The last long weekend of summer is almost here, and there's plenty of fun to be had in the city if you can't make it to the beach.
Graffiato’s Italian barbecue
707 Sixth St., NW
Try a different style of ‘cue at Mike Isabella’s Italian, which serves an eclectic meal with brisket, Chinatown-style ribs, cacio e pepe pasta, baked white beans, and artichoke slaw ($25 per person). The meal is offered through Sunday.
Crab roast at Kapnos Taverna
4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Over in Ballston, Mike Isabella serves a crab feast five ways that can be enjoyed on the restaurant’s new patio. Platters for two-to-four guests include a grilled king crab leg, crispy soft shell crab, steamed Maryland blue crab, Maryland blue crab keftedes (like a meatball), and lump crab imperial, all with assorted Greek side dishes ($85). The special is offered through Sunday. The with assorted Greek sides and serves 2-4 people for $85.
The Embassy Row Hotel pool party
2015 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Stop by the Embassy Row Hotel in Dupont on Saturday for a rooftop pool party hosted by HOT 99.5. Celebrate the last weekend of summer with cocktails, swimming, grilling, and tunes from a DJ. Tickets cost $45, and doors open at 2.
Epicurience Virginia food festival
Morven Park, Leesburg, VA
Head to Virginia wine country on Saturday for the Epicurience Festival grand tasting, where you can try some of dishes from big-name chefs alongside local wine, beer, and spirits. Culinary activities include cooking demos, wine blending 101, and a butchery seminar. General admission tickets ($85), VIP ($145), and designated driver passes ($50) are available. Doors open at noon for general admission, and 11 for VIP ticket holders. Purchase tickets online.
DNV Rooftop pool party
1155 14th St., NW
Spend Sunday night at a pool party on the DNV Rooftop listening to live music and sipping craft cocktails. General admission tickets cost $40 and include swimming access to the pool—typically reserved for hotel guests—complimentary snacks from Zentan, unlimited Tokyo dogs, a welcome cocktail, and a cash bar. For big spenders, VIP tickets cost $550 (though one ticket covers 8 guests), and include perks like a private cabana and bottle service. Doors open at 6.
City Tap House crab feast
901 Ninth St., NW
You don’t have to leave the city to dig into steamed Maryland blue crabs. Stop by City Tap House’s Crab Fest on Monday from 2 to 6 for crustaceans by the half-dozen ($19) and dozen ($38), paired with sides like old bay fries with aioli, hushpuppies, and corn on the cob. To wash it down, the restaurant is featuring beer from Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, MD and Burley Oak Brewing Company in Berlin, MD. Sides cost between $5 and $8, and beer prices range from $5 to $13.
Al fresco happy hour at Boqueria
1837 M St., NW
Wind down the weekend on this Spanish spot’s patio, where you’ll find a happy hour menu from 3 to 7. Specials include $4 draft beers, $5 sangria, $6 cava, and discount tapas ($5 to $6), such as crispy potatoes with roasted garlic aioli and cinnamon-dusted churros.
September 1 is National Gyro Day, and we’d like to celebrate a rare form of the popular Greek sandwich: homemade gyros (pronounced "yeeros"). The protein cylinders found spinning in delis and food trucks are most often processed "meat cones" purchased from a gyro meat supplier, and can contain MSG, soy extenders, and hidden allergens such as wheat and lactose.
That’s not to say all cones are the equivalent of Grecian Spam. Quality versions exist, and “Chicago gyros”—as they’re called due to the Windy City’s Kronos Foods, the largest producer in the world—are a style in their own right. Some of the DC’s most popular Greek spots, such as Zorba’s Cafe and the Greek Deli, outsource their gyro meat. Homemade versions require a lot of time, labor, and are generally more expensive for both the kitchen and consumer. That being said, the flavor payoff is huge. Instead of spongy, salty strips, a truly homemade gyro yields a pile of roasted meat, some parts juicy and others crispy from time on the spit.
4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
Chef Mike Isabella’s new Greek spot in Ballston is gyro central at lunchtime, offering five varieties stuffed with spit-roasted meats, falafel, or salmon. We’re partial to the lamb variety—a similar version can be found at sister G sandwich shop in DC—where a tangle of juicy, crisp-edged meat is piled atop freshly hearth-baked flatbread with tzatziki, dill, shaved radishes, and pickled onions ($14 a la carte; $15 as an express lunch with a side and soft drink).
