After a slowdown of a few years, area restaurants seem to have recovered from the attacks of September 11, 2001. Restaurateurs say that business is now at pre-9/11 levels, and the number of new restaurants is increasing. At the high end, Yannick Cam's Le Paradou and Eric Ziebold's CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental hotel have opened their doors. In the "expensive" rather than "very expensive" category, we have Cathal Armstrong's Restaurant Eve in Alexandria and Ceiba in downtown DC. At the more moderate price level, there are Black Market Bistro and the Divino Lounge in Bethesda. From the owners of Jaleo, Café Atlántico, and Zaytinya comes the new Oyamel in Crystal City. There seems to be a renewed optimism and energy among restaurateurs.
In fact, the area has more good restaurants than ever. The tougher competition for spots on the 100 Very Best list means that some longtime award winners are not included this year. Sometimes that reflects a decline in quality, but sometimes it's because the bar is higher.
French restaurants show a decline–six of the 15 outgoing restaurants are French. Asian and Latin restaurants have made gains, reflecting a change in the population of the area and in its food habits.
In selecting the 100 Very Best, each restaurant has been compared with others of the same type and level of ambition. The quality of the cooking is the main criterion for inclusion on the list, but quality of service and value for money are considered.
Restaurants are rated as good (*), very good (**), superior (***), or outstanding (****). Establishments with three or four stars are designated Blue Ribbon Award winners. Four-star restaurants are among the best in the country.
A dinner for two–without alcohol but including three courses, tax, and a 15-percent tip–is the basis for this cost guide: $40 or less, inexpensive; $41 to $70, moderate; $71 to $130, expensive; more than $130, very expensive. Unless otherwise indicated, restaurants are accessible by wheelchair.
Restaurants in DC were selected by Thomas Head, in Maryland by Cynthia Hacinli, and in Virginia by David Dorsen.
ADDIE'S ** Rockville, Expensive
This is Jeff and Barbara Black's original restaurant, a house turned Modern American inn with retro dining rooms, an old stove, and a front lawn for al fresco dining. White Flint shoppers lunch on oyster po'boys with cornmeal-coated Chincoteague oysters or Addie's signature salad, a bonanza of roasted vegetables, greens, and hardwood-grilled items from steak to squid.
The winners at dinner include a salad of baby spinach, beets, goat cheese, and bacon; lamb over white beans with merguez sausage; grilled Angus rib eye with onion strings, and best of all, pan-roasted monkfish with wild mushrooms, caramelized cauliflower, and fingerling potatoes. The wine list is user-friendly with by-the-glass and half-bottle choices. Those with a sweet tooth should consider the toffee-chocolate-pecan brownie with crumbles of candy. More grown up is the coconut cheesecake with macadamia-nut crust and roasted pineapple.
Addie's, 11120 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-881-0081. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner. ANDALE ** Downtown DC; Moderate
Authentic Mexican cooking is increasingly popular–new restaurants such as Rosa Mexicano and Oyamel are doing well. Executive chef Alison Swope was the pioneer in 2001 when she changed the name of her DC restaurant to Andale and her menu to offer contemporary flavors of Mexico. Her renditions of dishes from this complex cuisine are impressive.
The menu begins with a selection of antojitos–"little whims"–that include freshly made guacamole, tortilla chips with three different salsas, and a delicious spicy pumpkin-seed dip served with warm tortillas. They go well with Andale's tart margaritas.
It's hard to resist ordering favorite dishes on the menu–the wonderful chiles rellenos made from a dried ancho chili; the chicken-filled enchiladas with a sauce of tomatillos, chilies, and cilantro; the leg of lamb slow-roasted in avocado leaves with a red chili paste–but some of Swope's most imaginative cooking is found on her special menus. A recent menu celebrating the Day of the Dead offered a first course of three different tamales, including a rustic baked tamale of ground hominy with pork and red chili; a main course of pork tenderloin in a red mole sauce; and a wonderful dessert of a baked apple in pastry in a pool of cajeta, that addictive Mexican caramel made from goat's milk.
Andale, 401 Seventh St., NW; 202-783-3133; andaledc.com. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. ARGIA'S * Falls Church; Moderate
New to the 100 Very Best list, this northern Italian restaurant offers very good food at very reasonable prices. Except for the beef tenderloin, none of the main courses is more than $20. High ceilings and comfortable chairs help make it an enjoyable, albeit noisy, place.
The menu is unusual in that it lets diners choose normal-size dishes or famiglia portions that serve two or more but cost only 60 percent more. Good starters are the beef carpaccio with apples, walnuts, and shaved Parmesan; the classic bruschetta; and the steamed mussels Argia with a broth enhanced with white wine, garlic, and parsley. Pastas, varied and excellent, include saffron fettuccine with scallops and egg linguine with shrimp, zucchini, and tomato. For a main course, consider the pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta with a black-pepper crust; the braised lamb shank; and Saltimbocca alla Romana. There are daily specials, including a fish selection. The luncheon menu features panini, the flattened sandwiches of Italy, and pastas, with prices starting at $7.95. The good wine list is well priced.
Argia's, 124 N. Washington St., Falls Church; 703-534-1033; argias.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. No reservations. BISTRO BIS [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Capitol Hill; Expensive
It's a tribute to chef Jeffrey Buben's skill as a manager that even though Bistro Bis and its sister restaurant, Vidalia, have lost chefs de cuisine in the last two years, the high quality of cooking and service at both places has continued. Attention to detail at Bistro Bis made it an immediate favorite with its high-profile clientele. Its bar has become a popular Capitol Hill watering hole, and its booths are filled lunchtimes and evenings with members of Congress, Hill staff, and lobbyists. The atmosphere is attractive enough for a business meal, casual enough for a drink and a snack.
The menu of updated bistro classics is very well executed. Appetizers include a rich duck-liver pâté nicely paired with fig jam. Brandade de Morue, purée of salt cod with potatoes, is garlicky and good. Duck confit, crisped and served in a ragoût of beans, duck sausage, and roasted tomato, may be the best in town. Pork tenderloin is wrapped in bacon and served with roasted apples and savoy cabbage. Beef Bourguignonne–made from short ribs braised to tenderness and served with perfectly cooked vegetables–is a nostalgic treat. Another treat, after the main course, is a selection of cheeses from fromager Mark Sunderland's cart. A combination of the familiar and the unusual, the cheeses are always in perfect condition.
Bistro Bis, in the Hotel George, 15 E St., NW; 202-661-2700; vidaliadc.com/bistro. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. BLACK MARKET BISTRO ** Garrett Park; Inexpensive to Moderate
Sitting in the retro-stylish dining room of Black Market Bistro, you feel a million miles from the city. Garrett Park, an enclave of Victorian houses between Kensington and Rockville, has old-time rhythms. People still pick up their mail at the post office, and freight trains roar through several times a day. The Bistro is also a place to get a great hamburger, thin-crust pizzas, and good Modern American cuisine. During the day folks stop in for coffee and home-baked scones, muffins, and cookies from the market nestled in one corner.
Signature dinner plates include New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp over scallion grits; Southern chicken breast with arugula and shaved Parmesan; salmon with a Lebanese salad of crunchy pita, tomato, and cucumber; an attractive antipasto platter; and specials like duck confit with white beans. Breads and desserts are made in-house. Most notable is the daily cake–sometimes chocolate fudge, sometimes chocolate espresso–displayed on a cake stand at the bar/counter. A no-reservations policy can mean waits, though when the weather turns warm, the tables on the porch help the cause.
Black Market Bistro, 4600 Waverly Ave., Garrett Park; 301-933-3000. Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and afternoon fare, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch. BLACK'S BAR & KITCHEN ** Bethesda; Expensive
The second, and largest, of Jeff and Barbara Black's Maryland restaurants has a loungey bar, a sprawling front porch, and a handsome dining room with belt-run ceiling fans and old photos on the walls. Chef David Craig's food is more complicated than the fare at the Blacks' other two restaurants. Dishes to look for: Angus rib eye with red-pepper chimichurri; garlic-and-herb roasted chicken with Applewood bacon; Vermilion Bay seafood stew; horseradish-and-potato-crusted flounder; and crabcakes with Creole mustard cream sauce.
Sometimes there's too much going on, and flavors clash. Fans don't mind. The place is packed nearly every night, though in fine weather, when the porch becomes an outdoor dining room, things ease up a bit. In addition to a solid showing of beers and wines by the bottle, half bottle, and glass, Black's serves exotic martinis and other cocktails–the bar, with its well-priced menu and lengthy oyster roster, is a hangout for Bethesda's young and restless. Sweets include Key-lime meringue pie, seasonal fruit cobbler, and a fantasy of a chocolate cake with milk-chocolate frosting, vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and white-chocolate shavings.
Black's Bar & Kitchen, 7750 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-6278. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. BLUE POINT GRILL ** Alexandria; Expensive
Seafood is the name of the game here. There is an attractive raw bar near the entrance with oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and lobster. A comfortable interior and a spacious veranda for dining in good weather enhance the experience. Quality is high, and while prices are not cheap–excellent oysters are $12 a half dozen, appetizers average $10, and main courses are between $20 and $29–you get what you pay for.
Good appetizers have included fried Monterey calamari; shrimp sautéed with asparagus, string beans, and cabbage; and seared beef-tenderloin carpaccio with truffled fingerling potatoes and chive crème fraîche. Good seafood main courses have been the pan-seared grouper with fava beans, white asparagus, and saffron potato mousseline in a bowl of lobster bisque; grilled escolar, a white fish from Hawaii, with stewed leeks, papaya coulis, and coconut buerre blanc; and grilled Atlantic salmon with cipollini, onions, haricots vert, and mustard sauce. The crabcake is a safe bet. Meat eaters can get grilled New York prime steak and double-cut pork chops.
The wine list needs improvement–diners deserve better choices to go with the fine cooking. Reds are served too warm.
Blue Point Grill, 600 Franklin St., Alexandria; 703-739-0404; suttongourmet.com/about/bluepoint.html. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch. BOMBAY BISTRO ** Fairfax, Rockville; Inexpensive
The tandoor plates and curries of northern India are popular at these low-flash, high-quality restaurants, but the south is given a nod with a lineup of vegetarian dosas. Fairfax has a bigger dining room, while Rockville is a cozy spot with the kitchen in full view. Indian art and artifacts add grace notes to both. Deep-fried bhajia, vegetables in a batter of grain flour, are beautifully done. So are spicy fish tidbits to dip in tomato chutney and a pair of cool "salads"–papri chat with flour crisps, tamarind chutney, and yogurt, and bhel puri with crisps and noodles.
