I drive past Restaurant Nora on a regular basis on my (not so) secret shortcut from Georgetown to anywhere on U St. (Usually Mockingbird Hill, let’s be real). It was always pretty much off my radar as somewhere that would be nice to try but that was out of our range of affordability. It’s in the $30-50 per entree range, so not too far out, but above what we are usually willing to spend unless something really excites us (or someone else pays). But then! Nora herself, or at least whoever runs her Twitter account, Tweeted directly at me about their Retro 3 Course Menu in celebration of their 35th year. It’s happening Mon-Thur for all of July and it’s only $35. I figured this was a rare chance to get in without totally breaking the bank. We made reservations and we were on our way.
The Retro menu came with two options for each of the courses, and it lined up perfectly that the lady wanted exactly the opposite thing in every category, so we were able to try the whole special menu.
My first impression of the space was that it was… broken in? Very clean, but the quilts on the wall gave a very grandmothery vibe. I love quilts, but I immediately felt like we were going to be the youngest in the place. And I was right. Ah, this is why Restaurant Nora doesn’t come up much in my food blogging adventures and why my friends aren’t chatting about it all the time.
I had told myself I wasn’t going to get a drink, but I had had a really long work day and they had a Gin and Tonic cocktail menu, so I ordered the Man Overboard. Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germain, cucumber, citrus bitters. The picture I took is blurry, but it came in a collins glass with slices of cucumber and dried currants. It also came with a paper straw, which was odd and got droopy during the duration of my drink. But the drink was tasty! The cucumber was refreshing. The lady went with an Old Fashioned.
For the first course I had the chilled tomato soup and the lady had the pate.
The soup was delicious. It tasted a bit like a cool marinara sauce. The pesto toast was a perfect complement. Some crunch and another layer of flavor.
The pate was… not my cup of tea, but the lady really enjoyed it. It was a bit heavy, and she wasn’t able to finish it and still have room for her entree. I really, really enjoyed the pickles on the side.
For our second course, I had the tilapia with salsa verde and she had the chicken schnitzel.
The tilapia was perfect. Well, I stole a squeeze of the lemon that came with the lady’s chicken, and that made it even better. It was cooked perfectly, and the edges were slightly crispy. I liked that. The green beans and potatoes were also cooked perfectly and tasty. The salsa verde on top of the fish were a great complement. That’s a great idea for a fish topping. I may try that in my own kitchen.
The lady’s chicken was also cooked perfectly. It was juicy and flavorful. She enjoyed it a lot and I stole a few bites of it as well.
For dessert, I had the lemon pound cake and she had the bittersweet chocolate mousse.
The presentation of the poundcake was obviously showy. The strawberries and the puree soaked into the poundcake and make it just moist enough. The ice cream on top was nice.
The lady really loved her mousse. It was just a tad too bitter and not enough sweet for me, but it was great with the whipped cream. She loved it and thought it was pretty perfect.
The food was absolutely wonderful. Just what you would expect from a DC institution. No qualms with that at all. I did have a couple of annoyances that put a damper on the experience for me. We were definitely one of the first tables in, so maybe we missed the window, but between our 2nd and 3rd courses, I noticed that every table was getting a bread basket and bottle of water for refilling. I’m trying to watch what I’m eating a little bit, so they really were doing me a favor by not giving us the bread. But I just wondered why we were excluded. And I’m a thirsty lady, so that water bottle would have been nice. I also overheard another waiter telling his tables about a drink special (a strawberry mojito, I’m SO INTO MOJITOS right now!) that I TOTALLY would have ordered that had I known, but our server didn’t fill us in. That was disappointing. The time between our 2nd and 3rd courses, and our table being fully cleared and getting our check were also a bit longer than I would have liked, but that may have been the lack of bread annoyance talking. They’re really little things, but things I would expect a high-end place to nail. And if I’m dropping over $100 on a meal, call me cheap, but food, service, EVERYTHING had better be perfect. I’m wondering if my expectations were a little too high or my perception was off but whatever the case, the food was incredible, some things were not up to my expectations, and I don’t see us returning anytime soon.
- Favorite thing I had: Probably the tilapia. The crunchy edges were my favorite part. Everything was really, really excellent though. As to be expected at such an iconic restaurant.
- Favorite thing she had: The chicken was perfect and she really liked her dessert.
- How soon I’d go back (tomorrow/next week/next month/special occasions): Probably only if someone else suggests it (and pays). The food was great, but we can’t afford to throw down like that.
- Places to go afterward (what’s nearby): We ended up at Spike Mendelsohn’s new speakeasy, Sheppard, but that is not at all a natural progression. From an old DC mainstay to a hip new trendy place. There was a touch of culture whiplash.