I've been putting off writing this one up as I wanted to see what other diners thought - so that I might be able to chalk my experience up to opening week jitters. Unfortunately recent articles in the Post and elsewhere, as well as a casual perusal of Yelp feedback, seem to affirm my first impressions of the place, so here goes.
DBGB is obviously a "big deal" for DC foodies who spend lots of time waiting and wishing for the day that the nation's capital can begin to offer a food scene that compares to New York, let alone with Paris or London. When the news that Daniel Boulud, the patron saint of all things bistro, burger and Lyonnaise sausages (not to mention his status as a permanent member of the Bourdain clique), was bringing his popular casual dining joint to DC, I like many others was very excited indeed.
I've been lucky enough to eat at all of Boulud's restaurants in New York, including the absolutely stunning (food and price tag) two-Michelin-starred Daniel, Cafe Boulud on the Upper East Side, Bar Boulud near Lincoln Center which quickly became my go-to wine bar when I lived in the area, db Bistro Moderne in the Theater District (home to the original foie gras burger) and of course, the original DBGB downtown. I've enjoyed my experience - some more than others - at every single one of these places and have also marveled at Boulud's ability to maintain a level of consistency in terms of taste and service regardless of how many restaurant outposts that were being opened up across the world with his name plastered on it.
Alas, I think DC's DBGB has caused me to rethink this opinion.
Don't get me wrong - most of the food was serviceable and actually fairly reasonably priced, in my opinion. For example, the classic country pâté tasted delicious - an exact carbon copy of the version I've had at a number of DB's New York places. However, the frisee salad that came along with it was a little sad - limp and underdressed. The bread, similar to the slices that arrived in the bread basket for the table, was incredibly cold and gave the impression that someone had sliced up yesterday's bread early in the morning.
The rest of the food kind of followed suit. Tasty but unremarkable - colder, smaller versions of what people have had before. I think the whole experience could kind of be summarized as a little...soulless? For what it's worth, I enjoyed the main courses the most. We tried a "duo" of sausages - the boudin basque (blood sausage) was fall apart tender and so was the coq au vin, if not a bit over-salted.
Things definitely weren't improved by the fact that service was spotty, our waiter who was clearly overwhelmed and new on the job, was unable to share any insights whatsoever about the wine list, which might as well have been written in Greek. The space itself, part of the much lauded CityCenter luxury development of retail, dining and residences downtown, is far too big and cavernous, creating an atmosphere that you're eating in a very well designed cafeteria or mess hall.
I guess that's the thing about this whole place. The food is...pretty good. The service...can, should and probably will get better over time. The space itself is too big but the seats are small with tables crammed right up next to each other, presumably to maximize the number of diners. As good as the food is or might be, it's hard to create a cozy, intimate atmosphere where you can enjoy your French bistro comfort food if the wait staff is clearly rushed off their feet, attention to detail is lacking in both food and decor and - perhaps not surprisingly - the big man himself is obviously not the one doing the cooking.
Food: 3.5/5. Mostly well-executed if not for a few lacking details.
Drinks: 4/5. Good wine selection by the glass and by the bottle. Ask for a sommelier if your waiter is unable to advise.
Ambiance: A large, cavernous space that doesn't feel very personal. There are hand-painted dishes by celebrity chefs you can gawk at though so that's something.
Jasmine says: Three and a half chomps. Not the best first foot forward for good ol' DB here in DC. That being said, the food is pretty good and the service should improve. I'd like to come back a second time.
DBGB Kitchen & Bar is located at:
931 H Street N.W.Washington, DC 20001
Reservations available via OpenTable.
One woman's journey to eat all the food. Or at least, most of it.