DC Restaurant Week 2012 Top 20 Picks
DC Restaurant Week Winter 2012 January 9-15, marks the 20th cycle of DC Restaurant Week, which started in 2001. In July 2011, I posted my top ten picks and mentioned the ongoing controversy about the value of restaurant week promotions. I discussed that proponents support the concept because it bolsters business in an otherwise slow time of the year while opponents argue that restaurants don’t put their best foot forward, offer second-rate dishes and poor service. While I won’t mention the butts thing, again, I will say that I always look forward to restaurant week. Personally, it’s a great excuse for me to dine out and get together with friends. In honor of the 20th Anniversary of DC Restaurant Week, I will offer my Top 20 picks, instead of just 10. I hope that you’ll find it helpful. If I didn’t mention your faves, please comment below.
1. Willow – I can’t speak highly enough of executive chef Tracy O’Grady and her modern continental cuisine. She is one of the most talented chefs in the DC area who prides herself on using the freshest ingredients featuring local produce, meat, and grains while incorporating classic French and Italian influences. Willow has become one of my favorite places. My husband and I went in July 2011 and last summer (2010) for restaurant week and had incredible meals. In fact, I was able to talk my husband’s company into doing a complete buyout for their holiday party for the last two years. On their menu currently, the Hickory Smoked Chicken with Cauliflower Rissole, Parsnip & Celeriac Puree, Wild Rice & Sage Chicken Sauce is tender and delicious. Chef O’Grady always has beautiful presentations of her food, and the cuts of meat are interesting. A new appetizer, the Tempura Battered Jumbo Lump Crab “Cakes” were crispy and very flavorful. Also, the Butter Poached Lobster Tail & Lobster Ravioli with Creamy Fennel Gratin, Savory & Sherry Lobster Sauce is to die for! The Roasted Beets & Goat’s Cheese Salad with Chevre and Candied Walnuts & Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette was also very good. I love that Willow clearly marks their menu for vegetarians with a little (v) to let guests know that the dish is made without meat products. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll make out like a bandit at Willow. Chef O’Grady treats you right! Stay tuned! Willow will most likely extend their promotion until the end of January.
2. Adour – Situated inside the elegant and luxurious St. Regis, Washington, D.C., Adour offers locals and visitors alike a glimpse into legendary Chef Alain Ducasse’s culinary mastery in an opulent setting. A 4-course tasting menu at Adour runs $65, so the 3-course dinner for restaurant week at just $35.12 with no surcharges, is an extremely high value. The restaurant is closed Sundays and Mondays, but they are already leaning towards extending the promotion another week. I went to Adour for dinner during Winter 2011 Restaurant week (and also to celebrate my birthday) and had one of the best meals of my life. Popular during the winter, the beet salad with goat cheese fondue and and candied walnuts blew me away. Consistently ranked on the Washingtonian 100 Very Best Restaurants List for a reason, if you haven’t been, you should definitely go. And make sure that you try the macaroons.
3. Graffiato – I know that you’re thinking. Should I really be harping about it that much if I’ve only eaten there just once? In my defense, it’s my list and I can harp if I want to! With that being said, even though Graffiato will be participating in DC Restaurant Week for the first time this year for lunch only, I can confidently say that it is well worth the visit. If you read my July 2011 post then you’ll know that Graffiato (in my opinion) has lived up to the hype. If you’re anywhere nearby, you shouldn’t miss the chance to get three courses for just $20.12. Before you get on the horn, Graffiato no longer uses Opentable.com as their online reservation system and using CityEats.com exclusively. If you haven’t already noticed, most of my favorite restaurants have chefs that change their menus seasonally, offering the best quality and flavor in their food. Graffiato is no different. I made a reservation for lunch on January 13th, just before I head out of town to the big apple. I can’t wait!
