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Uncorked: Good Food, Good Wine
Comments () | Published February 1, 2007
Evening Star Cafe is an underappreciated gem, with more than 500 of its 900-plus wines priced at $30 or less. Photograph by Kathryn Norwood.

Underappreciated Gems

Evening Star Cafe (Jose Gonzalez and Kerry Carlsen). With the area’s third largest wine list, and by far the least expensive, Evening Star Cafe should receive some sort of Presidential citation for making so many wines affordable to drink on a daily basis. An astounding achievement that should be the envy of all other restaurants. (942 wines, 509 under $30—not a misprint!)

Tallula (Josh Radigan). Everyone should know about Tallula, which offers more inexpensive wines than anyone else in town other than its sibling, Evening Star Cafe. Buying bottles is the way to go here, as prices are a mere $10 above what they are at Planet Wine next door. (267 wines, 143 under $30.)

Legal Sea Foods. Perhaps the greatest wine list in the country for a national chain, including terrific half bottles such as 1999 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frederic Emile for $26. Bravo! (Verizon Center location: 160 wines, 101 $40 or less, 28 by the glass.)

The Crossing at Casey Jones. Charles County wine lovers don’t need to venture into the city—they have their own little oasis in La Plata. The list is downright cheap, and while it doesn’t have a lot of depth except in Champagne, it has excellent breadth of wines from around the world. (146 wines, 72 under $30, 34 under $20—that’s less than $4 a glass!)

Wine Bars

Grapeseed. One of the only restaurants around town where it pays to order wine by the glass, Grapeseed would be the perfect wine bar if only the reds weren’t served too warm. A remarkable effort for liquor-restricted Montgomery County. (311 wines, 72 $40 or less, 107 by the glass.)

Sonoma. The wine list here is not even close to what it used to be, and Sonoma has taken a clear back seat to Grapeseed for the overall quality of its program. But unlike Grapeseed, Sonoma serves its reds at the proper temperature and has a state-of-the-art storage system. (128 wines, 21 $40 or less, 38 by the glass.)

Good

Belga Café. Chef Bart Vandaele has relied primarily on two local importers—Olivier Daubresse and Laurent Givry—for this diner-friendly list, which features interesting wines by the glass and $10 carafes of good, drinkable house wines to complement an excellent list of 110 Belgian beers. (125 wines, 62 $40 or less, 35 by the glass; $25 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)

Bebo Trattoria (Matteo Graziani). Roberto Donna’s new Crystal City restaurant isn’t just serving good food; it also has one of the best Italian-wine lists in town, full of bargains both by the glass and the bottle. (88 wines, 57 $40 or less.)

Komi (Adam Curling). Curling, a recent arrival from the Inn at Little Washington, has assumed stewardship of this small list of young, easy-drinking wines from a broad selection of regions around the world. (85 wines, 31 $50 or less; $25 corkage per bottle, three-bottle maximum.)

Black’s Bar and Kitchen (Troy Beeler). Black’s list is rife with overpriced wines, but it gets bonus points for mounting a serious effort in spite of Montgomery County’s antiquarian liquor policies. (255 wines, 43 $40 or less, 27 by the glass.)

Firefly. Chef John Wabeck has maintained a diverse and well-chosen list of wines by the bottle. Unfortunately, Firefly’s by-the-glass selections are no longer the good, interesting values they used to be. (89 wines, 28 $40 or less; $15 corkage per bottle, two-bottle maximum.)

Johnny’s Half Shell. Co-owner Johnny Fulchino has done a great job organizing this list into light, medium, and full-bodied categories. Johnny’s also takes the progressive step of naming the importers in its thoughtful by-the-glass program. (89 bottles, 33 $40 or less; $25 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)

Zaytinya. A fascinating array of obscure yet food-friendly wines from Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel makes this list affordable and worth exploring. (123 wines, 46 $40 or less; $20 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)

Buck’s Fishing & Camping. Co-owner James Alefantis has fashioned a progressive but modest list of relatively young European quaffers, most of which emphasize medium weight and bright fruit. (41 wines, 30 $40 or less; $20 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)

Luxurious But Expensive

Marcel’s (Ramon Narvaez). Narvaez has done an excellent job in the past year with this program, adding lots of well-priced selections from around the world to supplement Marcel’s traditionally high-end list. (410 wines, 131 $60 or less; $35 corkage per bottle, no maximum.)

The Willard Room (Caterina Abbruzzetti). Abbruzzetti, who previously worked at 2941 and Citronelle, has improved upon a frightfully expensive wine program by slipping in some bargains. The service in this magnificent dining room is as lavish as anywhere in Washington. (463 wines, 122 $60 or less; $30 corkage per bottle, one-bottle maximum.)

CityZen (Andy Myers). A restaurant of CityZen’s caliber desperately needs more strength in Burgundy and Bordeaux, but new sommelier Myers has done a good job of smoothing out last year’s pricing inconsistencies and has bolstered the list with less-expensive wines from around the world. (584 wines, 109 $60 or less; $50 corkage per bottle, two-bottle maximum.)

Charlie Palmer Steak (Nadine Brown). Elegant, polished service makes a phenomenally expensive list a bit easier to swallow. Ask for Brown’s assistance in finding an obscure bargain; without her help, you’ll be doomed to drinking overpriced Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. (644 wines—all American, 143 $60 or less; no corkage fee for American wines, two-bottle maximum, $25 for others.)

Restaurant Eve (Todd Thrasher). This interesting list is made more affordable by relying on wines from five continents rather than concentrating on European juggernauts. The versatile Thrasher runs a tight, professional dining room, and is also the mixologist behind the cutting-edge cocktails at PX lounge. (297 wines, 89 $60 or less.)

Kinkead’s (Michael Flynn). Even though Flynn is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable sommeliers in the area, time is quickly passing this wine program by. The service is excellent, and the selection is still quite good, but I’d like to see lower prices and a better-organized list by next year. (400 wines, 80 $60 or less; $15 corkage per bottle, two-bottle maximum.)

Ristorante Tosca. Tosca narrowly made the cut this year, mainly because the service is good and the wine list is well-organized, with the less-expensive wines featured prominently in front. (256 wines, 86 $60 or less.)

Le Paradou (Nicolas Mandot and Didier Tatelo). The most outrageously priced wine list in Washington has so many triple digits, you’ll think you’re playing a slot machine. To its credit, Le Paradou recently added two sections at the beginning of its Tolstoyan wine book—“house wines” and “sommelier recommendations,” both of which feature less-expensive bottles. Note to savvy billionaires: The 2002 DRC Romanee-Conti is on the list for “only” $1,900; the market value for that wine recently soared to over $5,000. (1,678 wines, a paltry 55 $60 or less.)

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 02/01/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles