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Sam and Harry's
1200 19th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
Date of Visit: 28 February 2004
OVERALL EXPERIENCE (5 is Best)
Working on my third hotel for this road trip (Stay tuned for a "Dead Cow Hotel Rant" page coming soon!), it was time for some serious Dead Cow. As you may know, Washington, DC, is home lots of great restaurants, including places specializing in Dead Cow. I checked out the local offerings online and selected Sam and Harry's on 19th Street NW.
While online, I ran across a web site called Open Table. I had used this site before to check restaurant listings, but had not used their online reservation feature before. I used it to make my 6:00pm reservation at Sam and Harry's. At the bottom of the reservation request screen was a section to enter any special requests. I entered, "Single diner; enjoys fine wine." I had no idea what the restaurant would do with this basically useless information, but I thought I would give it a shot anyway.
I was staying at the Westin Grand on 24th and M Street so I decided to walk down to the restaurant. I arrived there around 5:30pm and "checked in" with the host and then talked into the bar for a libation or two. Shortly after ordering Manhattan, the host came over to me and asked if I was the ChiefCowEater (he actually used my name; was he not familiar with this incredibly popular Web site??!) and I said yes. He sat down next to me and showed me their wine list. He said that he noted my comments in the online reservation request and wanted to show me the wine list and make some recommendations. This was good...they actually read what was on the reservation form! Isn't technology great?! While I was enjoying a nice Manhattan, I reviewed their wine list. It was a nice list, but not all that extensive. And, as with most (dare I say all?) restaurant wine lists, high priced.
The decor at Sam and Harry's is not your typical dimly-lit, dark paneled steakhouse. It is bright and very inviting. When I was first seated in the main dining room, the place was not very busy and rather quiet. In fact, it was very easy to hear the conversations taking place at other tables. This was short lived, however. As the restaurant filled, the noise level increased along with it.
After being seated, I continued to review the wine list. Sadly, San and Harry's does not have any decent wines by the glass, other than their "house" wines. In my opinion, this is a bad business decision. But since I was not driving and could stagger back to my hotel with reasonable ease, I decided to order a full bottle. (They do have several half-bottle selections on their list, but I did not want to spend almost $40 for a glass and a half of wine.) When the server came over, I asked her to bring me a bottle of the 1999 Arrowood merlot ($65). Off she went to retrieve my wine. But, a few minutes later she returned to my table without wine. She apologized and said that they were out of the wine I ordered. Ok, I said, give me a few more minutes to look at the wine list again and I'll make another selection. This time I opted for the 2000 Chateau Montelena Calistoga Cuvee cabernet sauvignon ($75). Smiling and with my new selection written down, off she went to retrieve my cabernet. While I was waiting, I was brought fresh bread and a selection of cured olives to munch on. As I was stuffing several olives in my mouth, she returned...again empty-handed...and apologizing. It appears that they were out of that wine as well. But, she said, she talked to the manager and he said to take $20 off of any wine I decided to order. By this time I was getting thirsty, so I decided to cut to the proverbial wine chase. I told her to "surprise me" and bring me either a cab or merlot with a discounted price in the $60 to $70 range. Off she went and the Great Wine Hunt continued.
Eureka!, I shouted, as she returned with wine in hand! The Wine Gods had smiled upon me once again. She presented me with a 2000 Silver Oak Twomey merlot. Their wine list had this wine listed for $130, but it was offered to me for $70. I accepted. (Checking the Twomey Web site, I found the winery selling that wine for $60 per bottle.) I've had Silver Oak cabernet before but not their merlot, and knew nothing of their Twomey label. A note on the label said, "Twomey Cellars merlot captures the essence of a superb single vineyard in southeastern Napa Valley framed by classical winemaking techniques." I thought the wine had a subtle nose, nice fruit, and a deep, rich color. I did not taste any major acid and only light tannin. I did not feel that the wine was very complex, and thought it should probably be consumed reasonably soon.
Hey, let's talk food now! Sam and Harry's has a good menu with some variety, including choices for those who do not want Dead Cow. I opted to start with the Fresh Shucked Oysters ($10.95). I do not recall what kind of oysters they were, but they were basically tasteless. Their presentation left lots to be desired, too. They half-shells were placed on a plate with some "green stuff" around the edge. They were not served atop crushed ice which, in my opinion, should be a must for serving oysters. They were served with half a lemon and cocktail and mignonette sauces. For my entree, I choose the "Reserve" porterhouse ($35.95) (From their menu: "Reserve Steaks - Prime center cut for quality. Aged to perfection and served on the bone for flavor."), cooked medium, and a baked potato ($4.95). Sadly, when the Dead Cow was delivered and sampled, it was clear that it was over cooked and a bit dry. While not well done, it was definitely over medium (by my standards and theirs). The server said that she would be happy to replace it, but since I had already taken several bites by this time, I declined the offer. (A bit later, the manager came by to inquire how the meal was. When I told him about the over done steak, he also offered to replace it. This I declined as well.)
The porterhouse was good, but not great. The closer to the bone I ate, the better it tasted (and the less-cooked it was, too). I do wonder how different it may have tasted if properly cooked. However, I do not feel that it was a thirty-six dollar piece of Dead Cow. And the baked potato? It was perfect...and big enough for two or three people. And it was even better when I got through smothering it with lots and lots of butter and sour cream!
Would I return to Sam and Harry's? Probably, but only after visiting a few more Houses of Dead Cow in Washington, DC. On my next trip, I'll probably hit Smith and Wollensky's or Nick and Stef's. Too bad the Cow was overcooked and the oysters tasteless. And the fact that they did not have two of my wine selections did not bode well, either. But service was efficient and pleasant and the ambience enjoyable. Maybe next time....
ALL RATINGS FOR SAM AND HARRY'S