4. The Lounge at Citronelle Michel Richard – participating in restaurant week for the first time, offering DC area diners a chance to sample some of Citronelle’s best dishes, for half of the price. While Citronelle Michel Richard is not new, if you haven’t dined there yet, it’s an incredible opportunity to experience one of the finest restaurants in DC and arguably, the country. Richard’s abbreviated dinner menu in the Lounge, while not the full restaurant menu, still offers the same level of excellence with options such as his world-famous 60 hour braised Short Ribs (served for two), Tuna Salad Nicoise, and of course, the Lobster Burger (listed as one of my Top 10 all-time most memorable bites).
5. Westend Bistro – I love this restaurant, but not just because I think Eric Ripert is dreamy (but it certainly helps). I’ve had several meals here, one of which was my 4 year blogiversary and we were sat practically in the kitchen. Chef de cuisine, Joe Palma executes the American menu of simple signature dishes inspired by Chef Ripert’s family traditions and recipes with precision and great care. The focus is on using seasonal ingredients, culled from fresh, quality produce by local farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region. Even for a non foie gras or pate lover, the Duck Liver Mousse is to die for (pardon the pun). And don’t overlook the bar menu. The sliders, frites, and truffle popcorn will keep you up at night reminiscing. Another note: while I have advised against dining at restaurants that offer prix-fixe menus all year round as a general restaurant week no-no, since Westend Bistro offers a pre-theatre menu only between 5:30 p.m. and 6:15 p.m., an exception can be made here.
6.Trummer’s on Main – This family-owned restaurant located in historic Clifton, VA just 25 miles from Washington DC, is a quaint destination yet has earned both local and national acclaim. As history unfolds, the historic building dates back to 1869, when it opened as The Clifton Hotel. Today, Trummer’s On Main reignites Main Street with a culinary adventure of historic proportion with executive chef Clayton Miller at the helm. Named one of Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2010, Miller’s trademark creative American cuisine focusing on simple, globally influenced fare has earned his many prestigious awards. Sommelier Tyler Packwood, formerly of the Inn of Little Washington has developed a wine list comprised from the openview wine cellar that holds over 8,000 bottles. And hand-crafted cocktails are the skills of co-owner and award-winning mixologist, Stefan Trummer. Those who dare to venture out will welcome the escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Relax beside the fire, while enjoying an awe-inspiring meal from a star-studded culinary team.
7. J&G Steakhouse – One of the chicest dining rooms in DC and rated as one of Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best restaurants, J&G Steakhouse is a showcase for chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s favorite dishes from his New York restaurants. Enjoy and upscale menu of worldly steakhouse classics with a French twist. Located in the mod W Hotel, known for its spectacular rooftop views, I have been fortunate enough to dine at J&G for brunch, lunch, and dinner. I have never had a meal here that I didn’t love. In fact, the Butternut Squash soup that I fell in love with last fall was included in my Top Ten Most Memorable Bites. Again, while it is against my own advice to visit a place during restaurant week that offers a pre-theatre menu, I will make an exception here because the 3-course pre-theatre menu is only offered from 5-6:30 pm. Insider tips: Request a table along the window wall with the cushy, high-backed benches where couples can sit side by side and foursomes can gather round. Plan ahead and skip the valet parking at the hotel which is $30. Opt to park at the garage at 1325 G St., NW, where it’s just $13.
8. Dino – Every year, Restaurateur Dean Gold always gets into the spirit of restaurant week by going the extra mile. Dino serves excellent authentic Italian fare using the best seasonal ingredients at an exceptional value all year round with the Menu della Sera offering 3 courses for just $27!, but always kicks it up a notch for restaurant week, or shall I say month?! Dino will run their restaurant week promotion for an entire month, beginning January 2nd thru Thursday February 3rd. To start off, Dino will offer one of their changing selections of small bar snacks followed by your choice of three courses from their FULL menu. Your meal concludes with house made truffles featuring the wonderful Italian chocolates of Agostini (one of the largest bean to bar chocolate producers in the world)! Dino will offer special Restaurant Week wine trios available for $10, as well as, offering wine madness (wines $50+ at 33% off) for the entire month. Be sure to try the Gianduia Nico, inspired by Gelateria Nico in Venezia, for dessert. The bittersweet chocolate gelato with chopped chocolate atop hazelnut gelato and toasted hazelnuts was to die for! If you haven’t been to Dino, you need to go!
