18 2941 Restaurant ★★★
2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church | 703-270-1500
Cuisine: Founding chef Jonathan Krinn has left, but the high-minded, high-priced menu—which calls itself contemporary American but is grounded in classical French technique and flaunts its Asian accents—remains much the same. Scott Bryan, most recently of Veritas in New York, has been minding the kitchen until a new chef, Bertrand Chemel (formerly of Café Boulud in New York), arrives in January.
Mood: Intended as a wooded retreat from the stress of the city and the Beltway, this suburban fantasia bespeaks new money, from the manmade lake outside to the soaring interior with angled mirrors, glass walls, and sumptuous oil paintings.
Best for: A big date, an important business dinner, a special occasion.
Best dishes: Supremely smooth celery-root velouté with black truffles; chilled lobster salad, its sweet, lightly poached claw meat set off by a fava-bean purée and white asparagus; well-seared foie gras with a vanilla-scented pineapple confit; crisp-skinned filet of snapper in a green curry of elegant lightness; slowly braised short ribs with a creamy potato purée and a rich Bordelaise sauce; warm apple turnovers with butterscotch ice cream.
Insider tips: Krinn’s father has left, too, but his terrific bread recipes remain. So does the signature parting gift—a fluffy bowl of cotton candy, which follows an ample selection of petits fours. Unless you’re famished, it’s best to go light at the start and finish. And give attention to the wine list, which includes, among the big-name estates from France and California, reasonably priced selections from up and down the East Coast.
19 Marcel’s ★★★
2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW | 202-296-1166
Cuisine: Chef Robert Wiedmaier’s labor-intensive Franco-Belgian fare doesn’t stint on butter and cream, and his reductions and sauces—dark, rich, and complex—are reminiscent of an earlier age.
Mood: Silver domes and attentive, black-suited waiters make this expansive dining room with art-nouveau accents one of the most pampering palaces in town.
Best for: High-maintenance Francophiles and the Kennedy Center–bound who come for the great pretheater deal: $48 for three courses and a chauffeured Caddy or Mercedes to the performance.
Best dishes: An earthy roasted-chestnut soup with disks of house-made venison sausage; boudin blanc with celery-root purée and an intense Cabernet reduction; roasted pheasant with a terrine of pheasant confit; roasted figs with thyme mille feuille and honey goat cheese; blood-orange sorbet; chocolate-chip-mint ice cream.
Insider tips: Book the pretheater ride with your dinner reservation. Appetizers and desserts usually show more savoir-faire than entrées do. You can also sup in the swanky bar, where a jazz pianist plays Tuesday through Saturday.
20 Ristorante Tosca ★★★
1112 F St., NW | 202-367-1990
Cuisine: Rich, luxurious northern Italian—house-made pastas, intensely flavored game—with lofty aspirations and prices. You’ll wish you had a fatter wallet along with a bigger belt.
Mood: Clubby, with affable Italian-accented waiters in cream-colored jackets assuring diners they’ve chosen the best dish. With many of the city’s top law firms nearby, someone’s surely treating a client to dinner and billing him for the pleasure.
Best for: Power lunches and dinners, dinner before a show at the Warner or National, a special dinner out.
Best dishes: Silken carrot pappardelle in a rabbit ragu; kabocha-squash tortelli floating in a truffled Parmesan sauce; roasted veal tenderloin with porcini mushrooms and farro; rack of venison with beet tartare and currant sauce; a fascinating Gorgonzola ice cream served three ways, including with a delicious slaw of celery, fennel, and pear.
Insider tips: Chef Massimo Fabbri’s menu offers so much variety that it can spark arguments among couples intending to share. Don’t ignore the tasting menus—each item can be ordered à la carte. Pastas can be ordered by the half portion, which is advisable for a second course—or if you want to try more than one. Early diners can take advantage of the $35 three-course pretheater menu. Groups of four to eight can make an evening of dinner by reserving the chef’s table in the kitchen, where Fabbri cooks a seven-to-nine-course meal for $105 a person—a relative bargain.