Dal Makhani, black lentils laced with ginger and tomatoes, makes for a smoky dip– it's been simmered over charcoal all night–with one of the flatbreads from the tandoor. The tandoor also turns out flavorful bone-in half chickens and seekh kebab made with ground beef and a shot of garlic. Round the meal out with a curry–shrimp masala cooked with aromatic spices or the southern Indian lamb nilgiri korma, which gets its kick from green curry and cilantro. Specials like lamb shank, mussels with curry leaves and white wine, and whole rockfish cooked in the tandoor with ginger and garlic are well worth trying. Beers and wines are available, but the cool sweet yogurt drink known as mango lassi is more authentic.
Bombay Bistro, 3570 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax, 703-359-5810; 98 W. Montgomery Ave., Rockville, 301-762-8798; bombaybistro.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. BUCK'S FISHING & CAMPING * Upper Northwest DC; Moderate
The popularity of this American-style restaurant and its no-reservations policy make eating there a bit of a challenge on weekends. But once you've been seated by amiable host James Alefantis, chef Carole Greenwood's cooking, always straightforward and honest, is a treat. The menu changes seasonally, but good first-course choices have included chopped chicken livers on toast, deviled eggs with crisp bread-and-butter pickles, and a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with a great bleu-cheese-and-bacon dressing.
Main courses usually include a grilled fish, perhaps sweet sea bass paired with slightly bitter greens; Greenwood's very good mussels, pan-roasted with rosemary and garlic; and a perfectly cooked sirloin with sweet-potato fries. Desserts are homey and good–a delicious sweet-potato pound cake with cinnamon custard, an intensely chocolate devil's food cake, and, when peaches are in season, a crisp-topped peach cobbler.
Buck's Fishing & Camping, 5031 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-364-0777. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. BUON GIORNO * Bethesda; Moderate
Though the dining room has its young couples and dealmakers, some patrons have been eating here since Buon Giorno opened 30 years ago. They keep coming for the warm welcome from Daniela Nicotra, whose parents, Arcide and Angela Ginepro, opened the place, and for the pasta that the Ginepros still make by hand every day.
Starters that show this kitchen to advantage include a pair of salads, one with thin-sliced raw mushrooms, olive oil, lemon, and parsley, and the other shaved fennel and red pepper with a lemon olive oil. Many of the pastas are wonderful, but the real standouts are tagliolini with lemon cream, an Amalfi dish; trenette all'antica with pesto sauce and green beans Genoa-style; square pappardelle with wild mushrooms and a smattering of tomato; and linguine with white clam sauce. Meat and seafood main courses are simple and familiar: veal with fresh roasted peppers; snapper with capers and olives; sole in a light egg batter sautéed in olive oil; and shrimp with garlic, wine, and tomato. Most folks linger over a cannoli and an espresso, a fitting finish to this most Italian of meals.
Buon Giorno, 8003 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1400. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. CAFé ATLáNTICO ** Downtown DC; Moderate
The team of Roberto Alvarez, Rob Wilder, and chef José Andrés has given Washington several of its most popular restaurants–the several locations of Jaleo, Zaytinya, and most recently Oyamel in Pentagon City. But whatever else they do, Café Atlántico, one of their earlier efforts, continues to delight. Part of its appeal is its setting, a multilevel space in an old electrical building. Then there's the restaurant's penchant for new ideas–the Latin dim sum brunch on Saturdays and Sundays or the Minibar, which serves the chef's inventive experiments.
Café Atlántico's appeal is mostly based on attentive service, good drinks, and good food: the best mojitos and caipirinhas in town; guacamole prepared tableside; a Brazilian chicken stew with the usual feijoada accompaniments; halibut with a "couscous" of cauliflower and quinoa; portobello mushrooms with huitlacoche, a corn fungus with a taste somewhere between sweet corn and mushrooms.
The menu at the Minibar, where a place should be reserved in advance because of limited seating, is always an interesting journey into the world of tastes and textures. Among the 30 or so small courses served, you might find a deconstructed clam chowder, guacamole-and-tomato sorbet, and foie gras covered in cotton candy.
Café Atlántico, 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812; cafeatlanticodc.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for Latino dim sum brunch. CAFE MILANO ** Georgetown; Very Expensive
Franco Nuschese's Cafe Milano has long been a gathering place for Washington's glamorous set. Over the last few years Nuschese has transformed his restaurant from a single dining room to a complex of rooms–from a rustic upstairs wine room to the elegant Domingo room–that host social gatherings of all stripes.
Chef Domenico Cornacchia feeds his celebrity clientele well. Strengths of the restaurant are its flexible menu and a staff that serves a casual diner who orders pizza, a salad, or a plate of pasta with the same respect as one who orders a full meal. You might begin a meal here with a plate of beautifully fried shrimp, calamari, eggplant, and zucchini or perhaps a delicate flan of white asparagus with a poached egg and robiola cheese.
The kitchen will gladly serve a half order of pasta, so you might follow the antipasto with a plate of Cornacchia's wonderful strozzapreti with salt cod, olives, capers, and tomato. Good main-course choices include a veal chop, pounded and grilled and remarkably moist and flavorful, or roasted veal, paired with a rich mushroom risotto.
Cafe Milano, 3251 Prospect St., NW; 202-333-6183; cafemilanodc.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. CARLYLE * Arlington; Moderate
This increasingly upscale restaurant has changed its name from Carlyle Grand Café to simply Carlyle. The upstairs is beautiful and has soft leather banquettes. Downstairs is attractive but more of a cafe. Prices are moderate for the quality of the ingredients–main courses average about $20. Cooking is good and consistent; service is enthusiastic.
Fine beginnings are the fried blue-crab fritters inside a tangle of phyllo threads with roasted-red-pepper corn salsa; crispy salt-and-pepper calamari on a bed of roasted tomato and garlic butter; and steamed lobster pot stickers with spicy lobster-ginger butter. Good main courses are the superb sautéed jumbo lump crabcakes with a rémoulade sauce and slender French-fried potatoes; a chicken paillard with sun-dried tomatoes, sweet onions, and arugula on angel-hair pasta; and hickory smoked and grilled Black Angus rib-eye steak with Parmesan potatoes. The excellent cheeseburger is served upstairs and down, where the crabcake sandwich is also a lunch attraction.
Oven-fresh breads come from the restaurant's Best Buns Bread Company next door. Desserts are good, especially deep-dish apple pie and banana pudding with caramel and chocolate sauces. Special attention has been paid to the wine list, which offers good choices for less than $20.
Carlyle, 4000 S. 28th St., Arlington; 703-931-0777; greatamericanrestaurants.com/carlyle/cm.htm. Open daily for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch. CASHION'S EAT PLACE [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Adams Morgan; Expensive
Ann Cashion named her sophisticated Adams Morgan restaurant after Doe's Eat Place, a down-home steak-and-tamales place in her native Mississippi, and that hints not so much at the style but at the confidence of her cooking. An occasional dish might come straight out of the American South–grilled pork chops with maple-pecan butter, mashed sweet potatoes, and mustard grains–but the Southernness of her cooking is more evident in her commitment to fresh seasonal produce and a conviction that the accompaniments are as important as the main ingredient.
From Cashion's handwritten menu, which changes daily, you might begin with a bowl of the most authentic New Orleans-style gumbo in town, a spicy fried rabbit loin with Creole mustard sauce, or a plate of superb house-made charcuterie–a terrine of veal and pork, pork rillettes, and a creamy rabbit-liver mousse. Main-course choices have ranged from roast duck breast with sautéed foie gras in an apricot sauce, accompanied by mashed parsnips and baby carrots, to a surprising and delicious rendition of an Asian crispy whole fish–beautifully fried whole flounder with a chili-lime dipping sauce and a salad of pea shoots and radishes with an aromatic yuzu dressing.
Cashion's Eat Place, 1819 Columbia Rd.; 202-797-1819; cashionseatplace.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Sunday for brunch. CEIBA ** Downtown DC; Expensive
This newest venture by the owners of DC Coast and TenPenh has a menu that takes traditional preparations from Mexico and Latin America and updates them for modern tastes. It's easy to go wrong with such an approach, but Ceiba succeeds very well. Four ceviches–shrimp, grouper, tuna, and striped bass–may be ordered at dinner individually or as a sampler, the best way to appreciate the flavors and textures that set them apart from the standard fish-and-lemon-juice combination. A superb chile relleno is a fresh Anaheim chilie filled with rock shrimp and goat cheese.
Ceiba's feijoada, available in the evenings, has layers of well-flavored beans, rice, and kale topped by a tender and flavorful braised pork shank. Whole red snapper Vera Cruz-style, crisply fried and served under a topping of tomatoes, olives, capers, and jalapeños, is big enough for two. Sharing is a good idea, particularly if you want to save room for pastry chef David Guas's Latin-inspired desserts. Most spectacular is a plate of warm churros, morsels of fried dough dusted with cinnamon and accompanied by a "shooter" of the richest hot chocolate imaginable. Whether you order dessert or not, every meal ends with a box of delicious caramel popcorn.
Ceiba, 701 14th St., NW; 202-393-3983; ceibarestaurant.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. CHEZ MARC * Manassas; Expensive
At this French country bistro, lace curtains adorn the windows, and the songs of Edith Piaf waft through the air. Although Marc Fusilier passed away in 2003, the restaurant continues to do well. Chef Natael Martinez keeps up his fine effort behind the stove, and service remains conscientious.
Main courses range from $20 to $36 on the regular menu. On Monday through Wednesday evenings, diners can enjoy a $27 four-course meal that starts with lobster bisque and a good house salad, moves on to a choice of trout amandine, tenderloin of pork, or chicken Marsala, and ends with a very good dessert soufflé. A glass of wine or coffee is included.
The regular menu boasts appetizers of scallops in a garlic-butter-and-tomato sauce and scallops of alligator in a garlic butter with sambuca. Main courses include a half duck with blueberry sauce; pepper steak; grilled filet mignon; and medallions of venison with wild-mushroom sauce. A recent special of a grilled veal chop had very good flavor but was priced at a hefty $36.
Chez Marc Restaurant Francais, 7607 Centreville Rd. (Rt. 28), Manassas; 703-369-6526; chezmarc28.com. Open Thursday and Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. CITRONELLE [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** Georgetown; Very Expensive
Michel Richard's decision six years ago to move his base of operations from Los Angeles to Washington was the culinary equivalent of DC's acquisition of a Major-League Baseball team. Richard's combination of classic technique and witty innovation makes any meal at Citronelle a memorable experience.
