Time travel isn't really possible, yet we're often drawn to experiences that evoke our past, even though they don't actually re-create them. They play on our nostalgia--a rosy view of what we remember of old that holds on to the good and jettisons the rest. Television shows like Mad Men play into this, presenting a stylized vision of the past. Setting aside the show's fascinating yet often deeply flawed characters, was life in the '60s really as stylish as it's portrayed on Mad Men? Probably not, yet it's a fun world to visit.
Similarly, The Riggsby plays on our nostalgia for foods from the past, specifically that era of American cooking from the late '60s or so until the early '80s when proteins were the unabashed champions of the entree section and French cooking was considered the "creme de la creme" of good food. Sure, this era was also dominated by the rise of food processing, frozen entrees, MSG and high-fructose corn syrup, but, working from nostalgia, The Riggsby gets to ignore those things and instead deliver a menu that plays on our memory of what delighted us from that time.
And it's a menu that's quite varied too, which helps usher the food into the modern era of today where French cuisine isn't so dominant and Americans' ideas of what makes good food has greatly diversified. Additionally, as a hotel restaurant, The Riggsby needs to appeal to a diverse clientele, so its approach that draws on a number of influences--French, German, Italian and American--satisfies both its interest in eclectic nostalgia and the varied appetites of its guests. The Riggsby is probably the first D.C. restaurant to come along in a long time that could call its cuisine "continental"--a once common term for fine dining restaurants serving food influenced by a range of European traditions.
That "little bit of everything" approach should ensure you'll find something on the menu that interests you. There's a burger with bacon-onion jam that sounds amazing, there's a steak--a good box for any hotel restaurant to tick, there's a spaghetti dish--a riff on pasta all'amatriciana. Something that is missing, however, is a vegetarian entree. Non-meat-eaters take note.
|Jalapeño tater tots
|Social Smoker cocktail
|Jimmy Special "Chopped" House Salad
|Top: Roasted Chicken; Bottom: Schnitzel a la Lyonnaise
Service at The Riggsby was generally good. The host stand got a little flustered when, in the middle of my telling them about our reservation, the previously seated party returned to ask for a different table. And our server didn't check on us after our entrees arrived, but otherwise our food arrived in reliably standard waves and the staff was friendly. I also liked the restaurant's appropriately retro decor. The bar area, which also functions as a secondary dining room, has dark green walls and artsy wallpaper, as well as a beautiful curved bar. This would be a great place to get a drink if you're in Dupont Circle and not up for a full dinner.
The Riggsby is the second D.C. restaurant from chef and restauranteur Michael Schlow, following Tico, the wonderful Latin American-focused restaurant we visited last year. A third, the Italian Alta Strada opened recently, and I've really looking forward to trying its pizza and pasta-focused menu. Judging from his two places we've tried, Schlow is as adept at genre-hopping as some of D.C.'s other marquee chefs. And with the Riggsby, he manages the fun trick of looking backward while again contributing to the forward-march of great new restaurants in the city. It's perfect place to go if you want to feel like Don Draper, but arguably, you'll eat better too.
The Riggsby, 1731 New Hampshire Avenue NW (between 17th, 18th, R and S Streets in the Carlyle Hotel), Washington, D.C. (Dupont Circle). (202) 787-1500. Reservations: Open Table.