Old Hickory Steakhouse
This is one of several posts from my three trips to the US during the months of June and July 2016. For the rest, follow this link.
Our close friends in the States have come to understand that I’m taking this cheese thing seriously. Several keep up on my blog, and back in December we had a chance to enjoy some cheese and wine at a Christmas party. So when one of them discovered that the Old Hickory Steakhouse at National Harbor had a serious collection of cheese that was served by a Maitre Fromage (sic) and suggested we get a group together for a tasting one afternoon, I immediately accepted. Even if the cheese wasn’t great, I was more than happy to spend time with good friends.
There’s no mistaking the fact that Old Hickory is a high-end American steakhouse. Its dramatic spaces and view overlooking the Potomac River, dark wood floors and contrasting white tablecloths, marble entry and fireplace, sculpted furniture in muted colors dimly but tastefully illuminated, sharply dressed servers in black-and-white, and leather-bound menus foretell a lavish and expensive meal. And…holy cow is that a gigantic cheese refrigerator? Why, yes it is.
We spotted it as the rest of our party followed the hostess to their seats. It wasn’t hard to find. Just past the bar casting a bright glow was a glass-door refrigerator (properly humidified and not overly cold!) with a variety of cheeses. In front of it was the cheese cart, which housed a dozen or so different cheeses at ambient temperatures. Kara, the house Cheese Master, happily showed the refrigerator and talked about the training that went into being the house Cheese Master.
Kara’s presentation table-side was both affable and knowledgeable. She looked somewhat puzzled when we order one of everything, but soon returned with two full plates. Our tasting was very enjoyable. Whether because of peer pressure or the sense that this was a friendly atmosphere, even those who weren’t big fans of cheese willingly tried each one and chatted cheerfully about the flavors they tasted and the ones they preferred.
I didn’t take extensive notes on the cheeses during our tasting. There were a lot of cheeses I’d have needed to track and I was too busy catching up with these friends. But I was struck by the fact that not only were none of the cheeses we tasted bad, they were all in fact quite good. Old Hickory’s variety was impressive. There was a good mix of imported and domestic cheeses that included everything from a traditional cloth-wrapped cheddar to a tomme washed w/ espresso. My favorite was probably the Humboldt Fog, an American blooming rind goat cheese made with vegetable rennet. Our waiter recommended an affordable and decent California Pinot Noir from the Mark West winery that went with most of the cheese.
Even if the cheese were merely adequate, I would have left the Old Hickory Steakhouse grateful for the company of good friends. But it wasn’t. It was good. And I was glad not only that the restaurant made a big deal about the cheese, but also took it seriously enough to train someone who was ready to share her passion and encourage people to try something that, to the detriment of the American dining experience, still remains a rare treat.
Old Hickory Steakhouse, Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, 201 Waterfront St, National Harbor, MD 20745