With a 1950s feel, the bar at Johnny’s Half Shell is stocked with House and Senate staffers looking to enjoy discounted oysters and cocktails. In the dining room, waiters in white jackets dish out chef Ann Cashion’s ode to Southern waters: Cajun barbecue shrimp with cheesy grits, fried Chesapeake oysters with pickled vegetables, a killer New Orleans gumbo, and Maryland crabcakes. Desserts, including pecan and coconut pies, are a treat.
It’s another dose of Southern at Art and Soul, a sleek dining room from Chicago chef Art Smith that counts Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi as fans. But this isn’t a ladies-who-lunch spot for light eaters. The best parts of the menu—hoe cakes topped with fried oysters and rémoulade, a crabcake smothered in bacon-flavored spread, a Cinnabon-inspired pie—are caloric extravaganzas. You’ll also find upscale snow cones flavored with peaches, tea, and vodka.
Charlie Palmer, the owner of Charlie Palmer Steak, paved the way for a parade of celebrity chefs who have reinvented Washington’s steakhouse culture. The restaurant’s interior—high ceilings, glass wine rack, views of the Capitol—is tonier than the clubby standard. And despite the beefy name, executive chef Matt Hill’s seafood can be as rewarding as the dry-aged red meat. The menu changes seasonally, but look for coriander-crusted Kona kampachi, oysters on the half shell, a duo of foie gras, and mushroom and gnocchi sides.
A couple of blocks away is the softly lit hotel restaurant Bistro Bis, a favorite for breakfast meetings and after-work drinks. But it’s more than just a back-slapping spot. The kitchen—overseen by Vidalia chef/owner Jeff Buben—serves some of the best French fare in town, such as steamed mussels in saffron broth, hearty onion soup, and a great steak frites. The cheese cart is a reason to linger.
Across the street from Eastern Market is Acqua al 2 (212 Seventh St., SE; 202-525-4375), a cozy Italian dining room that had a loyal following even before it opened earlier this year. That’s because the original location in Florence has long been a hit with American college kids studying abroad. Although much of the menu is devoted to steaks and chops, pastas are the primary reason to brave the crowds. You can sample them with a shareable five-course tasting menu; just make sure the Gorgonzola gnocchi is a part of it—it’s the star of the menu.
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