Restaurant review Henri: A crowd puller with space for privacy

Unrated during the pandemic.

When Frederick De Pue first encountered a bonnet rotisserie, he was 19 years old and working at Le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s French dining temple in Monte Carlo. “I was allowed to clean, not cook,” says the native Belgian, now 45, and smiles softly.

Fast forward to 2022 and the new restaurant in downtown De Pue, the Henri. One of the few ideas the chef didn’t cut from his design budget was the gas-powered three-skewer rotisserie, positioned against a pretty blue-and-white tile wall. Spend $50,000 on a single device and you want people to see it. The magnificent machinery, visible thanks to an open kitchen, transforms piglet, lamb and chicken into an added pride in a restaurant that is both accessible and unusual.

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Name a (good) restaurant that offers just as much space for private events as for the dining public. Half of the Henri is dedicated to closed parties. Behind the 60-seat bar and dining room, opposite the Warner Theater, is an elegant oval kitchen surrounded by six venues, seating a total of 120 guests. Larger rooms are named after the four seasons, have access to a separate bar, and cost at least $150 per person; The more intimate Dawn and Dusk require a $1,200 minimum for food and beverages per setting. Party planners work with dedicated staff to create customized menus.

A cool food processor and plenty of space for private events wouldn’t be the attractions without solid culinary art. De Pue, who also owns Annapolis bistro Flamant, has done its homework ahead of its winter opening and put together a menu that combines mass-market food with dishes that not everyone else makes. Guests sit down to read about steak fries and crab cakes, but also celery lasagna and suckling pig crepe.

This pork wrap, a first course, is wonderful. Slices of pork, cut from a herb-stuffed piglet and slow-cooked on a spit, are wrapped in a translucent chestnut crepe whose shocking garnish — raw red onion and lime — keeps the rich dish in check. The bonnet is also the source of the very good cauliflower couscous. De Pue cooks whole heads of the vegetables in the rotisserie, charring the outside but moistening the inside. The insides are removed, finely chopped, seasoned with cranberries and parsley, and spread on sumac-laced yogurt. Strips of roasted parsnips Add height and crispness to the colorful bowl.

Only three ingredients are in the creamy crab cakes: crab, mayonnaise and thinly sliced ​​celery root. A shower of delicious little tiles — dehydrated potato chips dusted with mushroom salt — and blood orange dressing fill the plate.

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One visit’s mackerel and apple tartare, salty enough to serve as a venison lick, is a recent addition to a subtly spiced tuna tartare, tossed with the same chopped fruit and toasted walnuts, and served on a buttermilk dressing sprinkled with chive oil. (In honor of Henri, the cost of the initial tartare was removed when we notified the staff of the salt attack.)

Every other restaurant seems to serve meatballs, a good use of leftovers (think ingredients). Henri revives an idea from the chef’s youth – a pickled egg meatball – placed on top of shredded cabbage and carrots scorched with ginger, encircling the sphere with spinach coulis. The name “Bird Nest” fits the staging and was hatched in a way that is suitable for children, says the chef.

The most appealing fish dish is sautéed turbot, sprinkled with fresh herbs to flatter its tender flesh and supported on melt-in-your-mouth fennel. The buttery fillet comes with panisses, finger-length, fluffy chickpea fritters. The heartiest appetizer starts with a staple, lasagna, and employs bechamel, black trumpet mushrooms and wild boar to enrich layers of tender egg noodles. I love it, although I can feel my pandemic pants tighten with every sip.

Enclosures show thoughts. A little bean garden — snappy French green beans, limas, and creamy giantes — are peppered with aioli. Do you hate kale? The Henri might make you love the bold greens, as it’s prepared here, fried to a touch of flash, enough to make the kale splinter in your mouth. The chef says he wants to offer “a European twist” on the fried spinach popularized by chef Vikram Sunderam at Rasika in Penn Quarter. De Pue personalizes his version with pickled pearl onions and a champagne raisin dressing.

Creamy Dutch baby potatoes are particularly enjoyable. Massaged with duck fat and garlic, the tubers take on more flavor from the drippings of slowly turning chicken on the rotisserie. But my favorite meat on the skewer here is actually lamb, sprinkled with herbs, slathered with Dijon mustard and presented as tangy slices. Venison sausage is good too. You can question the purple tint of the link; The color is explained by the fact that the minced meat is first cooked in red wine.

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De Pue says he took his time naming the restaurant and tries to avoid anything associated with the lawyers and lobbyists that enliven so much of this part of town. The Henri pays homage to De Pue’s Belgian grandfather, a home cook known for his tomato soup with meatballs and hiding chocolates in his grandchildren’s coats. The chef says his grandfather died at the age of 90, but not before De Pue was able to show him renderings of the restaurant that opened on the site of former chef Geoff’s.

The owner-designed dining room is comfortably furnished with enough padding to encourage multiple pillow fights, blue curtains to match the color of the elegant menus, and a raised ceiling from which a beehive of pretty lights cascades — “recycled cardboard,” says the head chef on the “chandelier” that makes just as much impression as the exhibition kitchen. People looking for oval tables to facilitate conversation will appreciate the many curves that adorn Henri’s corners. Every dinner is enhanced by something from the bar; Shooting Star is powerful with rye, sparkling with sparkling wine, racy with ginger and fruity with peach.

Desserts look tempting, but they tend to be the weakest link on the menu. I worried my knife would shatter the plate holding a rock-hard, wine-stained pear with the almond cake, as well as the plate holding the misnamed speculaas tart, which is more like a bulletproof biscuit, containing a bland pistachio-green ball of white chocolate. Better order a nightcap or grab some fries.

The Henri opened at a difficult moment in February. But more workers returning to their downtown offices this month means an increasingly lively bar and restaurant and a new hire at Henri: a second events coordinator to handle the huge interest in private entertainment. De Pue is up to something, and it’s usually delicious.

1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. (Entrance 13th Street NW.) 202-989-5881. Open: Indoor dining Monday – Friday 11:30am – 2:00pm and daily 4:00pm – 11:00pm. Prices: Dinner appetizers $13 to $21, entrees $28 to $46. Soundcheck: 77 decibels/Must speak in a raised voice. Accessibility: No barriers at the entrance; Toilets are ADA compliant. Pandemic Protocols: All staff are vaccinated, but use of masks is optional.

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