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Traditional spring meals, Greek Easter celebrations, and a vegan buffet. By Anna Spiegel
Casa Luca serves a prix-fixe tasting alongside a la carte dishes like crescia with smoked salmon. Photograph courtesy of Casa Luca.

Easter is this Sunday, April 5, and plenty of restaurants around Washington are celebrating. Many of our 100 Best Restaurants are joining the festivities, offering special brunches, Greek Easter festivities (most of which are Sunday, April 12), all-day prix-fixe menus, and in one case, a vegan-friendly spread.

Casa Luca

1099 New York Ave., NW

Guests can opt for an a la carte Easter brunch at chef Fabio Trabocchi’s osteria, or go in for a $65 tasting menu that includes a fresh pastry basket, three courses, and bottomless brunch drinks.


705 Sixth St., NW

This Japanese izakaya serves an Asian spin on the traditional Easter brunch, with springtime small-plates like a fried Jidori chicken egg and caviar, miso-glazed carrots with rabbit sausage, and a merengue with seasonal berries.


818 Connecticut Ave., NW

Vegetarians and vegans looking to celebrate can head to Todd Gray’s “VegEaster” market buffet brunch from 11 to 3. The meal begins with a complimentary glass of sparking wine or cider, followed by a spread with the likes of grilled asparagus with shaved cashew cheese and black truffle vinaigrette, a spring risotto station, and raspberry jam bars. ($40 per person).

Et Voila!

5120 MacArthur Blvd., NW

Festive brunch and dinner specials round out the regular menu at this Palisades bistro, such as lobster salad, braised lamb shank and artichokes over gnocchi, and a chocolate egg dessert.


707 Sixth St., NW

Mike Isabella goes casual for Easter at his Italian restaurant, offering a few holiday additions to the regular brunch menu like a sweet pea frittata, or shrimp and grits with Old Bay beurre blanc.

Inn at Little Washington

309 Middle St., Washington, Virginia

Chef Patrick O’Connell creates a special Easter multi-course tasting menu at his destination restaurant, with dishes like lightly scrambled eggs with wild morels, chilled Maine lobster Napoleon with Ossetra caviar, and roasted pheasant. Guests can also pick between two other tasting menu options for the seatings, which begin at 4 (starting at $188 per person).

Iron Gate

1734 N St., NW

The atmospheric Dupont restaurant celebrates both Easters with an Italian brunch menu on April 4 and 5, and a Greek version on April 11 and 12. The meals begin with family-style appetizers, followed by dishes like wood-roasted mushroom lasagna (Italian), or a rotisserie of local lamb (Greek). Both menus are $65 per person.


2201 14th St., NW

Skip cooking and let chef Mike Isabella’s team handle the feast with a special catering menu served for both Catholic Easter (April 5) and Greek Orthodox Easter (April 12). A bountiful menu includes spit-roasted lamb, chicken, or pork, dips and spreads, and sides like lemony potatoes and dolmades.

Lupo Verde

1401 T St., NW

Celebrate Pasquetta, or “Little Easter,” on Saturday, April 4 at this neighborhood Italian, which serves special $25 plates of wood-grilled meats like lamb and sausages, pizzas, homemade pastas, and market panzanella salad. The menu is offered exclusively on the outdoor patio.

Osteria Morini

301 Water St., SE

The regular brunch menu at this waterfront Italian restaurant gets a few festive additions, such as freshly-made hot cross buns and a rotisserie leg of lamb with buttery whipped potatoes.


1200 16th St., NW

This fine dining Easter celebration at the elegant Jefferson Hotel restaurant centers around a four-course menu with dishes like smoked Scottish salmon with red onion jam, crab cakes with grilled asparagus and a slow-cooked egg, and a shareable platter of desserts for the table ($105 per person; $55 for children 12 and under).


555 Eighth St., NW

Celebrate Easter early or late with an all-day prixe-fixe menu that runs from 11 to 8. The three-course lineup ($68 per person; $11 kids 12 and under) includes dishes like burrata with tomatoes, basil, and jamon, a duo of lamb, and seared scalloped with spring garlic.


3417 Connecticut Ave., NW

Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley prepares a four-course meal that begins with a fresh pastry basket, followed by seasonal dishes like smoked sabelfish rilettes, baked eggs with wild mushrooms and herb salad, and raspberry beignets.


2275 L St., NW

Celebrate with a special menu that includes four courses such as smoked salmon deviled eggs, pistachio-crusted lamb, and a tres leches nest with sorbets for dessert. The restaurant also offers a new a la carte brunch menu alongside the prix-fixe.


701 Ninth St., NW

Chef José Andrés hosts an annual two-week Greek Easter Festival. An outdoor marketplace on the restaurant’s patio is held on Saturday, April 4 with with Greek foods, pantry items, wines, and live music. A $35 prix-fixe brunch is served on Sunday, April 5 and 12 with springtime specials.

Posted at 11:15 AM/ET, 03/30/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Seder meals, catering platters, and Pesach parties. By Harrison Smith
Matzoh-ball soup at Teddy & The Bully Bar. Photograph courtesy of the restaurant.

Passover begins at sundown on Friday, April 3, and most of these eateries will have specials for the festival's full eight days. Some are more kosher than others (l'chaim, Star & Shamrock), but wherever you go, chances are you'll have a bowl of matzo-ball soup waiting for you.