9. Bibiana– My very first visit to Bibiana was for lunch September 4, 2009 on its opening day. With top-notch service, knowledgeable servers, and an award-winning and extremely talented chef Nicholas Stefanelli, I recommend it highly to everyone. Owned by the restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, who has earned coveted James Beard Foundation nominations for service and also was named one of the 50 Most Powerful People in Washington by GQ magazine in 2009. Overall, Bibiana doesn’t really need to participate in DC Restaurant Week because it has steady business regardless, but I think that the fact that Mr. Bajaj does participate is an even better reason to dine there. The service is the best-in-the-biz and Chef Stefanelli’s seasonal menu, offering modern Italian cuisine is a must try. If you haven’t been, you’re missing out.
10. Rasika – Summer 2011 Restaurant Week was a big one for me. The stars aligned and finally I went to Rasika to try some of executive chef Vikram Sunderam’s deliciously authentic Indian cuisine for the first time. My expectations were high, but were exceeded, especially because of the much-praised palak chaat and the excellent service. Chef Sunderam’s restaurant week menus are always very promising and at such an excellent value, which includes some his best dishes, such as the palak chaat, black cod lightly sauced with star anise, dill, and honey and for dessert enjoy the carrot halwa with cinnamon sabayon. Rasika would be higher on my top 20 list; however, the restaurant offers a $35 pre-theatre menu (M-F 5:30-6:30 p.m.; Sat 5:30-6:30 p.m.) with similar offerings as restaurant week. Also, it appears that Rasika has offered the same dishes for restaurant week over the last several years. While favorites are nice, variety would be better. If you haven’t been, Rasika is no doubt one of the best restaurants in DC.
11. Todd Gray’s Watershed – Located in the Hilton Garden Inn, the ‘Shed is the second restaurant opened by the award-winning husband-and-wife force behind Equinox. Here the Grays continue their undying commitment to fresh, flavorful, seasonal cuisine but this time offering east coast fare from New England down to Florida, with a long, lingering stop in the Chesapeake. The Grays are huge supporters of the DC community, especially with their many philanthropic efforts, such as the Sugar & Champagne Affair to benefit the Washington Humane Society, it’s time that the community show them how grateful we are – dine there to say thank you.
12. Co Co. Sala – Renowned as the chic fine dining place to gorge oneself on artisan coffee, gourmet chocolate, decadent desserts, Co Co. Sala lures locals and visitors alike into their opulent den with an incredible deal. While Co Co. Sala only offers a dinner option for DC Restaurant Week, they often extend their promotion a week or more, giving diners a chance to get their cocoa fix. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. I get hungry just reading the menu. Although, cocktails are not included in the deal, I would be remiss not to mention that Co Co. Sala’s cocktails, are to die for and are the best that I have ever had. Co Co. Sala is a must-do any day of the week, but don’t miss the chance to taste the hand crafted from luxurious Valrhona chocolate.
13. Art and Soul – Under the direction of two-time James Beard Award winning Chef, Art Smith, the newly appointed executive chef Wes Morton, never ceased to amaze with his southern inspired dishes, just like Art and Wes’ mama made. Look for favorites on their restaurant week menu that are available on the regular lunch, such as Art’s famous fried chicken. This is a great opportunity to sample some of his extraordinary cuisine, prepared with love – at an exceptional value. It’s no secret that Art and Soul is one of my favorite restaurants in DC. In fact, I practically tell everyone.
14. Tallula – One of my favorites in Northern Virginia, part of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, Tallula offers a modern approach to classic American fare in an upscale yet friendly environment. In the past, Tallula has offered their entire menus to diners, for the best possible value. Guests will choose any appetizer, entree and dessert from their full lunch and dinner menu. The menu focuses heavily on bold flavors resulting from the use of fresh, local produce and the highest quality meats they can find. The extensive wine list features more than 350 wines by the bottle and 70 by the glass. If you haven’t been to Tallula, you are missing out.