It will not be an inexpensive one, particularly now that Citronelle is no longer open for lunch. Only in the upstairs bar can diners order à la carte. In the dining room there is a choice of two menus–three courses for $85 or a tasting menu of nine courses for $150. The choices change frequently, but recent menus have included Michel Richard's pig's foot–a thin sheet of crisp pork skin atop a stuffing of sweetbreads, foie gras, and the meat from the foot; Virtual Fettuccini, not fettuccine at all but thin strands of cuttlefish sauced with fresh corn and trout caviar; and a squab "minute steak," the flattened breast served with a potato-crusted confit of the leg in a cinnamon-cabernet sauce.
Richard was trained as a pastry chef, and his unusual desserts are delicious. Try Breakfast at Citronelle, a sweet that looks like fried eggs with toast, bacon, and hash browns but tastes like nothing of the sort. Sommelier Mark Slater presides over the extensive and well-chosen wine list with impressive knowledge that he is eager to share.
Citronelle, Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW; 202-625-2150; citronelledc.com. Open daily for breakfast and dinner. COLVIN RUN TAVERN [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Vienna; Very Expensive
Bob Kinkead spends most of the week at Kinkead's in downtown DC, but on weekends he turns his attention to his Tysons Corner restaurant. During the week, chef Jeffrey Gaetjen holds the fort very capably, so there is no inconsistency. As befits a restaurant that shares a building with Tiffany, Gucci, and Hermés, the decorations are subdued and in good taste, with several pretty rooms behind the reception and bar area. Many diners think of Kinkead's primarily as a seafood restaurant, but Colvin Run Tavern does it all.
A recent dinner for four began with a gratin of lump crab with garlic cream, a terrine of foie gras with Calvados and a dried pear apple Charlotte, smoked moulard duck breast with a sweet-potato purée and huckleberry sauce, and a lobster bisque with a shrimp-and-English-pea agnolotti. Main courses were flounder wrapped in spring-roll paper with house-made egg noodles; pan-roasted muscovy duck breast with savory potato gnocchi; pepper, sea-salt, and cocoa-spiced rare tuna with sweet potato, chili, and corn hash; and from the serving cart, roasted-garlic-stuffed prime rib with Yorkshire pudding.
Desserts included a chocolate sampler and bittersweet chocolate hazelnut mousse cake beautifully presented with droplets of chocolate.
On a first visit consider the $59-per-person tasting menu.
Bob Kinkead's Colvin Run Tavern, 8045 Leesburg Pike, Vienna; 703-356-9500; kinkead.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. CORDUROY ** Downtown DC; Expensive
One of the hardest of the 100 Very Best Restaurants to find, Corduroy is on the second floor of the Sheraton Four Points Hotel with no direct entrance from the street. The advantage of this location is that it's usually possible to get a table.
Corduroy is worth seeking out. Chef Tom Power worked for Michel Richard at the Citronelle in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Georgetown. Both the quality of his ingredients and the deftness of his technique are impressive. Soups are always a good bet–a fall parsnip soup was earthy and delicious, a soup of kabocha squash pleasantly sweet. A lobster salad with green peas was delicious to look at but served too cold.
Main-course choices include one of the best roast chickens in town, crisp skinned and moist; a flavorful loin strip of buffalo from New Frontier, cooked to order; and long-cooked veal cheeks, meltingly tender, with tarbais beans. Power's time with Michel Richard has been noticeable in his desserts–a perfectly cooked crème brûlée, Michel's Chocolate Hazelnut Bars, and seasonal ice creams.
Corduroy, 1201 K St., NW; 202-589-0699; corduroy-dc.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. THE CROSSING AT CASEY JONES * La Plata; Expensive
An impressive, well-priced wine list and an inventive approach make Casey Jones a place to seek out. Creativity rules in this Modern American kitchen with dishes like lump crab served over crispy Navajo indian fry bread, though there are also nods to tradition with slow-roasted prime rib with buttermilk mashed potatoes. The place has a West Coast vibe courtesy of dining rooms fashioned of wood and stone and a wall that doubles as a wine rack–service tends to be laid back.
Winning starters include cream of crab soup, skate-wing tempura with Asian mayo, and a mini-Monte Cristo of salmon, crab, and shiitake mushrooms. Main-course treats range from a chipotle-and-apricot-glazed pork chop to ballotine of chicken served with pancetta-wrapped chicken livers and banana-pistachio-flecked rice. A pair of baked Alaskas–strawberry shortcake and chocolate–make for a fun finish. And there are good dessert wines.
The Crossing at Casey Jones, 417 E. Charles St., La Plata; 301-932-6226; thecrossingatcaseyjones.com. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. DC COAST ** Downtown DC; Expensive
The team of Jeff Tunks, Gus DiMillo, and David Wizenberg has given us three of DC's most successful restaurants. The bar at DC Coast, their initial venture, is a popular after-work hangout for the neighborhood law offices, but the restaurant's main attraction is the Chesapeake/Gulf of Mexico/Pacific Coast seafood cooking from executive chef Jeff Tunks and chef de cuisine Andy Brooks.
While DC Coast does not pretend to be a New Orleans-style restaurant, its menu offers some of the best interpretations of New Orleans standards this side of the Mississippi: a generous seafood gumbo, terrific fried oysters, and pastry chef David Guas's buttermilk beignets with café au lait crème brûlée. The crabcake is one of the best in town, the sweetness of the crab accented by a relish of fresh corn and pickled okra. Many non-Asian chefs acknowledge the popularity of Asian flavors by throwing in a stalk of lemongrass here or a little soy or a few hot peppers there. Two Asian-inspired dishes at DC Coast have become signatures of this dependable kitchen–Tunks's wonderful Chinese-style smoked lobster and his dramatically presented crispy whole striped bass, both skillfully integrating Asian techniques and American ingredients.
DC Coast, 1401 K St., NW; 202-216-5988; dccoast.com. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. DIVINO LOUNGE & RESTAURANT * Bethesda; Moderate
With its crimson walls and abstract paintings, Divino is all about Latin chic. While the young stop by for tapas, Argentine families settle in for meaty feasts in one of Bethesda's most stylish dining rooms.
Tapas worth tasting are avocado slices heaped with lump crab and drizzled with citrus dressing, roast duck leg with prunes, grilled sardines with garlic sauce, and little plates of cured ham and Spanish cheeses. Worthy starters on the regular menu–you can think of them as tapas, too–include a multilayered vegetable cake stuffed with goat cheese and served with asparagus sauce, lobster salad with gazpacho dressing, and shrimp in garlic sauce.
Beef reigns here, so try the grilled New York strip, or short ribs, or a South American cut known as churrasco. The parrillada for two is an extravaganza of short ribs, sausages, sweetbreads, and the skirt-steak-like flap meat. Other main courses seem almost plain. Not so the paellas, one with seafood, another Valencia-style with sausage, chicken, pork, and duck. They are among the area's best. The wine list includes interesting picks from Argentina and Uruguay, and there's also the popular Argentine beer Quilmes.
Divino Lounge & Restaurant, 7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-497-0300; www.divinolounge.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner, Sunday for brunch. DUANGRAT'S [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Falls Church; Inexpensive
This Thai restaurant burst on the scene 18 years ago. The area's small, family-run restaurants suddenly were challenged by an upscale place that soared beyond the standard dishes of beef, pork, chicken, and fish with basil, broccoli, and chili paste with string beans. Duangrat's offered far more elegant and elaborate dishes, and it served them in a dining room that boasted white tablecloths and fresh flowers.
Duangrat's does list the standard dishes–and cooks them as well as anyone–but it pays to search out the unexpected. Consider ordering Shell Sea–shredded shrimp and crabmeat with coconut and cilantro layered in crispy rice paper–or Salmon Purse, curried salmon with potatoes and onions in a crisp rice-paper shell. For unusual main courses visit the part of the menu titled "Our Signatures" and "Originals by the Sea." There you will find Chicken Horapa, breast of chicken sautéed in roasted chili paste with horapa basil served with stir-fried peppered egg noodles; Cape Tato Rockfish, fried garlic-crusted whole rockfish served with a chili-lemon sauce; and spicy Phuket Shrimp, tempura-fried shrimp with a chili-garlic sauce. Try to include one of the curries and a preparation of vegetables or tofu, such as stir-fried Tofu Bhram in a spicy peanut sauce.
Duangrat's, 5878 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-820-5775; duangrats.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. EQUINOX [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Downtown DC; Expensive
When chef Todd Gray left Galileo after seven years in Roberto Donna's kitchen to open his own restaurant, he surprised his fans by turning away from Italian cooking in favor of the foods of his native Chesapeake Bay region. The chef's return to his roots has paid off. Many chefs claim to use "the freshest regional products," but few have been as conscientious about seeking the best local sources as Gray. He and his wife and business partner, Ellen Gray, have also been active in promoting humane animal care; dishes made from animals raised according to guidelines of the Humane Farm Animal Care Program, which include a diet without antibiotics or hormones, are indicated on the menu.
Lunch may be ordered à la carte at Equinox, but the dinner format is now a chef's tasting menu–three courses for $55, four for $70, six for $85. Diners may choose from three or more options in each course. The restaurant asks that the number of courses be the same for each diner at the table. The payoff for diners might be a dinner consisting of a bowl of delicious cream of parsnip soup topped with fried Chesapeake oysters; pan-seared Carolina grouper with Virginia ham and mushrooms; braised shanks and roasted loin of lamb from Jamison Farm; and a caramel bread pudding with maple bourbon ice cream.
Equinox, 818 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-331-8118; equinoxrestaurant.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS ** Flint Hill, Va.; Expensive
For a very fine meal in a country setting, this restaurant is hard to beat. Unlike another country restaurant on this list–the Inn at Little Washington–this is a comfortable rather than a sumptuous experience. Two modestly appointed dining rooms, one ground-level and one subterranean, feature antiques and memorabilia bespeaking a passionate interest in blackbirds. The short menu changes every three weeks. Saturdays feature live music.
There was much to enjoy on recent visits. A cheese tart with fingerling potatoes and roasted onions, broiled sea scallops wrapped in apple-smoked ham, and warm cumin-and-dill potato crisps with Norwegian smoked salmon were among the appetizers. Main courses always include fish, whether Florida grouper with garlic and olive oil and an olive tapenade or a broiled red snapper with red-pepper sauce and lobster potato cakes. Meat may be a grilled Black Angus beef tenderloin or a braised pork tenderloin "sauerbraten style" with onions and cabbage cooked in Riesling and served with spaetzle.