Cork Market & Tasting Room

1805 14th St., NW; 202-265-2674

Order by April 1 to take advantage of Cork’s take-out Passover and Easter menu, which includes house-made matzo-ball soup and chicken-liver mousse, as well as a farro salad with kale, pine nuts, tangerines, and feta. Kosher wines start at $15.

Details: Menu; order by April 1 for April 3 pick-up.


818 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-331-8118

Chef Todd Gray’s three-course community Seder features your choice of a brisket served with a balsamic-Malbec reduction, or toasted pearl-barley and forest mushroom risotto. Israeli wines and music—Tina Chancey plays the fiddle, medieval and Irish—accompany the meal, with Haggadahs provided for group readings.

Details: Menu; $50 per person, plus tax and tip; April 3, with service beginning around nightfall (6:30).

Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

15th St., NW; 202-489-0140

Naturally, the seafood standby’s Passover prix fixe includes gefilte fish with red beet horseradish, as well as wild striped bass en papillote. For vegetarians, the bibb lettuce and chive salad comes with a veggie version of chopped liver.

Details: Menu; $45.95 per person, $19.95 for kids 12 and under, plus tax and tip; available April 3 and April 4, 4 to 10.

Logan Tavern

1423 P St., NW; 202-332-3710

The three-course menu at this neighborhood tavern is veggie-friendly, with vegetarian matzo-ball soup and eggplant parmesan fried in matzo meal on offer. Finish with flourless chocolate cake and meringues and macaroons for the table. Ten percent of proceeds benefit the Jewish Food Experience.

Details: Menu; $40 per person, $20 for kids 12 and under, plus $25 for optional wine pairing or $15 corkage fee; reservations required; available April 3 and April 4, with seatings at 5:30 and 8.

Teddy & The Bully Bar

1200 19th St., NW; 202-872-8700

TR’s favorite watering hole is offering a four-course menu that includes gefilte fish pavé, herring brandade, deviled eggs stuffed with chicken liver, and braised brisket.

Details: Menu; $52 per person, $21 for kids 12 and under; reservations required; available April 3 and April 4, 5 to 11.

Dino's Grotto

1914 Ninth St., NW; 202-686-2966

The prix fixe feast at this Shaw Italian restaurant isn’t exactly kosher, though it is “kosher-style.” In addition to the “Passover Trinity” of chopped chicken liver, gefilte fish, and matzo-ball soup, you’ll start with charoset and leek fritter, get all the veal breast, chicken legs, and fish-of-the-day you can eat, and finish with flourless almond cake.

Details: Menu; feast for $59 per person, $25 for kids 12 and under; available April 3 through April 10, with Passover dishes available à la carte starting April 6.

DGS Delicatessen

1317 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-293-4400

No surprise here, where the chopped chicken liver and matzo-ball soup are delicious year-round. The four-course Passover menu starts with the soup (made with bone marrow, mustard oil, and pea shoots) and moves to pan-roasted striped bass, grilled Shenandoah Valley lamb, and an apple and rhubarb crumble. Catering, with delivery, is also available for Seders at home.

Details: Menu, catering menu; $45 per person, plus $20 for optional wine pairings; available April 3 through April 11.

Star & Shamrock

1341 H St., NE; 202-388-3833

This Irish bar-Jewish deli is celebrating Passover and its fifth anniversary with a Saturday-night party. Expect Irish twists on the usual Passover dishes, with He’brew and Harp on tap.

Details: Check back here for more info; April 4.

BLT Steak

1625 I St., NW; 202-689-8999

The Passover menu at this steakhouse isn’t exactly traditional, but it does nod to the Seder with lamb shank, a slow-cooked “62 Degree” egg, and compressed endive served with apricot marmalade and sherry.

Details: Menu; $60 per person (dishes also available à la carte); available April 3 through April 10.

Sixth & I

600 I St., NW; 202-408-3100

Realtor-chef Renee Peres is hosting two certified-Kosher dinners at this downtown synagogue. The menu is still in the works, but “Jewish soul food” is planned for the buffet-style meal.

Details: $18 in advance, $22 day-of; available April 6 and April 8, 6:30-8:30.


601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-2888

Five courses of Italian-Jewish cooking includes canederli in brodo: Italian matzo balls, morels, truffles, and capon consommé. An artichoke salad, grilled branzino (seabass), and rack of lamb round out the meal, with strawberry sorbet for dessert.

Details: Menu; $70 per person, plus tax and tip; available April 7 through April 11.

Posted at 01:00 PM/ET, 03/26/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Complete your viewing experience with red carpet happy hours and Champagne buffets. By Anna Spiegel
Celebrate the Oscars with a Champagne buffet at Cafe Milano or all-night happy hour at Helix. Photograph via Shutterstock.

The 87th annual Academy Awards is on Sunday, and a number of bars and restaurants are rolling out the figurative red carpet to customers for viewing parties, all-night happy hours, and more.

Unlimited tapas and drinks at Boqueria

1837 M St., NW

Celebrate the Oscars in Spanish fashion with unlimited tapas such as smoked-salmon toasts, lamb meatballs, and garlic shrimp, plus bottomless sangria, draft beer, and cava ($45 per person). The party is hosted in the restaurant’s private dining room, equipped with televisions, from 7 to midnight. Call 202-558-9545 for reservations.

