The recently opened Del Frisco’s Grille off Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown DC is off to a solid start. As with any newly opened restaurant, there are still a few kinks to be worked out in the service but the food was solid, and the appetizers were great, but they seem to have a bit of identity crisis as to the type of restaurant they aspire to be and the type of food and clientele they wish to serve.

I met a friend for lunch on my first trip there. The entrance was large and open, and there were no fewer than six employees behind, or near, the reception desk. It took a minute to find the reservation, as to be expected with employees learning new operating systems, but then I was promptly seated by the bar at a table overlooking the restaurant. My guest arrived as did our server, a bottle of wine was ordered and chilled properly next to the table.

We ordered two appetizers, the pimento cheese fritters with chipotle ranch sauce (pictured above), and buffalo style lollipop chicken wings with avocado ranch dressing. I was a bit over-served the evening before (the wine was helping), so my eyes were wide open when I saw the plate of fried cheese goodness heading my way. Alas, they were delivered to the table next to us. However, two-minutes later a manager came to that table, apologized for serving them MY fritters, and took them away. Del Frisco’s gets a few dings here. One, did the waitress who brought the other table the wrong appetizer not say something like, “the pimento cheese fritters for you,” thus giving the patrons the chance to indicate they did not order said fritters? Two, they took them away from them? Really?!? They couldn’t have sent the manager over saying, “My apologies for us bringing you the wrong appetizer, please enjoy these on the house?!?” I chuck this up to opening week jitters. However, they gained some ground when our waiter informed us our appetizer was delivered to the wrong table, and that they were making us new ones that would be out momentarily. Whew! I was relived for two reasons. First, I would have been appalled had they simply transferred the appetizer from their table to ours. Even though it appeared they didn’t touch them, they could have been Canadian mouth-breathers. Second, it was the right thing to do. When ours finally arrived, the pimento cheese fritters were piping hot, perfectly crispy on the outside, and melty-gooey-cheesey goodness was awaiting when cut open. The presentation was cute for lack of a better word, served on a cast iron skillet of sorts. But none of that mattered because these things are dangerously delicious. I’m just glad they don’t serve them in five-gallon buckets.

The next appetizer, our buffalo chicken lollipops (pictured above) came moments behind our pimento cheese fritters. Del Frisco’s nailed these! Not only were they tender and moist inside, there was no breading, the skin was very crispy, and the buffalo sauce was spicy, peppery, and tangy. Perhaps the best part is the style in which these were prepared – lollipops, brilliant. Finally a buffalo wing that is manageable in suit and even at a work lunch. You could hold the end of the chicken wing (assuming you don’t have an aversion to grasping onto an animal bone), and enjoy the wing with minimal sauce-on-hands or anywhere else for that matter. These things were great, and these two appetizers were certainly the highlight of the meal.

After inhaling our appetizers, our wine and water being refilled very attentively I may add, we ordered our entrees. I went for the chicken avocado wrap while my guest opted for the chicken schnitzel from their “Knife & Fork” menu section.

The chicken avocado wrap came with crisp lettuce, tomato, peppery smoked bacon, and chipotle aioli. This was which came with fries that they call “frites” on the menu which is just stupid – you’re not a french bistro (this is part of their identity crisis). The wrap was served on a cast iron cutting board with fries and a small squeeze bottle of ketchup. This was probably the smartest thing about this dish. It’s 2012; gone are the days of banging on a glass ketchup bottle as a vein bulges in your neck while people tell you to, “Hit it right above the symbol on the front,” until you succumb to the bottle and resort to pulling the ketchup out with a knife like some neanderthal creature. This was a good idea. What was a bit less conceived was wrapping the wrap in five-thousand layers of thin wax paper. How am I supposed to eat this? Do I peel back the wrapper like it’s a chicken banana? I opted for tearing the wrapper off and laying it on the table until a waiter came by to collect my remains. This isn’t a deli, therefore the sandwich shouldn’t come in a wrapper. The wrap itself was great. The chicken was seasoned perfectly, the bacon was very peppery and smokey, which I liked, and the crisp lettuce was a welcomed textural contrast. However, I deduced why they likely used the paper wrapper. The dressing on the sandwich was leaking out of the bottom of the wrapper like it was applied with a industrial-size soup kitchen ladle. I might suggest ditching the paper wrapping, serving it on a real plate (if I wanted to go carb-free and knife-and-fork this thing, it would have been impossible due to the plating), and offering the dressing on the side. Oh, and keep the ketchup squeeze bottle…maybe add a mustard one too!

My guest opted for the heartier chicken schnitzel served with squash & chive noodles in a lemon-butter sauce (pictured above). In his words, the dish was “strong.” Crispy exterior and tender inside, with a tart and tangy lemon butter sauce complimented the richness of the dish. The, what seemed like egg noodles, were woven with ribbons of shaved paper-thin zucchini. The plating was appropriate and the dish was, well, “strong” as my guest indicated.

Overall, the food was cooked properly, tasted great, the appetizers were amazing and everything was hot and reasonably priced. However I left the table a bit perplexed. Was this a American grill (the “frites” on the menu suggest otherwise)? Is this a grab-and-go in-and-out restaurant? There were several “knife-and-fork” entrees as well as sandwiches, maybe it’s catering to the downtown DC business lunch crowd? But the menu is very mixed and prices seem below average for the type of restaurants that typically serve for downtown business lunch establishments. There were a handful of families and tourists, maybe they are riding that gap between both? Maybe they don’t know yet, and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it takes a while for a place, especially a new place, to find their niche.

There is one more thing that made Del Frisco’s Grille feel like an old DC landmark already however. As we are walking out I hear a man’s scruff voice call a drink order out at the bar. It was, familiar. It seemed comforting in a very odd way. Then we turn to see a DC legend, Tom (previously with the Capital Grille) commanding the bar. For those who know Tom, and those who don’t, there is only one thought that accurately popped into my head: MARTINI!

It was like being reunited and it felt oh so good! Tom makes the best martini’s in DC…I don’t care whose bar he’s standing behind.

Where: Del Frisco’s Grille, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave NW, DC. Website.

Del Frisco's Grill on Urbanspoon