We rarely buy gifts for each other. Our relationship trades in shared experiences, travel, food, concerts. In that spirit, Paul treated me by planning a day-long fete of surprises, exploring parts of D.C. we don’t often frequent. He guided me to the Union Market neighborhood where we wandered around the shops and made a long awaited pilgrimage to A. Litteri, which has served as an Italian specialty shop and deli since 1932. We chose a selection of rice, gnocchi, and pasta for future meals, and carefully sidled through their vast wine selection housed down narrow aisles.
Our hunger stoked, Paul told me we’d be dining at St. Anselm. A second location of the restaurant originally started by Joe Carroll in Brooklyn, this site is helmed by Carroll and Stephen Starr and features the cooking of one of our favorite former Top Chef contestants Marjorie Meek-Bradley.
Seated with a perfect view of Meek-Bradley’s back, I watched her most of the night, expertly expediting and keeping the kitchen machine running. I fangirled out just enough to creepily take a bunch of horrible back pictures, but not enough to actively upset dinner service.
Part rustic steakhouse, with its mismatched kitschy china, part rock and roll punk show, with its playlist rotating Bowie and The Clash, St. Anselm breathes fresh life into the oft-times stuffy dining scene. The restaurant manages to be Brooklyn hipster paradise without becoming completely insufferable, as evidenced by the eclectic clientele—we were seated next to a big Midwestern family gathering and an elderly African-American couple; no man buns, kombucha, or knit beanies in sight.
Meek-Bradley’s pleasant team-oriented demeanor on Top Chef seemed to lead her staff’s ethos. Each member of the staff, from the host to waiters, was affable, engaged, and supremely helpful. When our order arrived, the table groaning under the weight, a passing waiter stopped by to remark on the beauty of the table and how we clearly knew how to have a good time. As the waitress snapped our picture, and the bartender complimented us on our drink selection, St. Anselm felt like having an impromptu dinner party with gracious friends.
Meek-Bradley’s food didn’t disappoint, especially her mastery of breads and baked goods. We started with an order of grilled oysters lightly dressed with herb butter and the buttermilk biscuits. We weren’t prepared for the size of the biscuits, light and airy, their layers carefully striated with streaks of butter, we devoured them quickly regretting it only when their two-ton weight stole valuable belly room from other treats. They came with salty, tangy utterly craveable pimento cheese that I mounded onto my biscuit, each bite more rich and satisfying than the last.
The butcher’s steak was well cooked, if a bit fatty. The heritage bacon also tended toward the fatty, chewy side. The roasted cauliflower rubbed with tahini and puffed amaranth would have benefited from some additional salt, acid, and heat to break up the dense nuttiness.
The crispy beef fat potatoes, golden and showered with Parmesan and parsley, crackled delightfully as we broke through their skins to the soft flesh beneath.
But the real superstar, the dish that put all others to shame, was the simple grilled salmon collar, with its hint of lemon, its kiss of char, and its unctuous melting collagen perfectly rendered to baste the pearly peach flesh. We exclaimed over each tender bite and long after we’d left the rest of the food, defeated by our gargantuan order, we returned for forkfuls of fish, leaving behind a mess of bones and skin.
Our savagery complete, we left, strategizing the perfect order for next time.