Quinn’s Pub on Capitol Hill is a frequent target of protest and remonstration. The fact that you’re on Capitol Hill means that there’s a unique style to those protests. The video below shows an demonstration from back in 2009. You’ll notice several protesters dressed as ducks/geese prostrate on the sidewalk while someone details the moral argument against foie gras.
This review is not pro/con foie gras. Truth be told, this was my first experience with the protein. I visited due to an overwhelming personal curiosity and Quinn’s reputation for exceptional pub fare. I’m glad I did.
Quinn’s is an elegant pub with a feeling of maturity seldom seen on the hill. The music was at an appropriate volume, the tables were clean and set for dinner service, and the bartender and staff were warm and engaged. The menu is pub fare, but pub fare for people who have seen the light of fine dining and can no longer settle for Taco Tuesday at T.G.I.Friday’s. We’re talking roasted bone marrow, corned baby octopus, and of course…foie gras frites.
Liver is a polarizing protein. For those accustomed to the umami richness it’s one of the finest culinary ingredients a chef can employ. For those less cultured, it’s a terrifying and funky concept that could not possibly taste acceptable. Until today I was an uninitiated skeptic of the ingredient. Now I feel like a modestly informed doubter.
Let’s be clear, the fries were fantastic, but the flavor was so strong and so different than what I’ve experienced before that it’s hard to fully describe my reaction. First off, the presentation was beautiful. There are skilled hands in the kitchen that give a damn what the food looks like before it’s sent out.
Second, the fries were cooked with excellent technique and arrived with a light crust and soft interior. That’s my kind of fry. They’re in the style of a true Belgian frite, which Quinn’s achieves with a complete in-house preparation (cutting, soaking, blanching, and frying in beef tallow). The fries themselves have a beefy presence on the palate, but I’d have liked a bit more salt on the frites. I believe that the kitchen reduces the seasoning due to the amount and richness of the sauce. A touch of finishing salt over the top would have been fine with me.
Third, the sauce was high class and intensely rich. It’s actually three sauces combined into one bold gravy. There’s a veal demi-glace (rich meaty underbody), a fontina fonduta (a tangy cheesy front-of-the-tongue kick), and a foie foam/cream to further bring out the flakes of shaved foie gras speckled across the dish. There was an earthiness like a strong mushroom, a creaminess like fresh butter, and a meatiness like Thanksgiving gravy.
This was one of those meals that I could appreciate, but I probably would not go back and try again. It was simply too rich for me (alone). Every sauce-soaked frite I consumed coated my teeth and tongue. It was indulgent and refined, but not a casual meal. I actually don’t think that fries are the right medium for this sort of dish. While potently flavored, the thinness of the sauce saturated the crust of the frites within minutes. I powered through but still ended up with a large amount of the sauce left in the bottom of the dish. This isn’t entirely unusual with poutine, and I’d consider this a fine-dining variation. You either accept that as part and parcel or you find a way to separate potato from gravy. It’s not a deal breaker for me, but I do prefer when the fries are able to hold their integrity a bit longer.
With other sauces I’ve been known to devour every last drop on my plate. Due to the richness of Quinn’s three sauce combo that wasn’t possible here. I might not have survived the experience!
During happy hour the fries will run you about $7.50. That’s a great bargain for this level of sophistication, just know what you’re getting yourself into. I look forward to coming back and trying the regular order of frites (I’ll post a review once I’m able), or possibly the Scotch Egg, or any of their other menu items. The burger is supposed to be outrageously good.
Even with my personal reservations about the thinness of the sauce and the richness of the dish, I give these fries an 8 out of 10. My criticisms are mostly due to my personal preferences, not some objective standard of french fry perfection. It’s a wonderfully creative dish and a unique gateway into the world of finer dining.
Sampled on 1/16/2017. I was prepared to pay for my meal, but management provided it free of charge. I feel like my review is objective despite their generosity
To view my detailed rating scales, please click here.
If I add future reviews of items at Quinn’s you’ll find them at the following link.