15 Westend Bistro ★★★
1190 22nd St., NW | 202-974-4900
Cuisine: The long-awaited Washington outpost of Eric Ripert’s growing culinary empire is no note-for-note re-creation of his revered Le Bernardin in New York. Ripert has dispensed with the formal elegance of his flagship, along with its purely piscatory focus, opting for a roster of classics—fish stews, braised veal cheeks, pasta Bolognese, even a hamburger—all rendered with the touch of a four-star chef.
Mood: The generic upscale design does little to create a specific sense of place in the glass-walled ground floor of downtown DC’s Ritz-Carlton—you could be in any hotel in any city in the world. But there is buzz: In the early weeks, young, well-heeled diners flocked to the place, dishing knowingly about the pouty-lipped chef between sighs over the food.
Best for: People looking for the elegance and finesse of dining out at the highest level without the formality and the fuss—or the exorbitant prices.
Best dishes: Creamy West Coast oysters; mini fish burgers topped with shaved fennel; rich and zesty tagliatelle Bolognese; veal cheeks in a buttery pillow of potato purée; Chesapeake seafood stew abundant with shellfish, its broth intense and light; poached skate wing and braised endive in a lush brown-butter sauce; chocolate-caramel cream topped with sea salt.
Insider tips: If you’ve never eaten at Le Bernardin and wonder what the fuss is about, zero in on two dishes: The salmon rillettes is the same recipe as the one served in Manhattan, and the Chesapeake seafood stew, though shy of four-star elegance, hews to the parent kitchen’s philosophy of seeking out the freshest fish and treating it with reverence. You won’t find mini fish burgers at Le Bernardin, but don’t miss them here: The two-biters—served three to an order on the bar menu—are even more satisfying than the regular-size fish burger. They’re also easier to share and a lot cheaper.
16 Obelisk ★★★
2029 P St., NW | 202-872-1180
Cuisine: Slightly modern takes on regional Italian as delicious as if you were eating them in Emilia-Romagna. The handwritten menu, $65 for five courses, changes daily.
Mood: A sparely appointed townhouse with the feel of a low-key dinner party. This is not the place to discuss family or state secrets.
Best for: Diners as passionate about things Italian and artisanal—the burrata is shipped in daily from Puglia—as chef/owner Peter Pastan, who travels to Italy yearly in search of the new and wonderful, and anyone weary of impersonal restaurant experiences.
Best dishes: Antipasti such as squid stewed with chard; airy fried rice balls with mozzarella; burrata drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with cracked pepper and fleur de sel; plump house-made pork sausages with pickled onions. Rustic plates such as roasted quail with spinach; a luscious chocolate pudding with fresh whipped cream; Sicilian breakfast, a layered parfait of grape granita and yogurt cream with a miniature turban of brioche.
Insider tips: The antipasti and cheese courses are the highlights of this generous meal, and desserts are full of whimsy. By comparison, main courses can seem uninspired, so load up early and save room for the finish.
17 Corduroy ★★★
1201 K St., NW | 202-589-0699
Cuisine: Down-to-earth roasts, masterful salads, elegant soups, and terrifically fresh seafood from culinary craftsman Tom Power, who quietly wows from the kitchen but eschews the spotlight.
Mood: It’s a testament to the chef’s skill that Corduroy’s many fans have been filling this blandly functional setting—the corduroy-covered menus are the restaurant’s most striking design touch—for so long. In March, Power will move out of the Sheraton Four Points hotel and into a more fitting setting: a 19th-century townhouse a few blocks away with intimate dining rooms and an open kitchen.
Best for: Dining by yourself—or spending happy hour—at the bar presided over by smart, friendly bartenders.
Best dishes: A warm mushroom-and-frisée salad with a lightly poached duck egg; red-snapper bisque; goat cheese wrapped in frizzled potatoes; seared bigeye tuna over sushi rice; meaty sea scallops over garlic mashed potatoes; braised pork belly with Savoy cabbage; classic roasted chicken with a deliciously crisped skin; a perfect crème brûlée; chocolate tart with bananas; house-made chocolate and vanilla ice creams.
Insider tips: Don’t skip dessert: Power learned pastry during his long tenure with Michel Richard, and while his desserts—save for a faithful rendition of Richard’s famous “Kit Kat” bar—are simpler than his mentor’s, they’re almost always perfect.