Unum Chef Phillip Blane (left) prepares grilled quail with sauteed spinach, pistachio nuts and date demi-glace. The restaurant specializes in seafood and carries "True Blue" certification, an honor bestowed on restaurants that serve Maryland blue crabs.
Back at the tables, overly chatty neighbors provide all the entertainment anyone could ever need.
"I've known Doug since the '92 campaign," a bombastic Hill-staffer-turned-lobbyist announced before regaling tablemates (and anyone within earshot) with tales of the good old days.
The snippets we caught of how the well-heeled traveler currently spends his time - summering in the Hamptons, hauling home $37,000 in cash from a particularly fruitful Vegas trip - led us to believe the former public servant is in no rush to rejoin the government payroll.
"I had a salad at lunch. That was healthy. I'll have the hanger steak, rare," an unchained carnivore loudly rationalized at his table another night.
While every diner is certainly welcome to indulge in the red meat of his or her choosing - Unum has consistently offered a steak dish alongside its signature gourmet burger since opening - the menu tilts more toward the sea than the stockyard. (Though we definitely love the burger with mouthwatering caramelized onions and cheddar.)
Blane is proud of Unum's "True Blue" certification, a badge of honor bestowed only on restaurants that plate Maryland blue crabs. The crabs have an extra crispy soft shell, seasoned and breaded so that they taste reminiscent of fried chicken, brightened by bracing bites of apricot-green-tomato chutney. The crab cakes were less daring - rolled together mounds of binderless jumbo lump meat - on the whole adequate but dull, particularly when compared with the creamy-sweet corn salad by their side.
An oyster sampler had one freshly shucked and bathed in a tongue-teasing, brazenly vinegared Granny Smith apple mignonette, another poached into succulent glory and a fried specimen overshadowed by an overbearing tomato salsa.
Our favorite catch has to be the grilled branzino. The Mediterranean staple arrives dusted with pepper and anointed in lemon, the surrounding pureed celery root decorated with briny green olives and breathtaking mint-fennel slaw.
A lusty lamb shank escorted by deliciously tender Brussels sprouts is Blane's homage to an Indian colleague he cooked alongside in Memphis, Tenn. Blane said he fashioned his rub after hers, then filled in the corresponding blanks based on tradition (cilantro-mint chutney) and whimsy (pureed cauliflower studded with raisins and chopped cashews).
The bar staff strives to keep things just as interesting, searching out fresh finds for the 16 slots in the pressure-tight wine keeper.
When we went fishing for something a "little different," head barkeep Dmitry Popov returned with a generous pour of 2010 Trapiche Torrontes, promising us a cider-like experience. The Argentinean white delivered green apple in spades, hitting us right in the kisser with plenty of acid and residual sugar.
Popov is also credited with helping craft the establishment's signature libations, a collection of high test coolers ranging from the boozy Hemingway (rummy undercurrents ring of the tropics) to the citrusy Aviation (as if gin and Meyer lemons locked lips).
Blane is a big fan of all the herb-spiked potables, even though he's just fine unwinding with more lowbrow concoctions. "At the end of the night, I'm just happy to pour myself a beer," the time-crunched toque said.
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.