed with a lackluster vinaigrette, and sprinkled with a few chives that added color rather than herbal sharpness. $12.00. When I compare it to the beet salad at Corduroy it makes me want to cry.

Smoked Salmon with caper mayonnaise Four slices of smoked salmon, baby romaine dressed with not quite enough vinaigrette, and a blob of caper mayonnaise, slapped on a plate. $14.00. I have had better, tastier smoked salmon at Bagel City.

The bread was spongy and full of sunflower and flax seeds and the unsalted butter was the right temperature but also flavorless - a theme for the whole meal.

I drank a half bottle of Latour Puligny-Montrachet. Total bill $80 including tip. A ripoff, especially with far superior food two blocks away.

Edit: Wrong forum. Could someone move this? Thanks.

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I went in December 2003, so my memory is a bit fuzzy...I thought the food was fine, but a bit overpriced. You pay for the convenience, I suppose.

What put me off most was that the kitchen/service was in the most obvious rush to get us in and out before the show started. If the waiters had been walking any faster, they would be running from table to table.

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We have not "dined" at the rooftop terrace but have had many a meal, unfortunately, at The KC Cafe, the caffeteria down the hall. As a food professional, it embarasses me that some of the things they put out are as bad as they are! We only eat there when we are super pressed for time and my blood sugar situation won't let me enjoy the opera without a meal beforehand. I do so find going into a hypoglycimic induced coma interferes with the second act of Tosca!

It usualy costs $40 to 60 for Kay and I to grab a bite there, without wine. Ohhh we do order something that comesin a wine glass and contains alcohol, but our $9.00 glass of beverage alcohol usually bears no resembelance at all to what I call wine.

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I guess she was expecting unsalted butter that tasted like butter (and not salt), the way good unsalted butter does.

Yes, butter that tasted like butter would have been nice. Maybe with some big crunchy grains of fleur de sel. Not a hunka generic sysco unsalted.

Danny Boylen of Notti Bianche said before that he's planning to accommodate the post-opera and symphony crowds.  Last seating at 10:45 on Friday and Saturday should late enough, depending on when the fat lady dies.

School night, or I would have been at the bar right after the show.

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Has anyone been here for brunch? I hear it has an incredible selection, though not sure about quality.

Roof Terrace is on my delinquent list - the talented Chef de Cuisine Karen Hayes was previously Sous Chef at three big-time restaurants: Hank's Oyster Bar downtown, then before that Melrose, and before that Marcel's. Karen is widely respected within the industry, and largely flies under the radar of the dining public, but I've tracked her career for nearly five years, and have been immensely impressed by her output. She's hard-working, underrated and deserves more publicity than she's currently getting. I'd love to see her become a star one day - she deserves it.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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Has anyone had any recent experiences with dinner at the Roof Terrace? I see that the website now lists Joe Gurner, Executive Chef; Vatche Benguian, Chef de Cuisine; Ben McCormick, Pastry Chef.

I'm not sure how much you care about sourcing good ingredients, but I have it on good word that the Roof Terrace (being a government-run operation) is not a leader in this department.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I'm not sure how much you care about sourcing good ingredients, but I have it on good word that the Roof Terrace (being a government-run operation) is not a leader in this department.

Cheers,

Rocks.

Actually, not government run. The food contract at KenCen is with Restaurant Associates. Click the link to see their other restaurants. In DC, these include Newseum and Hillwood Estate.

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Not to get all pedantic on you, but the Ken Cen is only government with regard to the physical structure due to its status as a national memorial to JFK - hence the presence of the National Park Service. All other operations are part of the non-profit org that runs the theaters. The extra layer of bureaucracy does nothing to improve the food, which last I checked (March 09) still leaves much to be desired.

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Restaurant Associates is NOT a non-profit organization, they are contracted by the Kennedy Center to provide all standing food outlets within the KC (Roof Terrace, KC Cafe, Employee Cafeteria, Intermission Bars and most catered functions). RA was bought by Compass Group a few years back and has thus begun the downward spiral into mediocrity and buying in such a way to ensure "paybacks" in lieu of quality product.

There are many other reasons Roof Terrace stays in a stranglehold but that's fodder for another day.

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Restaurant Associates is NOT a non-profit organization, they are contracted by the Kennedy Center to provide all standing food outlets within the KC (Roof Terrace, KC Cafe, Employee Cafeteria, Intermission Bars and most catered functions).