When: 7 to midnight

Red carpet happy hour and VIP prix-fixe at Commissary

1443 P St., NW

The Logan Circle neighborhood joint hosts its third annual Oscar party, complete with a full wall projection screen. Festivities start at 4 with a red carpet happy hour until 8, featuring specialty cocktails and appetizers ($3 to $7). Guests can order off a Hollywood-themed menu, which includes one complimentary drink and a free popcorn bar. High rollers can opt for the $49 prix-fixe, which includes a three-course menu, two drinks, bottomless popcorn, and first-row seating (reservations for the latter are required). Also! A ballot competition for all.

When: 4 to close

Champagne buffet at Cafe Milano

3251 Prospect St., NW

The see-and-be-seen Georgetown Italian hosts a viewing party in honor of regular star patron Bradley Cooper and his nomination for American Sniper. Tickets are $125 per person and include a Champagne buffet. Partial proceeds benefit neighboring Dog Tag Bakery, which donates all its profits to veterans' programs.

When: Starts at 7

Oscars happy hour at Helix

1430 Rhode Island Ave., NW

Sip a Red Carpet Cosmo alongside bacon jam-topped sliders at this Kimpton Hotel soiree, where drinks and food are discounted throughout the evening ($3 to $6 snacks, $8 cocktails).

When: 5 to 11

Wine-filled watch party at Eno

2810 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

The Georgetown wine bar hosts a viewing party with $5 wines on tap, Oscars-themed chocolates, and free popcorn while the ceremony plays on flat screen televisions. Guests are encourage to fill out a ballot—the best three guesses receive gift cards up to $75.

When: 5 to 11

Themed cocktails (and a mocktail) at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House

950 I St., NW

The show is screened in the restaurant’s private dining room, equipped with a 65-inch television with surround sound. Keeping things festive: three themed cocktails, like the Birdman with whiskey, blackberries, and lemon sour.

When: 5:30 onward

Brews and pros at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse

2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington

Join the DC Film Society for its 23rd annual Oscars party, hosted by local film critics Bill Henry and Tim Gordon. The evening includes trivia contests, giveaways, and a silent auction. Tickets are $21, and can be purchased in advance online.

When: Door ticket sales start at 6:30; open at 7

Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 02/20/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Restaurants and bars celebrate with king cake, hurricanes, Cajun feasts, and more. By John Scarpinato
Celebrate Mardi Gras with Cajun eats, king cake, and plenty of cocktails. Photograph via Shutterstock.

A combination snow day and Fat Tuesday in Washington mean double the celebration—though a few of the parties have altered their plans and dates due to the storm. Despite the chill, there’s no need to feel left out if you didn’t make it to Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras this year. Washington bars and restaurants celebrate with are plenty of music, king cakes, and New Orleans-style eats. Here’s what’s going on this week.


901 New York Ave., NW

The downtown Louisiana spot hosts an exclusive Mardi Gras party with an all-you-can-eat and drink spread, including mini muffulettas, broiled oysters, peel-n-eat shrimp, and cocktail crab claws. Tickets are $100.

When: Tuesday, February 17, from 6 to 10


2519 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Join Bayou for its fifth annual Mardi Gras celebration, an evening full of live music and food. The parade from Dupont Circle has been canceled due to snow, but the indoor fun is still on. A $25 buffet gives you access to traditional Cajun/Creole fare, and live music will be playing until 1 AM.

When: Tuesday, February 17

Bayou Bakery

1515 N. Courthouse Rd.

David Guas’s popular eatery is hosting its fourth annual Bayou Gras Block Party with plenty of New Orleans-inspired fare, snow be darned (plows and heaters are in the works). Food, drink, and beer tickets are all sold separately, starting at $15.

When: Tuesday, February 17, from 6 to 9


1837 M St., NW

Celebrate Mardi Gras with a Spanish twist. This Fat Tuesday party is filled with unlimited tapas and Mardi Gras sangrias. Tickets are $45, and reservations can be made by calling 202-558-9545.

When: Tuesday, February 17


1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

The restaurant is closed Tuesday due to the storm, so the party has been moved to Thursday. Look for a special Mardi Gras menu with Louisiana favorites like jambalaya, oyster gratin, crusted cod Creole, and bananas Foster crepes. Live music by Laissez-Foure will also play from 7 to 10.

When: Thursday, February 19


2121 14th St., NW

The 14th Street eatery is offering a free slice of king cake, discounted Abita bottles and drafts, and a happy hour that runs from 4 to close.

When: Tuesday, February 17

The Heights

3115 14th St., NW

At the Heights, Mardi Gras is a weeklong celebration packed with specialty old-time Louisiana cocktails and jambalaya and gumbo specials.

When: Week of February 16

Highline RxR

2010 Crystal Dr.

This brand new Crystal City hangout is serving Mardi Gras food and drink specials to the tune of live music all night.

When: Tuesday, February 17

Mintwood Place

1813 Columbia Rd., NW

Jambalaya, beignets, and blackened fish all grace the special Mardi Gras menu at this popular French bistro. Additionally, the restaurant will serve specialty cocktails such as a French 75, a hurricane, and milk punch, alongside a brass band playing throughout the night.

When: Tuesday, February 16, from 5:30 to 10

McClellan’s Retreat

2031 Florida Ave., NW

The bar is celebrating the occasion with a week full of Bourbon Street-inspired cocktails, from hurricanes to absinthe frappes.

