Fine-dining experiences don’t usually include a security check, but you do not say no to the Secret Service. Standing at the front door of BLT Steak on a recent evening, the suited agent seems apologetic but firm while waving a metal detector over me. “We have a protectee inside,” he explains quietly. A few moments later, after we’re seated at a very well-appointed table by the window, the dining room chatter suddenly hushes and heads turn—not in our direction, but toward FLOTUS. As a graceful Michelle Obama makes her way across the dining room, saying good-byes and shaking hands, even the most jaded Washingtonians are temporarily in awe.
After she exits, the hubbub dissipates and attention turns to the other stars in the room—that is, tonight’s selections from the oft-changing menu. The restaurant’s long-loved favorites, such as the hot-from-the-oven complimentary Gruyère popovers, tuna tartare, and, of course, top-notch steaks, remain in rotation. But the blackboard menu now features a slew of seasonally oriented specials from Executive Chef Jon Mathieson, who took over the kitchen in April. A respected veteran of 2941 Restaurant and the shuttered Michel by Michel Richard, among others, Mathieson is adding a decidedly French accent to BLT’s fare. The octopus starter is slow-poached, then quick-charred, yielding a soft and succulent preparation that’s well complemented by a lemon-herb vinaigrette and half-moon slices of potato. Entrées include a tasty pan-seared halibut accompanied by shaved truffles, watermelon radish slices, arugula, and summer squash.
Even the restaurant’s classic sides get a boost. Golden fries are presented with two house-made condiments: a Thousand Island–style fry sauce zipped with lime juice and cayenne pepper, and another made with tangy cream cheese.
The ever-earnest Mathieson believes all diners crossing the threshold at BLT should enjoy an exemplary meal with matching service—whether or not they are VIPs with an entourage in tow. “Every guest who comes in here deserves the same experience as the First Lady,” he says. That’s an egalitarian stance every DC foodie can get behind. 1625 I St. NW, 202-689-8999