New Year's Eve is one of those occasions when everyone wants to dine out, but the restaurant landscape is a minefield of overpriced menus, stressed staff, rowdy diners, and packed rooms. Here's how to navigate the scene from an insider's perspective.
1) Don’t go out
There’s a reason why many in the restaurant industry call NYE “amateur night.” People are late, rushing to get to a party, worried about getting cabs, emotional, drunk, and often all of the above. Expectations are high—it’s the last meal of 2014—and restaurants try to meet them with fancy “special” menus made up of dishes they don’t serve on a regular night. That means the potential to underwhelm is also pretty high. Save yourself the headache and go out on any of the other 364 evenings in 2015—except Valentine’s Day, where it's pretty much the same deal.
2) If you do, don’t go here.
An average restaurant offering a three-course prix-fixe for $55-ish, which includes a glass of “sparkling wine” (i.e., not Champagne, and likely not even a good Prosecco). Look at the regular menu, and if the NYE lineup is made up of similar dishes at a higher price, you're just paying more for a holiday table. On the other hand, if it's a place that never serves luxury items like scallops, sweetbreads, or foie, and is featuring those, chances are the kitchen won't prepare these delicate ingredients well on a single night.
3) Look for regular menus.
If a restaurant is great on a normal night, chances are it’ll still be great on a holiday serving a regular menu. Many eateries who go this route offer high-end specials for regulars, so you can get your caviar or oyster fix from a kitchen you trust. Here's a roundup of some tasty options around Washington.
4) Dine early.
Most restaurants, especially those offering prix-fixe menus, have two seatings: an 5-to-6:30 window for those wanting to be elsewhere at midnight, and a later, often more expensive option that can stretch to 12. Unless the menus are drastically different, diners in the second wave are paying for somewhere to be when the ball drops. Many eateries offer something extra—live music, a glass of bubbly, an extra course—but if you don’t need the midnight hoopla, save the money for a bottle of good Champagne and dine earlier.
5) Get takeout—or fancy platters—for a group.
No one wants to split a check 11 ways, especially with the friend who's been downling Ketel martinis all night. A potluck-style dinner is a great way to go, and there are plenty of solid options if you don’t want to spend the 31st cooking. I’ve opted for an impressive sandwich platter for G by Mike Isabella—spit-roasted lamb and Italian subs, all halved and wrapped for easy eating—pizza from Vace (it’s delicious, even cold), a spread of shrimp cocktail, crab, and caviar from Blacksalt Fish Market for fancy parties, cheeseboards from Righteous Cheese, Red Apron’s many delicious meats, and fondue kits from Swiss Bakery. If none of these sound good/familiar, contact your favorite restaurant/shop/purveyor of tasty things and find out what you can order.
This is the opposite of the first rule, but also holds true for NYE: Go big or stay home. Sure, you'll have to pay more for Mintwood Place's tasting menu than the everyday à la carte, and Plume at the Jefferson Hotel is more luxurious (and expensive) than ever. But these are some of the best restaurants in Washington, and are likely worth the splurge. A few spots in the top 20 of our 100 Best Restaurants list offer their regular, wonderful à-la-carte menus for NYE, so you can still have a top-tier meal without emptying your wallet.
Holidays! They're here: Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, and Christmas, all rolled up into one week of festive fun. Keep on top of it all with our holiday guide, which includes where to eat, who's serving what, recipes, presents for food lovers, and more.
Feasts of the fishes: Regardless of your holiday orientation, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian seafood meal typically served on Christmas Eve, is worth enjoying. Check out our guide to nine restaurants offering special menus this week.
Whiskey tasting: Start the short holiday week with a brown liquor sampling at Little Miss Whiskey's on Monday at 7:30. For just $7 the bar pours six samples of fine whiskey, such as Lagavulin 12-Year and Johnny Walker Gold. Tickets are available online.
Calling last-minute shoppers: Alexandria's Holiday Market continues this week, and there are plenty of gifts and eats for food lovers. Drop by from 11 to 8 on Monday and Tuesday, or 11 to 2 on Wednesday (Christmas Eve) for gifts from the Capital Candy Jar and Artfully Chocolate, dishes such as French crepes and German schnitzel, and a bar with mulled wine to keep things warm and boozy.
