Patrons of Washington Prime will find comfort in the cuisine of its new Executive Chef Howard McCall Jr. This unassuming chef is not new to SoNo or the kitchen at Washington Prime; he started in the kitchen at Barcelona twenty years ago and was the opening Sous Chef at Washington Prime last summer. Prior to joining Washington Prime he oversaw the kitchen at Mint restaurant in North Carolina, which influenced his new Southern style cuisine.
CTbites was invited to meet the chef and sample some of his new additions to the menu. Chef Howard exudes a soft personality, allowing his culinary talents to speak. His recent changes to the new menu range from a creative American Soul Rolls to a Braised Lamb Shank, plus modifications of previous favorites. Each maintained the focus on the main ingredient with delightful accompaniments…more akin to Southern comfort food.
Three of the Small Plates were delicious.
The first was the Short Rib. A large, single, boneless rib sat atop a dollop of the braising liquid and the chipotle onion jam, then crowned with two onion rings and finished with micro greens. The slowly braised rib was tender and succulent; and when paired with the spicy onions created a spicy-earthy combination. The onions were soft, but be prepared for a little spiciness from the onion jam, while the sauce was a wonderful and rich offset to the spicy onions. The onion rings were perfectly fried with a crispy exterior while retaining an al dente interior.
Chef Howard took great care in allowing the rich flavors of the prime beef to stand out in the Steak Tartare. The dish included diced prime beef mixed with finely diced shallots, parsley and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. It was served in a swath of truffle vinaigrette, accompanied by a quail egg. The scant inclusion of the shallots was perfect and when combined with the truffle vinaigrette was outstanding. Make a divot in the beef and add the quail egg and combine to create an even richer experience. A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese added a touch of saltiness. This is one of the most delicious tartares in Fairfield County.
Not to be outdone by the tartare, the Mac + Cheese is the creamiest I have tasted in quite some time. Chef Howard chose orecchiette to deliver his four cheese (White Cheddar, Yellow Cheddar, Asiago and American) mixture in each bite. This simple combination created a beautifully balanced taste. The texture was velvety and then the crunchy bacon-breadcrumbs kicked in. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente. There were additional bacon bits within the dish. This may be the standard for other Mac + Cheeses in the area.
The last Small Plate I sampled was the American Soul Rolls that combined sausage, broccoli rabe, mashed potatoes served a la egg roll, with a spicy tomato-veal demi-glace dipping sauce. The potatoes were soft and creamy and were complemented by the crispy egg roll skins and a tomato dipping sauce worked well with a crispy potato combination. The spiciness of the sausage was balanced by the smoothness of the potatoes. I could probably enjoy the Soul Rolls accompanied by a beer at the bar but thought there were too many elements competing in the dish.
I also sampled two of the large plates and really enjoyed the Braised Lamb Shank. It was served nestled in polenta, crispy Brussels sprouts and topped with rich gravy and a few onion rings. The large shank was perfectly braised to maximize its tenderness and the Brussels sprouts were fantastic, crispy and sweet. The polenta was creamy and mild…a great canvas for the all of the rich flavors of the dish. And lastly, a few perfectly fried onion rings perched on top to accompany an already great presentation.
The SONO Fried Chicken was an enormous half chicken served with its traditional accompaniments, mashed potato and gravy, plus braised greens. I started with the sides…they were fantastic. The potatoes were creamy, lightly seasoned and the gravy was excellent. The braised greens were outstanding with a sweet syrup and bacon. The two enormous pieces of chicken were disappointing. The ultra-crispy fell off the chicken and cutting the chicken was incredibly difficult. The texture of both the breast and the thigh was too firm for my taste and the entire chicken was under-seasoned. As much as I loved the sides, the chicken was not to my liking.
Chef Howard’s cuisine is Southern comfort with a modern twist. He has a delicate touch that allows the main ingredient to maintain the focus of the dish with accompaniments that enhance the flavors. I look forward to returning to Washington Prime and enjoy many more of Chef Howard’s new creations on the menu.
– Short Rib
– Steak Tartare
– Mac + Cheese
– Braised Lamb Shank
– Mashed Potato and Gravy, Braised Greens (in SONO Fried Chicken)
Did Not Like
– American Soul Rolls
– SONO Fried Chicken