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Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse, 101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. (202) 547-8100 Importing a restaurant concept from Las Vegas to Washington, D.C., is surely a gamble. One city is the very manifestation of shameless excess, while the other remains — at least outwardly — staid and conservative. But Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse pulls it off. The first CP’s debuted in Las Vegas’ Four Seasons Hotel. And in mid-2003, the second venture opened smack dab in the center of the D.C. power grid, overlooking Capitol Hill. At the right table — one facing a floor-to-ceiling window that looks across to the glowing Capitol rotunda — the view almost evokes the airy ambiance of a picnic. Almost. But then, when did your picnic basket last hold foie gras, lobster, and filet mignon? With its dramatic views, fancy grub, and a parade of cheerful servers, CP’s attains something few local restaurants manage — pomp. Not the stiffly pressed Washington pomp associated with most establishments that call themselves steakhouses, but a welcome bit of Vegas pomp — a heightened, almost theatrical sense of occasion that makes dining an event. At $30 an entree, you’re entitled to a bit of flair with your food. Are we gushing? Well, the restaurant’s policy waiving corkage for up to two bottles of American wine did soften us up a bit, as it means we can enjoy a special bottle of wine for its retail price instead of paying a hefty restaurant markup. CP’s own extensive all-American wine list offers prices comparable to other upscale restaurants. Still, the generous corkage arrangement goes a long way to easing the sting of CP’s high-roller prices — $15 to $23 for entrees at lunch; $19 to $38, at dinner. (Another value: the three-course fixed-price lunch, at $20.04.) CP’s grandiose style might appear gimmicky if not for the steady hand of Executive Chef Bryan Voltaggio. At just 27 years old, Voltaggio demonstrates a wise chef’s reverence for quality ingredients. For instance, Voltaggio himself aged and carved the meat used in a recent special featuring lamb loin, lamb sausage, and pancetta-wrapped chops. And for a self-proclaimed steakhouse, its kitchen is surprisingly skillful with seafood. At dinner, meals commence with a selection of breads and some small delight compliments of the house — perhaps a spoonful of snappy shrimp ceviche or a dab of pork pâté on a parmesan crisp. Then, on to the starter menu, where options range from predictable crab cakes and caviar to a sublime combination of firm, plump shrimp and creamy butternut squash risotto. A generous plate of smoked salmon gets paired with a stack of teensy potato blinis, while silky sunchoke soup envelops a single seared scallop. Alone, the soup seems timid, but as a vehicle for the delicate flavor of the scallop, it makes sense. The only loser at the table: an utterly ordinary crab cake with a flabby filler. In contrast to the elaborate appetizers, entrees tend to be straightforward, even Spartan, in presentation. CP’s signature steaks most often arrive unadorned, accompanied only by a palette of spice- and herb-infused mustards for dipping. The restaurant features five beef cuts, each intensely flavorful, with a lightly charred exterior. Like most steakhouses, CP’s pushes an array of side dishes. The best are the most simple, like greaseless roast potatoes and earthy hen of the woods mushrooms, which showcase the flavors of fresh produce with minimal distraction. Despite conventional steakhouse wisdom, ordering seafood at CP’s is not a risky bet. Butter-poached lobster is every bit as delicious as it sounds — rich, sweet, and tender. Monkfish has long been called the poor man’s lobster, but CP’s roast monkfish nestled in a bed of hearty cranberry beans closely mimics the flavor and texture of lobster. CP’s dessert menu is full of whimsy. Even the ice cream gets stylish treatment, six flavors dished up in elf-sized scoops. Some items, like a chocolate hazelnut pyramid, turn out to be nicer to look at than to eat. But, for our money, an elegant trio of vanilla, pumpkin, and cappuccino créme brûlée rank among the best desserts in town. In a market rife with steakhouses, CP’s faces steep competition as the newcomer. Yet with its talented chef and enlightened wine policy, we wouldn’t bet against it. — Vanessa Blum is a senior reporter at Legal Times. Phillip Dubé is an attorney at D.C.’s Covington & Burling.

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