Clementine Fest: Jaleo's annual Clementina Festival continue this week, with a variety of citrus-themed dishes and drinks. All three locations serve clementine gazpacho with scallops, duck confit with clementine sauce, the citrus juice with gin and lime, and more (priced individually). The celebration runs through December 28.
Holiday soiree: Cashion's opens its doors to friends, neighbors, and newcomers on Tuesday for a holiday party with bottomless sparking wine and eggnog, passed snacks like stuffed mushrooms and oyster sliders, and a buffet starring a maple-glazed pork leg and sides. Tickets are $50, and must be purchased in advance.
Tuscan pho: Starting Friday, Dino's Grotto offers a special menu of bollito misto, a.k.a. "Tuscan pho," a traditional Italian meal centered on meats and vegetables cooked in a hearty broth. You'll start with a bowl of the brew and house pasta, followed by a platter of seasonal vegetables and potatoes and a bounty of meats. The family-style lineup is $39 per person, with an optional $25 wine flight.
Unlimited tapas: Boqueria starts its weeklong unlimited-brunch deal on Saturday, served on both weekdays and weekends. Head in for unlimited Spanish tapas such as chorizo-potato tortilla and local pork sausage with salsa verde, plus bottomless sangria, wine, mimosas, draft beer, and more ($39 per person). The deal starts at 11:30 on weekdays and 10:30 on weekends, and runs through January 4 (reservations accepted).
The debate over the cruelty versus deliciousness of foie gras is front and center again, thanks to H Street's Foie La La competition and reaction from PETA. The animal-rights organization has rallied to dissuade restaurants and diners from engaging in the ten-day foie gras tasting, where eight eateries including Granville Moore's and Ocopa compete to serve the best dish made with the delicacy, or what PETA calls the "diseased livers of tortured birds." The opposition will set up outside Boundary Road—whose chef/owner, Brad Walker, founded the event—and will stage three "waiters" (PETA members) wearing "bloody" (painted) aprons, serving "dead ducks" on silver platters.
Foie gras is a controversial ingredient, primarily due to the method of force-feeding ducks and geese so their livers enlarge. California went as far as to ban the stuff entirely in 2012. Groups like PETA argue that making foie gras is unusually cruel, and the culinary world is divided. Some welcome the ingredient into their kitchen—and even provide incentive to eat it, such as 1789's foie gras giveaway to Californians—while others like Wolfgang Puck have spoken out against it.
One restaurant scheduled to participate in Foie La La, Micho's Lebanese Grill, has dropped out. Partner Fady Joubran says that the casual Lebanese spot was drawn to the event as a neighborly competition, but wasn't aware of foie's controversial production method at the time.
"It's not something we offer anyway," says Joubran. "We didn't know this is how they feed the animals."
Walker, who started Foie La La last year, says he wants to be "respectful of other people's opinions," but will continue serving the liver and sponsoring the event.
"PETA stands for a lot of good things, but they're very miseducated about this situation," says Walker. "There's a lot of science behind what's actually happening to these ducks in the production of foie gras, and in comparison to the commercial production of beef, pork, and chicken, there's a lot of other things to worry about."
While Walker says the response to the foie gras festival has been primarily positive, he’s also fielded several complaints and has written an explanation of his views in response. You can read the letter in full at the end of this post.
The protest comes a little late in the game, since the competition for the best liver dish ends Thursday. Still, PETA is known for putting on a dramatic rally—lettuce bikinis, anyone?—so there's plenty of chance for impact. The rally starts Tuesday at 1, during the restaurant's lunch hour.
Read Brad Walker's response to complaints below.
Hi there. Thanks for making your opinion regarding foie gras known to us. Please take a moment to read our response to your opinion.
First of all, please know that we take the proteins we serve very seriously. We serve hormone-free meats and poultry, and sustainable seafood.
So why foie gras? How is this process described by PETA possibly humane?