There are occasional shortcomings: One evening the usually exemplary bread basket included a couple of near-stale slices, and a "warm" maple-and-black-walnut tart was served room temperature.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds, 650 Zachary Taylor Hwy. (Rt. 522), Flint Hill, Va.; 540-675-1111; fourandtwenty.com. Open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch. FOUR SISTERS (HUONG QUE) ** Falls Church; Inexpensive
One of the few Virginia restaurants to appear on both the 100 Very Best and the 100 Best Bargain lists, this family-run operation offers very good Vietnamese food. Its location in the Eden Shopping Center near Seven Corners makes it part of the Vietnamese community there. Minor improvements in decor leave it short of elegant, but it is a comfortable place to dine.
The menu is big. To start, you can get familiar crispy spring rolls, shrimp toast, and stuffed crab claws, but also wonderful roasted quail or salads of green papaya or jellyfish with shrimp and pork. You can order beef sautéed with broccoli, grilled lemongrass chicken, and caramel shrimp but also Canadian black cod, whole steamed rockfish with ginger and scallions, caramel short ribs in a hot pot, goat in coconut milk and curry in a hot pot, sautéed baby clams with crispy sesame rice paper, crispy shrimp served in edible shells, and frog's legs prepared a variety of ways. There are set dinners for two to six people for as little as $11 a person and a seven-course beef feast for $17.95. For less than $7, diners can order large bowls of noodle soup, crispy rice crepes, rice vermicelli, and rice with such toppings as grilled pork, grilled lemongrass beef, and shrimp.
Four Sisters (Huong Que), 6769 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church; 703-538-6717. Open daily for lunch and dinner. GALILEO [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
Three years ago, the energetic Roberto Donna sold a few of his satellite restaurants and turned his attention to his flagship, Galileo. He built a restaurant within the restaurant, his Laboratorio, where he presides at the range, preparing prix fixe menus of a dozen or so courses for a dining room of about 25 seats. Two years ago, to boost his business at the other end of the price scale, he added a lunchtime bar menu offering pastas, pizzas, and other hearty fare for prices that average $8–a very good bargain.
This summer he took some unused space in the bar to create his Osteria del Galileo, offering at dinnertime a selection of appetizers, pastas, and other dishes from his native Piedmont at prices ranging from $4 to $12. He also began grilling at lunchtime, using the Laboratorio space or the courtyard behind the restaurant as an assembly line for wonderful sandwiches of pork, sausages, or chicken for $5.
He also changed the menu in the main dining room from an emphasis on the cooking of the Piedmont to that of Naples. In three years he has transformed the best Italian restaurant in the city into a complex of the best Italian restaurants in the city. Loyal customers eagerly await his next idea.
Galileo, 1110 21st St., NW; 202-293-7191; galileodc.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. GERARD'S PLACE [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
Gerard Pangaud, the youngest chef ever to win two Michelin stars in his native France, came to Washington to head the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. Pangaud then opened his own restaurant on McPherson Square in DC. From the beginning, it was the least imposing of the city's luxury restaurants. Over the years its appearance has improved until at last it has become a fitting setting for Pangaud's accomplished cooking.
A meal at Gerard's Place is an expensive treat. Appetizers are $14 to $22, main courses start at $31 for a napoleon of salmon and potatoes and reach $52.50 for the signature lobster with ginger, lime, and Sauternes sauce. Once you're over the sticker shock–wine prices start at about $60–you can relax and enjoy a wonderful meal.
You might begin with an appetizer of crisp veal sweetbreads paired with wild mushrooms, or a sable of snails on a round of crumbly pastry with leeks, bacon, and mushrooms. Main courses on a recent visit included venison with delicious sweet potato and beet purées; a plate of veal three ways, the roasted tenderloin with salsify, the braised chop with Savoy cabbage, and a confit of osso buco with a gratin of potatoes; and a beautiful rare breast of duck with a flavorful "Parmentier" of duck confit. The best dessert was a caramelized quince tart.
The prix fixe lunch menu, at $29.50 a person, is a less expensive way of enjoying the cooking of this very good chef.
Gerard's Place, 915 15th St., NW; 202-737-4445. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. GRAPESEED [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Bethesda; Expensive
Casual and sophisticated, this Modern American wine bar is an ideal spot for both grazers and diners. The frequently changing menu is divided into beginnings, middles, and ends. Beginnings, generous enough for a light meal, range from pork belly braised in molasses to a lobster-and-crab cake with succotash to sublimely earthy wild mushrooms over truffled polenta. The salads are anything but run-of-the-mill–try one with vegetables and mustard tarragon vinaigrette.
Entrées, or "Ends," include a memorable Moqueca seafood stew over coconut-scented rice, pork tenderloin with Cuban black beans and beer-battered onions, and a game lover's feast of elk loin, venison rack, and veal and rabbit sausage. Grazers can taste wines from the big list ($2.75 to $9 for a 21/2-ounce pour) before committing to a glass or bottle. Ginger lemon cake is a winning finish, and pumpkin panna cotta stays in the memory long after the last spoonful.
Grapeseed American Bistro & Wine Bar, 4865-C Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592; grapeseedbistro.com. Open daily for dinner. GREEN PAPAYA * Bethesda; Moderate
A wall of water soothes the psyche at this stylish Vietnamese restaurant that marries tradition with invention. Diners in search of something new should go to the specials menu for items like Hen Xuc Banh Da, sautéed baby clams with black-sesame crackers; caramel black-pepper pork loin; and rack of lamb with lemongrass. There's also a well-rounded roster of classic dishes like Bo La Nho, beef wrapped in vine leaves and charbroiled, and golden fried quail with black-pepper sauce, which make for fine beginnings.
Among the popular caramelized items is a lemongrass duck-breast version. More familiar main courses like bun–rice vermicelli with a variety of meat and seafood toppings–are nicely done, especially one with shrimp in lemongrass sauce. For dessert, banana flambé with ginger ice cream is a great take on the banana split. Along with traditional Vietnamese drinks like iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk and fresh lemonade and lemon soda, there's a short beer and wine list.
Green Papaya, 4922 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-654-8986. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner. THE GRILLE ** Alexandria; Expensive
For luxury and intimacy, nothing matches this restaurant formerly called Elysium, located in the Morrison House Hotel, possessor of the coveted Relais & Chateaux hotel insignia. Brass chandeliers and paintings of the English countryside set the tone in a room that holds just nine tables. (Smokers can be seated in another dining room, which boasts a lively piano bar.) Traditional service–very good traditional service–has replaced a system in which the chef came out from the kitchen to negotiate a list of courses with each table.
Standouts at a recent meal were a carpaccio of beef with sweet-corn kernels, arugula, and shaved Parmesan cheese; a tempura of tiger prawns with buckwheat groats and a roquette coulis; a poussin with a terrine of pumpkin and a red-pepper coulis; and a filet of Black Angus beef with red-wine-infused butter and a parsley coulis. A rack of veal might be recommended were it not for the undersalted and overcooked tagliatelle accompanying it. The delicious chocolate cake beat out a good field of desserts. The wine list is enterprising, with such unusual choices as a Maranges Premier Cru from Burgundy.
The Grille, Morrison House Hotel, 116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-838-8000; morrisonhouse.com. Open daily for dinner. HERITAGE INDIA [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Glover Park and Dupont Circle; Moderate
The original of this Indian restaurant in Glover Park continues to distinguish itself as one of the best Indian kitchens in town, unsurpassed in its renditions of many of the standards of Indian cooking–wonderful tandoori dishes; a superb lamb vindaloo tangy with vinegar; Grouper Jalfrezi with onions, tomatoes, and green peppers; Yakhani Gosht, lamb simmered in yogurt and saffron.
The new Heritage India near Dupont Circle calls itself a "brasserie and lounge" and devotes almost a page of its menu to "contemporary Indian fare," much of it small plates based on the street-hawker fare of India. These include tapas-like selections of samosas, pakoras, and kebabs, plus some cross-cultural experiments–a roasted portobello mushroom with crab masala, a hummus of roasted garlic and black beans with a Parmesan naan, and tandoori-smoked mozzarella. The small plates are $3.95 to $7.95. A section of pastas further expands the menu with selections like Goan Bouillabaisse, fish and shellfish on angel-hair pasta with cilantro-pesto rouille.
Heritage India, 2400 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-3120; 1337 Connecticut Ave., NW. 202-331-1414; heritageindia.biz. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner, Sunday for buffet brunch. HOLLYWOOD EAST CAFé * Wheaton; Inexpensive
Skip familiar plates like moo shu chicken and go for the authentic dishes that make this restaurant stand out: garlic-pepper razor clams or a surprisingly good shredded-duck-and-jellyfish combination. If you're feeling adventurous, try sautéed duck blood with ginger and scallion–it's better than it sounds.
Barbecue meats are also a specialty: There's expertly roasted duck and pork, pungent soy-sauce chicken, and crispy roast pig. Excellent and unusual casserole dishes are chicken with taro, oyster, and roast pig, and curried pig skin with fishballs. Seasonal vegetables are highlights–try the lotus root or snow-pea leaves with fresh ginger if they're available.
Dumplings are more doughy than delicate, and noodles are best had in one of the steaming Hong Kong-style soups. Most dishes are on the menu, but it's worth asking the waitress to translate the specials written in Chinese on red strips of paper on the walls.
A second, bigger outpost of the restaurant with a similar menu plus dim sum was scheduled to open in late December.
Hollywood East Café, 2312 Price Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-8282; 2621 University Blvd. W., Wheaton, 240-290-9988; hollywoodeastcafe.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. IL PIZZICO ** Rockville; Moderate
Owner/chef Enzo Livia has updated his regional Italian menu and added more of his native Sicilian cuisine. The result, once word gets out, is likely to be even longer waits for a table on weekends thanks to the no-reservations policy. Dishes to look for include the bresaola con la rughetta, air-dried cured beef with arugula, Parmesan shavings, and lemon dressing; sweet-and-sour Sicilian eggplant that's mellow and assertive at the same time; and spinach salad with walnuts, crispy pancetta, and Gorgonzola.
Pastas have always been good at Il Pizzico. Many are house-made, all are served al dente. Ravioli filled with mushrooms and ricotta and finished with pistachio cream sauce is elegance itself. Also delicious: maltagliati, wide swaths of pasta, with veal meat sauce; bucatini, thick, hollow spaghetti, with a creamy tomato sauce; and rigatoni with fennel and garlic bread crumbs.
Carb watchers won't feel a bit deprived with a plate of pesce spada a ghiotta, swordfish with caramelized onions, green Sicilian olives, and capers from Pantelleria, a island off the west coast of Sicily. Meat lovers can go for veal with pine nuts, raisins, and rosemary, rack of lamb with garlic and Chianti wine sauce, or chicken with balsamic vinegar and sage. The Italian wines that dominate the wine list go well with this fare.
