By: Chris Parente, Strategic Communications Group
Like a lot of people, I have a bias against hotel restaurants. My assumption is that a stand alone restaurant has to be better to prosper, whereas in a hotel the restaurant will never be the sole focus. It just has to be decent, and not upset the guests. Given a choice between these two options, I usually choose the pure play restaurant.
Recently two experiences in Alexandria challenged this assumption. We had excellent meals at Jackson 20 and the Morrison House Grille, both located inside hotel properties managed by the Kimpton chain. The dinners were different, but both top notch.
Jackson 20 is located inside the Hotel Monaco, on King Street in the heart of Old Town. There was a high energy buzz in the air on the recent beautiful evening we were there. The cuisine is southern, the flavors bold and the portions ample – Jackson 20 is a great place to go when you’re hungry.
The corn fritter appetizers were deep fried decadence, with plenty of Virginia ham. The tuna tartare was also good, though the crackers that came with it were too sweet. My wife Gabriele loved her scallops with caramelized bacon and sweet corn relish. I went with an unusual dish highly recommended by our server – goat with pimento ravioli. Sounds elaborate but somehow all the flavors worked.
With dinner we enjoyed a red blend from Washington state, the 2008 Helix Pomatia by Reininger Winery. It’s a mix of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. It provided a nice balance of juiciness and acids, with a tart zing and a bit of earthiness on the finish. An affordable and versatile wine that worked well with all our food choices.
Where Jackson 20 offered bustle and a pleasant atmosphere of activity, the Morrison House Grille projected an atmosphere of elegance and exclusivity. The dining room is small and has the feel of a private club. You’re only a block off of King street, but you feel far removed. The ambiance promises great things, and the food and service totally delivered.
Sometimes it’s the little things that add up to a great experience. When Gabriele ordered onion soup to begin and I did not, our server split it into two bowls without a request. Steak tartare and vegetable terrine appetizers were excellent, with the former arriving with Serrano ham slices and the latter with a delicious, Bloody Mary-like sorbet on the side. I had the best filet mignon in recent memory for dinner, with a fava bean pesto on the side. Gabriele’s scallops (yes, she’s a big scallops fan) were perfect over squash and potatoes.
Sunday nights make the Morrison House Grille even more special, because it’s half price wine night. We took full advantage with a bottle of 2008 Gigondas La Gille from the Perrin family. The wine offered a lot of raspberry fruit on the nose, and red cherry in the glass. The wine was tart and had good acidity, with a very dry finish. I tasted some definite umami and a touch of vegetation – there were layers to this wine on the palate. An excellent Rhone and a crazy value at half price.
The moral here I suppose is don’t be limited by your biases. That’s a good rule when choosing a restaurant, and for life in general.
To read Parente’s previous column on WashingtonExec, click here.
Christopher Parente is managing director and partner of Strategic Communications Group, a social media and public relations consultancy based in Silver Spring, Md. and Tysons Corner, Va. He also publishes Work, Wine and Wheels, a top 100K web site in the United States as measured by Alexa, an online measurement company. You can follow Chris on LinkedIn or Twitter.