There are restaurants that wow you with sheer brilliance and creativity that makes you wonder how in the world the kitchen put these dishes together. Then there are restaurants that serve fairly predictable classics with familiar ingredients and techniques that are nevertheless so well-executed, making you want to come back again and again. Annabelle, located in DC’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, is decided the latter, and yet its familiarity has not diminished our dining experience there a couple of times my wife Jun and I had visited. Every time we walk out of the restaurant, Jun is always appreciative of how the restaurant is so consistent not just in its food but also in its attentive service that could rival many of the fine dining establishments in New York City. For a restaurant led by prolific DC restaurateur Ashok Bajaj and chef Frank Ruta, who served three presidents at the White House, perhaps that is not surprising.
Once you browse the menu at Annabelle, you will instantly know that you will eat well, featuring classics with the chef’s unique touch here and there. A salad of asparagus and arugula, accompanied by soft-cooked hen egg and Reggiano crisp, is just the right dish to start your dinner in the spring. You probably encountered many crispy fried soft shell crabs in your life, but the addition or rye berries and pickled green tomatoes that gave the distinctly citrusy flavor was something quite new and refreshing. The strength of Annabelle lies in the main dishes, many of them sounding pedestrian until you take a bite and realizing how special they are.
On our first visit, we tried the roasted chicken, which is the signature dish at the restaurant. The moist texture of the poultry is probably as good as any you can taste in a restaurant. My favorite dish on that night, however, was the absolutely sensational lamb loin, which was marinated in red wine and grilled to perfection. Lamb is always tricky to execute at a restaurant, but I savored every bite without a hint of gamey sensation. If you are inclined to try a pasta dish on the menu, ravioli with goat cheese and ramp pesto was quite a delight for a spring dinner. For a bit of French touch, the veal blanquette we tried on our second visit was also quite delicious with the meat’s soft texture. The desserts at Annabelle are also not to be missed, especially those having chocolate or caramel flavor, like the mocha toffee crunch cake with chocolate ice cream our server highly recommended. Eggless custard is also used by the kitchen for great effect, like the peanut butter and jelly dessert containing peanut eggless custard accompanied by candied brioche and mulled concord grape sorbet.
Getting reservation at Annabelle is not the most difficult in the city, but I still highly recommend booking in advance. The sophisticated yet not stuffy dining room ambiance makes for an ideal date night spot or a place to have great time with close friends and family. The cocktails are the restaurant, many of them based on classics, are made with good precision, and the wine list is also fairly extensive from all around the world. Annabelle is the type of restaurant that Jun and I will go visit perhaps once every season and build more enduring relationships with the staff, whose service is always quite exquisite (Jun in particular keeps thinking about one female server who served us on our first visit and then came to greet us again on our second visit even though she didn’t serve us that time). The way Annabelle makes you smile with satisfying New American food and showing a great time every time you come should serve as a model for every restaurant.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
Address: 2132 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Reservation via Resy