The mustard was very good – that statement fairly summarizes the one positive culinary take away from the experience Lemmonex and I shared at Bar Dupont recently.
There are few universal truths about restaurants, among them is that it is often unwise and frequently unfair to asses a restaurant based on one visit. The problems at Bar Dupont, however, were so glaring, so pervasively systemic, and on some levels categorically unfathomable, that the only question about the accuracy of our assessment was if it would be sufficiently harsh?
I passed through the place first, not so much looking for my companion (I was early) as looking for a place where conversation could be had without yelling across the café sized tables. Amidst the soft lighting and intimate tables, there was precious little to muffle sound. At 60% capacity on a Thursday night the volume of din was arresting to my ears. So I settled for a place on the patio though it was not quite warm enough for that to be anything more than temporarily accommodating.
I watched the server walk by twice over the next several minutes without her taking notice of me. Eventually a suit – to his credit – sees that I have been sitting for too long without drink and comes my way to help. To his serious discredit, he gives me misinformation when I ask about the beers on tap (of the eight he knows four and pretends that those are all that exist.) Unmoved by the malted and hopped options presented, I ask for a beverage list.
Lemmonex has joined by the time drinks have been ordered – painfully ordered as the server was well meaning but unprepared for her job. Since it is too cold for the patio, we ask for the check and indicate that we would like to move indoors. The check/payment/change process was as excessively long as the get noticed/order/get a drink process.
Upon moving inside, it took all of 45 seconds to realize one of the reasons everything our server did seemed to take double digit minutes – she had an impossibly large section which included the entire patio and at least a dozen tables inside. This was more apparent because of the plethora of suits about the joint but the overall lack of service (in case my snarkasm is unclear, managers = good, suits = waste of salaries and space.)
The worst suit of all of the suits was the one manning the bar. I watched this guy pinch four fingers into the INSIDE of clean glasses to move them from the dish rack to the staging area one, two, three times. Despite our quibbles Lemmonex and I remained optimistic about the food. After looking over Bar Dupont’s menu which suffers from the physical affectation of opening vertically rather than horizontally, we decided to split the burger and the “Turf Flat.”
What’s a “Turf Flat?” you ask – yeah, we had to ask too. “A Flat is a collection of the Chef’s favorite tastes on one plate” the lightly attentive bartender announces in a very scripted delivery. They offer a Surf (seafood) flat, a Turf (various meats) flat, and a Veggie flat. The Turf Flat offered the most promise – Lamb Carpaccio, Chicken Sandwich, Duck Terrine, Sliced Sirloin, Braised Short Ribs. We ordered a bottle of Argentine Syrah from the poorly organized wine list – the two page and 30ish bottle list would be difficult for navigate for just about anyone save those will lots of experience. to wash it all down.
Wine took a while. Wine took so long that both the Bar Suit (he of dubious finger placement) and the bartender felt the need to explain that the wine cellar is “a couple floors away, and we don’t have a key – it’ll be here in a minute.” The stupidity of storing your wine so far away from the dining area was the latest indicator of malfeasance from management but the most egregious was our food sitting in the bar service area while the suit and the bartender continued to make drinks for the service bar. Our dishes sat there for a bit while they moved back and forth around it seemingly unconcerned.
Still looking for positivity we chimed “I think that’s our food over there.” Let me explain: perhaps the number one rule of service is that there are no detours once a plate leaves the kitchen – ever. Nothing is more important. Watching these two start and complete other tasks while our food languished there was particularly painful.
The medium rare burger arrived just a shade under well done but it was well packed and reasonably flavorful. The bun disintegrated under the slightest pressure and was never up to the task. The burger has some sort of red pepper paste that was a mistake of conception, yet somehow lacked onions. The accompanying cone of French fries was filled with obviously machine cut frozen potatoes and served with ramekins of ketchup, mayo (they called it aioli but seriously this was mayo and fresh from the Sysco truck no less) and a very good Dijon mustard with a light kick of wasabi.
By the time we finished the burger and had nibbled a few of the “flats,” the wine finally arrived – laughable. Fortunately for us, the vintage differed from that which was printed on the wine list so I had an excuse to send it back as I didn’t want to give these buffoons any more of our money.
We both heart short ribs so this unrecognizable dollop of meat atop an untoasted cube of bread was particularly disappointing. The meat had been run through a food processor and spooned on to bread that was overly buttered and had the same consistency when chewed. This was a bad idea that should never have been produced by anyone paid to cook food. That condemnation didn’t distinguish the Short Ribs from the other of the “Chef’s Favorite Tastes.” The Lamb Carpaccio wasn’t in fact Carpaccio but was cured somehow and reminiscent of the meat that comes with lunchables. The Duck Terrine was barely palatable and had the consistency of strained carrots crossed with jello. The chicken sandwich was un-marinated breast meat roasted long enough to kill it again and served on stale bread. The sliced sirloin was cooked properly but under-seasoned and served a top a mixed green salad that was too slick with oil.
Bar Dupont, despite its very attractive décor and perfectly accessible location in the heart of one of DC’s most vibrant neighborhoods, fails because they have made cripplingly bad management decisions in the front and back of the house. They fail because they either don’t care about those mistakes or don’t know about them and it doesn’t matter which is worse.