I haven’t won many things in my life. In elementary school I won two lobsters at the Stanley School Carnival. My parents appreciated the prize, considering lobster prices at the time, but I was less than thrilled. In middle school I won a hockey stick signed by all the Bruins. I would have preferred pretty much any other raffle prize.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out I won a free hamburger at West End Bistro, Eric Ripert’s DC-based restaurant in the Ritz Carleton. Chef Joe Palma, chef du cuisine at the West End Bistro, posted a contest on Twitter (in 140 words or less of course) for his followers to guess how many burgers they sold in the past month, closest answer wins a free burger. I of course shuttered at the fact that it was a “math question” but then methodically came about my answer of 940 burgers. I was pretty meticulous about it. I guessed how many guests they served a week, multiplied it by 4 and then tried to figure out how many ordered a burger each day (factoring in that it was a hotel restaurant and therefore probably sold more burgers than usual due to the business and tourist clientele). I was pretty shocked to find out I was only off by 33 burgers (the correct answer is 907).
Last Thursday I went to West End Bistro to meet Chef Palma and collect my prize. Sitting at the circular bar I took in the sleek ambiance. For a drink I opted for the West End’s own brew, a deep ale that is slightly bitter but refreshing at the same time. To my surprise Chef sent out a tomato consommé to start off my meal. This is by far the most refreshing and delicious cold soup I have had in a long time. The simplicity and freshness rivals only Palena’s spring consommé (a highlight on their menu in my opinion). The broth was made of a simple tomato water. In it was floating farm-fresh grape tomatoes with sprinkles of feta cheese and basil. It was summer in a bowl.
Next came my prize⎯the West End Burger. The best way to describe this hamburger is to just simply say it was a “damn good burger.” Again, simplicity was key here. Chef Palma makes the classic American burger. As he says “I don’t mess with it.” There isn’t any fancy sauces or dripping bacon. Just quality ground sirloin and the toppings of my childhood: cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, lettuce and tomato. It was delicious and satisfying. It had all the qualities of a roadside burger stand but classed up a little.
Just when I thought I had had enough, Chef Palma sent out a dessert that included gelato and fried goodness…I couldn’t resist. West End Bistro’s beignets filled with lemon custard and served with basil ice cream is a pitch-perfect summer treat. I’m a big fan of savory ice creams/gelatos and this was one of the best I’ve ever had. The basil did not over power the creaminess of the ice cream and it complimented the lemon flavor perfectly.
Overall this was a wonderful summer meal. I appreciate the West End Bistro’s commitment to freshness and local produce. You get the feeling that Chef Palma likes to let the flavors sing and not mess up a plate with too many ingredients. Everyone at the restaurant was kind (including the great bartender who’s name I regrettably forgot) and made me feel like a winner. I look forward to returning again soon.
West End Bistro-1190 22nd Street, NW Washington, DC 202-974-4900 http://www.westendbistrodc.com/