When: Week of February 16

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace/Black Jack

1612 14th St., NW

Head to Black Jack for the Capital Cocktail Competition. Bartenders from eight local restaurants face off to win the honor of best Mardi Gras cocktail. Tickets are $30 and include hor d'oeuvres, oysters, and discounted drinks. Downstairs at Pearl Dive, the usual (and delicious) Louisiana fare is served, as well as king cakes that can be taken to go.

When: Tuesday, February 17, at 9


1900 M St., NW

Participate in the 14th Annual Bourbon Street Bash, with plenty of Cajun food, a brass funk band, and cheap drinks. If you’re feeling brave, you can even enter a hot wing eating contest. Doors open at 4, and if you come early, the cover charge is discounted. Advance passes are $5.

When: Tuesday, February 17

Strathmore Mardi Gras Concert

5301 Tuckerman La., Rockville

Enjoy a night full of New Orleans jazz with a performance by Grammy winner Irvin Mayfield. Tickets are $39 to $69.

When: Wednesday, February 18

Posted at 12:06 PM/ET, 02/17/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Relax over mimosas and eggs on your day off. By Anna Spiegel
Washington restaurants such as Founding Farmers (above) dish out Presidents' Day brunch. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

It’s a big weekend folks: Valentine’s Day on Saturday and Presidents’ Day on Monday, meaning three days of brunch-time fun. These spots are all serving brunch on the federal holiday, so go forth and find your bottomless mimosas and Benedicts.


1837 M St., NW

Unlimited tapas and drinks can be yours at this Dupont Spanish spot, which serves brunch from 10:30 to 2. Think huevos Benedictinos with Serrano ham, garlicky shrimp, and tortillas Española, all washed down with unlimited red, white, and rosé sangria, mimosas, and draft beer.

Copperwood Tavern

4021 Campbell Ave., Shirlington

Eating is an all-afternoon affair at this seasonal American eatery, open for brunch on Monday from 10 to 4. The menu includes dishes like bagels and house-cured lox, and short rib Benedicts.

City Tap House DC

901 Ninth St., NW

This Penn Quarter brewhouse serves à-la-carte brunch from 11 to 3, where the likes of biscuits and sausage gravy or smoked salmon hash can be ordered alongside a bottomless drink bar with Bloodys, mimosas, and beer-mosas ($18 per person).

Cafe Saint-Ex/Bar Pilar

1847 14th St., NW/1833 14th St., NW

These sister 14th Street restaurants both offer brunch starting at 11. Different menus, same laid-back (not to mention hangover-friendly) vibe.

EatWell DC Restaurants

Multiple locations

All four casual eateries in the group, including the Pig, Commissary, Grillfish, and Logan Tavern, serve brunch on Monday.

El Camino

108 Rhode Island Ave., NW

The newest addition to the Bloomingdale dining scene serves its regular Mexican brunch from 11 until 3. The bar will also be open for margaritas and beers between the end of brunch and dinner (starting at 5:30).

El Chucho/Bar Charley

3313 11th St., NW; 1825 18th St., NW

Both of these relaxed spots from Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks—one in Columbia Heights, the other Adams Morgan—open at 10 on Monday for bottomless mimosa brunch. Look for Mexican specialties such as chilaquiles at Chucho, and American fare such as fried chicken and waffles at Bar Charley.

Founding Farmers

Downtown DC/Potomac, Maryland/Tysons Corner, Virginia

All three of these American eateries dish up bountiful brunches. The District and Maryland branches offer the full à-la-carte menu, while the newest (and biggest) Tysons location rolls out a generous buffet with pastries, egg dishes, carving stations, and a pancake bar. Cousin restaurant Farmers Fishers Bakers in Georgetown is also open for Presidents' Day brunch from 9 to 2, with a $30 buffet on the waterfront.


1323 Connecticut Ave., NW

Say cheers to a Monday off with bottomless brunch punch, fried chicken, and fresh doughnuts from this Dupont joint.


707 Sixth St., NW

Cookies n’ cream waffles and brunch pizzas topped with eggs and bacon can be yours at Mike Isabella’s Penn Quarter Italian, which serves brunch from 11:30 to 3.

Le Diplomate

1601 14th St., NW

Celebrate a short week by splitting a shellfish plateau, baked eggs, and a bottle of bubbly at this popular brasserie, open for regular brunch.


1110 Vermont Ave., NW

Note: This brunch is on Sunday, not Monday, but it’s still a special holiday event. The restaurant named for our 16th President hosts a big brunch bash on Sunday from 11 to 3 with tunes from DJ Neekola (Honest Abe loved deejays), omelet and waffle stations, and specially priced cocktails.

Medium Rare Capitol Hill

515 Eighth St., SE

The Barracks Row location of this popular steak frites joint serves an all-inclusive deal for just $23: bottomless Bloodys, screwdrivers, mimosas, and coffee, plus a choice of yogurt or salad and entrées like steak and eggs or steak-mushroom Benedicts.


1926 14th St., NW

Drop in from 10 to 3 for an à-la-carte brunch menu that ranges from a smoked salmon platter to spicy fried chicken with fennel slaw and a breakfast burrito. Bottomless mimosas or Bloodys are also available ($19, with a two-hour limit).

