This has not been an easy year for restaurants. From having to implement new mandates (think distanced tables and reduced occupancy) to managing everyday tasks (like staffing and payroll), it’s understandable that many dining establishments across the country are struggling with the bare minimum to stay afloat. But one of Washington, DC’s top restaurants is taking a gamble by going above and beyond to retain its already loyal base of customers – and hopefully attract new ones.
Located in the Four Seasons Hotel Washington, DC, Bourbon Steak has been a city stalwart since opening in 2009. Equal parts power spot and local hangout, the contemporary steakhouse led by Michelin-starred Chef Michael Mina has just ushered in several changes to keep the momentum going through these challenging times.
You’re in luck if you’re a cocktail fan, as the bar just unveiled two new libations. Lost Treasure, a spicy, citrusy mezcal drink, and One Paddle, Two Paddle, a silky pineapple rum sipper, were inspired by the ingredients two Bourbon Steak bartenders (Enig and Sarah respectively) loved using at home while they were furloughed. As for food, it’ll be tough to top the new Yemenite 38oz Porterhouse. An imaginative, globe-trotting take on the traditional chop, this one features Yemenite spices for the meat, Japanese sweet potato mash, and Matbucha sauce. And because the weather is unbeatable this time of year, the restaurant has expanded with additional outdoor seating in its picturesque courtyard.
But the most noteworthy news at Bourbon Steak is the recent appointment of a new General Manager. Jose Gonzalez – coincidentally, he was part of the restaurant’s opening team back in 2008 – spent over a decade managing several MINA Group concepts, and comes to the national’s capital by way of Chicago, where he oversaw Margeaux Brasserie. Below, he discusses why he returned to Washington, DC, what’s changed about dining at Bourbon Steak, and the one menu item he can’t wait to order this season.
A lot of of people would be hesitant about switching jobs during the pandemic. Why did you decide to come to DC right now?
Gonzalez: Bourbon Steak is a restaurant that’s very dear to me, because it’s where I solidified my love for both Mina Group and the Four Seasons brand. So it’s all come full circle. I’ve also always loved DC. A lot’s changed in the past 12 years, and now that I have a family it felt fitting and comforting to come back now. The job and the city checked off a lot of boxes.
How has the pandemic changed the dining experience?
Gonzalez: Even though there’s lot of policies affecting our overall space and layout, I’m always reminded the core of everything we do hospitality. Taking care of our guests is more important than ever, and that we can’t take anything for granted. Four Seasons has a dedicated safety plan called Lead With Care, so we’re doing our part to make sure is everyone is safe. Staff and guests have their temperatures checked upon arrival, and we’ve limited indoor dining to 50% capacity, with tables set more than six feet apart. In addition to face coverings, staff also wear dispoable gloves when taking care of seated guests. And we thoroughly sanitize every table after every use, whether it’s for a cup of coffee or a full dinner. We’re being extra diligent, down to the smallest details.
For those who are still hesitant about dining out: what can you share to help alleviate any uncertainty?
Gonzalez: People already know our high standards for excellence, when it comes to service and product. And now, we’re applying the same standards to safety, to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. Our goal is that once you enter our doors, you can sit down, relax with a cocktail in hand, and hopefully forget the outside world for a few hours to enjoy the company, food, and environment. Ultimately: the way we treat our guests is exactly how I would want my family to be treated when visiting a restaurant.
Okay, now a fun question. What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
Gonzalez: The Lobster Pot Pie. It’s presented in a beautiful copper pot. You crack into the puff pastry with a fork, and the rich aroma of the brandied cream hits your noise. It’s a comforting, indulgent dish that speaks to fall, and has been one of Michael’s staples for many years now. I always get excited about it.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.