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St. Anselm: The D.C. “Tavern” You Want to Get to Know

October 17, 2019

St. Anselm has the decor of a home that might creek and sway during a thunderstorm, but the restaurant is brand-spanking new and making the right kind of noise in D.C. 

Washington Post’s Tom Sietsema describes the interior as “made to look as if a generation or two of diners had already been frequenting the place.” 

I’d have to agree; there’s a lot to take in. 

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Home sweet home.

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St. Anslem has found a way to fuse the old with the new, and smart design with the eclectic without being gimmicky or cliche.

I won’t pretend to know the interior design terms that made me feel this way.  

But maybe it has something to do with the worn-in brick walls. 

Or the antique Windsor chairs gathered around the tables. 

Or the oriental rugs and the deliberate decision to revolt against uniformity like with the various colored bar stools and mismatched vintage plates. 

With closer observation, the optics become more aesthetically pleasing.

There are frames with unpopular dead presidents hanging on the walls, their faces etched out by a lightbulb poking through, making the button-tufted booths — featured with theatre-style curtains — one of the best seats in the house. 

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#2019 is looking bright.

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The food served here isn’t a write-off either. 

St. Anselm’s dinner menu spearheaded by chef Majorie Meek-Bradley is more of a photo capture than the restaurant itself.

From the “Little Things” portion, we’ve already talked about the buttermilk biscuits and how they are the best in D.C.

I refuse to stand down from that claim.

But I also had the cool, refreshing pleasure of tasting the shrimp and grilled cuttlefish appetizer served in a small, shallow bowl with crunchy bites of cucumber, creamy chopped avocado, and the spiked taste of Thai basil right after.  

St. Anslem’s Shrimp & Grilled Cuttlefish Appetizer

The little bits of cuttlefish — meaty, with a faint taste of the sea, sweet– almost gave the herby broth a sweet undertone along with pieces of shrimp. 

Anyone would say, though, the Thai basil and dill were two of the most important components. 

But that dish simply served as a palette cleanser, if anything.

What delighted me most was St. Anselm’s meaty offerings, especially there selection of steaks. 

They’re as enticing, as they are affordable; especially when you hold St. Anselm and applauded steakhouses in D.C. side-by-side.

In a feature article on Eater, Chef Meek-Bradley is reported to have “tried out about 200 cuts of beef to create St. Anselm’s opening menu… “

And the result will satisfy any meat lover’s taste.

From the “Bigs Grill,” you can choose from Skirt Steak for $31 served with a grilled tomato vinaigrette. 

You can have N.Y. Strip for $38, served with Au Poivre sauce. 

You can have a Pork Porterhouse cooked and combined to perfection with apricot chutney. 

In the mood for poultry? 

St. Anselm switches the script with a “Crispy Young Bobo Chicken served with mumbo sauce.”  

Try the “Ax Handle Ribeye” if you can.

The meat on the bone-in Ribeye is enough to last for a few days or to feed a few open mouths.

I tried to conquer this “Big” on my own —huge mistake. 

I didn’t heed to our waitress’s suggestions, set on seeing a carnivore’s dream up close, assuring her what I couldn’t finish tomorrow.

“Normally, this is shared between two or three people… it’s a huge piece of meat — wait when it comes out — you’re looking between 2-3 pounds of meat.” 

She was right, for $2.95 per oz., and weighing between 45-65 oz..expect a bill around $150 for the steak alone.

The massive Axe-handle Ribeye, use the bone to fend off the “let me try” people if necessary.

The meat, however massive was also mesmerizing, cooked to a perfect medium, and seeped in its juices, and fork-tender– it was served with a dollop of butter and a dash of fresh herbs.

I ordered two of their side dishes too: the grilled broccoli with lemon — there’s definitely “metallic-tasting” there, first noted by Tom Sietsema– and their pan-fried mashed potatoes, flavored with an uncalled-for, hot-top browning and an excessive taste of rosemary.

I’d wish I opted for cauliflower, which reminded me of the golden marvel cauliflower from Chloe’s.

St. Anselm’s cauliflower with puffed amaranth and tahini

“We’re known for our steaks.” a server told me during my first visit.

But the “tavern” doesn’t want to be a steakhouse.

St. Anselm may do well with steakhouse classics, but they veer off on the unfamiliar path too. 

The salmon collar is proof of this. 

Salmon collar is an unapproachable piece of fish to eat, but St. Anselm turns it into a marvel to behold. 

My guest with the first few bites ran into bone, but waiters here are so eager and incredibly observant of guest’s needs and well-educated this is a feat that doesn’t last long.

Without asking, our waiter resolved his dilemma by advising, “to scoop the fish out from in between the bone, to enjoy it” 

Then, there’s a monster prawn ladled with garlic butter on the “Smalls” portion for $22; oyster’s, with smoked herb butter; clams gave special treatment with chartreuse, a French liqueur.

Back to the “Bigs”: native Rockfish features a saffron mussel cream and grilled scallion while the tuna steak comes with chanterelle mushroom vinaigrette.

I skipped, completely over the salad on this second visit, but with the care given to local ingredients and the humbleness of the restaurant, I can’t wait to taste the cucumber salad with whipped feta and granola.

What St. Anselm accomplishes in this small corner of the Union Market neighborhood, is an identity persistent on aligning itself with superior quality, and service with an eccentric flair without neglecting the neighborhood feel.

The service is fantastic, and intentional and so is the food.

Not to mention, there’s plenty of free parking.

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Asiah G.

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