Il Pizzico, 15209 Frederick Rd., Rockville; 301-309-0610. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. INDIQUE ** Cleveland Park; Moderate
"Let's stop in for a lamb korma before we catch the movie" may not be a proposal often heard by many American moviegoers, but it's a delicious possibility for patrons of the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Avenue. Indique, a stylish new Indian restaurant from the owners of the Bombay Bistro in Fairfax and Rockville, offers a menu of small plates designed for the tapas generation.
The "First Taste" section of the menu features some delicious and unusual dishes that can serve as first courses or as shared snacks–calamari ullarthiyathe, tossed with hot pepper, ginger, and tomato; mussels stewed with coconut milk and curry leaves; mini dosas, crepes stuffed with chicken or vegetables.
The part of the menu called "Indique platters" offers other unusual dishes–a very spicy Chicken Cheettinad from Tamil Nadu in southern India and Meen Porichathe, fresh fish wrapped in a banana leaf with ginger, tomato, and spices. From the curries section, the lamb nilgiri korma with cilantro and hot peppers is delicious. Breads are very well done here, especially the seldom-seen appams–rice breads served with a stew of chicken or vegetables.
Indique, 3512 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-6600; indique.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. THE INN AT LITTLE WASHINGTON [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** Washington, Virginia; Very Expensive
Ask food aficionados from around the country where they would like to eat in this area and they'll probably say the Inn at Little Washington. The principal dining area has soft banquettes, thick carpeting, heavy drapes, and tasseled pink lampshades. Vases overflow with fresh flowers. Service is impeccable, starting with the initial greeting on the steps of the inn.
The standard menu is $118 (more on Saturday evening and more if you choose to dine in the kitchen) exclusive of beverage, tax, and gratuity. For the price, diners get four substantial courses, including a dessert, as well as gifts from the chef.
A recent menu was as tantalizing as ever with plenty of foie gras, lobster, wild fish, and game. The meal, taken late on a Sunday afternoon, was very good. But with the restaurant's reputation, and at these prices, merely very good can be disappointing. There was one slightly misconceived dish–the onions in a course of fricassee of Maine lobster with potato gnocchi and curried walnuts were too aggressive. In a couple of courses the seasoning was too tame.
But most dishes were wonderful, as good as expected, including a marinated, pan-seared squab on garlic polenta with blackberry sauce and a parsley-crusted, marinated lamb chop on ginger-laced stewed tomatoes with sugar snap peas and garlic custard. The chocolate pistachio soufflé with vanilla ice cream and pistachio crème anglaise was a fitting conclusion, something to vie with Seven Deadly Sins, a mélange of seven of the pastry chef's triumphs. A full vegetarian menu is available.
Note: If the meals are expensive, rooms at the Inn are doubly so. A room on Saturday night ranges from $550 to $1,235. There are B&Bs in the immediate vicinity.
The Inn at Little Washington, Middle and Main sts., Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800; theinnatlittlewashington.com. Open Wednesday through Monday for dinner. I RICCHI ** Dupont Circle; Very Expensive
Owner Christianne Ricchi's restaurant, with its vaulted ceilings, terra cotta floors, and Della Robbia-like murals on the walls, is a good setting for the simplicity and elegance of Tuscan cooking. The wood-burning grill visible from the dining room is at the center of the menu. It's always hard to resist the hearty dish of grilled sausage with cannellini beans and tomatoes, but also from the grill come lamb chops, pork chops, steaks, and vegetables.
For a satisfying full meal, these main dishes might be preceded by a bowl of ribollita, the traditional Tuscan bread soup, or a pasta–the pappardelle with rabbit is particularly delicious–and followed by a selection of Italian cheeses or a simple biscuit and a glass of vin santo for dipping.
I Ricchi, 1220 19th St., NW; 202-835-0459; iricchi.net. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. JAIPUR * Fairfax; Moderate
Known as the Pink City, Jaipur is one of the jewels of Rajasthan, a northern Indian province west of New Delhi. The restaurant's name did not come by chance; it is the original home of the manager and the chef. The decor includes rows of beads adorned with brilliantly colored birds and a contingent of elaborately dressed puppets.
If you're unfamiliar with Indian food, try one of the restaurant's buffet lunches. For $7.95 on weekdays and $9.95 on weekends you can sample a variety of meat and vegetarian curries as well as chicken roasted in the tandoor, rice dishes, appetizers, breads, and dessert.
Most of the appetizers are battered and deep-fried, including fish, chicken, and vegetable samosas and pakoras. Chat-papdi is a combination of flour chips, steamed potatoes, garbanzo beans, yogurt, mint, and tamarind sauce. Good main courses are the whole or half marinated tandoor chicken; the tandoori lamb chops; the unusual murgh shekhawat, chicken cooked with brown onion paste and tomatoes; shrimp malabaar, cooked with spiced coconut sauce; and safed maas, chunks of lamb with a mild, light, and creamy nut sauce. There are many vegetarian dishes and ten breads, including several stuffed with vegetables or lamb.
Jaipur, 9401 Lee Hwy., Fairfax; 703-766-1111; jaipurcuisine.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. JALEO ** Downtown DC, Bethesda; Crystal City; Moderate
The success of the original of this Spanish-style tapas restaurant, which opened in Penn Quarter in 1993, has been duplicated by new branches in Bethesda and Crystal City. In each location, Jaleo is usually packed with diners assembling meals to share from the 60 or so varieties of tapas on the menu. In Spain the small dishes normally would be eaten as snacks with drinks. Most Americans prefer to make a meal of them–the few paellas and entrées are the least visited parts of the menu.
The menu is divided into hot and cold tapas, supplemented by a list of seasonal offerings. With each dish priced at about $5, it's hard to go wrong in ordering, even if someone at your table doesn't like a particular dish. Popular standbys on the menu include the tortilla, a Spanish potato-and-onion omelet served cold; a mixture of Spanish sausages; marinated anchovies; peppers stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms; fried squid with aïoli; and the classic garlic shrimp.
There's a well-chosen list of Spanish wines, but if you have a table of four or six, think about ordering, as the Spanish often do, a bottle of dry sherry, which goes very well with the food.
Jaleo, 480 Seventh St., NW, 202-628-7949; 7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-913-0003; 2250-A Crystal Dr., Crystal City, 703-413-8181; jaleo.com. Open for lunch and dinner daily, Sunday for brunch. JEAN-MICHEL ** Bethesda; Expensive
Baby boomers make up the base of Jean-Michel's clientele, but more and more Gen-X couples are also discovering the pleasures of Jean-Michel Farret's airy, salmon-and-beige dining room, where classics coexist with more modern takes.
Start with the marvelous cream of corn with crab soup or the pistou, a puréed vegetable soup with a dollop of pesto. Or consider mussels mariniéres or the house pâté. Tuna carpaccio and ravioli with julienned duck breast and chives are more-modern appetizers. Entrées include such robust fare as venison with chestnut purée and cranberry jelly; roast duckling with raspberry sauce; and New York strip with red wine and shallots. Lighter but no less delicious are seafood offerings like salmon with butter parsley sauce, whole lobster flamed with whiskey, and an occasional special of airy quenelles. Heavenly desserts range from apple tart with house-made caramel ice cream to raspberry soufflé.
Jean-Michel, 10223 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-564-4910. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. JERRY'S SEAFOOD * Seabrook; Expensive
It's not fancy and it's not cheap, but if crab is your passion, this is the place. Crab bisque, cream of crab soup, crab balls, crabcakes, and the trademarked Crab Bomb are all here. And though owner Jerry–who began in the biz selling freshly shucked oysters out of his '68 Chevy a few decades ago–has sold the place to his nephew and an employee, the food is as satisfying as ever.
Rule one: Order crab. Cream of crab soup has a hit of heat, while the bisque is James Bond smooth with a spritz of sherry. Then go for a crabcake, with meat picked from jumbo crabs–you can have it fried or baked–or the ten-ounce Crab Bomb made with only the biggest lumps of crab, seasoned with Old Bay and a bit of mayo, and baked golden brown. A six-ounce Baby Bomb can also be had. Sides like wedge-cut fries, mayonnaisey slaw from a family recipe, and stewed tomatoes are better than you find at most crabhouses.
Jerry's is a bit spiffier than most crabhouses, too. And it's jammed on weekends–people actually brag about how long they've waited. But once you're at a table in the big boisterous dining room done up with trophy fish and a colorful new mural, the crab feast begins.
Jerry's Seafood, 9364 Lanham-Severn Rd., Seabrook; 301-577-0333; jerrysseafood.com. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, Sunday for late lunch, Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. JOHNNY'S HALF SHELL ** Dupont Circle; Moderate
It's rare to find a restaurant where everything seems exactly right, but business partners Ann Cashion and John Fulchino have created just such a place in this popular Dupont Circle seafood house. The modest but attractive room, the lively bar, an interesting menu limited to what the kitchen can handle with confidence, friendly and efficient service–it all comes together to make Johnny's one of the city's favorite restaurants.
The only problem with the menu is deciding which favorite to order. At lunch, the toss of the coin usually goes to the fried-oyster po'boy, crisply fried oysters on bread flown in from Leidenheimer's Bakery in New Orleans. At dinner, it's hard to resist starting with the dark and spicy New Orleans-style gumbo, but the barbecued shrimp on grits is a close second. There are also near-definitive versions of Chesapeake Bay classics, including crabcakes and crab imperial. For dessert, save room for either Cashion's signature chocolate angelfood cake with caramel sauce or the tart and delicious lemon chess pie.
Johnny's Half Shell, 2002 P St., NW; 202-296-2021; johnnyshalfshell.net. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. KAZ SUSHI BISTRO ** Foggy Bottom; Moderate
The phrase "sushi bistro" in the name of Kazuhiro Okochi's restaurant reveals a lot about the chef's style of cooking. Trained as a sushi chef in Japan, Okochi spent ten years as executive chef at Sushi-Ko before opening his own restaurant in 1998. While Kaz Sushi Bistro offers the usual range of nigiri and roll sushi, the chef has a daily-changing menu of specials that combine Eastern and Western ingredients in intriguing ways. These might include spicy broiled green mussels; tuna with foie gras; foie gras infused with plum wine; and delicacies such as smoked monkfish liver with jalapeño jelly. You can taste a range of the chef's cooking at dinner by ordering one of his eight-course tasting menus, priced at $60 a person.