Richard Sandoval Restaurants

Multiple locations

Many of restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s restaurants offer their all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches on Monday, including Masa 14, both locations of El Centro D.F., Toro Toro, and Ambar. The deal includes bottomless small plates and several choices of brunch drinks, all for $35 to $39 per person (prices and cuisine vary by restaurant).


1940 11th St., NW

Opt for bottomless mimosas ($15) or a lineup of brunch cocktails at this wine bar, alongside Nutella crostini and pan con tomate with fried eggs.

Posted at 09:04 AM/ET, 02/13/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Great last-minute dining options, romantic activities, anti-VDay parties, and more. By Anna Spiegel
Keep your smile over Valentine's weekend with a handy guide. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Valentine’s Day weekend is upon us—and it’s a long one, both literally and figuratively. The amorous holiday is on Saturday of Presidents' Day weekend this year, meaning you technically have from Friday to Monday to celebrate. Need a restaurant recommendation? Want help finding gifts and chocolates? Hoping to avoid the Valentine's dinner crush altogether? We’re here to help.

Take cues from a food critic.

Washingtonian food and wine editor Ann Limpert shares a few fantastic ideas for Valentine’s dining—many of which are perfect for last-minute plans, like where to find killer takeout or a casual platter of oysters. Perhaps the best piece of advice: Go to Shake Shack for a burger and Sauvignon Blanc.

Make a last-minute reservation—or pick a wait-worthy option.

By now the Marcel’s of Washington are full, but there are many more delicious options on our 100 Very Best Restaurants, including ones that serve their regular menus for V-Day and/or don’t take reservations. Here’s what the Top 25 have planned; the list is narrowed for the sake of brevity, so don’t forget about stellar spots that take walk-in diners, such as Baby Wale, Bangkok Golden, and Etto.

Think beyond dinner in a restaurant.

Don’t feel like eating elbow-to-elbow with all the other couples? Go out for Valentine’s brunch, or head to one of the luxe new cinemas where cocktails and snacks are delivered to the seats. There are plenty of offbeat yet romantic ways to spend the weekend that don’t involve prix-fixe.

Find a present (preferably under $50).

Done and done—great ideas for him and her that won’t cost more than a Grant. You can also learn tips for a creating an impressive (and not clichéd) Valentine's bouquet. Or, for less delicate flowers, we have details on a 50 Shades-themed workshop and a recommnded list of take-home accessories.

And what about the chocolates?

Skip the box of Russell Stover and go with a local chocolatier, such as Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates in Georgetown and Alexandria; Arlington’s Artisan Confections; or Praline Bakery in Bethesda. Health-minded? Check out these tips for selecting the most nutritious treats.

Thinking outside the chocolate box, District Doughnut delivers six-packs of cocoa-infused doughnuts (free in the District) on Friday and Saturday, while Astro sells mini-doughnut boxes with flavors like Nutella-glazed and chocolate-cherry. If your date loves over-the-top gestures, check out these six insane desserts.

Screw all this—Valentine’s Day is the worst!

These places couldn’t agree more, and are hosting anti-Valentine's Day parties, dinners, and concerts. Though if you’re looking for love, check out our Singles Soiree at Penn Social, with plenty of booze and fun games.

Posted at 11:20 AM/ET, 02/12/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Think outside the chocolate box--including great last-minute options. By Anna Spiegel
Treat your date to a delicious Valentine's brunch at restaurants like Mintwood Place (above). Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Valentine's Day doesn't have to be all about pricey prix-fixe menus, schmoopy promotions, or cheesy Fifty Shades of Grey specials. It can be a tolerable—and even fun—holiday, if you do it right.

Toast over brunch

Valentine's lands on a Saturday this year, meaning the whole weekend is fair game. Instead of a forced romantic dinner, why not opt for fun brunch? Cheers with lobster rolls and mimosas at Hank’s Oyster Bar; treat yourselves to short-rib hash and sticky buns at Blue Duck Tavern; linger over eggs Benedict at Mintwood Place; or go casual for dim sum at the best spot in Washington right now, A & J Restaurant (Annandale and Rockville locations). Washington is a brunch town, and there are plenty of spots to try. A number of places also offer special Valentine’s menus, including a “sweethearts brunch” at America Eats Tavern ($50 per couple); a three-course menu at Trummer’s on Main ($42 per person); and another at Commissary that includes a bottle of bubbly and oysters ($60 per couple).

Have dinner at the movies

Don't feel like battling restaurant crowds? You can still do dinner and a movie—just roll it all into one. Three new cinemas have opened recently that serve food and alcoholic beverages in the theater, along with other perks. Angelika at Mosaic scoops addictive popcorn in flavors like beer-cheddar and offers dishes such as kimchee dogs and a stellar draft list; you can also bring carryout from the theater's cafe inside. The iPic Theaters in North Bethesda have an even bigger in-theater menu—lobster rolls! Champagne!—delivered to your plush leather recliner in the premium seating section. Bethesda's ArcLight Cinemas also have a cafe inside the theater complex, though you can only bring beer, wine, and other drinks inside while watching the flick.

