Sometimes it’s a dish that wins you over. Or it could be the setting. Other times it’s a chef. And William Morris, chef de cuisine at Cherry at the revamped W Washington DC, is that culinarian. Why? Because the man simply wants to cook the cuisine of which he’s passionate— rustic, uncomplicated dishes that sing of their essential flavors. It’s what he tells me the first time I meet him, when I learn the Michael Mina and Robert Wiedmaier alum, who most recently worked at Vermilion in Alexandria, also is an avid bird photographer who likes to spend his downtime with his camera in tow, memorializing the beauty of our natural world. He shrugs, a little bashful, then gets back down to it—cooking the cuisine that represents him and our region, and sharing it with his guests.
Arched windows look out on the heart of the District
Another quality of his fare is that almost every dish touches the grill in some way. The open kitchen boasts a 15-foot Grillworks custom hearth and twin wood-burning ovens that use a unique blend of cherry (the namesake), red and white oak, hickory and pinot woods to imbue products and ingredients with a certain smokiness, a unique charred quality reminiscent of dining around a luxurious campfire. Call it indoor glamping if you will— farm-to-fire fare delivered in a restaurant that both nods to its namesake (stacks of firewood, red- hued decor accents reminiscent of flames) and falls in line with W’s punchy yet luxurious setting, with its grand arches and tongue- in-cheek accents (think black- and-white elephant salt shakers).
The shrimp and grits is multilayered and surprisingly light
The 60-seat space offers ample selection for dining, including a chef’s counter, where you can watch Morris and his team stoke the flame (sneak a peek under the counter to see thousands of pennies forming the base—in honor of the nearby Treasury Building).
My guest and I sit near one of the expansive windows, and we watch night fall on the tops of the monuments and buildings—drawing dusk down like a shade on the District—as we sip a selection of craft beverages made with spirits sourced from within 50 miles. They are playful and don’t take themselves too seriously: The Washington Botanical Society refreshes with Ivy City gin, cilantro, basil, lemongrass and lime for an amalgamation akin to a hit of green juice. And the In a Pickle is fun and flirty, with its bright pink hues and tart slab of watermelon that rests across the top. The pickled take on the typically sweet water-rich fruit gives it an irresistible kick that continues into the cuisine.
The mango panna cotta is topped with a sweet wafer whose taste calls to mind Rice Krispies Treats
We start with the grilled avocado, a plate that I’ve had my eye on since day one of the eatery’s debut. The exterior is charred gently, both emulating the rind and giving the thick fruit a new layer of flavor and textural appeal. Grilled lime and microgreens lighten the richer flesh with citrus and herbs, while barrel-aged hot sauce adds a tingle to the tongue. The trout roe tops things off with delightful pops.
Perhaps a top dish of the evening is the wood-grilled shrimp and grits. The plump shellfish are perfectly juicy and teamed with piquillo peppers for subtle tangy sweetness and chorizo for savory depth. My favorite element is the caperberries, which bring an unexpected sour but welcome zip to the indulgent profile of the grits; it’s a twist I admittedly savor.
The Washington Botanical Society is topped with edible florals
True to form of a place that boasts a grill as a centerpiece, main courses include a selection of meats—45-day aged Creekstone Farms ribeye with black garlic puree and crispy onions, and 30-day aged Kansas City steak—as well as specialty cuts for those with adventurous palates. Lighter options abound too, and that’s what we enjoy the most. The rockfish teases the senses with its layers of flavor and texture. The white flesh, with the resto’s signature charred skin, rests upon a bed of smoked farro and fire-roasted eggplant that are at once nutty, heady and creamy. There’s salsa verde to punch things up, creating a spicy complement for each bite—and drawing a parallel to the aforementioned green cocktail. The a la carte items should be paired with a side, like a bowl of roasted hen of the woods mushrooms accented with white soy to up the umami appeal or ember-roasted carrots permeated by the taste of the grill.
Dessert is cooling in the form of a bright mango panna cotta that is just sweet enough, thick enough and topped with slices of fresh fruit and a thin puffed-rice wafer to scoop up the pudding. But the pièce de résistance is a dish not even on the menu yet—a version of s’mores that Morris is trying out, with a puddle of chocolate served on a wooden slab, a duo of charred marshmallow-topped skewers and two small cookies to create the iconic stack.
And if that’s not campfire- cool, I’m not sure what is.
The spacious interior allows for prime viewing of the open kitchen
W Washington DC, 515 15th St. NW, 202.661.2400,