That little rectangular patch of gold and navy blue near the center of the picture is one of the entrances to The Occidental, viewed from Pennsylvania Avenue. This might be the most impressive approach to a restaurant in Washington. All it needs is a trumpet fanfare to mark the arrival of diners. Every time I reached a new landing on the stairs, I was tempted to turn and wave graciously—regally—to the crowds of impressionable tourists below.
Most diners use another, more easily accessible entrance at street level a few feet further down Pennsylvania Avenue, but it lacks the grandeur of all those steps. Besides, a regal wave is difficult to pull off when you’re standing at the same level as the people you’re regally waving at, especially if they’re taller than you.
The walls of The Occidental are covered with pictures from the restaurant’s collection of over 1,500 photos of well-known guests who have dined there. This being Washington, it’s heavy on politicians. One wall displays large photographs of the last few Presidents. I asked to be seated with my back to that wall, since I had no desire to spend my lunchtime looking at Mr Trump.
This was one of those lunches where the starter and the dessert were the best part of the meal. There was a lot of tastiness on this little plate, which combined calamari, shrimp, and bay scallops, with zucchini, baby eggplant, pickled peppers, and spicy aioli.
I’m by no means a vegetarian, but it was the roasted heritage carrots that delighted me most about the main. The flat-iron steak with a Marsala reduction and a streak of cauliflower-burrata puree was just a bit tough.
This Chocolate Passionfruit Parfait wasn’t the prettiest dessert of the week, but it was my favourite so far. Dig-Dugging my way through successive layers of white chocolate mousse, chocolate cremeaux, passionfruit gel, and Chantilly cream kept me pleasantly entertained for 15 minutes.
Great room, very good meal.