I dined at Maestro this past week and had an excellent meal. There were some highs and lows as noted below:
Ambiance- I was very impressed with the fact that the restaurant did not feel stuffy at all. Additionally, it did not have the intimidation factor that some of the other DC top-tier establishments have.
Food- We chose the 5 course option ($100/head) and mixed and matched form the various menus. While there were no let downs, some dishes were heads and tails above others. Namely, the seared scallop w/ foie gras & chanterelles served with walnut/chanterelle cappuccino was out of this world. I really liked the fact that they bring an extra ladle of sauce on side with most dishes. What also stuck with me was the number of dishes that had VERY complex yet subtle flavors. Most notably, the risotto w/ grappa, cheese, pears & black pepper sauce had layer upon layer of dynamic tastes. It took me about 5 fork-fulls to finally place one of them, fruit loops. Yes, fruit loops. Not in bad way, but something about the cereal flavor in the Arborio grain and the sweetness of the pears & grappa. Ive heard wine afficiantos use terms like pencil shavings to describe flavors, now I understand why. Overall the risotto was a bit too soft for my liking, but there was not a single piece left in the bowl. I also ordered the hay smoked turbot, and while this was very good, the real standout on the plate were the potatoes. These were also smoked w/ hay and pulverized along with olive oil and herbs to make this a dish that transcended anything resembling a traditional potato side. Lastly, the deserts are highly underrated at Maestro, they are easily some of the best in the area.
Winelist- We chose to have wines by the glass to compliment the eclectic mix of dishes we had. I was very surprised to see some very reasonably priced wine. Try getting a $6 glass of house wine at the Inn at Little Washington, or better yet at the Ritz's own hotel bar. I did not partake of the house wine, but at least the option is there who dont want or wont appreciate a $15 glass.
Cheese cart- I was very surprised to see that not more fellow diners were not partaking of the cheese cart, what a shame. It was excellent.
Menus- These are clunky and hard to flip through, especially considering the mixing & matching of dishes from the different pages. Even worse, the descriptions of the dishes really did them a disservice. While all of the wait staff did a pretty good job of explaining the dishes when they arrived at the table, Maestro can do a much better job with the menu descriptions up front.
Kitchen View- Many hounds had suggested getting a kitchen view. Well, it isnt all its cracked up to be. Unlike Laboratorio with its overhead mirror, diners really are not privy to what is going on in the kitchen. Its really just the plating of food on a 4 foot high counter and an occasional dropped dish. Another problem is that only 4-6 tables have the better views. At least 3 parties were visibly upset when they were seated towards the back (only one of which was moved after a 5 minute standoff with the hostesses.)
Fennel- Not sure if this is the new culinary trend of the moment but it sure seems to be. Quite a few of the dishes had strong flavors or fennel as well as anise. I dont particularly have an aversion to it, but it can be one of those really like it or cant stand it sort of flavors. It looked that way judging from the number of people who left their amuse (cold fennel/anise soup) untouched after one sip. Maybe they might do something more safe as an amuse, but that may not be in the spirit of Mr. Trabocchi vision for his restaurant.