On Thanksgiving day this year, my family and I dined at 1789 in Georgetown. The lessons about cooking turkey I had learned from Chef the previous day came in handy during the meal. Read on for my review!
When it comes to holidays, I’m a traditionalist. For our Thanksgiving meal, my family did not want to dine at a crazy modern-looking establishment, but rather in a classic, traditionally furnished dining room. 1789 fit the criteria – the cozy atmosphere was just right for an indulgent Thanksgiving meal.
The name “1789” represents the year in which John Carroll founded Georgetown University. However, the restaurant did not come into play until 1960, when a Georgetown alumnus, Richard McCooey, converted an old Federal period building near the university into a French inspired, American restaurant that he named 1789. After expanding into adjacent properties, McCooey sold everything to Clyde’s Restaurant Group in 1985. Clyde’s was then able to expand 1789, opening six additional dining rooms, each with a different personality.
My family opted for the John Carroll room, with a big fireplace and elegant, antique dining room furniture.
Executive chef Anthony Lombardo created a special Thanksgiving menu with a $50 pre-fixe and a la carte options as well. The prix-fixe included a first course pear and Bleu cheese salad or squash soup, a second course turkey dinner and choice of dessert.
My parents chose the prix-fixe, while I ordered a Brussels sprout salad for my appetizer. The entrees listed on the menu, such as Norwegian salmon and rack of lamb, sounded appealing, but I had no interest in them. I ordered the turkey dinner with “all the trimmings,” including mashed vanilla sweet potatoes, green beans, sausage stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Thanksgiving equals turkey. I told you, I’m a traditionalist.
Our appetizers were all excellent, as were the accompanying Parker House Rolls. I could go on about how soft and sinfully buttery these rolls were, but what I really want to focus on the main course.
The careful presentation at 1789 was the antithesis to the traditional Thanksgiving smorgasbord. I can’t remember a year where my plate did not look like a disaster zone. The marshmallow topping on that yam dish bleeds into the mashed potatoes (Yes, two types of potatoes on one plate), which runs into creamy green bean casserole – you get the picture. It’s a mess.
1789 makes a plate of Thanksgiving food attractive and stylish. Slices from the breast were stacked on top of the darker leg meat, achieving a sense of height on the plate. Underneath the turkey were string beans with a rich, green color that attracted the eye. Behind the turkey was a small stuffing “cake” that held its shape perfectly. A smear of mashed sweet potatoes on the bottom cemented everything to the plate.
The final touch was the gravy. The chef must have experimented beforehand to find the ideal amount for the plate. Speckled with intensely green chopped parsley, it was spread evenly across the center of the plate, staying a considerable distance away from the rims.
Before I devoured this aesthetically beautiful plate of food, I asked our waiter how the turkey had been prepared. The breasts were first brined, and then roasted. The legs were slowly braised. The giblet and bones were used to make a stock, which was then incorporated into a gravy.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
1789’s turkey was moist and flavorful. I only wish there had been more on the plate. The giblet gravy, as it was described on the menu, was not quite as successful. I found the gravy bland and a bit watery. I wonder what happened, because it had great potential.
The green beans had a charred flavor that added another element of flavor to the dish. Their vivid “greenness” also added much needed color to the plate.
The mashed sweet potatoes were silky smooth in texture, the only drawback being an unnecessary vanilla flavor. As a result, the sweet potatoes lost their earthy sweetness and tasted almost artificial.
The stuffing was nicely browned on top, but the promised sausage was sparse. However, I loved the idea of an individualized stuffing “cake.” It appeared as though the stuffing had been portioned ahead of time into a muffin pan and then baked. I can understand how this might make plating easier in a high-volume restaurant. It’s simple – just pop it out of pan and place it on the plate. There’s no mess, either.
The cranberry sauce, with a hint of orange flavor, was the right amount of sweet. Served in a bowl family style, 1789’s rendition was far superior to the Jello-like canned variety that I remember from my childhood.
For dessert, my dad and I ordered a pumpkin mousse cake, while my mom opted for the gingerbread spongecake. The candied pumpkin seeds on top of my dessert and the mini gingersnaps on top of my mom’s added a crunch to the cakes.
At the end of the meal, I was pleasantly satisfied, but not stuffed. Even so, I still wanted seconds and possibly even thirds. Feasting to no avail is Thanksgiving tradition, right? At the same time, it was nice to skip the turkey coma for once.
I applaud Chef Lombardo’s innovative take on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner at 1789.