If you’re visiting D.C. for a weekend, chances are good that you won’t venture to the hinterlands of downtown Bethesda, MD. And chances are if for some reason you do want to go, your D.C. friends who know better will try as hard as they can to convince you it’s a terrible idea.
I understand. Having spent college in New York City before moving to D.C. a year and a half ago, I had a deep suspicion of venturing to another state to go out. Hoboken might have been closer to my apartment than Brooklyn, but that didn’t mean I was going to round up my friends and go there on Saturday night (disclaimer: I actually think Hoboken is lovely, but it’s in New Jersey and therefore not weekend-appropriate).
I had a similar view towards Bethesda. Sure, it might have some good restaurants and bars where a halfway decent drink won’t cost you $12, but it’s in Maryland. Sorry. Not happening.
But a week after the (obviously far superior) D.C. Restaurant Week, it was Bethesda Restaurant Week. Now, I may be a location snob, but I love me some cheap good food. So I made a reservation at Persimmon, a place I’d heard about through various “Top [Insert Number Here] Places to Go in D.C.” lists.
My visit started off well, as Persimmon made its whole, dense menu available as a three-course prix fixe deal. Bethesda and I were off to a good start.
That was before the bread came. I wouldn’t normally bring up the bread. But it was accompanied not by butter, not by olive oil, not even a nice olive tapenade… but pate! Pate? Seriously?
I’m not sure if this was Persimmon’s not-so-subtle way of saying, “We are a sophisticated restaurant. Therefore, you will eat several pieces of pate-covered bread and you will LOVE it,” but it actually felt like an affront.
Now, I actually do like pate very much, but only if I expressly desire to pay my own dollars for it. It’s not exactly the kind of food you casually place on a table and expect people to graze on. Give me a nice olive oil with my bread and I will swoon. But I will not take kindly to unsolicited pate.
My friend and dining partner put it well: “I feel like they should warn you.”
Come on, Bethesda – I thought we were getting along!
An appetizer of braised short rib sounded delicious, but I was chagrined to find out the parsnip puree listed as its accompaniment was actually being replaced by mashed potatoes. It was good, no doubt, but parsnips would have elevated it from a good dish that I could have made at home to a “this is why I go to restaurants” dish.
My main course, however, was a “why I go to restaurants” dish. Dorade – a white fish –with shrimp, asparagus, a crispy polenta cake and a lobster beurre blanc. The dish looked elegant and the flavors melded seamlessly.
Dessert can sometimes be an afterthought on Restaurant Week menus, but the vanilla crème brulee and chocolate mousse were both solid – a lovely way to end the meal.
While the patronizing pate at Persimmon definitely knocked a few points off its Restaurant Week score for me, the rest of the meal was quite good. I’m not saying I’m going to rush off to Bethesda every time I go out, but I would definitely go back. Preferably, though, when the prices are Restaurant Week low.
By Ali Weinberg