Sébastien Giannini, the Frenchman who recently took over as executive chef of the historic Watergate Hotel, introduced a remade menu last week that aims to recreate glamorous seaside vibes from his home country along the cherry blossom-lined banks of the Potomac.
As an ode to the beach resort towns of Saint-Tropez and Cannes, the new menu at the Kingbird restaurant is big on seasonal and regional flavors that shine with minimal intervention. Think whole fish simply prepared with French olive oil; fig-infused breads alongside butter blended with house-made rose wine vinegar; and silver tins of asparagus paired with Taggiasche olives sourced from Nice, France.
The menu makeover is the hotel’s first since undergoing a $125 million transformation in 2016. Giannini replaces Michael Santoro, a Blue Duck Tavern alum who moved on last fall after three years.
Giannini, who left D.C.’s St. Regis after more than a year as executive chef, hopes to return the Watergate to the level of prominence it enjoyed under star French chef Jean-Louis Palladin in the 1980s and ‘90s. Some waiters from Palladin’s days are still present. Now the servers sport retro red and grey suits to match decor that includes Mad Men-era bucket chairs.
Kingbird’s new menu kicks off with small sharable plates built with staples that would be found inside Côte d’Azure market places ($10-$19). There’s eggplant caviar with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, goat cheese, and orange zest; grilled octopus tentacles with hummus, crispy socca (chickpea pancakes), and fresh shallots; and a half lobster tail dunked into a grapefruit condiment made of black pepper, orange, and grapefruit puree.
That citrus condiment is one of eight house-made sauces intended to be paired with entrees such as lamb shoulder confit, ribeye for two, and bone-in halibut. Hyper-seasonal seafood is a big part of the a la carte lineup. Right now there’s a catch of the day, red snapper, and black sea bass.
Each protein also comes with a side, like cavatelli with zucchini petals, basil, and mint oil or “sexy fries” with fresh parsley, truffle, and aged Parmigiano.
Kingbird Dinner_Spring 2019 by on Scribd
A lobster bucatini for two ($81) comes flambéed with cognac. An early dinner special (5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) for parties of two includes three meze items to share, and individual picks of entrees, sides, and desserts ($119).
The high-pressure post at the hotel entails managing nearly 100 employees across the Watergate’s three restaurants and overseeing 24-hour in-room dining along with 30,000 square feet of banquet and catering space.
Giannini isn’t yet ready to reveal menu details for the scene-y Top of the Gate rooftop, though he does plan to scratch Santoro’s previous pizza-heavy lineup. He hopes to make the space feel more like a Mediterranean beach resort with meze plates built around colorful Moroccan, Lebanese, Italian, and French flavors.