Bargains at Expensive Restaurants

Many of the bargains at expensive restaurants are offered at slow times--early in the evening, early in the week, and in August, when many Washingtonians are on vacation.

Chef Robert Wiedmaier's very good French-Belgian restaurant Marcel's (2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-1166) offers a pretheater dinner every night from 5:30 to 7. The price, $48 for three courses, includes limousine service to the Kennedy Center. Patrons are invited, if they like, to wait until after the show to have dessert.

The Willard Room in the Willard InterContinental Hotel (1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-7440), one of the grandest dining rooms in the city, offers a $39 fixed-price menu between 6 and 7 each evening.

The sophisticated Butterfield 9 (600 14th St., NW; 202-289-8810) offers a $35, three-course pretheater menu daily from 5:30 to 7.

The Palm (1225 19th St., NW, 202-293-9091; 1750 Tysons Blvd., Tysons Corner, 703-917-0200) offers extraordinary bargains in August, when many of its regulars are on vacation. Last year, a dinner for two consisting of Caesar salad, a two-pound lobster, two steaks with potatoes and spinach, and cheesecake for dessert was about $95. The amount of food will easily feed two hungry people at dinner and leave enough for lobster salad and steak sandwiches the next day.

There are no cut-rate bargain nights at the pricey Inn at Little Washington (Middle and Main sts., Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800), but if you have some flexibility in selecting the date, keep in mind that the prix fixe menu is $118 Sunday through Thursday, $128 Friday, and $158 Saturday.

Another way of cutting costs in many restaurants is to order a series of "small plates" in the bar rather than an entrée in the dining room. Grapeseed (4865-C Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592) has an appetizing selection.

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