Okochi is one of the few chefs in the Washington area trained to handle toro fugu, the Japanese blowfish that is a delicacy but poisonous if not properly cleaned. When it's available, he prepares a six-course fugu dinner for about $150 a person. Call to see when he might offer it.
Kaz Sushi Bistro, 1915 I St., NW; 202-530-5500; kazsushi.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. No wheelchair access. KINKEAD'S [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** Foggy Bottom; Very Expensive
These have been busy years for chef Bob Kinkead. In 2002, he opened Colvin Run Tavern in Tysons Corner. In early 2004, he closed down his flagship Foggy Bottom restaurant for a brief remodeling. In October, he and his brother opened a third restaurant, Sibling Rivalry, in Boston. Even with the demands of running these new enterprises, Kinkead's seems as dependable as ever. The fried clams, when they're in season, are still the best in town. The wood-grilled squid with creamy polenta, tomato, and pesto are wonderfully tender.
Kinkead is adept at a variety of cooking styles. The pepita-crusted salmon over a ragoût of crab, shrimp, corn, and chilies has become something of a signature dish. And just above it on the menu is a terrific cod topped with crab imperial and accompanied by spoonbread with Virginia ham and a sweet-potato purée.
If you can't get a seat in the restaurant or want a casual meal before a performance at the Kennedy Center, try to get a seat at the downstairs raw bar, where you can order many of the dishes on the menu from the dining room. Sommelier Michael Flynn's wine list is a model of intelligent selection and fair pricing.
Kinkead's, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-7700; kinkead.com. Open Sunday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. LA BERGERIE ** Alexandria; Expensive
This fine Provincial French restaurant celebrated its 30th anniversary last year and shows no signs of slowing down. Its dining room is one of the area's most comfortable and romantic. Service by the experienced staff is conscientious. After a few recent turnovers, La Bergerie has settled on chef Vincent Damman, whose experience includes years in France and at the award-winning Les Folies Brasserie in Annapolis.
The cooking is neither bound by tradition nor over the cutting edge of modernity. Standout appetizers are a lobster ravioli with a lobster-and-tarragon sauce, and snails with butter, tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and hazelnuts. Main courses include Dover sole wrapped in crispy potatoes with truffles and a Champagne sauce; duck leg confit; sweetbreads with a sauce of brandy and chanterelles; and sautéed calf's liver with shallots. At a November lunch the coq au vin was very good, with thigh as well as breast of chicken, lardons, mushrooms, and onions. A creative dessert is the poached pear stuffed with chocolate mousse on a bed of cream and crushed pistachios. Individual soufflés are always a good choice. The wine list is very good, and the wine service is up to the restaurant's standards.
La Bergerie, 218 N. Lee St., Alexandria; 703-683-1007; labergerie.com. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner. LA CHAUMIéRE ** Georgetown; Moderate
A cheerful fireplace and wood-beamed ceiling, a comforting plate of cassoulet, good wine at reasonable prices, a friendly host–you might think you've stumbled into a French country inn rather than a restaurant on Georgetown's M Street. For almost 30 years proprietor Gerard Pain has been taking care of his customers with a rare combination of charm and attentive service.
Recent treats from chef Patrick Orange's menu have included a perfectly cooked John Dory, a hearty rabbit casserole, and calf's brain with brown butter sauce. Many regulars go in for the daily specials–crepes filled with crabmeat on Tuesday, couscous on Wednesday, and cassoulet on Thursday. It's always hard to resist the profiteroles for dessert–crisp shells of pastry filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce.
La Chaumiére, 2813 M St., NW; 202-338-1784; lachaumieredc.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. LA CôTE D'OR CAFé * Arlington; Expensive
This restaurant has moved around the corner–its old space has been taken by Le Bistro des Célestins, a French bistro that shows promise. The new premises are more upscale, and while the dining experience is still a good one, it has gone downhill a bit. Service stumbled on a recent visit.
Two appetizers–asparagus feuilletage with a basil cream sauce and clams Rockefeller–were very good. But two were so-so–a house-made pâté and sea scallops with ravioli that included, inexplicably, a handful of raspberries.
The main courses were more consistent–good but not noteworthy. A veal chop stuffed with creamed spinach and Parmesan cheese had fine flavor but seemed undersized. Cassoulet Toulousian included excellently prepared beans, good duck, insufficient lamb, and marginal sausage. Loup de Mer, a Mediterranean fish, appeared in the form of Chilean sea bass–not bad, but not loup de mer. Dover sole was okay.
At a dinner in the fall, swordfish with lobster sauce and calf's liver were good, but the portions seemed skimpy. Desserts were fine, although a tarte Tatin emerged from the kitchen with an inflated crust rather than the upside-down tart it's supposed to be.
La Côte D'Or Café, 2201 N. Westmoreland St., Arlington; 703-538-3033; lacotedorcafe.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Sunday through Friday for lunch, Sunday for brunch. L'AUBERGE CHEZ FRANÇOIS [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Great Falls; Expensive
If time marches on, you cannot tell it from this restaurant. The Haeringer family, led by patriarch François, is celebrating 50 years in the restaurant business. The family started in 1954 with a modest establishment in downtown DC that was the meeting place for serious diners, then moved in 1975 to this inn in Great Falls. The decor has the charm of Alsace, the home area of François. The relaxed atmosphere masks the impressive efficiency and competence of the restaurant. Four dining rooms, each with its own attentive host, surround the large foyer. Reservations are needed; the restaurant accepts them exactly four weeks in advance.
If the entrée seems expensive, note that the price also includes an appetizer, salad, and dessert. The menu is long on hearty dishes, so winter is a good time to visit. Organ meats and game are prepared very well. Antelope, deer, pheasant, quail, and rabbit are among the game choices; organ meats include tongue, kidneys, brains, and sweetbreads. There is much more. An onion tart, a soufflé of salmon, rainbow trout with almonds, salmon or red snapper en croute, and a rack of lamb are excellent alternatives. Many regard the choucroute garni, consisting of smoked pork, pheasant, sausages, duck, and foie gras on a bed of sauerkraut, the star of the menu.
For dessert try the hot soufflé or the Alsatian plum tart. Consider ordering a fruity Riesling or spicy Gewürztraminer as diners do in Alsace, where red wines do not approach the whites in quality.
L'Auberge Chez François, 332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls; 703-759-3800; laubergechezfrancois.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner (Sunday dinner begins at 1:30 PM). LAVANDOU * Cleveland Park; Moderate
This attractive and dependable Cleveland Park bistro specializes in the robust, soul-satisfying cooking of Provence. Good starters include a delicious variation on the usual snails in garlic butter, here baked in eggplant. A very good charcuterie platter, listed under "salads" on the menu, includes a coarsely ground country pâté, a rich and smooth duck-liver terrine, smoked duck breast, garlic sausage, dry-cured ham, and a salad of green beans and walnuts. It's plenty for two to share as an appetizer.
Among the main courses, it's always tempting on a winter evening to go for the hearty stews–lamb with artichokes and tomatoes or a robust daube of beef. Another good bet is the pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon. The dessert on a recent visit was a very good dish of fresh figs stewed in red wine and spices and served over vanilla ice cream.
Lavandou, 3321 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-966-3003; lavandourestaurant.net. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. LAYALINA * Arlington; Moderate
Diners here feel that they are in a Middle Eastern cocoon, with rugs on the floor and the walls, soft cushions, and pretty artifacts. Service is conscientious. The owners, a couple from Lebanon and Syria, have put together a fine restaurant.
Many diners never get past the appetizers, listed as "mazza." Ranging from $4.95 to $6.95, there are nearly 50, including salads. On the vegetarian list are the familiar grape leaves, hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel, and foul, a dish of seasonal white beans. There are seven listings for hummus, including versions with pomegranate or purée of sun-dried red pepper. And there is fried cauliflower, sautéed baby okra, baked pita topped with a choice of cheeses, and more. Meat mazza include kibbeh, several sausages, and pita stuffed with ground meat. Several of the dozen salads include eggplant.
Diners who make it to the main course can try the lamb shish kebab, a trio of lamb shank preparations (including one listed as "toasted"), a marinated Cornish hen, and beef or chicken shawarma. The dessert list features a variety of Middle Eastern pastries.
Layalina, 5216 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-1170. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. LE PARADOU [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
Yannick Cam is one of Washington's most skilled chefs. Since his restaurant Le Pavillon closed in 1990, he has cooked in a number of places. The opening of the elegant Le Paradou gives him a setting that does justice to his skills in the kitchen. Eating at Le Paradou is likely to be a memorable experience, but it's expensive: Two courses are priced at $58, three at $75, six at $100, and a nine-course tasting menu is $135. Desserts, except on the tasting menu, are à la carte.
A meal at Le Paradou is an adventure in intense flavors. First-course choices have included a garlicky fricassee of escargots alongside a delicate polenta cake, a lobster purse combining lobster meat with a sweet, gingery carrot jus, and perfectly cooked sea scallops wrapped in Parma ham with a parsley purée. Main courses have included a delicate boudin blanc with truffles on a bed of fennel purée with the delicate but distinct flavor of oregano, a lovely sea bass stuffed with shrimp mousse and scallops, and a flavorful rack of lamb with black olive jus. The apricot baba with roasted pineapple and coconut ice cream is the pick of a number of show-stopping desserts.
The wine list is well chosen and expensive. Expect to spend between $50 and $150 a bottle. Although the food shows Cam at the top of his form, the kitchen's timing occasionally has been off, with too-long or too-short intervals between courses.
Le Paradou, 678 Indiana Ave., NW; 202-347-6780; leparadou.net. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. No wheelchair access to the main dining room. LE TIRE BOUCHON * Fairfax; Expensive
This restaurant may be new on the scene and on the 100 Very Best list, but its creators have years of experience at the likes of Le Lion D'Or, Le Pavillon, and Galileo. The result is a highly polished performance.
The cooking tends to be simpler than the talented staff could muster if the restaurant reached for haute cuisine. It has gone instead for more traditional and hearty French provincial cooking. The menu is not long, but it covers plenty of ground. Appealing daily specials supplement the listed dishes.
Good appetizers have been the lobster bisque and the lobster ravioli with red-beet-and-ginger sauce, both intensely delicious; sea scallops wrapped in Parma prosciutto with lentils; and a house-made pheasant pâté with green peppercorns and brandy.
The kitchen excels with fish–black sea bass sautéed with saffron, snow-white Chilean sea bass, seared Maine lobster with golden chanterelles, Dover sole variously prepared, and moules marinière. Roast rack of lamb and entrecôte with cracked peppercorns flambéed at tableside are fine meat courses. Chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes will satisfy fowl fanciers. The made-to-order apple tart should be part of any meal.
