Last night my wife and I had a birthday meal at Maestro in the Ritz Carlton at Tyson's Corner. In previous years we have gone to The Inn at Little Washington, Citronelle, L'Auberge Chez Francois and Kinkead's. This was the best of all. Further having been to Aimo e Nadia three weeks ago in Milan (Michelin two star with a Gambero Rosso 52 food rating, considered one of the four or five best restaurants in the country) as well as several other starred restaurants in Italy this was the best overall experience of any including those. (Although Il Postale in Umbria, for food alone, would be preferred.)
Maestro's food is not perfect, there are several "great dishes" and one that was actually disappointing (risotto which missed the texture); but the presentation, the style and the service were the equal of any Michelin THREE STAR that I have been fortunate enough to experience. This restaurant, with a few tweaks, could honestly-if overseas-realize three Michelin stars. It is that good. Right now I am certain that it would have two.
Maestro has a very young, ambitious and extremely talented and imaginative Michelin starred chef who moved here from London (where he earned the star) after starting in his home country, Italy. He directed nine cooks in his open kitchen where he could be seen with his hand in every dish. He is responsible for the presentations which are extraordinary, unlike any I have ever seen in another Washington area restaurant.
The most dramatic of these is a spectacular "Il Bue Rossini XXI Secolo: which is translated as "locally raised Kobe beef Rossini, XXI Century." These are four eight inch high columns on a plate, set behind four "precious" bites of Kobe beef, two of which are topped with a relatively thick black truffle shaving and two with a slice of foie gras. The columns help support a small cup of a kind of red wine reduction which the Kobe beef is dipped into. Four incredible bites with a table presentation that dropped jaws at tables all around us!
But this wasn't the only one. Every single course has a special "construction" or, at the least, a special plate. About the plates: from the Versace charger (I had to look we were just in Deruta, Italy and I was courious...yes, tacky, too!) to clear pentagular and trapezoidal shapes along with bone china and unusual surface textures as well as colors and patterns these were extraordinary presentations-imaginative, artistic visually sensational. There is nothing that Gordon Ramsey or Alain Ducasse has on this man. For the room and for style and for experience he is on their level.
Incredibly he also even approaches the famed El Bulli in Spain in several of his ideas. An amuse bouche presented in a three inch glass cylinder (almost a short test tube, if you will) featured three layers: a rich, warm langoustine custard like base topped with a Sambuca flavored liquid and a frothy, cold cream. There were three different textures as well as the contrast of temperatures. Drinking directly from the "test tube" they played immediately one after the other, literally exploding in the mouth. A second amuse bouche was a salmon tartare with olive tapenade which was also delicious but a bit more down to earth in its style.
Maestro has three menus which range from a three course "La Tradizione" or "L'Evoluzione" for $72 (a fourth course is $84) to the grand three, five or seven course "La Creazione" tasting menu which has three courses for $74, five for $92 and the seven for $112. For this last you allow him to select the dishes and in which order they will be served.
On La Tradizione there are three starters including Carpaccio, "I Funghi" which is a "Cappuccino" of pan-fried porcini mushrooms and chestnuts and "La Mozzarella" which features Buffalo mozzarella with "plum tomato sorbet and chilled tomato soup." "La Pappardelle" is large pasta "ribbon with fricassee of Christmas Zampone sausage, Castelluccio lentils and snails."
"I Gnocchi" was gnocchi of "white creamer potato and winter Norcia black truffle."
"Il Risotto" was a risotto of aged ricotta cheese, grilled quail and black peppercorn jus." This was an imaginative presentation since the large, deep plate was brought out with the creamy risotto in the center and then, from a separate small bowl, was spooned a section of grilled quail and juice. The overall flavor was absolutely outstanding, the flavor of what I would consider almost a "great dish." My criticism centers on the texture of the risotto, it lacked the individual kernal creaminess found when stirred correctly for 15 minutes or so. Yet, I am certain this was done, but the texture was lacking.
Off of "L'Evoluzione" were three different appetizers including a trio of tuna tartars, a house specialty :Il Carciofo di Foie Gras which are warm artichoke hearts topped with foie gras and proscuitto, pistachio crust along with foie gras consumme. The final is a shell baked sea scallop with salsify and spiced vanilla sauce.
We had two of the pastas off of this menu with the first a "Great Dish." This is "I Marubini" which is a "marubini pasta envelope with fontina cheese fondue filling, morel mushrooms and a toasted almond sauce." Superb. Just superb.
The second pasta is a lobster ravioli with ginger port wine jus. This was actually extraordinary with plump succulent lobster meat inside AND outside the ravioli shell, about four ravioli in total that were ambrosial.
The third pasta course was a "casserole of fish and seafood with Russian Caviar in pasta sheets."
Entrees from the two menus include the Kobe beef mentioned above along with a "study of Jamison farm lamb", an excellent, perfectly cooked Sea Bass with "whipped Venetian salted cod and Norcia black truffle sauce," "La Sogliola" which were small glasses of Dover Sole filets rolled with basil leaf, cauliflower flan and
Belon oysters," "Il San Pietro" or "John Dory filets cooked in casserole with fennel branches, grilled cuttlefish, confit fennel and fennel anise sauce" (I will go back for this alone since I love fennel), "Il Rombo" which was smoked turbot with "olive oil mash and pearl onions along with a smoked hay sauce" (yes, smoked hay!), spiced roasted Muscovy duck with caramelized endives in date sauce and another signature dish, "Il Vitello" which was a "roasted Four Story Hill Farm milk feed (spelled correctly!) veal chop with fricassee of sweetbreads and langoustines tails in Ossobuco jus & Gremolada."
Maestro's sommelier is The sommelieur from the legendary Jean Louis at the Watergate and is superb. Our waiter was one of several who was originally from Italy. In fact the feeling in the elegant dining room is that we could just as easily have been in Rome or Milan as well as Tyson's Corner. (Note: Every single one of the forty or so men in this room had a coat on with most wearing ties.) The service was superb, knowledgeable and Michelin perfect: all dishes served from the right, silverware properly placed and removed with each course, wine decanted (in a Reidel "duck" with Spieglau stemware), wine poured as needed without any wait or interruption despite a full dining room. Overall the best, most efficient and professional service that we have received in any restaurant in America as well as the equal of any in Europe.
The wine list is deep, an award winner from the Wine Spectator with reasonable markups, usually not exceeding 100%. There are also a large number of wines in the under $50 range, a rarity for a restaurant on this level.
Overall Maestro could be $200 for two people with tax, tip and several glasses of wine. Probably it will be closer to $300 with a four course tasting menu, a fairly good bottle, tax and tip. It could go much higher and the wine is available to justify this. But most importantly, the restaurant and the experience justify all of these.
We are fortunate to have this restaurant in the suburban area. Laboratorio, Tosca and Obelisk have some dishes to match for taste as do Le Relais, Citronelle and others but for overall style, imagination, presentation and pleasure not even The Inn at Little Washington is as polished. Maestro, in my opinion, is now our best overall restaurant.
This restaurant is already extremely well known. Reserve two to four weeks in advance for a weekend.