I had the pleasure to try iCi Urban Bistro’s new summer dinner menu, revealed just weeks ago. The restaurant, housed in Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square, introduces five new savory summer dishes: Grilled Whole Branzino à la Provençale with sautéed fennel, arugula and Meyer lemon, and sauce vierge; the Classic Bouillabaisse; homemade Salmon Gravlax with celery root rémoulade, spianata flat bread, and lemon oil; Hudson Valley Foie Gras Torchon; and Yellow Fin Tuna Tartare.
Compiled by Executive Chef Gyo Santa and complemented by Bar Mixologist Jamie Macgloan and Pastry Artist Samantha Meissel, the summer menu highlights classic French dishes with international tastes, an acknowledgement of cuisine from summer travels by Chef Santa, as well as the international prestige the Sofitel name carries.
After being served the classic bread basket, which includes the usual French baguette, as well as olive loaves and a raisin toast (and served up with decadent Sofitel-printed butter), my partner and I sampled the tuna tartare and octopus to start.
The yellow fin tuna tartare, one of the new summer menu item, was delightfully light, an unexpected taste from a country known for its rich ingredients. Served alongside perfectly rare tuna were pickled vegetables from Amish country, including adorably-named “Pee Wee” potatoes. A cauliflower gastrique added creaminess and sweetness, while the finishing touch of almond oil added a contrasting depth of flavor.
The pan-seared Spanish octopus arrived second, and provided an incredible contrast to the tuna. With an unusual crispy outside, each octopus had a perfectly-cooked interior with a distinct smokiness. These flavors, Chef Santa told me, were inspired by a trip to Spain.
Chef Santa joined the Sofitel Washington D.C. Lafayette Square just over a year ago as Executive Chef. Prior to his arrival at Sofitel, he spent five years on the culinary team next door at the St. Regis’ Adour, where he was invited by Michelin Starred chef, Alain Ducasse, who brought his on as Executive Sous-Chef.
Chef Santa began his schooling at Le Cordon Bleu, School of Hospitality in 2000. Born in Japan, and fluent in Japanese, French and English, Chef Santa’s passion for culinary art began with traditional Japanese cuisine. Blending of cultures translates beautifully into his dishes, where quality of product, freshness of ingredients, and the balance of presentation drive his gastronomy style.
Chef personally brought out the bouillabaisse, a seafood stew loaded with shellfish that originated in Marseille. With its signature saffron and licorice (thanks to a dash of liqueur pastis) profiles, this dish really stands out as a perfect prototype of classic French cuisine. Chef Santa’s features fish of the day, mussel, scallop, shrimp, marble potatoes, and saffron broth, and serves as the perfect light but lasting centerpiece to your dinner.
I learned a lot from Chef Santa about bouillabaisse. For one-did you know scallops can swim? Apart from that fun trivia point, the word “bouillabaisse” is a compound of the French words for “to boil” (bolhir) and “to reduce” (abaissar).
My partner and I washed these savory delicacies down with cocktails from the summer menu. I enjoyed the Cannes Cachet, a refreshing but powerful mix of Absolut Elyx, lillet rose, lemon juice, Campo Viejo Cava Rosé, and honey from the Sofitel’s own rooftop apiary. We also tried the St. Maxime Side. Featuring the same vodka, this fresh cocktail features strawberry, lime juice, and earns a unique taste with torn basil.
Capping off our mid-summer night’s repast, Chef presented two delectable desserts: the chocolate almond bombe, and the chocolate molten cake. Two chocolate-based confections with two very different tastes. The bombe was sophisticated, rich, and not overly sweet, which was a perfect way to showcase the Valrhona chocolate. It was served with dark chocolate mousse and chantilly, with a little crunch from honey almonds. The molten cake was much sweeter, with candied hazelnuts, a praline cookie, and vanilla anglaise.
We enjoyed the dessert wines as well. I had Tokaji, one of my favorites from Hungary, and rare to find on most DC menus. We also tried Trimbach Gewürztraminer, which played well against the distinct French flavors of our meal.
The summer menu will be available for guests through Labor Day, and comes highly recommended for those looking to experience a trip through multiple regions of France, without the jet lag!
About iCi Urban Bistro
iCi Urban Bistro is as vibrant and cosmopolitan as Washington, DC itself. Its dynamic spaces welcome guests with cool, modern ambiance and exciting innovations on traditional French cuisine. Discover dining that’s about much more than just taste. It’s about experience –the opportunity to indulge in fabulous sensations, artful presentations and cool, contemporary twists on timeless French dishes in a trendy setting. This is the perfect place to hold business meetings, celebrate special occasions or enjoy dinners with friends: www.iciurbanbistro.com