It’s no small secret that Washington DC is in need of cheer these days, and cheer is exactly what I’ve just found at this restaurant in the city’s Georgetown area. Sequoia is situated on the Potomac River and after a major redo – courtesy of New York-based architecture firm Jeffrey Beers International – it is now as much an art gallery as it is a convivial spot for lunch.
Sequoia is a grand, buzzy experience: people come for political power talk and to sit outside on its sprawling terraces overlooking the river with views of the iconic Kennedy Center beyond. On the day of my visit, the weather didn’t cooperate so we were offered a table in the light-filled main dining room with its dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows and elegant white terrazzo, grey stone and brass bar, which mimics the curvature of the patios outside.
Design touches match impasto walls with sheer draperies and coloured art-glass finishes, but it is owner Michael Weinstein’s personal art collection that steals the show. A commanding 38m light installation by Japanese artist Hitoshi Kuriyama hangs over the double-height dining room and includes 913 custom-fabricated glass and neon bulbs that evoke the branches of an expansive tree. This is just one of the conversation starters on view – my eye also lit upon vibrant drawings by Sol LeWitt and a 12m-tall metal tree sculpture by Belgian artist Arne Quinze.
This is exactly my kind of lunch spot because it’s bustling and quick – you can be in and out in an hour – and there is an emphasis on salads of every variety. Starters of seabass ceviche with avocado, kiwi and hints of mezcal and ahi tuna taquitos – here served with guacamole, seaweed salad and a sriracha aioli – did not disappoint. I opted for a classic chicken cobb salad with creamy Maytag blue cheese and crispy bacon. My friend sampled a light shrimp saffron orzo salad with avocado, cucumber and olive tapenade, and we shared a crispy thin pizza with artichoke, prosciutto, rocket and a drizzle of olive oil. There may be something to the theory that a noisy dining room makes one eat more, as we managed to devour every last morsel that was set before us.
Sequoia’s local fans go for its elevated sandwiches – think a Maryland crab cake on a brioche bun, or a surf ’n’ turf with Maine lobster and New York steak on sourdough bread – as well as “proper” entrées including filet mignon medallions, sea scallops in the lightest curry sauce and sake-cured salmon. The food at Sequioa is fresh and inventive to be sure, but it was the cheerful spirit of the place that made it a real Capitol highlight for me.