by Max Brantley
Unable to muster our usual roster of friends and family, we skipped Thanksgiving cooking this year and opted for the prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner at Ashley's in the Capital Hotel. It was $85, including tax and tip, and for $25 more you could match a wine with each of six courses. The six courses didn't count the pomegranate/champagne opening cocktail — a tart and bubbly take on the kir royale — or the buttery cocoons and coffee served after dessert or the sack of caramel popcorn handed to each guest on departure.
Chef Lee Richardson's menu was a turkey day tour de force. Familiar stuff: Turkey, green beans, dressing, sweet potatoes, Waldorf salad, squash soup and pumpkin pie, if you only recite the core ingredients. But this flat retellling strips the meal of the careful sourcing of ingredients, the attention to minute detail, inventive twists (the grilled Waldorf salad, with its sauteed candy-like apple slices and carrot confit, was one of the surprise hits of the show) and presentation worthy of a coffee table book.
We didn't find a false note, including in the French, U.S. and Italian wines, the final swallow a sweet and smooth French muscat. The accompanying dessert platter included four distinct tastes, counting the smear of cranberry pate (more a thick syrup really), but was small enough not to overwhelm.
It was two hours of perfectly paced dining theater. I left more than full, but still not afflicted by the post-buffet staggers of some Thanksgiving food fests. The Capital was right to leave the holiday buffet behind for the set menu. Expensive, but, when you really get down to it, a great value for what was delivered.