P.S.: The restaurant's name means corkscrew in French, and the waiters use them often for the creative wine list.
Le Tire Bouchon, 4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax; 703-691-4747; letirebouchon.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch. LES FOLIES BRASSERIE **Annapolis; Moderate
This Parisian-style art nouveau brasserie is a convivial spot to share a plate of oysters, explore robust French wines, and revel in regional French comfort food. The menu is large. Raw-bar items number at least a dozen, from periwinkles to Malpeque oysters to Taylor Bay scallops. For those who prefer their seafood cooked, there's marvelous cold lobster served with a vegetable-mayonnaise salad known as macedoine. Other standout plates are sautéed foie gras with caramelized apples, garlic sausage over French lentils, and ethereal lump-crab custard with lobster sauce. Interesting salads are dressed with pleasantly sharp vinaigrettes.
Stars among the main courses are black peppercorn-crusted Ahi tuna; steak frites with butterflied sirloin and shallot butter; coq au vin, the French chicken-and-wine stew; veal steak with mushroom cream sauce; and calf's liver with carmelized onions. Regional French wines go well with the rustic fare. If you're in the mood for a dessert soufflé–the Grand Marnier is tops–order it at the beginning of your meal. Tarte Tatin is also nicely done, as is the unusual apricot mousse.
Les Folies Brasserie, 2552 Riva Rd., Annapolis; 410-573-0970; lesfoliesbrasserie.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. LES HALLES * Downtown DC; Moderate
This lively French steakhouse with its pressed-tin ceilings looks the part of a Parisian brasserie. The steak frites–steak, French fries, and salad–for $16.50 is a very good deal, and for a couple of dollars more, you can order the onglet, which has more flavor. The only recent disappointment among the steaks has been the pepper steak, bathed in a sticky brown sauce. Other worthwhile bistro standards on the menu are a terrific frisée salad with bacon and bleu cheese, a big serving of beef tartare, and a charcuterie platter for the table to share.
This restaurant likes parties. On Bastille Day, waiters from all over the city race with filled champagne glasses to win an airline ticket to France. On November 19, Les Halles celebrates the Beaujolais Nouveau. Each year in February, there's a choucroute festival, with half a dozen variations on the traditional choucroute garni, including a delicious seafood version.
Les Halles, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-347-6848; leshalleswashington.vista.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. MAESTRO [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** McLean; Very Expensive
From the first glimpse of the lovely dining room and open kitchen to the last sip of coffee, the dining experience at this restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner is luxurious. Chef Fabio Trabocchi offers separate menus of traditional and modern dishes, each with two or three items listed for each course. Diners can select as they wish from the two menus or allow Trabocchi to create a special menu for them. The standard menu is five courses for $110. Ingredients are first-rate, and Trabocchi is a wizard with sauces. To choose the appropriate wine from the impressive list, enlist the expert help of sommelier Vincent Feraud.
Autumn's traditional menu included an appetizer consisting of fontina cheese fondue, a quenelle of polenta, truffle-milk froth, gently fried parsnips, and shavings of white truffles. The modern menu offered a combination of Belon oysters, seared foie gras, cauliflower cream, and Champagne zabaglione. Next were pasta courses like agnolotti of cotechino sausage with a confit of porcini mushrooms, and a bowl of smoked potato gnocchi with venison ragoût. The fish course offered roasted wild sturgeon with a green-lentil crust in a red-wine sauce or red mullet with a confit of red peppers. The selection of meats featured roasted Scottish pheasant with white turnips and a grappa sauce and a roasted muscovy duck breast with a mound of leg confit flakes.
Desserts are as pretty as they are good. Try a hot-caramel soufflé or Le Castagne, a mélange of chestnuts with praline, chocolate, and chestnut ice cream. The very good cheese selection provides an alternative to dessert on the five-course menu. There is a separate vegetarian menu.
Reserve well in advance. Note that the hotel rather than Trabocchi presents Sunday brunch at the restaurant.
Maestro, 1700 Tysons Blvd., Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, McLean; 703-821-1515; ritz-carlton.com/hotels/tysons_corner. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. MAJESTIC CAFE *Alexandria; Moderate
More than 70 years old, though closed during the 1980s and '90s, this restaurant reopened in 2001 with Susan McCreight Lindeborg, formerly of the Morrison-Clark Inn, at the helm. The decor is appealing, with an art deco façade, black-and-white terrazzo floors, and skylights. The cooking is mostly Southern American but occasionally veers into Modern American. Presentation is notable for color on the plate, frequently through diced bell peppers and tomatoes.
One recent appetizer success was a grilled calamari salad with cilantro-lemon-cumin pesto, cherry tomatoes, and crisp julienne sweet potatoes. A gratin of oysters, Virginia ham, and crackers is another winner. Soups are very good, including vegetable soup with corn and crabmeat. Main courses to consider are halibut baked in paper with sherry, tarragon butter, summer squash, and tomatoes and a pork loin cutlet with a niçoise olive tapenade and fingerling potato salad. Leave room for the house-baked desserts.
Majestic Cafe, 911 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-9117; majesticcafe.com. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Sunday for brunch. MAKOTO RESTAURANT [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Upper Northwest; Moderate
This 27-seat restaurant on MacArthur Boulevard is about as close as you can get to an authentic Japanese dining experience in Washington. There's a sushi bar where you can order sushi à la carte, but most diners order the eight-to-ten-course set menu, which changes daily according to available ingredients.
The procession of lovely, small courses is a bargain for $49. You might start with a selection of small appetizers–edamame with crabmeat and mayonnaise, sea-urchin roe with crunchy vegetables, and a perfect spear of asparagus with salmon and a lemon slice. The progression of dishes is steady but never feels rushed. A dinner might consist of asparagus with miso sauce; tuna and flounder sashimi; crisp fried softshell crabs with spiced sauce for dipping; mushrooms, shrimp, and beef with a vinegared soy sauce; nigiri sushi of tuna, grouper, and Spanish mackerel; grilled orange roughy with miso paste; noodles with vegetables; and at the end, a lovely house-made grape sorbet. The best drink is one of the splendid cold sakes, served in a cedar box with a few grains of salt on the edge.
Makoto Restaurant, 4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-298-6866. Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. MALAYSIA KOPITIAM ** Downtown DC; Inexpensive
It's hard to order from a menu of an unfamiliar cuisine with any confidence that you're going to like what you get. Owners Leslie and Penny Phoon of Malaysia Kopitiam, a modest-looking restaurant with a very accomplished kitchen, try their best to make the food of their homeland accessible. There's a photograph of every item on the menu, and if that's not enough, Leslie, your host, will consult with you. Or you can leave the choices to the Phoons. Penny will ask if you have any allergies or strong preferences, how spicy you like your food, and how much a person you'd like to spend, then disappear into the kitchen and start cooking.
Malaysian food draws from Chinese, Thai, and Indian traditions and is influenced by the hawker food that vendors sell on the street. You can try a number of dishes by ordering a sampler platter of appetizers–satay chicken; curry puffs; po pia, a crepe wrapped around a filling of jìcama, egg, and dried shrimp; and otak-otak, salmon and minced chicken wrapped in a banana leaf. Good main courses include, on the spicy side, Malaysian Curry Chicken and spicy Tamarind Squid, and for the less intrepid of palate, ginger chicken or black-pepper chicken, spicy without being overpowering.
Malaysia Kopitiam, 1827 M St., NW; malaysiakopitiam.com; 202-833-6232. No wheelchair access. Open daily for lunch and dinner. MANNEQUIN PIS [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Olney; Expensive
You could stick to mussels and fries and still feel pangs of indecision over mussels that are done more than a dozen ways at this Belgian restaurant. Go for classic mariniére or poulette (with cream) or try one of the more offbeat preparations, such as Jamaican Isle with coconut cream; Red Devil, with tomatoes, garlic, harissa sauce, and beer; or Lavender, scented with ginger, honey, and lavender. The glorious fries come plain or with garlic–both are fabulous. Other crowd-pleasing starters are frisée with smoked bacon, smoked salmon with horseradish crème fraîche, asparagus with hard-boiled eggs and wilted leeks, and mussel-saffron soup.
Excellent main courses are pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon, rump steak with béarnaise sauce and frites, potted chicken with bacon-flecked Brussels sprouts, and an otherworldly carbonnade, the Flemish beer-and-beef stew, served with those fries. Vegetables–be they puréed potatoes with black truffles or stoemp, a carrot-and-potato combo–are lovingly done.
There are some interesting wines, but the hearty fare begs for beer, and chef/owner Bernard Dehaene offers a superb list of mostly Belgian picks. Ask your server to recommend one to go with your meal. Chantilly cream-filled profiteroles with warm Callebaut chocolate sauce, and bread pudding spiked with cherries, finish things with a flourish.
Mannequin Pis, 18064 Georgia Ave., Olney; 301-570-4800; mannequinpis.com. Open daily for dinner. MARCEL'S [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Foggy Bottom; Very Expensive
When Yannick Cam's restaurant Provence closed, chef Robert Wiedmaier bought the place, including dishes, pots, and pans. Six years later, Marcel's is a success reflecting Wiedmaier's personality and style of cooking. One improvement has been the addition of draperies and other sound-absorbing materials to make the place warmer and quieter. New chairs, carpets for the tile floors, and an awning in front are said to be on the way.
An American who grew up in Europe, Wiedmaier trained in the Netherlands and Belgium. An appetizer crepinette, wrapped in caul fat and filled with pheasant mousseline, is a wonderful introduction to his style, both refined and full of robust flavor. It almost tops his marvelously light boudin blanc.
Marcel's does very well with game. Loin of venison was cooked beautifully rare and served with a purée of pear and turnips. Saddle of rabbit is paired with foie gras and a grain-mustard sauce. Pastry chef Dedier Derouet's lemon tart provides a lovely contrast at the end of the meal.
Marcel's, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-1166; marcelsdc.com. Open daily for dinner. MARK'S DUCK HOUSE * Falls Church; Inexpensive
The name doesn't suggest anything special, but the literal translation of the Chinese characters sends a message–"Great Crowded Restaurant." The dining room has been spruced up, but this still isn't the place to take a prom date or entertain your future mother-in-law. It is a comfortable and popular Hong Kong-style restaurant that serves some of the area's best Chinese food.
Diners get two menus, one listing appetizers, main-course soups, and noodle and rice dishes, and another of more-elaborate main courses. The best appetizers are cut from the roast ducks, chickens, and pig that hang near the entrance. For main courses, duck is excellent, whether roasted, braised, or Peking-style. Lobster and Dungeness crab with shredded scallions and ginger are also winners, as are salt-baked shrimp served head-on with chilies. Casseroles–of tofu, seafood, pork, and more–are special, too.