110 Lawyers Rd., NW, Vienna
Head to this cozy counter-order spot in Vienna for the ambrosia of gyros, arguably the best in Washington. Marinated pork shoulder stands in for beef or lamb, stacked on a spit that spins slowly for hours. Not only is the tender meat sublime, but so are the accompaniments: bright tzatziki, crunchy red onions, and a handful of crispy fries ($8.50). The kitchen also offers an outsourced beef-lamb “Chicago Gyro,” but we opt for the house special every time.
1734 N St., NW
The daily-rotating lunchtime gyro from chef Anthony Chittum is as far from a “meat cone” as one can get. The filling varies by season and local availability; one might find tender hunks of lamb, or today, a slow-roasted Berkshire pork shoulder. All arrive atop house-made pita with yoghurt sauce, tangy feta, grilled red onion, fat slices of local tomato, and olive oil-fried potatoes ($14).
4806 Rugby Ave., Bethesda; 1946 New Hampshire Ave., NW
While a number of places offer roasted meat gyros, Yamas builds their own traditional cone. Chef Sofia Lemus marinates halal beef and lamb for 24 hours in garlic and herbs, layers alternating slices in a cylindrical shape, and slow-roasts the meats on a spit. The peppery shavings are stuffed into fresh pita with plenty of tzatziki ($8.95). Note a fast-casual spinoff of the Bethesda cafe has opened in the District.
1140 19th St., NW
This fast-casual chain out of New York takes more care with its meat than your average quick-grab place, stuffing their “yeeros” with locally-sourced chicken, pork, or a combination of lamb and beef. The meats turn on spits behind the counter, creating an appetizing display. Following the Chipotle model, diners can opt for sandwiches or platters, and pick between three tzatzikis (try the habanero-spiked “kaftero” for kick). Another perk is a marinated portabello mushroom filling for vegetarians.
We understand that making meals sound special week in and week out isn’t easy. But Tom Sietsema, the Washington Post’s longtime food critic, has been using a certain metaphor with increasing frequency, leaving us less than appetized. A brief timeline:
This article appears in our September 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Factory sessions: Dolcezza Factory near Union Market hosts Baby Bry Bry & The Apologists on Monday for a performance at 8. Stumptown Coffee Roasters provides guests with a complimentary coffee, while cans of DC Brau will also be available for purchase. Tickets ($10) are available online. The event is open to all ages.
Vegan beer dinner: Mad Fox Brewing Company hosts a vegan beer dinner at their Falls Church location on Monday from 7 to 10. The five-course meal features dishes like chickpea fritters and tofu pad thai, all paired with the pub's own brews. Purchase tickets ($75) online.
Rural reception: Chef Tarver King and the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm host a fundraising reception for tableware design studio Cloud Terre on Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30. Guests can nibble on locally-foraged snacks, drink local wines and Catoctin Creek cocktails, and chat with ceramicists Amber Kendrick and Ernie Niblack. Tickets ($45) can be purchased online, with funds going towards the Cloud Terre’s Kickstarter campaign.
Floral dinner: The Field to Vase tour arrives in Washington with a boquet-filled dinner at LynnVale Farm on Thursday from 5 to 8. The Gainesville, Virginia business sells over 100 varieties of flowers to local farmers markets, and partners with chef Michael Kozich of Bluewater Kitchen for the four-course meal. Tickets ($175) are available online.
Gourmet symphony: Visit the Hamilton on Thursday at 8 for a dinner and live orchestra performance. Mingle with the players while dining on a four-course meal from host chef Anthony Lombardo and Andrew Markert of Beuchert’s Saloon. Seating is available at tables of six to eight. Musical offerings include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Tickets ($99 to $175) are available online.
Two buck beers: Open Road Grille & Icehouse celebrates its second anniversary on Thursday with $2 pints starting at 11, and live entertainment beginning at 4. Guests can order off the menu of American specialties.
Food festival: The Epicurience Virginia festival returns to Loudon County from Thursday to Saturday. A varied schedule includes dinners with big-name chefs like Bryan Voltaggio and Tarver King, local beer and wine tastings, live music, butchery demos, and more. Purchase tickets ($50 to $150) online.
Cuban-style brunch: Bastille channels Havanna for a special Sunday brunch from 11:30 to 2. A la carte items include a Cuban sandwich with fried eggs and a rum-based Cuba libre cocktail, all of which can be consumed to recordings from the Buena Vista Social Club.
In the District
524 Eighth St., SE; 202-506-2445
Vibrant jars of pickles on display hint at the meal to come at locavore chef Rob Weland’s first solo venture. (He was formerly at Cork and Poste.) A partnership with Maryland’s One Acre Farm influences the menu, filled with a bounty of vegetables—nettle-and-ricotta ravioli with chanterelles; yogurt-sauced eggplant—and wood-fired meats and fish. Bar consultant Gina Chersevani is behind such sips as gin with house-pickled peaches.