I never said that RA was non-profit, but I can see how my post above could read that way. :( The Kennedy Center is the non-profit in charge of the ops other than maintaining the physical plant, and they do contract out the food service. I will note that the stranglehold on food service there isn't new - IIRC it was already well-established when I started working there in 1989. I've often wondered whether they would ever consider setting it up to do everything in-house.

The food quality isn't great, but IMO the astronomical prices are what's really appalling.

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We decided just today to give the Rooftop Terrace brunch a try after getting a two-for-one deal. I have to say, I'm not sure if it was worth it even at that price, much less the normal. As noted earlier, the variety is there--they have pastries, a cheese spread, entrees (breakfast and savory), a nice selection of salad-ish grub, an omelet bar, and a raw bar. That said, the quality of none of the food was very good.

The cheeses were all passable, although we found the bleus way too ashy for a Sunday morning brunch. Then again, we don't like ashy cheeses in the first place, so that may have been a matter of taste. The pastries were edible, but tasted like they came from a good supermarket bakery, not the kitchen of a restaurant.

The entrees were pretty disappointing. The prime rib was okay but nothing special, and my girlfriend liked the pancakes. The rest of it was best described as uneven--home fries were sometimes a perfectly-done blend of caramelized onions and potatoes, and at others a mushy mess. Although neither of us tried the roasted chicken, we saw some people coming out of the kitchen looking shocked because it seemed like the chef cut a whole quarter of the chicken off and dumped it on their plates.

Salads were all blah... the mozzarella with pesto was probably the best of the bunch that we tried, but even that was seemingly hit or miss depending on how much pesto got on any one specific ball. Omelets had way too much oil and turned into a mess on a plate, not nearly worth the wait.

Raw bar was a split verdict for us. My girlfriend hated the oysters, saying they were too salty, but I thought they were decent--no great flavors, but edible if you have an oyster craving.

Desserts were, in keeping with the rest of the meal, okay. Nothing special.

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We decided just today to give the Rooftop Terrace brunch a try after getting a two-for-one deal. I have to say, I'm not sure if it was worth it even at that price, much less the normal. As noted earlier, the variety is there--they have pastries, a cheese spread, entrees (breakfast and savory), a nice selection of salad-ish grub, an omelet bar, and a raw bar. That said, the quality of none of the food was very good.

The cheeses were all passable, although we found the bleus way too ashy for a Sunday morning brunch. Then again, we don't like ashy cheeses in the first place, so that may have been a matter of taste. The pastries were edible, but tasted like they came from a good supermarket bakery, not the kitchen of a restaurant.

The entrees were pretty disappointing. The prime rib was okay but nothing special, and my girlfriend liked the pancakes. The rest of it was best described as uneven--home fries were sometimes a perfectly-done blend of caramelized onions and potatoes, and at others a mushy mess. Although neither of us tried the roasted chicken, we saw some people coming out of the kitchen looking shocked because it seemed like the chef cut a whole quarter of the chicken off and dumped it on their plates.

Salads were all blah... the mozzarella with pesto was probably the best of the bunch that we tried, but even that was seemingly hit or miss depending on how much pesto got on any one specific ball. Omelets had way too much oil and turned into a mess on a plate, not nearly worth the wait.

Raw bar was a split verdict for us. My girlfriend hated the oysters, saying they were too salty, but I thought they were decent--no great flavors, but edible if you have an oyster craving.

Desserts were, in keeping with the rest of the meal, okay. Nothing special.

This reflects my experience with Mr. MV yesterday. We went with a Living Social deal of 2 for 1. Our waiter asked if we had a LS coupon, and let us know that probably 90% of the patrons were there on this deal (which is extended, btw).

The place is tired and in bad, bad need of a facelift. If not for the view through soaring windows, the decor and general state of being run down would turn me away.

Uneven is a good word for the food. The bulk of the buffet is in the kitchen, where the line can get incredibly backed up due to one carving station. If you go, grab a plate and go to the station that you wish to pick from.

I hesiteated to add an Eggs Benedict to my plate, but I am a fool for Hollandaise sauce and Canadian bacon. Oh, and a good poached egg, which unfortunately, did not top this disaster. It was hockey puck Benedict, with a fully cooked egg. Natch.

Chilled asparagus was dressed in a weak vinaigrette and undercooked.

Hash browns were undercooked.

Breakfast sausage was dried out.