15. SAX Restaurant & Lounge – If you haven’t been to the new SAX, then now is as a good time as ever. No shame here, self-indulgence is expected with their opulent red velvet, gilded leaf and crystal decor (see photo above) paired with a modern French-inspired menu guaranteed to titillate the senses. DC Restaurant Week is an excellent opportunity to enjoy Chef Jonathan Seningen’s (formerly of Hook) sensual and satisfying dishes. I was blown away by my dinner at SAX, and have already recommended it to friends. Chef Seningen is strutting his stuff at SAX and will not disappoint. The wine list prepared by Andrew Stover, also at Oya and Sei has the perfect pairing to every dish. Along with incredible food, SAX offers cabaret performances nightly, an experience that is lavishly unique in the nation’s capital. Inside of the expansive 9,700-square-foot lounge sits the 20-foot enclosed infinity stage which is visible from all corners of the two-story space and host grandly costumed cabaret performers throughout the evening. Guests can expect to see artists ranging from illusionists and mimes to other alluring performances that border on burlesque. Skip going to Vegas, and enjoy a SAXual dining experience right here at home.
16. Poste Moderne Brasserie – With chef Bob Weland’s sudden departure in October, foodies everywhere shook in their boots about what would become of one of DC’s most notable restaurants. With executive chef Dennis Marron now at the helm, foodies can rest easily. His breadth of experience and strong personal commitment to local farmers and ingredients will build upon Poste’s excellent reputation of supporting sustainable farming and restaurant operations. Chef Marron comes to Poste from The Grille at the Morrison House and Jackson 20. While their Restaurant Week menu hasn’t been announced yet, I’m looking forward to perusing their options. I am sure that I will be delighted.
17. Chef Geoff’s – Well-known for offering their entire regular menu to diners at all three of the Chef Geoff’s locations, they are definitely one of my top choices. Chef Geoff’s prides themselves on offering guests a great experience during restaurant week, just like every other week. Guests may choose any soup salad or starter followed by any entree followed by any dessert with no upcharges. We’ll see what Chef Tracy cooks up this year. Last year he ran a social media campaign to see how many would ’vote’ to have the restaurant extend the Restaurant Week promotion for up to a month! Also, Chef Geoff -Tysons Corner won the 2011 Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene RAMMY Award!
18. – Acadiana, Ceiba, DC Coast, PassionFish and now the new District Commons -The Passion Food Hospitality restaurant group’s owners, Chef Jeff Tunks, Gus Dimillo, and David Wizenberg have a longstanding tradition of offering any entree on their regular menus while offering selected appetizers and desserts for the restaurant week prix-fixe menu. Their latest project District Commons will participate in DC Restaurant Week for the first time. I have been to every single one of their restaurants, except the newest, and I have never had but an exceptional meal. Between all of the sister restaurants, there is a variety of of cuisine types from down home Southern cookin’ at Acadiana to delicious seafood from the Mid-Atlantic region at DC Coast. If you’re dining with kid’s, PassionFish is a must visit. The kid’s menu is thoughtful and your kids will love their fun presentations.
19. Jackson 20 – Located in the Hotel Monoco in Old Town, Alexandria, VA, Jackson 20 is a modern American tavern featuring regional fare inspired by traditional recipes. In the past, Jackson 20 has offered their entire menu at all for both lunch and dinner, and in addition, continued to offer their beverage specials, including bottomless mimosas for brunch, Wine Down Mondays and their 20/20 wine list (20 wines for $20). Jackson 20 is also participating in Alexandria Restaurant Week (the week following DC Restaurant Week) with the same menus.
20. Tosca Ristorante – For past promotions, Chef Massimo Fabri has offered the entire regular dinner menu to diners to create their own 3-course menu. Diners have a choice of any appetizer for first course; for second course, choose an entree and to finish any Dessert. Executive Chef Massimo Fabbri has earned a superior reputation for making some of the best pasta in the city, which is house-made fresh daily, Tosca ranked within the top 25 of Washingtonian’s Very Best list two years in a row earning three stars out of four. If you can’t make it for DC Restaurant Week, don’t fret. Tosca has a wonderful pre-theatre dinner for $35 with wonderful choices. *Note: Closed Sundays.