A couple of weeks ago, as the turning leaves reached their most colorful hues, a northerly wind swept my family in for a visit. This epic weekend brought Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie and long overdue guests, Brother Bourbon and Sister-in-law Scotch, named for their fondness of the brown spirits. My older sibling and his wife trekked from NYC with my adorable 8 month old nephew, Mr. Bean. Saturday night we would be joined by my aunt, uncle, cousin and his girlfriend for a big family night out. The pressure was on to come up with a restaurant that could accommodate our large crowd, be suitable for the vegetarian and gluten-free among us and impress with quality food and service, all while not burning a hole in Pa Glutie Foodie’s wallet. The Cleveland Park steak frites restaurant, Medium Rare, is one of Mr. Green Bean’s favorites and has been enjoyed by many of the Glutie Foodie characters, including Miss Zin, Irish Coffee and Weg-Man and Wife. I deemed it the perfect choice for our party.
Medium Rare’s success over the past two and a half years can be attributed to an all-star cast, including owners Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher (founder of BGR The Burger Joint), manager Brian Zipin (last seen at Ray’s The Steaks), and consulting chef Cedric Maupillier (formerly of Central Michel Richard), who came together to design the well packaged experience. For $19.50 (plus tax), diners enjoy a first course of bib lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette, followed by sliced top sirloin cap steak cooked to your liking, drizzled with “secret sauce” and accompanied by crispy hand-cut frites. Servers circle the table as soon as plates are cleaned to deliver a second helping from a sizzling hot grill pan. While some indulge in the encore, many box it up to go. Gluten-free diners are in for a treat, as the meal is entirely gluten-free, minus the homemade bread served right when you settle in, and which I gather from Mr. Green Bean is quite delicious.
The atmosphere is far more charming than the space’s former tenant, Yanni’s Greek Taverna. Medium Rare chose simple decor, with dim lighting, white paper table liners and vinyl flooring that tends to be slippery (I have come frighteningly close to falling right on my butt several times). The music selection (think classic rock) seems a little out of place, but the bathroom soundtrack, lessons in French pick-up lines, reminds visitors of the restaurant’s French influence.
Medium Rare does not take reservations on weekends. But call 30 min ahead and they will add your name to the wait list. On this rare occasion, a fluke in their system (i.e. a new employee who made a mistake) won us a reservation for 11 at 7:30pm on a Saturday. Awesome. We arrived, were promptly seated and debriefed by our waiter on how our meal would work. No time is wasted on a menu, no long-winded inquisition of gluten ingredients necessary, just state how you like your meat cooked and Voilà.
Brother Bourbon, a fairly savvy carnivore, summed up his meal just as I would: The steak is good, but the salad, fries and gravy really make the meal. Medium Rare doesn’t serve up the finest, most flavorful cut, and they don’t always get the temperature perfect—just ask Mr. Green Bean about his very pink portion—but they do enough right that it truly doesn’t matter. You get just what you pay for, and at a fair price, I’m fine with that.
Where the restaurant fails is in their accommodations for vegetarians. The non-meat option is a grilled portobello steak with a red pepper sauce, priced the same as the regular meal. The mushroom does a nice job of acting like a meat steak, but doesn’t quite satisfy in the protein department. Sister Seitan took one for the team and didn’t complain…too much. I often use the vegetarian option to my advantage by ordering it and stealing a few slices of Mr. Green Bean’s steak for a perfectly well rounded meal.
The process is so efficient that tables turn quickly. It’s a great place to grab dinner before catching a movie at The Uptown, but often feels rushed for a leisurely meal. However, our large party slowed the service down, giving us plenty of time to enjoy several bottles of wine. The carefully curated wine list offers half a dozen reds and whites well suited for this particular cut of steak. We further extended our meal by ordering a few notoriously enormous desserts. The House Specialty hot fudge sundae is gluten-free if ordered without the chocolate crunch balls, and is well worth the extra trip to the gym the next morning.
The bill arrived with a glass full of bubblegum, a sweet something to soften the blow of a final tally unsurprisingly inflated from the $19.50/person base rate. Large parties beware of the ambiguous “Dine In” fee, a 20% tip added to the bill that can easily be missed. The family departed chomping on our gum with full stomachs and smiling faces. By the time they visit again, the restaurant will have opened its impending second location on Barracks Row. Well-done, Medium Rare.