Cured meats fortunately could not be fucked up with poor prep-good Salami and Bresola.

Chilled squash was under-seasoned.

Cauliflower salad (with turmeric, I believe) was pleasant.

The chilled, shriveled, seasoned shrimp died in vain, but the crab legs were ok.

Mr. MV said the carved prime rib was decent, and helped along with a horseradish cream sauce.

The omelette station was curiously not very busy, but offered probably the best dish of the event. Made to order, fresh, and hot, an omelette with diced bell pepper, scallion and shredded cheddar cheese was quite pleasant, if a tad overcooked.

The most enjoyable part of the brunch came at the end, with a terrific selection of desserts, sized just so, allowing one to sample more than one without exploding.

Brunch came with champagne or a Mimosa,and coffee.

Our server was pleasant, cleared our plates and refilled coffees.

With tip and parking ($20, with NO discount or validation...ridiculous) and tip, we spent $70 for 2, which is not outrageous for brunch in DC, but I can say that I would not spend full price (another $38) for this brunch, sorry to say.

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On 7/26/2010 at 11:41 AM, monavano said:

my girlfriend liked the pancakes.

As far as I can tell, this was the most positive clause from @monavano's post!

Any updates from more recent visitors? We're planning on going for dinner Friday before a show. Not our first choice, but with a forecast heat index of 101, we don't want to bother with hoofing it between locations or paying addtl parking/cab. The dinner menu looks more interesting than I assumed. Should I be surprised there was only one reservation time available, or is that primarily a function of having a captive "audience"?

UDATE: Should I be surprised there was only one reservation time available[?]

Oh right....Hamilton. Btw, there's some tickets left for Friday, but the cheapest are $399 (before fees).

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2 hours ago, saxdrop said:

As far as I can tell, this was the most positive clause from @monavano's post!

Any updates from more recent visitors? We're planning on going for dinner Friday before a show. Not our first choice, but with a forecast heat index of 101, we don't want to bother with hoofing it between locations or paying addtl parking/cab. The dinner menu looks more interesting than I assumed. Should I be surprised there was only one reservation time available, or is that primarily a function of having a captive "audience"?

UDATE: Should I be surprised there was only one reservation time available[?]

Oh right....Hamilton. Btw, there's some tickets left for Friday, but the cheapest are $399 (before fees).

Yes - we went to The Barber of Seville on a Saturday night a couple of months ago, and all three theaters were full. It was a catastrophic mistake to think we could walk in and dine beforehand - not only was the Roof Terrace completely full, but the bar was three-people deep, and the KC Cafe at the other end of the roof was *completely full*, and we ended up going outside on the balcony in sweltering heat, just to have a cold Jambon Beurre and plastic glass of Gruner Veltliner (this was the best thing about the evening - they're served on tap in the Cafe). It took us an hour just to end up eating a lousy sandwich on a stoop - check to see which theaters are full, and if all three are, then you won't be dining without a reservation. In fact, I'd say that if two out of the three are full, you won't be dining without a reservation - this place was at double-capacity, easily, and people were desperate.

I can only say what I saw when I walked around and looked (which I studiously did) - all these restaurants are, if I recall, run by Aramark, so you're getting food-service cuisine in the best of scenarios. I used to know the chef here, and the person quit because they got tired of working with such bad product.

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4 minutes ago, DonRocks said:

you won't be dining without a reservation.

Oh, I grabbed that one reservation before I even posted! Like I said, not really any other options for us. And knowing me, if I had your experience from a couple months ago,, it would've just ruined my night. Figured, worst case scenario, better satiated with mediocre food than hangry during the show. I know my show in the concert hall is sold out, and can safely assume Hamilton! in the Opera Hall will be as well.

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I would expect decently made Sysco-level ingredients - honestly, I was perfectly happy with the ham sandwich; it was the awful jostling just to get a seat - anywhere! - that really put a damper on things. After going on the balcony (where it was really hot), we came inside and sat in the middle of the corridor on this little bench, alternating between bites of sandwich and sips of wine in a plastic cup. Really, the Gruner Veltliner (which was expensive at $9) wasn't at all bad - we ended up paying  north of $75 for our food and drinks (we had 2-3 glasses of wine, all of which but the last were consumed while standing up).

It was one of those situations that was so catastrophic that you could either choose to laugh about it, or you'd be angry; we chose to laugh - it really was comical.

PS - If it's still there, check out the Cuban-American art exhibit in the corridor. 

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