Restaurant Nora in Washington, DC

Three weeks before a recent visit to Washington, D.C., I decided some planning was in order for a special, celebratory meal.  As the proud father of a son, soon due to complete his studies at the University of Maryland for a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences with the presentation of his thesis on the interaction of wind energy with climate and weather, I wanted to celebrate the occasion with a memorable meal.  My son suggested dinner at perhaps the most popular, and high-end farm-to-table restaurant in the region, if not the East Coast, Volt in historic Frederick, Maryland [].  However, I soon learned that it required more than three weeks to reserve a table on a Saturday evening at this destination restaurant, and with only a spot on the waiting list available, I decided to make a reservation at one of Washington, D.C.’s most popular restaurants and “America’s FIRST CERTIFIED ORGANIC Restaurant,” as is proclaimed at the top of Restaurant Nora’s menu.

Not only does Restaurant Nora, near Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle, serve organic food, it also celebrates the local food grown and produced by Chesapeake Bay farmers as well as the food of nearby regional producers of organic food, especially from the Amish country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The back of Restaurant Nora’s menu sets forth a powerful and lengthy statement by Nora Pouillon, Executive Chef and Owner, of “Why NORA Believes in Organic and Biodynamic.”  With precision, Chef Pouillon (after first noting that the restaurant has designed a special filtering system so that the water used in its restaurant is “free of chlorine, bacteria and all metals”) details the sourcing of her (i) herbs and produce, (ii) dairy products, bread and pasta, (iii) poultry & eggs, (iv) meat, (v) fish & seafood, (vi) wine, and (vii) coffee.  As a final note, the back of the menu states that “This dinner was made possible by renewable resource energy- supported by Restaurant Nora.”

President Obama and the First Lady, with family and friends, had recently celebrated Michelle Obama’s 47th birthday at Restaurant Nora with a leisurely four hour meal [], so I was pleasantly surprised that I could still obtain a reservation (three weeks beforehand) for dinner, at least at the early hour of 5:30PM when the restaurant opened for the night’s parade of dignitaries and the powerful or, at least, diners with a deep pocket.  My expectations for a memorable, albeit pricy meal, were set very high.

Restaurant Nora is in a quaint, red brick 19th century building in northwest Washington.  We were greeted warmly and seated in the main dining room, which is decorated with antique Amish and Mennonite crib quilts, with their beautiful geometric shapes and vivid colors.  With its high ceiling and skylight, the main dining room is an airy and pleasant environment.  A large, model helicopter, hanging from the tall ceiling near the skylight, adds an unexpected playful touch.

Restaurant Nora offers a tasting menu at a prix fixe cost of $75.00, with a slightly reduced price of $70.00 for a vegetarian tasting menu.  This four course meal, which changes on a regular, if not daily, basis, seemed the perfect option for three eager diners.  My son, who still remembers the celebratory meals of filet mignon prepared by his grandmother, chose the option which featured as a main course pan seared grass-fed filet mignon (from Ayrshire Farm in Upperville, Virginia “where they specialize in raising rare and endangered breeds including Scottish Highland and Ancient White Park cattle”), with roasted eggplant puree, romano beans, oven-dried tomato, and red wine jus.  His fiancée, a vegetarian for many years, who has influenced my dining habits, and I chose the vegetarian tasting menu which featured as an entrée, champagne risotto with leeks, wild mushrooms, squash, fennel, tomatoes, herb emulsion, topped with a parmesan tuile.

As a first course, I enjoyed a bowl of a perfect soup for an early autumn evening- roasted heirloom fall squash soup with crème fraiche and sage brown butter crumb.  Equally savored was the other first course on the tasting menu: a Hawaiian hearts of palm salad with Thai basil, compressed watermelon, tomato water, and micro greens.  On the vegetarian tasting menu, the second course was a flavorful baba ghanoush tart with herbed feta cheese, roasted red pepper, crispy leeks, and a black olive emulsion.  The second course on the non-vegetarian tasting menu was a savory Maine peekytoe crab and avocado salad with red onion, cilantro, anchovy chili vinaigrette, served with crispy tortillas.

The main courses were equally satisfying.  The filet mignon, cooked to the requested medium, not rare, was tender and well-seasoned and the eggplant puree, oven-dried tomato, and romano beans were perfect accompaniments.  The creamy champagne risotto with leeks was served with a generous helping of wild mushrooms and delicious squash perfectly prepared al dente.  We ended our celebratory and memorable meal with wonderful individual desserts: molten bittersweet chocolate cake with cappuccino ice cream, honey lavender crème brulee with cherry compote, and a local honeycrisp apple pie with buttermilk ice cream, which complimented the sweet apple pie with its tanginess.  We dined for approximately $100 per person, which included tax, gratuity and a glass of wine for one of the three diners (FWB 10/12/10).  [Restaurant Nora, 2132 Florida Avenue at R Street NW, 202.462.5143, Dinner: Mon-Thurs 5:30PM-10:00PM, Fri-Sat 5:30PM-10:30PM ]

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