Along with Bad Saint and Pineapples and Pearls, The Dabney has been the most discussed and reviewed restaurant to open in Washington, D.C. since Rose's Luxury. I finally made it (it's hard to get in without reservations, I was able to get a solo bar seat after a thirty minute wait -- they texted me as I got a drink around the corner).
The name is precious and the staff have similar names (Mr. Jeremiah Langhorne, former chef de cuisine at McCrady's, is the chef, bartenders named Taylor etc.). The décor is not your contemporary chic industrial restaurant found at The Dabney's neighbors, but is instead very polished retro-southern (if you've been to McCrady's or Hot & Hot Fish Club etc. then you have the idea). Open kitchen on the dining room (not the bar), prep work likely downstairs, huge wood-burning fireplace as the kitchen centerpiece. The location is dead center in the Shaw uber-hot restaurant/bar corridor (Espita and All-Purpose are around the corner, the Columbia Room is above it).
Cocktails are excellent (DC is still a second-rate cocktail town for the simple reason that drinks almost everywhere are too sweet -- my working theory is that it's the PX influence). Wine list is U.S. centric but thoughtful. Ditto for beers.
Food-wise, the conceit is that everything comes from the mid-Atlantic region (defined a bit broadly, both Carolinas and Tennessee appear to be part of it). The menu ostensibly changes daily. Lots of places claim this, it's almost true for The Dabney. I've compared the menu over multiple points in time. Several dishes really do change out every single day. And the entire menu changes out every couple weeks. It really is astounding. Every single dish discussed in the reviews was gone when I ate there. (In fact they're completely different in almost every review.) They're not lying, It really is a daily menu. Format: a few small "snacks" at $6-10. Small Plates at $10-20 (not really small, more mediumish.) A couple large format plates for multiple people (around the $50 range). A selection of $8ish side dishes/contorini. Decently sized. On Saturday night the menu was seafood and winter vegetable heavy.
Is it any good? Every single professional review has been laudatory. I only had 3 dishes. But what I had was fantastic. "Day boat" (from Cape May) scallop crudo (yeah, this is really just a measure of good product and knife skills but both were on point) with some sort of buttermilk emulsion. A very rich beef cheek dish (with roasted vegetables and a starchy puree)....this was really entrée-heavy -- for $20. Side of roasted parsnips with lardons and ham vinaigrette. It was all very very good. No missteps.
Service: warm, friendly, knowledgeable. The one negative was a failure to replace my silverware between courses. Not sure if this was a misstep or the restaurant's practice. Either way it was the one mistake.
So...worth traveling to DC for? Probably not in and of itself. After all you can fly to Charleston and eat at McCrady's (every dish I saw at The Dabney would fit in on the McCrady's menu), Husk and Fig in a weekend. On the other hand, traveling to DC for a weekend and eating at The Dabney, Little Serow and Rose's Luxury would be well worth doing. If you are in DC for any reason (unless maybe if you're coming from Charleston or New Orleans or Oxford, MS), you should eat here.
I liked it quite a bit more than I thought I would. It has a Michelin star and is better than some European one-stars I've been too and certainly better than say The Spotted Pig (which I have nostalgic affection for). Some folks on MF would look at the menu and prices and call it a very good NYTimes two star. I'd (again, one meal) disagree and make the case for three.
eta: instead of an amuse they bring a plate of very good bread with sorghum butter.