Capitol Hill denizen Rob Weland is making himself right at home with Garrison (524 Eighth St. SE), a passion project that’s allowed the pioneering local toque to finally put down roots on his own terms. A veteran of the kitchens at Poste Moderne Brasserie and Cork Wine Bar, Garrison marks the first time Weland will be calling the shots both in the front and back of the house — with some help from his wife, Amy, who helped flesh out the wine list; fellow Poste alumna Gina Chersevani, who crafted the cocktail program; and BLT Steak alumnus Sam Vause, who is serving as general manager.
He’s also fostered a relationship with Mike Protas, proprietor of One Acre Farm in neighboring Montgomery County, Md. In addition to feeding Weland’s incredibly vegetarian-friendly establishment, Protas’ personal slice of heaven delivers straight-out-of-the-earth spoils to Hillites via an exclusive community supported agriculture program.
Weland, who famously oversaw the creation of an enviable garden at Poste, continues to exercise his green thumb as well.
“It's nice to be in my neighborhood. ... I can run home and cut herbs from our garden in the middle of the day,” Weland said about one of the many benefits of his nearly nonexistent commute.
He said friendly faces abound (“Neighbors I know come in and eat and that's fun,” Weland said.) and he expressed gratitude about being able to juggle his new work-life balance with relative ease.
“I can work on recipes in my own study where all my books are,” Weland related, noting that the close quarters at work — “You should see the size of the office at the restaurant. No more than half a person can be in there at once,” he estimated. — often motivates him to tinker with evolving dishes while theoretically off the clock.
Guests don’t seem to mind the modest surroundings one bit.
The interior design scheme features lustrous wooden tables illuminated by flickering tea lights, jars full of pickled fruits and vegetables sprinkled about various shelves and white-tiled walls.
A crescent-shaped bar with just fewer than a dozen stools sometimes doubles as a soapbox for the highly opinionated — which on at least one occasion included a trio of millennial-aged gal pals loudly holding forth about the 2016 presidential candidates ("I don't like Marco Rubio. And I don't know why,” mused one of the drink-toting friends. "I do," interjected another. "He's too much of a people pleaser."); office politics ("All the bartenders I've worked with have been women. And they are badass," crowed an apparent hospitality vet.), and the burden of navigating the latest “it” dining spot ("I've lived here for over a year and I don't know how to get in there," a local groused about perpetually crowded Rose's Luxury.) — while the bare Edison bulbs dangling above the slender main dining room allow those seated in the recessed booths opposite the kitchen to recede into the shadows.
Weland’s menu is a case study in seasonality.
Sure, he’s carved out room for a meat dish here (a bison hanger steak complemented by blue cheese) and some poultry there (Long Island duck breast bolstered by lavender and fennel).
But the brunt of the carte is dedicated to celebrating nature’s bounty. Think: local radishes served raw with compound butter and sea salt, roasted eggplant accompanied by yogurt and dill (“It's one of my favorite comfort foods,” Weland said of the Middle Eastern-style creation.) and three bean salad punctuated by anchovy.
Not to mention the insanely addictive house-made gougères.
“Do you smell that?” one suddenly enamored patron asked his partner as a server strolled by with an order of the aromatic cheese puffs held aloft.
Per Weland, adding the one-bite wonders of buttery dough to his repertoire was a no-brainer. “I wanted something elegant, but something people could dig into and snack on and just enjoy eating with their fingers while drinking a glass of champagne,” he said.
They’re hard to resist even without the bubbly, each oven-fresh nibble studded in tangy salt crystals and nutty poppy seeds. (Yes, they’re served about a dozen at a time. No, you will not want to share them.)
Fried squash blossoms stuffed with smoky provolone and surrounded by romesco sauce proved fast favorites. The tender pods arrive encased in a crunchy shell that yields a center of mouthwatering melted cheese when pierced. Grilled spring onions added piquancy while the chunky tomato sauce invigorates every bite.
Bison tartare reveals lusty beef heaped atop a nest of diced green and yellow squash. The summer gourds are crisp, the yolk-covered and mustard-spiked meat primordially satisfying and the companion caper berry bracing.
Seafood goes swimmingly, particularly when the supporting cast features wine-stained oeufs and brilliantly doctored spuds.
Weland works wonders with all manner of fresh catches (striped bass and wild king salmon figure prominently). But we remain smitten with a roasted hake lain to rest atop minced chive- and heavy cream-laden potatoes.
The lemony filet absorbs the wine-spiked yolk with gusto once the poached egg is pierced. A smattering of capers adds vinegary pop to the gloriously rich potatoes.
Quizzed about any upcoming modifications — Sunday brunch is projected to join the rotation real soon — Weland hinted that change is inevitable.
“Of course — fall is around the corner,” he asserted.
Food Court is an ongoing series of semi-regular spot checks of new and evolving eateries with ties to Capitol Hill. Garrison: 524 Eighth St. SE; 202-506-2445; garrisondc.com
Average entree: $21 to $30 ($$$). Open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday.
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