Last Updated: 5/2/2021
Current Status: The great, low-key, vanguard restaurant under Chef/Owner Tom Power returned to service and added outdoor dining. They also are doing take-out.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: February 2020
While the D.C. dining scene tumultuously churns, Corduroy remains a stable, underrated oasis. A few years back, Chef/Owner Tom Power moved the restaurant from a downtown location to a converted townhouse across from the Convention Center. He bet on this neighborhood, and now his patience is rewarded (He also owns the neighboring bar Baby Wale). Corduroy is serving excellent food in a sophisticated setting, with a passionate chef who has no other distractions. It does not draw attention to itself, so it is up to you to remember it for a nice night out.
The food is top-notch. It is New American, farm-to-table in theme. Power is a master of soups, and one or two are always among the menu options. The servings are ample and can appear very straightforward, but that is a deception of honesty. The creativity often comes from the combinations of primary ingredients rather than elaborate plating. On one visit there was a guinea hen with mushrooms and bok-choy that was an umami bomb from those three ingredients in concert. There was also a salmon terrine that was uncomplicated and surprising – and an ode to D.C. legend Michel Richard. The menu is only about six-eight appetizers and an equal number of mains. A tasting menu (untried by me) is also available. The prices are not over-the-top, but they do match the fancy interior.
The main dining room is formal but not stuffy. Bright wood, soft lighting, and dark accents wind through the space with white-tablecloth elegance. One twist is the view of the kitchen staff in the back that pulls back the curtain a little. A constant is the bar upstairs, where you can get a good cocktail and the best dining deal in the city – for $30, choose three courses from multiple options. Despite inflation, the price has remained the same for years. The service matches the setting – polite but not achingly formal. Corduroy has had a knack for recruiting and retaining some good staff over the years. The wine list is thoughtful, with many sub-$100 choices and a few treats. Small producers are sprinkled in.
Corduroy is in a sweet spot literally and figuratively. It is a more sophisticated, mature environment than many new places, almost a throwback. It is just comfortable and affordable enough that you do not need to wait for a special occasion to treat yourself or someone else. It is an homage to cooking, service, and hospitality that deserves more attention than it seeks. It is worth setting aside a night and making the trip from wherever you are.
Other Guidance: There is no jacket requirement, but you will want to dress appropriately for a nice restaurant. On the menu as presented, there is not much for vegetarians to work with, but GF can probably construct a good meal. Suggest calling ahead for accommodations. There are stairs to the entrance.
Rating: Worth Paying for Cab
Cuisine: New or Old American
Neighborhood: Mt. Vernon/Convention Center
Location: 1122 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Washington Post: Tom gave it 2.5 in 2014. In a 2017 chat, he put a plug in for Corduroy that is a more appropriate endorsement: “My standard response to “good-and-quiet-please” is Corduroy, the townhouse restaurant near the convention center. I’m a big fan of chef Tom Power’s beautiful food, served in an environment that’s easy on the ears.” In a 2019 chat he got in a dig saying, “My problem with Corduroy is the sameness of the script.” In anticipatory response, the Going-Out Guide in 2016 said, “If Rose’s Luxury and Bad Saint are the Blake Livelys of D.C. dining, Corduroy is its Meryl Streep: understated, sophisticated and consistently impressive.”
Washingtonian: #39 on the 2015 Top 100. It also made the list several other times including 2014 (#16), and almost every year going back to 2004 before then. A testament to sustained excellence and that we are probably taking it for granted.
DonRockwell.com – There are an extraordinary 53 pages and counting of mostly very positive comments.
Michelin has missed this place, but EaterDC, Where to Eat and Drink Near D.C.’s Convention Center, and Zagat say nice things.