First of all, let’s consider our source. PETA advocates the cessation of all human consumption of animal protein. We do not agree with this point of view. We feel animal proteins, produced responsibly as possible, are an important part of our diets.
Second, let’s compare the production of foie gras with commodity beef, chicken, and pork. Commodity markets lead to large production facilities designed to produce meats as quickly and as monetarily efficient as possible. Certainly their concern is not animal welfare. While it might seem counterintuitive, the production of foie is actually more attuned to the animal’s welfare than large scale operations. For example, if a duck raised for foie were confined in a way similar to battery chicken, the liver would be damaged and useless. It is necessary that the birds are allowed to move freely. Please visit the website of our producer here. Let us not forget, ducks are not physiologically the same as humans. The concept of force-feeding may seem terrible out of context, but please refer to the attached article regarding stress tests on these birds.
I think most importantly, I would like to speak to the reverence we have for this, and all, proteins. We are not scarfing utility beef in the form of a drive-in burger while driving down the highway. We are treating this modest portion of a specialty meat with the utmost of respect. That’s really what the argument is all about, isn’t it? Respecting where our meat comes from and taking the utmost care to prepare and enjoy what is truly precious.
I feel this clip concisely and clearly illuminates highlights of our argument.
Thanks for your time.
We respect your opinion and hope you respect ours as well.
Boundary Road Restaurant
News came last month that Top Chef's Lindsay Autry, a finalist on season nine, was taking over the kitchen at Dupont's Firefly. Now plans have changed, even before the chef really started at the restaurant.
A representative says Autry got engaged over the weekend to longtime boyfriend and Palm Beach Food and Wine Festival founder David Sabin. The two will remain in Florida. A new leader has yet to be selected to replace Todd Wiss, who's headed to other locations within the Kimpton Hotel restaurant group. Stay tuned for more details.
Happy Monday, food truck followers! Some of the trucks have taken a holiday hiatus, but that doesn't mean there isn't good food on the streets. Treat yourself to a delicious crepe lunch at Crepes Parfait, or doughnuts and fried chicken at Astro Doughnuts.
A few high-profile restaurants—and regular names among the 100 Best Restaurants—didn't make the list this year. Here's why.
1226 36th St., NW; 202-965-1789
Talented chef Anthony Lombardo recently moved on from this Georgetown institution and 1789’s kitchen is suffering from the change. Prices have escalated (entrées hover around $40), while the level of consistency and execution have declined. One exception: the well-crafted desserts.
575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-6100
Four years ago, the easygoing brilliance of this pan-Asian Wolfgang Puck restaurant earned it the number-three ranking on this list. Those days seem long gone. The cooking on a recent visit was tired and sometimes careless, and the service was alternatively disengaged and negligent.
1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990
The staff exudes charm and the bread basket is still a winner at Jeffrey Buben’s Southern dining room. That’s the good news. The bad: Our meal began with too-sugary cocktails, moved on to entrées that were either bland or oversalted (but always heavy), and ended with cloyingly sweet pies.
Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St., NW; 202-419-6755
Sebastien Archambault, an enormous talent, exited the kitchen last January, and his replacement, former Eola chef Daniel Singhofen, has since gone, too. The new arrival at this Park Hyatt property is Ryan La Roche, and while there were bright spots on our most recent check-in, the lingering impression was that of generic hotel dining—overpriced and only intermittently exciting.
How do you pick a restaurant for New Year's Eve when the majority are open and doing something special? Starting with the best of the best is always a good idea. Though one can never predict how a busy holiday service will go, at least you're in expert hands at these places, the top 20 in our 2015 list of Washington's 100 Best Restaurants.
1509 17th St., NW
Let's just say it's tough to get a table on a normal Tuesday. Try calling close to NYE and the day of for last-minute cancellations.
855 E St., NW
See above. The adjoining cocktail spot, Barmini, is worth a try, though.
3. Rose’s Luxury
717 Eighth St., SE
NYE reservations went online earlier this month, and disappeared like a platter of Rose's fried chicken—quickly, and a little stickily. The second-floor bar area is reserved for walk-ins, so brave duos could take that angle; don't even try to snag more seats than that.
