Steaking His Claim
Chef Ashish Alfred turns 4935 Bar and Kitchen into a promising steak house
Photos by Stacy Zarin Goldberg
It's the Thursday before Christmas and George’s Chophouse, which debuted in November, is hopping. All of the large, circular white leather booths
that line either side of the 86-seat restaurant are full. To my left, a group of 10 festively attired, ebullient women are clinking Champagne glasses and toasting a friend’s birthday as a server places a platter of oysters on the half-shell and shrimp cocktail on their table. All of the seats at the gray marble bar in the center of the room are taken and the bass of loud rock music commingles with boisterous laughter and lively conversation. Lavishly generous, ice-cold Hendrick’s martinis and Maker’s Mark Manhattans hit our table of four, along with warm challah-like bread and two kinds of butter, one with roasted garlic, the other herb-and-garlic-laced.
“This is what this space was always meant to be,” 32-year-old chef and owner Ashish Alfred tells me later in a phone interview, by way of explaining why he gutted the bottom level of 4935 Bar and Kitchen, the modern American restaurant he opened in this Cordell Avenue space in 2012, to create George’s. “This concept is unique to Bethesda. It’s not just another corporate steak house.” (The second-floor space remains private event space called The Loft at 4935.)
Roasted bone marrow with beef ragout
Alfred named the restaurant after his half-brother Dhiraj “George” Waidande, who died suddenly of a heart attack at age 39 in 2015. Pass through this restaurant’s handsome façade of horizontal pinewood planks and gray brick and you’ll see Waidande’s beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle on display behind a red velvet rope in the entrance hall. The dining room has the feel of a chic steak house, with low lighting, dark wide-plank laminate floors, exposed
brick, gold-framed mirrors, contemporary chrome chandeliers with crystal teardrops, and a gleaming stainless-steel kitchen displayed behind a glass wall.
The 36-ounce tomahawk rib-eye steak
In my September 2016 Bethesda Magazine review of Duck Duck Goose, Alfred’s Norfolk Avenue French bistro a block away from George’s, I noted
that Alfred graduated from Manhattan’s French Culinary Institute in 2010 and worked in New York City for three years under culinary giants Daniel Boulud and Mario Batali.
My nutshell assessment of Duck Duck Goose in that review—“details abound, but complete attention to them doesn’t”—also holds true of George’s. Laguiole steak knives, fluted martini glasses, marrow spoons—these are lovely details, but a more important one would be to have an extensive, well-rounded and carefully curated wine list with more than a couple dozen off erings. And perhaps this is a small point, but if you call a place a chophouse instead of a steak house, the latter being what George’s more aptly is, shouldn’t you have pork, lamb or veal chops on the menu?
Edmond Ngati, a server at George's Chophouse
I would return to George’s solely for the lightly cured slices of salmon, which are magenta from beet juice and hinting of ginger and lime juice. The salmon’s adornments—pillows of beet foam, a dollop of creme fraiche and thin slices of vibrant watermelon radish—enhance an already captivating dish. Blooming mushroom is Alfred’s clever riff on Outback Steakhouse’s deep-fried onion; his is a clump of batter-fried spiky maitake mushrooms served with a zesty horseradish dipping sauce. Iceberg salad with cherry tomatoes, grated hard-boiled egg, red onions, chives and creamy blue cheese dressing is a paean to a steak house classic. A roasted, vertically sliced beef bone harboring its glistening marrow rests atop a hearty, deeply flavorful oxtail stew—it’s an indulgent but irresistible way to start a meal. Much less successful are ho-hum steamed mussels, so lackluster they need salt.
Macaroni and cheese
Alfred cooks steaks sous vide, that is, vacuum sealed and cooked to rare in a water bath. Then, to order, he sears the steaks in a pan to caramelize their exteriors and bastes them with butter and garlic. This method works well on the very thick, 36-ounce rib-eye steak and its Flintstones-size “tomahawk” bone, whose meat is beautifully medium rare, richly marbled and nicely seasoned, but not so well on smaller steaks. In the time it takes to get a good sear, thinner sous vide steaks can wind up overcooked. And my 8-ounce filet mignon had a slightly pasty interior, which can sometimes happen with sous vide cooking. For side dishes, I’m partial to Alfred’s luxuriant creamed spinach and macaroni and cheese.
Seared scallops with pork belly
I relish two other entrées here. One is a hearty casserole of dark meat chicken, carrots and potatoes in a tarragon-laced gravy, the whole thing topped with a golden dome of flaky puff pastry; the other is seared scallops and tender braised pork belly, even if Alfred is too stingy with its delightful celery root
Alfred’s attempt to tackle lobster thermidor, that darling of continental cuisine, falls short. It’s an elaborate dish (poached lobster tail and claw meat tossed in a brandy cream sauce, piled into lobster tail shells, topped with cheese, then broiled), but I can detect no trace of the rich sauce or cheese that the classic calls for. I’m happier with humble spaghetti swathed in a simple tomato sauce and served with neatly caramelized beef, pork and veal meatballs, whipped ricotta cheese, fresh basil leaves and Parmesan shavings, served in a lidded casserole dish.
Cured salmon with beet foam, creme fraiche and watermelon radish
Dessert is not a strong suit at George’s. A seven-layer chocolate cake with chocolate
buttercream is dry and unremarkable. The Baked Alaska—with raspberry-soaked sponge cake and malted vanilla ice cream enrobed with piped swirls of meringue—is doused with cognac and set afire tableside, the flames toasting the marshmallow-like exterior. A few bites in, I realize the offering does not quite live up to the promise of its show.
George’s Chophouse is a solid spot to meet friends for hefty cocktails and share a tomahawk steak and some iceberg salads. The atmosphere, including live music on Thursdays and Saturdays, has date night written all over it. To get from good to great, Alfred has the chops, even if they’re missing from his menu.
Overall Rating: B
4935 Cordell Ave., Bethesda;
Favorite Dishes: Roasted bone marrow with beef ragout; cured salmon with beets and creme fraiche; iceberg salad; tomahawk rib-eye; seared scallops with pork belly; creamed spinach; macaroni and cheese
Prices: Appetizers: $12 to $17; entrées: $16 to $48; desserts: $12
Libations: Cocktails feature generous pours. Manhattans and martinis on my visits are ice cold, well balanced and thoroughly satisfying. The six cocktails on George’s handcrafted list—including the Finesse (Cava, grapefruit juice, dry vermouth) and Revival 14 (vodka, gin, Lillet blanc)—are fine but don’t stretch the imagination. The wine list is limited for a restaurant aspiring to be an upscale chophouse. Only two Champagnes are offered, one of them a rosé. There are 11 white wines (eight by the glass) and 10 red wines (five by the glass). The reds are fairly unremarkable and range from $40 to $96 per bottle, except for a 2014 Stags’ Leap cabernet for $198.
Service: The staff is well trained and affable.
David Hagedorn is the restaurant critic for Bethesda Magazine.