Old-timers That Are Still Going Strong
**** Grapeseed (4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592). A major renovation and expansion has this “American bistro and wine bar” looking like a slice of wine country. Each California-inspired dish is designed to pair with a particular wine, though the wine list is longer than the menu, with many wines offered by the taste or the glass. The strong list excels in the “other” category of unusual blends and grape varieties, bolder wines to match the bold flavors of the cooking.
Insider tip: Portions tend to be large, but it’s easy to fashion a meal out of several appetizers—each listed with a suggested wine pairing available by the taste or glass.
*** Dino (3435 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-686-2966). Modeled after a Venetian enoteca, Dino is the area’s best restaurant for exploring Italian wines. Here’s the place to try a dry, sparkling red wine with prosciutto and cheese or to enjoy a refreshing glass of Dal Maso “Ca Fischele,” a bracing white from the Veneto region of northern Italy, and a salad of farro and porcini.
Insider tip: “Wine Madness” on Sundays and Mondays, when wines priced at more than $50 are discounted by a third, is the time to scour the 47-page “Dino wine book”—a list of costlier gems such as the Sertoli Sartis Sforzato di Valtellina “Canua” 2002. “Wine Wednesdays” offer three antipasti with wine pairings for $25.
** Bistrot Lepic (1736 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-0111). An early entrant on the wine-bar scene, this lounge with comfortable chairs and sofas is a great place to relax with friends over a glass of mineraly Gigondas and a plate of crusty pig’s feet in mustard sauce.
Insider tip: The wine bar is now what the French call a “wistro,” featuring wi-fi for wine-loving workaholics.
** Sonoma (223 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-544-8088). Owners Eli Hengst and Jared Rager don’t consider themselves wine experts, but they take wine seriously. Both Sonoma and Redwood, their new restaurant/wine bar in Bethesda, have Winekeeper preservation systems that keep the wines cool and protected from oxygen. The selection at Sonoma features West Coast and Italian wines, and the menu offers American favorites such as pizza and a fist-size burger made with dry-aged beef.
Insider tip: The bartenders are generous in offering sample tastes, making the bar the best place to sip and experiment.
**** Evo Bistro (1313 Old Chain Bridge Rd., McLean; 703-288-4422). The high-tech wine dispenser—with a debit card, customers select one-, three-, or five-ounce pours of up to 32 wines—sounds like a gimmick, but it’s a fun and educational way to choose among a wide range of wines from around the world. While upward of $5 an ounce makes for an expensive glass of wine, here’s a chance to taste some premium labels. Silver Oak Cabernet and Penfolds Grange are seldom available by the taste or glass at any price.
Insider tip: Good as the wines can be, the terrific Spanish and Moroccan-style tapas are the real reason to drop by.
** Grand Cru (4401 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-243-7900). A combination wine store and cafe, Grand Cru succeeds mostly with its quirky retail selection, which outshines the menu of rather pedestrian tapas. The wines favor the unusual grape varieties of the eastern Mediterranean—Greece and around through Israel—and pretty labels.
Insider tip: You can pluck a wine from the shelf and have it with dinner for $5 to $7 above the retail price—a good deal on wines that sell for $30 and up.
** Mrs. K’s Toll House (9201 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-589-3500). A $1-million renovation turned the basement of this aging Silver Spring landmark into a faux chateau wine cellar with vintage-brick walls and massive wine vaults. The list of more than 600 wines—50 by the glass—seems priced more for Potomac than for Silver Spring, but anyone who says a good wine list is impossible in Montgomery County should pay heed.
Insider tip: Check out the antique hand-operated wine press.
** Oakville Grille & Wine Bar (10257 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-897-9100). A popular hangout for ladies who lunch, this Napa-themed spinoff of the Geppetto pizza restaurant offers a nice selection of New World wines, with more than a dozen by the glass. There’s a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay on the list but also a terrific Poet’s Leap Riesling from Washington state. Enjoy it with simpler dishes such as steamed mussels or grilled salmon.
Insider tip: An appetizer and glass of wine make a satisfying quick dinner before a concert at the nearby Music Center at Strathmore.
* Bardeo (3309 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-6550). This sibling of the adjacent Ardeo restaurant is looking tired, with a lackluster wine selection, indifferent service, and so-so food.
* Vinoteca (1940 11th St., NW; 202-332-9463). The wine list is mired in geographic confusion, with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner and several Italian whites listed under “New World” while a Sonoma Pinot Noir and an Argentinean Malbec have been transplanted to the Old World. The inattention to detail carries over to the food.
Editor's note: Vinoteca has changed its wine list and menu since Dave McIntyre visited it to research this story. The revamped wine list is longer and well organized—even if the staff isn’t as knowledgeable as some—and the small plates sent out by the new chef, Russell Jones, and his team are solid and sometimes memorable.—November 2008
This article appeared in the October, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.