Counting on Conte: Q&A with Oval Room's Tony Conte

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Entertainment,Food and Drink,Alexandra Greeley

Tony Conte is a culinary superstar in his own right. Last year, he was nominated by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington for Chef of the Year. And the Oval Room, where he is executive chef, was nominated for Power Spot of the Year and Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year.

But now Conte can add yet another star to his chef's toque, taking over the kitchen of 701 Restaurant, a sister to the Oval Room, pulling double duty. "I spend time in both restaurants," he said, adding that for the moment, he spends more time at 701. "Then I come back here at night," he said of the Oval Room.

In his earlier cooking days in Manhattan, Conte worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as executive sous chef at the famous Jean-Georges restaurant. He also worked in its more casual sister restaurant, Nougatine, located within the same premises. "So that is how I can deal with two restaurants at once," he explained, recounting that he has learned how to fix menus and help staff different settings. "All day long I run back and forth," he said, "but it has worked out quite well."

If you go
701 Restaurant
» Where: 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
» Info: 202-393-0701; 701restaurant.com/
» Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday

Of course, the biggest challenges he faces may well be with menu creation and how to avoid repeating flavors and presentations. One way he solves that problem is to step back and ponder what dishes he would want to eat at any given moment. He admits he has unleashed his pasta passion at the Oval Room, where he creates freshly extruded pasta dishes with different elements, different sauces.

As for 701, he has eliminated the purees, jellies, and crumbles -- they're just not what he does, he says -- and talks instead of creating a soy-lacquered beef cheek with pumpkin polenta and a cured pumpkin-apple salad. "My goal at 701 is to not mimic what is happening at the Oval Room," he said. "They are both American, but there should be a real difference. That's where the challenge lies. I am who I am."

If that whets your appetite, look for an Asian tilt to American fare at 701 Restaurant and a slightly Italian infusion at the Oval Room.

Q&A

What is your comfort food?

Pizza. No question.

Which is your favorite restaurant?

My favorite pizza place is Haven in Bethesda. It has a true coal oven and has the essence of pizza that I remember.

What's in your fridge?

Burrata cheese, orange juice, milk, yogurt, lettuce, herbs, parsnips and carrots.

What is your must-have ingredient?

Olive oil and a couple of different ones.

Which chef do you admire most in the world?

Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Recipe: Roasted Red Beets, Bleu Cheese and Dried Fruits

Serves 4

2 pounds red beets, washed

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

2 sprigs thyme, crushed

8 tablespoons crumbled bleu cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put beets in a bowl and toss with olive oil and salt. Place in a baking dish and sprinkle generously with red wine vinegar, and cover with thyme. Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and then foil. Roast for 1 1/2 hours or until tender. Let cool and rub skins off with a towel. Cut the beets into wedges.

Vinaigrette:

10 ounces red wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

5 ounces olive oil

1 tablespoon walnut oil

Combine vinegar and salt together, and mix until salt is dissolved. Drizzle in the oils and reserve.

Dried fruits and Toasted Nuts:

4 teaspoons dried cherries, split in half

4 teaspoons dried apricots, small dice

4 teaspoons dried cranberries, split

4 teaspoons toasted sliced almonds

4 teaspoons toasted walnut pieces

To serve, dress 8 wedges of beets with dressing, and season with salt and white pepper. Place in a serving bowl. Generously dress the beets with 1 teaspoon each of dried fruits and nuts with dressing. Spoon over beets, and finish with crumbled bleu cheese. Repeat for remaining servings.

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