Do not let the bars on the windows turn you away, The Atlas Room on H Street (1015 H Street)–open for less than a year–is one of the up and coming restaurants in the DC area. A major part of the resurgence of H Street NE, The Atlas Room should appeal to food lovers across DC area. Chef-Owner Matt Cordes and Chef de Cuisine Bobby Beard have impressive resumes ranging from Vidalia to 701 to Gerard’s Place to Kinkead’s to Citronelle. The previous experiences of Cordes and Beard shine through in dishes at The Atlas Room.
The unimpressive barred windows and blue awning outside give way to a nicely decorated, if dark, inside. The small restaurant features seven closely placed tables lining both sides of the wall at the front with a bar and bar seating towards the back. The entire restaurant fits less than fifty people, so on weekend nights you would be wise to call ahead (they only take phone reservations, unfortunately no Open Table). If you don’t make a reservation, you can usually get a table during the week or on the early side during the weekend. Tables on the left hand side of the restaurant have chairs on the outside and covered bench seating on the inside, while tables on the right hand side only have chairs. The entire restaurant features a dark color scheme with dark wood floors and lights hanging down from the ceiling. Large pictures and maps hang from the wall on both sides.You’re unlikely to be disappointed whether you come for dinner or brunch. At dinner, the menu is not broken down by
appetizers and entrees, but instead by main ingredients. The seafood, chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and vegetable sections each have an appetizer sized portion, a larger but still not entree sized portion (more like a tapa), and a larger entree sized portion. One can make a meal off of a smaller and a medium sized dish or by ordering one of the larger ones (although you may want to try as many as possible). For a starter, try the short rib ravioli. The meat has been carefully cooked until it is fall off the bone tender and combined with mushrooms and onions to make an excellent dish. Even when it may seem too hot out to want short ribs, the small sized portion does not fill you up too much and allows you to leave room for other dishes. For a medium sized dish, try the pulled dark meat flatbread. Dark meat might not sound like an ingredient that an upscale place would want to advertise using, but Cordes and Beard combine it with a light mushroom cream and an arugula salad to give it a light summery taste. For an entree, try the Mahi Mahi in the seafood section. Mahi Mahi is a hard fish to do right and many restaurants, especially away from the coast, shy away from trying. The Atlas Room does it perfectly. The fish is grilled and placed over risotto and green beans and given a fresh citrus flavor that ties all of the ingredients together and makes you savor ever bite.
The Atlas Room’s brunch follows a more traditional menu layout that separates into smaller-shared plates and full sized meals as well as sides. If you are feeling more like lunch, try the grilled seafood salad (one of the shared plates), featuring mussels, calamari, scallops,and shrimp. If you want more breakfast food instead, try the pork hash and eggs, featuring poached eggs with spicy potato and pork hash underneath (the spice comes from the poblano peppers and the wonderful sriracha hollandaise sauce). If you are up for something unusual, try the sweet polenta. It is fixed with honey and will taste more like oatmeal than your typical polenta.
While we have been disappointed by service at several different places on H Street recently, the servers at The Atlas Room have been a welcome exception. Knowledgeable and friendly, on all of our trips the servers have been able to explain the menu well and offer strong suggestions when prompted (some of the restaurant’s neighbors should take note). When one of us was celebrating a birthday, the wait staff even provided a piece of cake with a candle free of charge.
Both brunch and dinner are not complete at The Atlas Room without trying some of their drinks. For brunch, they make Bloody Marys that, while strong, hide the taste of the alcohol with a flavorful mix that even includes veal reduction. For dinner, they make nice drinks that range from the less creative margarita to the Ward 8 that has bourbon, grenadine, and lemon and orange juices. While pricier than some other places on H Street, they are well within the range of high end restaurants throughout the region ($11).
Most people outside of the H Street-Capitol Hill region do not think of H Street as a fine dining destination. The Atlas Room will have you reconsidering this judgement and make you want to come back for more. Hopefully, publications like The Washingtonian will consider it when looking around the region for the best restaurants in the upcoming months (Tom Sietsema of The Washington Post has already given it favorable reviews twice). Otherwise, they will be missing out.