The Grill Room
specializes in locally
served on the bone.
Chef Jakob Esko.
patio offers seating
along the C&O Canal.
The classic Baked
Alaska is torched to order.
The Grill Room's
dining room is sleek and
JakobEsko, executive chef of the magnificent Grill Room at the new Capella Washington, DC, Georgetown hotel, grew up in Sweden near the Arctic Circle: “About as far north as you can get,” says the superhero-jawed toque, his Scandinavian accent woven with inflections of Ireland, Spain, and other countries in which he’s cooked while working for Capella and the Ritz-Carlton. “Growing up, there was a lot of game meats and fishing in the lake. Moose and reindeer—a lot of hunting. Almost all of the men in the family were preparing the food… so [being a chef] came naturally to me.”
“Natural” is the theme of the moment at Capella Georgetown, the luxury hotel brand’s first US property. Shouldering the picturesque C&O Canal, the outpost’s 70-seat Grill Room specializes in sustainable and local meats grilled and served on the bone, a style that resonates with Esko’s upbringing. “In Sweden, we definitely cooked everything on the bone. It just makes meats juicier.” Think dry-aged Virginia beef in cuts like a rarely seen bone-in tenderloin, served with a black-truffle potato purée. Tableside preparation and service is also a hallmark of The Grill Room’s style: old-school, luxurious, and delightful. Order the beef tartare to get the full experience; the entire dish is made while you watch.
Meanwhile, organic chickens spin on a rotisserie in the kitchen. Inchthick pork chops arrive smelling of the grill, with carrots glazed in Georgetown honey and Camembert potatoes baked in clay. “Even the halibut we serve on the bone,” Esko reveals enthusiastically—he grew up eating small whole fish plucked from the icy lake by his family’s home. The Grill Room’s halibut is a bit more substantial, a thick and meaty roasted steak smartly accessorized with sorrel and oxtail risotto.
Before following Capella to Georgetown, Esko cooked at the company’s Singapore property, where his polished fare helped the hotel earn a place on Robb Report’s top 100 world resorts list, the only hotel in Singapore to do so. But given the choice between cooking in tropical Xanadu or in America’s capital, Esko picks DC. “In Singapore everything was imported, flown in from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand,” he says. “That’s the greatest thing about coming here [to Washington]. There’s excellent local produce, meat, and seafood.”
In keeping with the menu’s classic, luxurious style, The Grill Room’s dining room, designed by Peter Silling & Associates, features brocade banquettes and propeller-inspired chandeliers. Old-fashioned carts whoosh across the herringbone wood floors, some stocked with Taittinger reserves available exclusively at The Grill Room, while others showcase a spread of desserts including Baked Alaska, torched to order. The décor is contemporary and sleek but not severe, with floor-to-ceiling windows for gazing out at the canal, though it’s difficult to take one’s attention off Esko’s dishes: Bluepoint oysters on the half shell with Champagne mignonette, roasted rockfish with parsley risotto, and consommé of Virginia ham garnished with tempura asparagus. Sophisticated travelers and locals also fill The Grill Room for power lunches of spring pea soup with local radishes and smoked eel, rye-and-orange-cured salmon with avocado mousse, and chopped lobster salad. Breakfast offers Chesapeake eggs Benedict, brioche French toast, and an apothecary of fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices spiked with ginger and citrus.
But Esko’s attraction to DC is about more than just the local bounty. He also met his wife, Jodi, a Silver Spring native, here in 1994. “Cooking has taken us around the world,” he says. “We have a 5-year-old son now. I don’t think we’ll be moving around much anymore.” The rest of the world’s loss is DC’s gain. 1050 31st St. NW, 202-617-2424