Eat all the food, drink all the drinks

Valentine's Day is excessive by nature, so endless food and/or drink fits perfectly. DGS Delicatessen serves hungry mensches with all-you-can-eat pastrami, corned beef, latkes, mac 'n' cheese, and more for two hours at dinner, plus wallet-friendly sips ($8 martinis, $5 beers). More into drinking your date under the table? Try Boqueria, where the $65 set tapas menu comes with optional unlimited cava and sangria for $20. If you'd rather overindulge in the daylight, check out Del Campo. The South American steakhouse offers a fancy V-Day set menu, but also serves an unlimited Saturday and Sunday brunch for just $45 per person with excellent dishes such as crab toast with caviar, Wagyu skirt steak and eggs, and smoked-pineapple mimosas.

Get interactive

No, we're not talking chocolate body paint. Taking a class together can be a great Valentine's experience and/or gift. Bourbon Steak hosts a cocktail and dessert course on Saturday from 11:30 to 2 with barman Duane Sylvestre and Tiffany MacIsaac of Buttercream Bakeshop ($60 per person). Over at Union Market, Righteous Cheese leads guests through a cheese, chocolate, and Champagne pairing on Friday and Saturday ($70 per person). And while it's not an official seminar, couples can learn a lot about the spirits world at Dram & Grain's six-cocktail tasting ($85 per couple), held in the basement of Jack Rose on Saturday; call or text 202-607-1572 for availability.

Stay home, even if you can't cook

Don't know stock from sauce? You can still have a great meal at home. Three locations of Red Apron Butchery make homey meals for two, including antipasti, Caesar salad, lasagna Bolognese, and cheesecake ($60 for two; preorder and pickup). Society Fair is also a great bet, with a package that includes coq au vin and a bottle of wine ($110 for two; preorder and pickup). Really want to impress you date? Hire a personal chef through online service Kitchensurfing. The new service allows you to pick trained toques—rated by past users—and choose from their menus online, and then he or she shows up at your door ready to whip up a meal ($150 per person, alcohol not included).

Posted at 12:41 PM/ET, 02/10/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Pig's blood cakes, boat-size sundaes, and the "banana split erection." By Anna Spiegel
The Titanic ice cream sundae at Carmine's could sink a table. Photograph courtesy of Carmine's. Ping Pong Dim Sum.

Valentine's Day—it brings out excessive behavior. The calmest people get a little crazy, and chefs who would never write "erection" on the menu, well, do. Don't believe us? Check out these six insane, over-the-top desserts at Washington restaurants.

The Titanic at Carmine’s

427 Seventh St., NW

Your heart may not go on after taking down this anti-Valentine’s dessert (see above), which can sink a table with five scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, bananas, strawberries, candied pineapple, and chocolate sauce. The glacial mass sits atop a flourless chocolate torte, and is served with a bottle of Prosecco ($65; feeds six). Alternatively, romance-haters can dig in as part of a garlicky prix-fixe dinner for six ($125).

A dessert bomb is held in a fragile chocolate shell, ready to smash on the table. Photograph courtesy of Toro Toro.

La Bomba at Toro Toro

1300 I St., NW

Servers dropping dessert sounds like a bad end to dinner, but it’s all part of the plan at Toro Toro. “Bomba” literally translates to bomb—a giant chocolate egg filled with mousse, passionfruit sorbet, chocolate cookie crumbs, strawberry and dulce de leche ice creams, berries, caramel, and creme anglaise. Tables are wrapped in acetate to prepare for the explosion, which happens when the delicate shell is smashed, sending sweets everywhere to be scooped up by the couple. As far as tableside delivery goes, this is probably the most messy—and the most fun. Try it as part of a $85 set menu for two, or on the regular à-la-carte menu.

Don't like the idea of straight Sriracha for dessert? It may be better after a pill. Photograph courtesy of Ping Pong Dim Sum.

“Flavor tripping” platter at Ping Pong Dim Sum

900 Seventh St., NW; One Dupont Circle, NW

A plate with raw lemons, Sour Patch kids, potato chips, and a pool of Sriracha sauce hits the table after dinner. No, the cooks aren’t stoned. You’re “flavor-tripping.” As part of a Fifty Shades of Grey promo, diners are blindfolded and given taste-altering tabs that melt on the tongue and make bitter foods seem sweet. The offerings aren’t all sour; a real dessert sampler follows, and diners leave with a goodie-box of “bedroom accessories.” The cost: $25, Friday through Sunday (hey, it’s cheaper than the $1,500 alternative).

Risotto gets even richer with the addition of chocolate and Chantilly cream. Photograph courtesy of Trummer's On Main.

Chocolate risotto at Trummer’s On Main

7134 Main St., Clifton

Count Chocula meets Marcella Hazan for this cocoa risotto, which makes for a rich dessert. Grandma’s rice pudding has nothing on chef Austin Fausett’s creation, which is made with dark chocolate, raspberries, toasted almonds, and Chantilly cream. Try it on Saturday and Sunday as part of a three-course brunch ($42 per person).

Everyone's happy with an ice cream sundae. Maybe too happy. Photograph courtesy of Mansion on O.

The “banana split erection” at Mansion on O

2020 O St., NW

Most restaurants play coy with their menus, but the Mansion dives right in—and up. True to the name, this sundae is what would happen if Ben & Jerry's came out with a Cialiscious flavor. Chef Karida Celestine’s concoction includes three kinds of ice cream—strawberry shortcake, honey-lavender, and “tingling” mint—caramel sauce, and four very obvious bananas. The dessert is part of a $69 (heh) package on Friday and Saturday.

Pig's blood and pork liver go into this nose-to-tail cake. Photograph courtesy of the Pig.

