Last Updated: 2/2/2023
Current Status: They moved from prix-fixe to tasting menu. They also did some remodeling, to reduce the seats and make it a little less faux rustic. The Cellar wine bar remains closed.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: April 2019
In the 2016 Washingtonian review of The Dabney, Todd Kliman wrote, “Restaurants aren’t fixed documents; they evolve, sometimes for the better.” He was prescient. Over time, The Dabney evolved from a restaurant highlighting local ingredients to one that is able to harness them. The cooking is reaching a level of refinement on par with any other kitchen in D.C. It is a warm setting, fueled by a wood-burning hearth, and guided by a talented chef.
The first trick The Dabney pulls off is to make you forget you walked out of a re-claimed industrial alley. The large open flame from the kitchen lights up the back of the room. The bar and bright-eyed staff greet you as you enter. The down-home touches transport you from the alley to something inspired by a mid-Atlantic farmhouse.
The second trick is to excel within limitations. In addition to using the wood-fired stove, Chef Jeremiah Langhorne decided to root his cooking in the Mid-Atlantic region and source almost exclusively from the area. Early on, it seemed that the self-imposed limitation hamstrung the cooking. Now, complexity and depth have been added to the already present skilled cooking and great ingredients. Like poetry written in structured form or art made under censorship, the limitations seem to focus the cooking producing something special. The seemingly straight-forward chicken dish with potato “salad” layers the smokiness of the chicken, the bite of the greens, and the brightness of the lemon brown butter jus. The “Squid Puppies” are hush puppies with bits of squid served with a squid-ink tartar sauce (akin to an aioli?). Sweetness from drizzled honey contrast with the sea-borne elements. Often the smallest dishes are the most intense, and this dish exemplifies that maxim. Desserts are rich and can put you over the top if you have not paced yourself, so save room.
The menu is divided between snack-sized dishes, small plates (that approach entrée size), and a couple large dishes meant to be shared. The wine list is dotted with interesting choices among more familiar regions and varietals. It is more broad in choices than deep in vintages. Staff are bubbly and busy. And the place is nearly always busy. You will need to do some long-range planning for a weekend reservation.
The Dabney has polished its rustic sensibility. It is an important element of Washington’s dining renaissance. It is worth making the trip.
Other Guidance: It is a cozy setting, but a nice one. Dress at least like you are going to grandmas for Sunday dinner. Jeans are not out of place; shorts would seem gauche. There are slim pickings for vegetarians, but you can probably construct a dinner. GF do a little better.
Hidden Gem on the Wine List: La Rioja Alta, Rioja Reserva, “Viña Ardanza” 2009. Coming in just under $100, a robust wine that is settling in. It is 80% Tempranillo and 20% Garnacha. Aged in old American oak, it has enough structure to handle any dish on the menu but, due to the aging, the tannins are now gentle enough not to overwhelm most dishes. It even paired well with the rich sauce accompanying the fluke. Not sure how they got the bottles, but it is worth checking out as long as it is on the list.
Rating: Worth Paying the Cab
Cuisine: New or Old American (Mid-Atlantic specifically)
Neighborhood: Mt. Vernon/Convention Center
Address: 122 Blagden Alley NW, Washington DC
Washington Post: Started at 2.5, but moved up to 3.0. Is there enough momentum for 3.5?