1340 Fourth St., NE; 202-608-1330
A tasting-menu-only dining room in the middle of the warehouses flanking Union Market? It may seem incongruous, but former Bibiana chef Nick Stefanelli is giving it a go at this gorgeous industrial-chic dining room. The menus—including three courses for $62 and five for $84—showcase ambitious Italian dishes such as tripe braised in Sicilian lobster broth, and they can be paired with wines chosen by former CityZen sommelier David Kurka. An enclosed courtyard set with wishbone chairs and Spanish tile is the place to sample a rotating cigar selection.
1731 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-787-1500
Boston chef Michael Schlow—who also owns the Mexican small-plates spot Tico on DC’s 14th Street—is behind this retro, supper-club-inspired restaurant in the Carlyle hotel. Certain elements are truly classic—tablecloths, steak with béarnaise, Harvey Wallbanger cocktails—while others are riffs on tradition (try the jalapeño tater tots). Bringing the vibe into the 21st century are big, colorful paintings by the chef/owner’s wife, Adrienne Schlow, and a playlist that mixes Sinatra with the Afro-Cuban All Stars.
In a move that may surprise those in Memphis and Kansas City, DC has popped up on a national list ranking the best ribs in the nation. The Daily Meal, a culinary website founded by former Saveur editor Colman Andrews, included Rocklands Barbecue on its annual list of America’s 35 Best Ribs. The District-based ‘cue company clocked in at last place, which is still pretty good considering the competition in Texas, Tennessee, etc.
So how did this happen? Restaurants made the list through a combination of positive online reviews, past ranking on best-of lists, and the opinions of “rib experts” as well as editorial staff. Rocklands beef and pork ribs won points for their “gorgeous pink hue” after smoking over red oak and hickory. Other regional mentions on the list include Baltimore’s Chaps Charcoal Restaurant (#24) and Alamo BBQ in Richmond (#12).
Though DC’s inclusion may be surprising, our barbecue scene is getting more national attention than ever (thanks, Ice T).
The Obamas have been hitting a number of DC’s culinary hotspots this summer, including the President’s birthday celebration at Rose’s Luxury, and a dinner for the First Lady at Maketto. The most recent sighting: President Obama at Fiola on Friday.
While many other restaurant trips have been social affairs—including the First Family's meal last year at sister venture Fiola Mare—the President's Friday stop was purely business. He was greeted by owners chef Fabio and Maria Trabocchi before partaking in a private, closed-door meeting. There’s no word on whether or not the President dined, though we couldn’t imagine meeting at Fiola without at least a snack.
2052 West Virginia Ave., NE #202
A historic distillery that shuttered during prohibition has been resurrected in DC by a veteran team, and is still in the soft-opening phase. That shouldn’t stop you from dropping by on Saturday to try homemade gin cocktails in their two bars—whiskey will come with the grand debut in September—or take a tour of the Ivy City facility. The building neighbors Atlas Brew Works, New Columbia Distillers, and One Eight Distilling, so make a boozy day of it and taste around (just don’t drive).
3605 14th St., NW
Columbia Heights is home to a new gastropub that offers more than the typical beers and burgers—though there’s plenty of those, too. The place offers everything a neighborhood could want: Old Overholt-infused soft serve, deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwiches, and a lengthy weekend brunch. English Premier League and German Bundesliga soccer may be playing.
1400 K St., NW
Add one more to DC’s list of vowel-free restaurants. The sons of the Dulles Kabob and Reston Kabob owners hit the city with a modern, fast-casual kabob concept near McPherson square. Guests pick between bowls or wraps made with fresh naan or flatbread, and fill them with various grilled proteins and white bean falafel, toppings, and sauces (charred chutney sounds tasty). Sweetening the deal: locally-made treats from Baklava Couture.
1309 5th St., NE
Visitors to the Noma market will see some new faces. Arepa Zone officially set up shop this week, dishing out Venezuelan specialties like their signature arepa sandwiches, sweet and savory cachapas (corn cakes), and crispy cheese fritters. Right around the corner, Khao Poon DC crafts Laotian noodle bowls, soups, and curries. The pop-up is a preview of the upcoming restaurant from Thip Khao and chef Deth Khaiaphone.
207 King St., Alexandria
Wine drinkers can channel California in Alexandria at this wine bar, which pours over 180 bottles from Sonoma County, and a small selection from local Virginia producers. Tasting isn’t reserved to vino—a varied menu mixes snacks, sandwiches, Cali-style fish tacos, box lunches for those on the go, and dog treats for canine pals.