Blood cake with liver sauce at the Pig

1320 14th St., NW

You’re in for a bloody Valentine at the swine-centric Logan Circle restaurant, where chef Michael Bonk adds pig’s blood to his chocolate cake. The addition isn't just for holiday spirit—blood is similar to egg whites in protein and water content, and contributes to the cake's structure. The literal topping on the cake: "liverscotch," or butterscotch made from pork liver. There's also a pork-fat doughnut for medium-adventurous eaters. Try either as part of a four-course menu ($55 per person).

Posted at 11:59 AM/ET, 02/06/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Blowout menus, cozy-casual date spots, and no-reservations gems. By Anna Spiegel
"Bagels and lox" at Minibar, one of the biggest splurges in town. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

We'd be happy dining at any of the restaurants on this year's 100 Best Restaurants list, but for the sake of brevity, here's what the top 25 have planned for Valentine's Day. Like on any regular evening you'll find a mix of blowout menus and casual options, hot tables and places that welcome walk-in customers.

25. Thai Taste by Kob

11315 Fern St., Wheaton

It’s business as usual at the most casual of the eateries in our top 25—a great option for anyone who wants to spend February 14 dining on delicious, fiery Thai food without any hoopla.

24. Kapnos

2201 14th St., NW

Pick from three options at Mike Isabella’s haute Greek eatery: a chef’s tasting menu ($65 per person), a Valentine’s menu ($85), or regular à la carte with a few amorous specials. Note that the regular lineup is great for vegetarians as well as carnivores who like spit-roasted meats.

23. Estadio

1520 14th St., NW

Look for the regular menu of Spanish share plates and shareable porron pitchers. What's more romantic—albeit slightly messy—than pouring effervescent wine mixed with lemon soda and orange bitters into each other's mouths?

22. Inn at Little Washington

309 Middle St., Washington

Reservations are currently booked for V-Day weekend at chef Patrick O’Connell’s landmark restaurant, but anyone who can slip away during the week may be able to snag a table.

21. Woodberry Kitchen

2010 Clipper Park Rd., Baltimore

Make it a Valentine's night out in Baltimore at Spike Gjerde's destination-worthy restaurant. It's also a great spot for brunch if dinner is booked.

20. Marcel’s

2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

It always feels like a special occasion at Marcel's, which is unfortunately booked for the holiday. Try gifting a dinner for another night, or score a table at the more casual sister restaurant Brasserie Beck (number 58 on this year's list), which has availability.

19. Izakaya Seki

1117 V St., NW

You won't find prix-fixe menus or reservations at this cozy neighborhood Japanese, which is why the anti-V-Day crowd will love it. The restaurant will text parties when seats are ready if there's a wait, so you can grab a glass of wine nearby; we're fans of Vinoteca, just a short walk away.

18. Plume

1200 16th St., NW

Anyone looking to make their sweetheart swoon can rely on this innately romantic Jefferson Hotel restaurant, with its roaring fireplace and luxurious surroundings. A five-course tasting menu ($145 per person) is offered on Saturday.

17. Mintwood Place

1813 Columbia Rd., NW

This warm, boisterous bistro may not be the place for hushed conversation, but the room's glow, friendly service, and hearty dishes like cassoulet and beef bourguignon make it holiday-worthy.

16. Ananda

7421 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton

Stately rooms lit by fireplaces make an attractive Valentine's setting at this ambitious Indian restaurant. The regular menu is served, and includes standout dishes like jumbo grilled shrimp tandoori with mango-avocado chutney, and braised lamb.

15. Central Michel Richard

1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Love is all about sharing here, with a three-course menu a deux featuring a shareable hamachi-salmon sashimi platter, rack of lamb, and a chocolate-raspberry heart ($100 per couple, or à la carte). The special menu is offered on Friday and Saturday, in addition to the regular lineup.

14. Le Diplomate

1601 14th St., NW

Reservations may be tough to score at Stephen Starr's hot French bistro, but if it were up to us, we'd cuddle up at the bar for a shellfish plateau and bottle of Champagne any day.

13. Casa Luca

1099 New York Ave., NW

Chef Erin Clarke prepares a rustic Italian five-course tasting with options like chilled lobster with puntarelle and caviar, black truffle risotto, and venison with roasted mushrooms ($80 per person; 140 with wine pairings). The special menu is offered Friday through Sunday.

12. Del Campo

777 I St., NW

Here's an outside-the-box option for dinner: a meal cooked by visiting chef Antonio Soriano of Astor Bistro in Buenos Aires. The toque collaborates on an à-la-carte holiday menu with dishes like lobster gnocchi with smoked caviar and beef Chateaubriand.

11. Seasonal Pantry

1314 1/2 Ninth St., NW

It's no surprise that chef Dan O'Brien's intimate supper club is booked for the holiday. Hint, hint: Seats for an upcoming dinner make a wonderful Valentine's gift for your favorite food lover (reservations are booked and paid for online).

10. Vin 909 Winecafe

909 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis

Regular dinner is offered for Valentine's Day at this homey Eastport eatery, so go in for a bottle of wine and fantastic charcuterie pizza. Also be prepared to wait for a no-reservations table.

9. The Restaurant At Patowmack Farm

42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville

Take a drive into the country for chef Tarver King's progressive, locally focused dishes, served in a greenhouse-turned-dining room. Note that allergies can't be accommodated on a special Valentine's menu.