4. Fiola Mare
3050 K St., NW
The elegant Georgetown seafood spot offers à-la-carte dining from 5 to 6, and then a five-course tasting for $175.
5. Rasika/Rasika West End
633 D St., NW/1190 New Hampshire Ave., NW
Chef Vikram Sunderam serves three- and four-course menus at both upscale Indian locations ($55 and $85, respectively, with optional wine pairings).
6. Little Serow
1511 17th St., NW
It's crazy-busy business as usual on New Year's Eve at Johnny Monis's Thai joint. Doors open at 5:30 for first come, first served seating, so plan to line up even earlier than usual.
7. The Red Hen
1822 First St., NW
Closed for New Year's Eve and Day, like any sensible restaurant run by industry vets.
601 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Like its ritzy sister, this spot offers a five-course tasting menu for $175, here with plenty of caviar and Wagyu beef.
9. The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm
42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville
While Lovettsville, Virginia, may not be a typical NYE stop, chef Tarver King's destination-worthy cooking makes its case. A tasting menu is served for $110 per person.
10. Vin 909 Winecafe
909 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis
Anyone in the Annapolis environs can head to this stellar pizza spot for the regular menu and hours, 5:30 to 10. Prepare to wait during primetime—and even before—as there're no reservations.
11. Seasonal Pantry
1314 Ninth St., NW
Supper club tickets for NYE are sold out, but there are still a few remaining for Wednesday, January 28, at the time of this posting if you can celebrate early.
12. Del Campo
777 I St., NW
Chef Victor Albisu serves up NYE South American-style with a five-course menu and optional smoked white sturgeon caviar service ($120; $200 with caviar). Those looking to go more casual can go à-la-carte in the bar.
13. Casa Luca
1099 New York Ave., NW
The most casual of chef Fabio and Mari Trabocchi's restaurants offers a four-course tasting for $95, or an à-la-carte menu from 5 to 6.
14. Le Diplomate
1601 14th St., NW
The buzzy French brasserie serves a regular menu with some dressed-up specials, plus a complimentary glass of (real) Champagne for anyone dining at midnight.
15. Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Early birds can dine on a three-course pre-theater menu from 5 to 6:30 ($55), while the second seating from 7 to 11 includes a five-course lineup with caviar, foie gras, and lobster ($105 per person).
7421 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton
A slightly smaller version of the regular menu is offered at this handsome Indian spot, with standouts like lamb saag and jingha karari shrimp curry.
17. Mintwood Place
1813 Columbia Rd., NW
Chef Cedric Maupillier, the mastermind behind the gorgeous pasta on the cover of the January issue, creates a tasting menu for seatings at 6 and 9 ($95 per person; $65 wine pairing). The mix is homey and luxurious, with oysters and caviar alongside cotechino sausage.
1200 16th St., NW
Expect all the usual luxurious suspects—foie, truffles, lobster—at this luxe dining room at the Jefferson, seating guests between 5 and 6 ($165 per person) and 9 and 9:45 ($225, including a glass of Champagne).
19. Izakaya Seki
1117 V St., NW
The regular of delicious Japanese small plates and sashimi is offered, alongside traditional New Year's osechi boxes (bento-like assortments of 20 items).
2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Chef Robert Wiedmaier's Belgian fine-dining spot may be well-established in Washington, but it recently underwent a design facelift. Enjoy the new space during two seatings: 5 to 6:30 for $150, or at 8 with live music ($250).
Filipino is the new "it" Asian cuisine, having already trended in New York, and currently drawing long lines for pop-ups in DC. Now Restaurant Eve is following the sisig trail, offering a Filipino "noche buena" holiday feast through the month of January.
Co-owner Meshelle Armstrong has roots in the Philippines, and the menu takes inspiration from the traditional family-style meal, where guests gather at each other's homes for a late meal on Christmas Eve. Chef Cathal Armstrong's lineup of dishes will change daily in seasonal Eve style; look for items such as street-style barbecue with banana ketchup and beef noodle soup.
The shared menu is $60 per person, and must be reserved specifically when calling or booking online. The regular menu is also offered during this time.