Back in the day when Penn Quarter was known as Downtown and area restaurants were few and far between, Ashok Bajaj opened his second venture, 701, as a destination for employees in the nearby office buildings.
Now, nearly 20 years later--and after a recent full renovation--the restaurant has evolved into a D.C. classic, luring diners from throughout the Washington region.
Along with the new dining room of rich, dark woods, Tiffany-blue chairs and dramatic modern art, the restaurant's kitchen also has new direction under chef Ed Witt.
The restaurant has a commitment to refined, approachable American food with his knack for reinventing familiar classics. Clam "chowder" ($11) is a light, cream-touched soup with smoky prosciutto, plump Manila clams and gnocchi--all of which bears little resemblance to the thick original. Coq au vin ($21) marinates in red wine for 12 hours before it's cooked en sous vide and oven-roasted with thick pieces of house-cured bacon.
Dishes also achieve textural balance: Rice-crusted striped bass ($25) yields delicate, flaky fish beneath the snap of the rice cover, all on a well-spiced bed of creamy lentils.
New pastry chef Roger Potter completes the experience with creative desserts that often combine old classics into new hybrids, like the maple-infused banana crème brûlée tart ($9). You could say the finish is as strong as its start.
701, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (between Seventh and Ninth sts.); 202-393-0701 or 701restaurant.com