General Manager Millian Palma is the first to admit it: Jardenea is hard to find.
“We don’t even have a sign outside,” he joked.
If you’ve spent any time on the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue between Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, you’ve walked by Jardenea. It is the restaurant tucked away inside the luxurious foyer of the Melrose Hotel. My fiancé and I arrived promptly at 6:30 and were led into a very private dining room with only a few other diners (keep in mind, this was a Monday).
We were still shrugging our coats off when our server appeared with two beautiful flutes of bubbly prosecco. This is hands down my favorite way to start a meal.
Jardenea has a menu that offers plenty of options without being overwhelming. I’m convinced Millian is a mind reader because right after I mentally bookmarked the pork belly and brussel sprouts, he suggested those very items to start.
Both appetizers were phenomenal. Crispy roasted brussel sprouts are my favorite thing in the winter. The pork belly was as tender as anything and the blue cheese that accompanied the baby arugula was creamy and high quality. Pork belly is generally rich and decadent, so I appreciated the modest portion size.
Cocktail time. Jardenea has a tantalizing drink menu. I usually opt for a bourbon drink, but since James was trying their Manhattan, I branched out and decided to try their namesake “Melrose” cocktail.
Oh my. I was not prepared for the beauty of this drink. The Melrose is served in a martini glass and the foamy egg whites are painted with streaks of vermillion and gold. The bold citrus combined with the Pisco delivers a cocktail that is fresh and delicate without being overly sweet. While we enjoyed our second round of drinks, we ordered the spiced pear salad with candied pecans and blue cheese. I’ve been craving anything with blue cheese lately, if you can’t tell.
Then came the tough part. On such a cold November night, I was very tempted to order the Confit Rabbit Pappardelle, which was sure to warm my belly and give me all the carb feels. But, as a seafood addict, I called an audible and went with the diver scallops. I’ve tried scallops in over a dozen DC eateries and only a few really know how to season the scallop and serve it with flavors that adequately complement its decadence.
Jardenea makes that cut. The scallops were cooked to the exact buttery consistency I prefer with a crispy outer edge. They were delicious on their own, but what took them to the next level was the roasted red pepper emulsion. I’ve often enjoyed scallops over risotto or another white starch, but this pepper emulsion reminded me of a rich tomato soup. I would never think to pair it with seafood, but it was by far the best flavor complement I’ve ever tried with scallops.
James had zeroed in on the sea bass early, but when he asked for Millian’s recommendation, Millian pointed him towards the sole. Sole is rarely our first choice when it comes to fish, so we were both stunned at how exquisite this dish tasted. The citrus crust and lemon butter emulsion amplified the flavor.
By the end of the meal, I was sporting an impressive food baby. As much as I was dying to try the chocolate mousse profiteroles, I had to put my foot down and decline dessert. But we did still have room for liquid dessert in the form of their homemade limoncello.
I cannot overstate how pleased I was with both our meal and our service. What was truly astounding was that nothing was mediocre. Even more, the dishes seemed to taste better the more bites I had. Usually the first bite is the best, but the dishes we sampled somehow built upon themselves. Witchcraft? Nah, probably just amazing cooks. My advice is to cancel whatever plans you have tonight and head to Jardenea for a life-changing meal.