Old (or New) Ebbitt Grill

I'm never quite sure where to go when I want to eat a nice dinner out after work without straying too far off my path home. There are a ton of lunch places around, but many of those places don't translate to dinner or aren't even open. So when looking for one the other day for me and Julia, I went for one based on reputation, age and proximity – Old Ebbitt Grill – and so too did everyone else and their mothers. And coworkers, and buddies and business meeters. Let's just say this place was packed. It has a huge sprawling set-up, and yet was still as loud, full and bustling as any place I've been to in DC – especially since it was a weeknight. It was a good thing we made a reservation.

Located just across the street from the Treasury building, the place is in prime real estate, and the restaurant encompasses a large bar, several large dining rooms, as well as spills into the atrium of the adjacent building. The latter is where we sat, and thankfully, because this was the quieter more romantic area of the restaurant.

The “main” draw to Ebbitt was “Maine”. Maine lobster, that is. With an interesting menu not too dissimilar from its operating restaurant, Clyde's, Ebbitt's was topped off with the monthly special of a 1.25-pound steamed Maine lobster dinner for $19. Seemed to be hitting the spot for most, as looking around the room, you might have thought it to be the nicest Red Lobster you've ever seen, considering all the suits that were being covered with lobster bibs. Maybe this is lobster season and Ebbitt has other draws, like its old-fashioned decor, raw bar or prime location near the White House, but if I were running the place, I'd sure as heck try to keep THAT special around as long as possible.

With all that being said, lobster was not ordered at this table. This table started off with the cheese platter, a very high quality sampling of a blue, a camembert, a cow's Colby and a sheep's milk cheese. They came with some amazingly tangy and flavorful fig jam and some rounds of white baguette and a darker pecan, cherry bread. Both went quite well with all four cheeses and the jam. It was a very pleasing platter and was easily worth its $11 price tag. I mean it WAS a special occasion!

For dinner, Julia ordered a beautiful-looking vegetable sandwich. Literally. The bread slices were actually thin, crispy slices of eggplant. They were so convincing, it took me a minute to even realize it wasn’t bread. Sandwiched within the eggplant were Portobello mushroom, arugula, feta cheese, zucchini, onions and hummus. Wow! Julia said it was delicious and unique and definitely something would order again. Plus, it was only $10.

I took the plunge and ordered the seafood jambalaya. It is not often that I'll ever order a jambalaya since you have to trust the quality and quantity of the seafood at the place. If not, you're likely to end up with an icky, glorified rice bowl. It needs to have rice and a rich, spicy tomato broth. Check and check at Ebbitt's. But it was the additives that needed to be plentiful and stellar to make this a worthy jambalaya. Chicken, andouille sausage, scallops, calamari, shrimp, clams and mussels. It was not a bad mix, quite attractive in fact, and they gave me quite a bit. It was all quite tasty. My only complaint was that the scallops were tiny, the shrimps were anemic and the chicken was in strips. If I was presenting a high-end jambalaya for nearly $20, I would have a few jumbo shrimp, a little dark meat of the chicken too and perhaps sea scallops over bay scallops. Now I know that the taste was good and that should be good enough, but we often eat with our eyes too and this one just didn't quite pop out of the bowl visually like you might imagine an amazing jambalaya would.

To be honest, there was little to say bad about “old” Ebbitt. Maybe I'll just look for something that is a little more “new” next time. Perhaps a sandwich with Fried Eggplant for the bread. And yes, there definitely will be a next time. Especially if they keep the lobster special going.

You can also read this review and others at Menuism.

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