Please enjoy this re-post…I’m still in Maui!
BB and I arrived at the corner of Spring and 5th Street, uncertain of the parking situation. Thankfully there was valet just steps from the door of The Spence. Stepping inside, there wasn’t a hint of the location’s former incarnations, most recently Water Haven (which I never visited) and an old favorite, The Globe.
All windows and white brick on one side are a stark contrast to the umber banquettes against deep brown on the other, with a completely open kitchen serving as the focal point. A cluster of glowing orbs in a black net are suspended over the main dining room creating a subtley sexy atmosphere. Sleek industrial sheet metal tables with red stenciled numbers are set with mismatched silverware, details I loved.
Blais wasn’t there, surely busy shooting one of the celebrity chef TV shows he stars in. But it didn’t matter, his staff is so well-trained, so professional, they didn’t miss a beat. Of their seven retro-modern cocktails, we ended up trying three, the first being the Riva Trophy made with bourbon and orange bitters for BB. I tried the sparkling Saint-Hilare on Justin Amick’s smart wine list, divided into the “tried and true” and “leap of faith”. My selection was in the latter category.
Our server, Peter, was very entertaining, all the while providing seamless service. BB and I started with two of the smaller plates to share, the duck pappardelle and the hamachi with crispy lamb. The vague menu descriptions leave much to the imagination, but you can be sure, with Blais at the wheel, there could be some sharp curves.
The wide ribbons of pasta are made with beets, giving them a rich burgundy hue, but thankfully imparting no beet flavor. Pieces of duck confit mingled with the pasta and sat upon a base of cocoa gremolata, all of which was presented on a speckled ceramic dish. It was perfect.
Our second selection didn’t fare so well. Delicate hamachi was formed into spirals, matched with bite-size pieces of deep-fried veal sweetbreads. Drops of smoked aioli decorated the plate. The presentation on a wooden dish was stunning, but the disparate elements didn’t work together.
Round two of cocktails: BB tried the March Hare, a bourbon drink with chai bitters and a clever ice cube made of black tea. Changing my bubbles from light to dark, I ordered a lambrusco.
We decided to share an entree and chose two sides to go with it. Roasted pork belly with turnip, apple and mustard, a dish ordered by two chicks at the neighboring table, was delivered in true Blais style under a smoke filled glass dome. They were impressed and so were we, the aroma of bacon filling the air. My intention was to have our sides, fried Brussels sprouts and squash creme brulee’, to accompany the pork, however, they both came out prior to the theatrical presentation of our entree.
Brussels sprouts were halved and fried, then drizzled with a tangy Thai vinaigrette. Tender and crispy, they would have been even better with the pork. A ramakin of pureed yellow squash had a serious bruleed sugar crust, making every bite a creamy, crunchy delight.
Back to the bacon. Our entree arrived covered with the smoke-filled dome. We took a deep breath as Peter lifted it, releasing the porky fragrance. Blais should bottle it. The meltingly tender meat fell away from the fat easily with our forks. Roasted turnips and cubes of apple provided just enough sweet and tart to balance the rich pork belly.
And now it was time for sugar…and the third cocktail, milk punch & cookies. I hear they make it in-house with brandy, spices, sugar, and whey. The apertif glass is served with a few tiny, chewy white chocolate cookies. Just adorable and awesome.
A recent review of The Spence was accompanied by a photo of a dessert. I wanted it. The menu description belied the complex construction. Toasted peanuts were sprinkled on milk chocolate mousse and a dollop of burnt banana ice cream. The speckled dish fools one into thinking there is more going on, but it is perfectly crafted simplicity.
75 5th Street NW 404-892-9111