[from September 2007 issue]
As many people know by now, U Street’s Station 9 restaurant takes up the cavernous space of an imposing former Post Office building built in 1912 which then became a Masonic Temple before being converted a few years ago to other uses. Its interior seems to echo with sounds of postal machines of the past, though today, of course, all one really hears is soft jazz and quiet conversations. It’s also the place where fans of Chef Terrell Danley (Chef “T”, the waitress calls him) can sample some more of his splendid creations; he also cooks for his trendy Crême Café one block east.
What’s for dinner? Oh, no, jokes the chef, don’t eat the barbecue. It’s Labor Day and all that. But all kidding aside, barbecued ribs are not the star attraction at this newcomer anyway. What you look for here are some of Danley’s other inspirations, ones that carry you along on a wave of gastronomic pleasure. It’s hard to say just what inspires Danley -- the waitress didn’t know for sure, though she says some days he comes up with some amazing specials -- but judging by the eclectic menu, Danley looks to foreign markets for some of his ideas.
Take the Mo’ Rockin’ Beef Rolls as a start. There’s Middle Eastern cracked wheat sparked by snipped mint. There’s a portion of meticulously and uniformly diced cucumber stirred with plain yogurt, a Persian trick. There’s the scoop of dressed mesclun greens that are all-American. And the rolls themselves are Asian and topped with pickled onion and radish slices with Korean(?) Russian(?) Polish(?) roots. How does Danley get it all to work together? Clearly, that’s what makes him such an inspired guy.
As for the main course: The list isn’t long, but it is slightly eccentric, with something as simple -- or not so simple -- as The Big Burger with fries and condiments; the menu gives no hint about size or seasonings, but it’s a safe bet that this is no ordinary patty. On the other end of the spectrum, the Chipotle Shrimp or the Peanut Chicken suggest exotic concoctions that don’t come out of the standard burger kitchen.
As it turns out, the chicken -- a boned breast, skin on -- sits squarely in a pool of a savory peanut sauce, which is neither sweet nor hot, so probably not Thai-inspired. With this comes a scoop of fragrant jasmine rice and a bundle of garlicky, buttery broccolini and cilantro, the greens for the dish. Using cilantro as a veggie is truly inspired!
Alas, the dessert menu is all too short, and probably does not do Danley’s creative juices justice. The waitress puts her money on the coconut flan with heaps of whipped cream, and I vote for the warm lemon tart, a dreamy interpretation of the standard lemon meringue pie accompanied by a tart -- sweet scoop of lemon sorbet and a drizzle of a lemon-sugar and something else syrup. And surprise!: that is not whipped cream as the tart’s garnish. In true lemon meringue pie tradition, Danley uses air-light beaten egg whites, barely sweet and delicate, and mounds them up like summertime clouds for the final touch. It’s quite possible his brownie sundae is just as flashy.
Note that the restaurant boasts not one but three bars, strategically placed in the front (two) and at the rear of the dining room. The restaurant also features a short but powerful wine list and a limited selection of specialty cocktails with such thirst-quenching names as The Station Margarita and Tropical Destination. Coming soon: contemporary and Latin jazz weekly and a weekend brunch.
If we handed out stars or golden forks, Station 9 would merit three-and-a-half out of four: courteous service and splendid food make this a “must” destination. But it misses a perfect score because one or two features are missing. For one, where’s the bread? With a chef such as Danley and Co., why not offer a basket of zany biscuits or muffins and outrageously rich house-baked breads? And why not expand the dessert menu, heaping more calories on the tail end of the meal? On another note, why not seduce pedestrians with a menu posted out front? What better way to lure the hungry than with the description of the Two Way Lamb with couscous or The Big Burger with fries? Few places offer such prizewinning food.
Copyright (c) 2007 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Alexandra Greeley. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §107 “fair use”).
Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.
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