8. Fiola

601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (entrance at 678 Indiana Ave.)

Chef Fabio Trabocchi pulls out the stops with a five-course lineup of oysters with Prosecco zabaglione and Osetra caviar, and Wagyu beef short ribs with foie gras and truffles ($125 per person; wine pairings $80 to $100). The special menu is served Friday and Saturday evening (closed Sunday).

7. The Red Hen

1822 First St., NW

This Bloomingdale Italian may be the most romantic of the casual set with its warm, rustic room, unusual wine list, and delicious dishes that won't break the bank. Be prepared to wait, given that the place is already crowded on a regular weekend.

6. Little Serow

1511 17th St., NW

A line forms long before the doors open at 5:30 for a seat at Johnny Monis's Thai eatery, which serves a set $45 menu. Be flexible with your evening plans—groups are seated on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fortunately the friendly staff will text when your table is available, so you can spend the in between time grabbing drinks at one of the many neighboring establishments.

5. Rasika

Penn Quarter and West End locations

Treat your sweetie to a four-course menu (sample) of modern Indian dishes, wonderful for vegetarians and meat eaters alike ($85 per person; $40 with wine pairings). The lineup varies between locations, but specials include ahi tuna with chilies and mango, lobster with curry leaves, and a dessert sampler.

4. Fiola Mare

3050 K St., NW

Take a trip to the Adriatic via this white-hot Georgetown waterfront restaurant, which offers a five-course menu of dishes such as oysters with apples and smoked caviar, wild turbot with foie gras, and "roses & cream" for dessert ($125 per person; $80 to $110 wine pairings). The menu is served Friday through Sunday evening.

3. Rose’s Luxury

717 Eighth St., SE

This is one of the best options for impressing your food-loving Valentine without burning a hole in your wallet, though caviar service is available upon request alongside eggplant Parm and smoked brisket. Be prepared to line up long before doors open at 5 for a guaranteed table.

2. Minibar

855 E St., NW

Reservations are notoriously tough at José Andrés's blowout restaurant, which is priced at $250 per person for food alone. Anyone looking for a taste at a gentler price should try Barmini next door, which offers inventive cocktail and bar snacks (and has availability Valentine's week).

1. Komi

1509 17th St., NW

The best approach for getting a last-minute table at Komi—and by last minute, we mean booking less than a month in advance—is to call and inquire about cancellations. Otherwise the first-come Little Serow (see above) offers a chance to try chef Johnny Monis's food.

Posted at 12:37 PM/ET, 02/03/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
How to avoid "amateur night," according to Ann Limpert. By Ann Limpert
Photograph of Shackburger by Jeff Elkins.

“What should we do for Valentine’s Day?” It’s a question I get every year. And it’s a question that—more than the one about birthdays or New Year’s Eve—always stumps me. Because romance is different from mere celebration. One couple’s gifts of Godivas and roses is another’s cause for eye rolling. While one pair might relish the ceremonial trappings—freshly ironed tablecloths, dramatically decanted wine—of a place like Restaurant Eve in Old Town, I just want to go to Shake Shack. That’s right: All I want for Valentine’s Day is a $5 burger. And not just because going to fancy three-hour dinners is part of my job.

You’ve surely heard the term “amateur night” every time V Day rolls around—the idea that cooks know they’re churning out dishes for restaurant rookies (those fabled, poorly tipping folks who would wrinkle their noses at the idea of eating sea urchin, or even monkfish) and are thus going through the motions, sending tables molten cakes and filets mignons that nobody, not least they themselves, are all that psyched about. That’s true at many places—like the neighborhood joint that all of a sudden is putting out a three-course set menu for 75 bucks. They’re just capitalizing. It’s less so for the highest echelon of restaurants (think Minibar and Fiola), which routinely stage a grand show for couples every night. They tend to keep doing what they always do.

But it’s not just about amateur night. And it’s not really about the food, either. For me, the things that kill, or at least dampen, the thrill of romance are the elements that constitute the old-school notion of a romantic restaurant. The stiffly suited servers who are perpetually hovering within earshot. The church-like quiet, so oppressive that you’re worried you’ll laugh a little too loudly. The awkward pomp. (I once spent a good six minutes watching a trembly young waiter peel an orange and cut it into segments for a tableside dessert.) When I look around at these places, I see far more couples who seem as if they’re more tensely worrying about having a good time than actually having a good time. And that’s got to make the bill, inevitably $200 and upward, sting even more.

There was a time when Washington’s restaurant scene was dominated by these sorts of dining rooms. When showing you cared directly translated to shelling out lots of cash. Nowadays, the investment you can expect to make is time. Leaving work an hour early to wait in line for one of the 28 stools at Dupont Circle’s Little Serow. (The reward: getting giddily drunk on Riesling while sharing seven searing Thai courses.) Having the foresight to book one of the prime banquettes at Le Diplomate a month ahead. Sleuthing out which wine shop carries the exact bottle of Falanghina you shared on your first date.

But if you’re a Valentine’s avoider like me, there’s always Shake Shack. It’s no bastion of romance, but it allows for spontaneity (something tells me the holiday won’t be its busiest night, so you can go whenever); the salty, diner-style ShackBurgers are fantastic; and actually, it serves a pretty good Sauvignon Blanc.

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Posted at 12:01 PM/ET, 02/01/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()