Beyond the Glowing Gates

There is something otherworldly about the Iron Gate Restaurant. This is probably due at least in part to the uniqueness of its setting. It is located in a grand town house built in 1875 on a mostly quiet, residential street. The actual iron gates and massive glass doors that serve as the entrance are set far back from the street, at the end of a lantern lit walkway and under an imposing stone arch. As you approach, a lively bar scene is discernible just beyond the glowing gates.

Once inside, you become aware of the space’s unusual proportions. It was, in fact, originally used as a carriage house by a civil war officer. The bar is in the narrow vertical space with high ceilings that used to be the carriageway. The spare yet imposing decor includes two enormous chandeliers that look like repurposed wheels from one of those carriages, and a castle-size mirror.

The place has a quirky historical appeal, but also an unmistakably modern, sultry allure. The zinc bar is a hub of activity around which a tony looking crowd lingers to enjoy a glass of wine or a signature cocktail. If you are lucky enough to nab a seat there, you might be tempted to stay to people watch, or eat at one of the small tables on either side of the bar.

In the warmer months, you might also choose to move to a table in the garden courtyard, under the shade of century old wisteria branches interwoven with grapevines (weekday lunch, weekend brunch, “Family Table”, and mid-day menus are available in the bar and garden areas). But you don’t want to miss the real treat just beyond the courtyard, in the space that used to be used for stables.

To say that the “Tasting Room” is a romantic spot would be an understatement, especially if, like me, you are a sucker for old world charm. Exposed brick and beams, dark wood, dim lighting, red leather banquettes, antiques, soft music and a fire crackling in a giant hearth are only a few elements of the place’s dreamy ambiance.

The room is cozy and intimate (seats 48 people at most), with a partially open kitchen across the hearth. You are made to feel more like a private guest than a customer by a staff that is warm and impeccably mannered. And then there’s that food!

The menus created by Executive Chef Anthony Chittum for the Tasting Room and the bar and garden restaurants draw inspiration from the culinary traditions of Greece, Sicily, Sardinia, and Southern Italy. In the former, where we dined, guests choose from a four or six course tasting menu. The plates are comprised of exceptional local ingredients and artisanal products combined in sometimes surprising, but always delicious ways.

Samples on the current menu include a Tuna Crudo with Pickled Chilies and Granny Smith Apples, and a Beet and Burrata salad presented with a sprinkling of fresh flowers that is almost to pretty to eat. Not surprisingly, the wine list contains a vast selection of interesting vintages from Greece and Italy that pair exceptionally well with the food.

TIPS: The first course of the Tasting Menu consists of numerous antipasti, or seasonal sharing plates. If you are one of those people who doesn’t like to share food, consider yourself warned. As for the plates, the portion sizes are surprisingly well calibrated so that you probably could, if you wanted to, order the six-course tasting menu without feeling overfed. We stuck with the four course option and ordered a cheese plate before the desserts, which are not to be missed.

Iron Gate – 1734 N St. NW – Washington, DC – (202) 524 – 5202

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