Arts & Entertainment

Restaurant Spotlight: Madhatter

spotlightMadhatter’s relocation to Dupont Circle has customers clinking teacups while, at the same time, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” is taking moviegoers by storm. General Manager Jonathan Joseph says the big-screen parallel was no accident.

 

spotlight

Madhatter (Photo: News-Press)

Madhatter’s relocation to Dupont Circle has customers clinking teacups while, at the same time, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” is taking moviegoers by storm. General Manager Jonathan Joseph says the big-screen parallel was no accident.

“We thought it would be a good thing for us to do to tie the grand opening in with the opening weekend of the movie, which plays a big part in who we are as a restaurant,” said Joseph, who can be credited for the introduction of teacups.

However, the charming tea served at the start of customers’ meals didn’t go over as smoothly as the sweet apricot syrup it’s laced with.

Joseph and the other manager spent seven nights straight before Madhatter’s grand opening mulling over the details, straight down to the table settings.

“We thought, ‘Should we have table linens? Or just silverware laid out?’ I finally turned to the paintings on the walls and saw teacups were in nearly every one of them. That’s when it hit me. I thought, ‘We got to do this,’” Joseph said, but it took some convincing. As fate would have it, his “mad” idea won over the customers, and so did the teacups.

Of course, a little inspiration from the life-size paintings brought in from New York graphic designer Lauren Houston didn’t hurt either. Inside, there’s no doubt the art director’s flair throughout the 7,000-square-foot space is what makes Madhatter’s vibe. From the elegant Victorian crown molding to the upside-down room — equipped with an flipped table set for tea suspended from the checkerboard-floor-painted ceiling — it’s enough to make anyone wonder if they’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. That, or had one too many.

Either way, Madhatter’s staff, including the bartender located under the Cheshire cat, is there to appease.

But perhaps the most impressive thing about Madhatter’s new digs, which are triple the size of the old location, is the revamped menu to accompany its make-over. Pro Chef Bobby Varua, once of 701, was called upon to redo the menu, transforming the once standard bar-food selection into a sophisticated spread. We’re talking apricot marmalade-glazed rack of lamb and toasted prosciutto perched atop a bed a hash browns ($21). Or the orange-glazed salmon with soft polenta and sweet corn relish ($19).

A stranger to lamb (hold your gasps), Varua did me proud. Cooked to perfection, this tender tower of meat — literally — joins the sweet marmalade for that perfect salty-sweet combination. For such an upscale presentation, this dish still managed to fall, happily, under what this writer considers comfort food.

Another hands-down standout was from the “Tea Sandwiches” section of the menu — Maple Pork Steak Sliders ($10). Cut a little different from the “pulled pork” Joseph said everyone is used to, these mini-bunned delights pack a deceivingly-big punch of flavor. Stuffed with coleslaw and melted Muenster cheese, something about the maple here brings in a cinnamon-like hint of spice that’s quite a pleasant surprise more so than one may assume it a turn-off. And for one of the cheaper options on Madhatter’s new menu, it’s served with a wire fry-basket full of thinly-sliced potato fries and barbecue sauce that’s sure to be more than enough portions-wise.

And if diners didn’t think the apricot-glazed lamb and hash browns was curve ball enough, there’s still the Psychedelic Mad Dog ($8). This hot dog comes topped with cheese, pineapples and — wait for it — crushed potato chips. The verdict remains out on that one, but let’s just say it’s strange enough to bring this writer back for a curiosity binge.

Up next for Madhatter are springtime menu additions courtesy of Varua come May, said Joseph. That includes “healthier options, maybe some more salads” and the incorporation of seasonal fruits and vegetables into new dishes, to be announced.

Oddly enough, there’s ironically nothing “mad” about Madhatter. It’s, rather, simply genius.

Madhatter

1321 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.

madhatterdc.com • 202-833-1495

Hours:

Monday – Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 3 a.m.;

Saturday 10 a.m. – 3 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. – 2 a.m.