Don't worry -- Dick Cheney isn't in charge of this one. No, this Oval Office is the chic little sister (same management, too) of the ultra-popular White House Grill, and it even occupies the little white house that the Grill outgrew a few years back.
The Oval Office is billed as a Bistro and Martini Bar, and it is cozy, with the entryway scarcely big enough for our party of four to squeeze into as we waited for our table. The compact bar area only seats a few people at the counter, but it's sufficient for shaking up a host of concoctions, such as the most popular martini, the "Dirty Monica." You'll have some laughs looking over their cleverly titled martini menu, and they have some truly special ones, too -- like the "President," made with small-batch Hendrick's Gin, or the "Greek President," made with ouzo. All martinis are $7.50.
After a round of colorful, tasty and potent drinks, our group of four indulged in the grapes and cheese platter ($7.50). The plate included some chunks of cheese and a little half-scoop of herbed feta along with a big handful of grapes already plucked from the stems and some little wafers and rice crackers. In simple, uncooked appetizers like this, presentation is key and this one just wasn't very impressive. The grapes would have been better if left in little clumps on the stems -- already plucked they seemed too reminiscent of the grapes that have fallen off and are left in the bottom of the bag. Nor were the cheeses or sesame rice crackers particularly interesting. Still, the platter offered nice contrasts in texture and flavor.
Our second appetizer was the petite gorgonzola lamb burgers with a marinated red cabbage relish ($7.50). The fat little lamb patties were more like big meatballs and benefited from occasional creamy bursts of the melted gorgonzola. But what I would have given for a tangy dipping sauce! A contrasting texture! The heavy burgers were also a bit overcooked, which further emphasized their dry texture and unimaginative presentation.
Next came entr & eacute;es. In contrast to the White House Grill, where price points are $11-$13, the Oval Office is decidedly more upscale, with most entr & eacute;es checking in at $20 or more. (They do, however, include bread, salad, vegetables and rice or potatoes.) The house salads were terrific, if a bit heavy on the red onion -- they also were generously topped with feta, dried cranberries and walnuts.
I opted for the lamb chops ($23), which were marinated in olive oil and dried herbs and grilled. The spice blend on the chops was not memorable. I was also disappointed in the potato croquette, which was dry and flavorless. My favorite part of the meal was the nicely steamed zucchini and yellow squash with a bit of shredded mozzarella on top.
My companion ordered Jamal's chicken, ($18), described as a fresh chicken breast stuffed with spinach, prosciutto, sun-dried tomatoes and parmesan cheese, pan-seared and served with a lemon butter sauce. The chicken was, again, dry, and the lemon butter sauce was nowhere to be found. A very nice brown rice pilaf with walnuts accompanied this entr & eacute;e.
A better choice was the mango swordfish ($23), which featured a nicely cooked, marinated swordfish filet under a colorful confetti-like mango salsa. The fish was moist and tasty, and the salsa was fresh and quite spicy.
Owner/chef Raci Erdem spent his early cooking career at the Spokane Club, and he pays tribute to his tutelage there with the Will Barron Steak ($24).
Anyone who remembers Barron, the Club's longtime maitre'd, knows he served a yummy pepper sauce, and they recreate it here. Our companion declared his rib-eye perfectly cooked, and the sauce delightful.
For dessert we split a Chocolate Helana ($5), a flourless chocolate cake. Once again, presentation was uninspired, with the lonely little wedge of cake on a plate with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Unfortunately, the taste was no more impressive than the appearance.
Service throughout the evening was pleasant, but lacked insight. Our freshly shaken martinis arrived and, instead of allowing us a moment for a quick toast and a sip of the ephemeral coolness, our server stood expectantly waiting for our dinner order. Although the dining room has been redesigned to imply a more elegant setting, the ambiance is not up to the standards set by other restaurants serving food in this price range.
Like the real Oval Office, this one seems to need a more focused strategy -- is it a chic, high-end martini bar with elegant entr & eacute;es or a comfortable pub that happens to serve fancy drinks? Right now, it's stuck somewhere in the middle.