A Psychedelic Trip to the Oval Room in the Golden Circle, DC

How to Make: Oval Room’s chilled cucumber soup from Washingtonian.com on Vimeo.

If I didn’t know better, I would have gone on and on about the Oval Room’s delicate medallions of shrimp sausage with citrus-dressed micro-greens in a bath of mushroom jus, because (unless I’m trippin’) what’s billed simply as “Wild Mushroom Soup” is anything but.

Trying to describe this soup to a friend was like a scene out of Willy Wonka:

Violet Beauregarde Hillary: I’m not afraid of anything! [pops gum spoon into her mouth]

Mrs. Beauregarde Dining Companion: How is it honey?

Violet Beauregarde Hillary: It’s amazing! Tomato Mushroom soup, I can feel it running down my throat!

Willy Wonka: Yeah! Spit it out!

Grandpa Joe: Young lady, I think you better…

Violet Beauregarde Hillary: It’s changing…roast beef shrimp and baked potato a supreme of grapefruit. Crispy skin Miso, black truffle and butter!

The reason for the wonky analogy is to emphasize what I found most strange: that each ingredient comes through cleanly and distinctly; the shrimp dumpling has a wonderfully robust flavor neither lost in the soup nor overpowering of the mushroom base. Likewise, when I took just a spoonful of the soup, there was no “essence” of shrimp to obfuscate the delicate mushroom flavor.

Unlike other mushroom soups I’ve tasted over the years, it wasn’t evident to me that the base was propped up by porcini powder or truffle oil; and because of the soup’s subtle herbaceous flavor, I don’t believe that the mushrooms were roasted beforehand. What makes the mushroom flavor pop (IMHO) is citrus, which is delivered a couple of different ways. The first incarnation appeared as tiny cubes of fruit gelée; the second was a supreme of grapefruit.

Prior to the visit, I read that Chef Conte “doesn’t lean on butter and cream” which leads me to believe that that the unctuous texture of the soup comes from miso. To be sure, I wouldn’t have put my finger on it, but our server did list miso as an ingredient.

Tony Conte is one of those über-innovative chefs that surprises diners with counter-intuitive flavor-combinations. Previous menus have included olive-oil poached shrimp with grapefruit in ginger broth, hazelnut dacquoise, and Granny Smith–apple vacherin that one food writer described as “a candied apple gone glam.” Back in April, Chef Conte’s chilled cucumber soup with lime-jalapeño foam, red-pepper sorbet, and yellow watermelon (see what I mean?) was included among The Washingtonian Magazine’s dining critics 25 favorite dishes. (Knock yourself out; a “how to” video follows.)

The sad news is that this wild mushroom soup may very well be off the menu by the time you finish reading this, but without a doubt, any iteration of Chef Conte’s imagination will knock your socks off!

How to Make: Oval Room’s chilled cucumber soup from Washington.com

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