Choosing a restaurant for a special occasion in DC just keeps getting harder. We maintain a (very long) list of restaurants we want to visit, and because I love lists and organization it’s broken down into different price ranges, locations and circumstances under which we would visit. We take our anniversary dinners very seriously, so we spent several days perusing the list trying to decide the perfect spot for this year’s celebration. Top contenders were Masseria (I’ve been before but Tom has yet to experience it), Tail Up Goat (we want to see what those Komi alums are up to) and The Dabney (we had a taste here, but it wasn’t enough).
A few people asked if we’d be heading to Pineapple and Pearls, which would obviously have been an excellent choice. However, über expensive tasting menus haven’t been capturing our imaginations as much lately compared to other hot spots with great a la carte menus that won’t break the bank. After much debating, we decided that The Dabney was the obvious choice. We knew the quality of the food would not disappoint and we love the restaurant’s service levels and atmosphere.
To start the celebration off right, we stopped by the Columbia Room next door for a celebratory cocktail.
While we both liked our cocktails, we agreed that we tend to enjoy the idea of a trendy cocktail bar more than we enjoy actually drinking at one. I love the quiet, elegant atmosphere of the Columbia Room and the beautiful punch garden. I love watching the mixologists make their magic elixirs. However, I’m just more of a wine gal and paying $15 for a few sips of a fancy drink is something I reserve for special occasions only. There was also very loud construction going on next door which irritated a sinus headache I was struggling with. Needless to say, one round of drinks was plenty before moving on to the main event.
Tom and I have a tradition going where we always drink a 2013 vintage on our anniversary, since that’s the year we were married. It’s easy to accomplish right now, but we’re going to have to start collecting and cellaring bottles for our golden years. We’ll probably drink some pretty bad wine in our 60s, but that’s all part of the fun.
Because we knew we would be ordering several small plates, we wanted to have both a red and a white option to pair with our food. We picked up a versatile, lighter bodied Italian red from DCanter on Barracks Row, knowing that we could have the corkage fee waived if we purchased a bottle of white at the restaurant. While this was an extravagance reserved for our anniversary, it would be a great money-saving move if you were going out with a larger group of people and knew you’d be drinking more than one bottle of wine. In our case, we drank what we wanted and took the rest home for later.
The Dabney definitely knows how to make a celebration feel special, greeting us with complimentary glasses of sparkling wine, personalized menus and killer service.
We were seated right near all the action in the kitchen, which was a real treat for two food-loving romantics. We were fascinated watching the chefs master the wood-burning hearth as Chef Jeremiah hustled around perfecting dishes and putting on the final touches. It was definitely our kind of “dinner and a show”.
After devouring the famous grilled ciabatta with sorghum butter, we moved on to several delightful small plates. Our server recommended about three plates per person, maybe more if the dishes tend toward the lighter side as ours did. We ended up ordering six small plates and one side, which was a lot of food but not overly filling, as the focus was primarily fresh vegetables and herbs presented in unique and beautiful ways.
I would typically break each dish down and review them individually, but the menu changes very frequently at The Dabney. Plus, it was our anniversary and I wanted to fully enjoy our night as opposed to taking copious notes about the food. I will say that every dish was captivating in some way. Our absolute favorite of the night was the ember-roasted beets, which were unlike any other plate of food I’ve ever encountered. We also really loved the rockfish, the hearth-roasted vegetables and the mushrooms. The quail and the corn were good, but didn’t quite have the wow factor as the other dishes.
Loading up on vegetables and lean proteins meant I actually had room at the end of the meal for dessert. I typically prefer to focus savory items in lieu of a sweet finish, but Tom has an insatiable sweet tooth and, besides, no anniversary meal is complete without dessert.
I can never resist fresh summer peaches but we both enjoyed the sundae slightly more – it was decadent but still somehow light and refreshing.
The Dabney is not exactly your typical special occasion destination, there’s no mood lighting and the noise level is pretty high at times. But for a couple who has always bonded over a love for interesting and exciting food experiences, it was perfect.