At Charlie Palmer, Power Lunch Without the Price

Posted April 20, 2005 at 3:46pm

It’s lunchtime at Charlie Palmer Steak, and a sea of dark suits fills the Capitol Hill restaurant’s elegantly modern dining room. Necks crane to see who might be seated at the next table, and Members of Congress hold (presumably) important meetings in back rooms.

It is a stereotypical Washington scene, and most diners probably aren’t concerned with the menu prices. But that doesn’t mean you need an expense account to lunch among the movers and shakers.

Inspired by the Restaurant Week deals offered in New York City and Washington several times a year, Charlie Palmer Steak offers a three-course lunch on weekdays for $20.05 all year round. Considering most lunch entrées on the regular menu exceed $20 alone (not counting side dishes), it’s quite a bargain.

Executive Chef Bryan Voltaggio said he got the idea from New York City’s Aureole, Charlie Palmer’s first restaurant, after it opted to extend Restaurant Week prices a few years ago. “It gives people the opportunity to come in and try out the restaurant for a softer price point,” he said.

It also gives the kitchen a chance to add more creativity and variety to the menu, he added.

Voltaggio expects to continue running the deal indefinitely, though he joked that because the price reflects the year, “by 2030 I may need to make some adjustments.”

The prix-fixe lunch menu offers a choice of two appetizers, two entrées and two desserts, and the options change nearly every month.

The current menu starts with a simple red lettuce salad with walnuts, beets and white asparagus or an excellent corn chowder with potato “foam.” The rich chowder hides kernels of corn that retain their fresh crunch, and the foam adds nice texture to the soup.

The main course is usually a choice between surf and turf. The current menu offers skate wing and grilled sirloin steak. Skate wing — the flaky white fins of a small sting ray — may seem like a strange alternative to steak, but the fish is very satisfying. Lightly fried and brightened by olive tapenade butter, the fish is moist and tender. However, slight maneuvering is required to remove the bones.

Creamy polenta and wild mushroom and bacon ragout accompany the sirloin, which is nicely seared on the outside and cooked to order inside.

For dessert, berry shortcake shows up as a moist cake split open with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries spilling out. A rich cream enhanced by the addition of tarragon completes the effect, and a petite scoop of berry sorbet rests on small cookie alongside.

The alternative, an artful pyramid of dark chocolate and praline mousse flanked by crisp triangles of phyllo, is just as satisfying. Chocolate sauce, poured over the dessert by the server, makes it even more decadent.

Despite all the surrounding deep pockets, this deal makes it possible to lunch for less at Charlie Palmer Steak. For $20 and change, you can dine well on three courses for essentially the price of one. The “power lunch” ambiance is free.