Dim sum, served daily at lunch, is varied and pleasing. Note that the Chinese serve at room temperature many dishes that Westerners would assume were hot. As a rule of thumb, dishes on rolling hot tables are hot; plates on pushcarts without heat are room temperature.
Mark's Duck House, 6184-A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-532-2125; marksduckhouse.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. MELROSE ** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
The dining room at Melrose is particularly attractive during the day, when it is filled with light and the courtyard and fountain are visible. Executive chef Brian McBride's cooking, which combines elegant presentation and intense flavor, is a good match for the room, especially at Sunday brunch, perhaps the best in town. Appetizers, including a substantial seafood selection, and desserts are selected from a buffet, but the main course is ordered at the table and freshly prepared.
McBride's American cooking borrows from many other cuisines. A recent starter of dumplings filled with pheasant, foie gras, and black truffles accompanied by a date-and-cumin purée brought together French, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences. Another appetizer of sweet Maine scallops is accented by the sparing use of preserved lemon. Shrimp ravioli combines shrimp with sweet corn and black pepper in a lemongrass-infused sauce.
Among main courses, McBride's crabcake is one of the best in town, but there are many other rewarding dishes, too. Recently there was Alaskan halibut, crusted with a "pesto" of Asian spices and served with French breakfast radishes, pea shoots, and ginger in a broth scented with kafir-lime leaves. Chunks of Maine lobster are wrapped in Savoy cabbage with sesame somen noodles in a ginger-saffron broth, a wonderful contrast of elegant and homey, spicy and sweet.
The star of the dessert menu is a crème brûlée made with mascarpone, flavored with lemon, and served with oven-roasted figs and a reduction of port wine.
Melrose, Park Hyatt Hotel, 1201 24th St., NW; 202-419-6755. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Sunday for brunch. MONTMARTRE ** Capitol Hill; Moderate
This cheerful bistro near Eastern Market has become a community center for this part of Capitol Hill, a lively meeting place for neighbors and Hill staffers. It's the handiwork of chef Stéphane Lezla and co-owner Christopher Raynal, formerly of Lavandou and Bistrot Lepic.
The menu, a mix of traditional bistro dishes and modern improvisations, changes seasonally. A fall dinner began with a delicious soup of cauliflower and mussels flavored with saffron. Other first-course possibilities are a coarse and flavorful country pâté; a delicious brandade de morue, a purée of salt cod and potatoes; and steamed mussels with a broth of white wine and Pastis. One of the best main courses, an example of Lezla's improvisations on traditional dishes, is a superb braised leg of rabbit with shiitake mushrooms and olives, served with a mound of creamy pasta. The hanger steak is served over sautéed fingerling potatoes rather than with the usual frites. A very good monkfish is wrapped in applewood bacon and served on a bed of sauerkraut with a white-wine beurre blanc. Any neighborhood would be lucky to have this gem of a bistro.
Montmartre, 327 Seventh St., SE; 202-544-1244; montmartre.us. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch. MYKONOS GRILL * Rockville; Moderate
Can't get to the Greek islands? Mykonos will satisfy longings for the olive-oil-based cuisine and whitewashed walls of the Aegean. This lively dining room goes beyond Greek diner fare with dishes like smoky eggplant melitzanosalata, an airy mousselike spread to dab on bread or savor by the spoonful, and beautifully cooked whole fish–usually snapper–dressed simply with olive oil, lemon, and fresh herbs.
Other finds include saganaki, pan-fried kasseri cheese sheathed in a brittle crust to spritz with lemon; taramasalata, a creamy dip made from roe and potatoes; fried cod; and the house moussaka, layered with zucchini as well as the usual potatoes, ground meat, and eggplant. Specials like roast lamb shank are worthy plates, too. Keep in mind that Greeks favor well-done meat, so state your preferences.
The salty fare marries well with ouzo, but there's a roster of Greek wines, too. Ultra-sweet desserts like galaktobouriko, an extravaganza of custard, honey, and phyllo, and walnut cake, cry out for thick Greek coffee.
Mykonos Grill, 121 Congressional La., Rockville, 301-770-5999; mykonosgrill.com. Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. NIZAM'S RESTAURANT ** Vienna; Moderate
Nizam Ozgur's Turkish restaurant in a small shopping area in Vienna has more than a quarter-century of experience, topped by 21 years on the 100 Very Best Restaurants list. It rarely disappoints. Copper plates and Turkish ceramics grace the walls. The restaurant attracts both local gourmands and expatriates from the Bosporus. It surpasses just about every restaurant in Istanbul.
A selection of mezze, the Turkish counterpart to tapas, is a good beginning. Sigara borek, one of the best, is a cigar-shaped pastry filled with feta cheese, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and deep-fried. Other good mezze are the baba ghanoush, a variety of other eggplant dishes, white beans bathed in tomato and olive oil, and grape leaves stuffed with rice, pine nuts, and currants.
The star of the show is the doner kebab, a large cylinder of seasoned lamb on a vertical spit and cooked to order. Once available only on weekends, it now can be had nightly. Other treats are lamb shish kebab cooked as ordered; tas kebab beyendi, fork-tender lamb over smoky puréed eggplant; and ravioli-like manti filled with spiced beef. Wine enthusiasts should sample the rarely seen wines of Turkey. Both the baklava and the milk pudding make happy conclusions to the meal.
Nizam's Restaurant, 523 Maple Ave. W., Vienna; 703-938-8948; nizamsrestaurant.com. Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch, Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. OBELISK [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Dupont Circle; Expensive
Eating at chef Peter Pastan's small Dupont Circle restaurant requires planning. Tables are usually booked days in advance. Obelisk offers only a five-course "menu completa," organized in the Italian fashion, with no à la carte selections. There are usually three or four choices each for antipasti, first course, second course, then cheese, and a somewhat larger dessert menu. All this goes for $60 a person.
A recent dinner began with an antipasto of house-cured cappicola and a first course of delicate rabbit raviolini in broth, continued with grilled lamb loin with roasted peppers and pickled onions, and concluded with panforte, a traditional sweet bread with nuts and candied fruit and served with a delicious black-pepper-and-clove ice cream.
Obelisk, 2029 P St., NW; 202-872-1180. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. PALENA [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Cleveland Park; Very Expensive
Owners Frank Ruta and Ann Amernick met when they were cooking at the White House. Ruta has had experience in French, Italian, and American kitchens; Amernick is recognized as one of the nation's best pastry chefs. The result of their combined talents at Palena is Modern American cooking in the best sense, using the freshest ingredients and borrowing from many culinary traditions.
The menu changes frequently, but diners can choose three, four, or five courses at $55, $62, or $69. A meal from the autumn menu might have started with a Jerusalem artichoke soup garnished with crisply fried veal sweetbreads, continued with a wonderful house-cured bacon, and gone on to Muscovy Duck Two Ways, the breast grilled and the leg braised. Amernick's dessert menu might range from a sophisticated cashew dacquoise to a homey plate of cookies with her house-made caramels.
Besides having a full dinner at Palena, there's the option of eating at the cafe in the front dining room, where you can order à la carte from the dining-room menu or from a casual menu, on which every item is $10 or $13, that includes half a roast chicken, a marvelous truffled cheeseburger, and a plate of fried potatoes, onions, and thin slices of Meyer lemon.
Palena, 3529 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-537-9250; palenarestaurant.com. Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner in the main dining room, Monday through Saturday for dinner in the cafe . THE PALM ** Dupont Circle; Very Expensive
The Washingtonian often gets letters and e-mails from out-of-towners wanting to know where they're most likely to spot DC celebrities. The answer is easy–lunchtime at the Palm, which seems to be the restaurant of choice for everyone from James Carville on the Democratic side to Bill Bennett on the Republican. Manager Tommy Jacomo swaps jokes with them all.
The Palm is best known for its steaks, particularly the New York strip and the bone-in rib eye, and for its giant lobsters. The sides to order with them are the terrific cottage fries–or half cottage fries and half fried onions–and the fried asparagus. The Palm is less appreciated for the Italian section of its menu, but there's a very good marinara sauce and dependable renditions of standard Italian-American veal dishes, particularly veal parmigiana and veal piccata.
The Palm, 1225 19th St., NW; 202-293-9091; thepalm.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. PANINO ** Manassas; Moderate
Long supported by nearby residents, this restaurant sometimes seems like a private club–Lydia Patierno greets many of her customers by name. But even first-time visitors will feel at home, especially when they taste the cooking of Lydia's husband, Louis, an alumnus of the northern Italian restaurant Tiberio, one of K Street's stars in its day.
The short menu is supplemented by specials that reflect what the chef feels can be best presented that day. Good appetizers have been baby mussels with marinara sauce, deep-fried squid, snails with butter, garlic, and parsley, and pasta e fagioli soup. Pastas can be shared as an appetizer or ordered as a main course. The angel-hair pasta with tomato sauce and basil and the rigatoni with meat sauce are simple and good. Two daily specials were unexpected and delicious: One was a mixed grill of a quail, a lamb chop, and a curried venison sausage, the other a selection of grilled vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and red peppers. The filet of sole and the medallions of beef also have shown well. The bread is excellent. House-made desserts are on display near the entrance.
Panino, 9116 Mathis Ave., Manassas; 703-335-2566. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. PERSIMMON [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Bethesda; Expensive
Night after night, Persimmon dishes up comfort and romance. A cozy dining room with walls of persimmon and saffron make this the perfect spot for a tête-à-tête; deft service and plates of luxurious Modern American fare take care of the rest. Thai lobster bisque, crabcakes with bacon-studded mashed potatoes, pecan-crusted rack of lamb with mustard potato gratin–familiar flavors but far from boring.
Chef Damian Salvatore worked with both Jean-Louis Palladin and Bob Kinkead, and it shows. Fennel-and-arugula salad gets jazzed up with shavings of ricotta and lemon-oil vinaigrette. Roast chicken is paired with a fragrant vegetable ragoût. Bleu cheese shows up in ravioli with a splash of truffle oil. Halibut goes crunchy with a crust of focaccia and refined saffron lobster sauce. The star of the menu, though, is veal done two ways–pan-seared and braised. Desserts include pumpkin cheesecake with candied walnuts, house-made ice creams and sorbets in spoon-licking flavors like banana pistachio and bittersweet chocolate, and pears three ways–in strudel with figs and hazelnuts, chai poached, and as a sorbet.
Persimmon, 7003 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-9860; persimmonrestaurant.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. PESCE ** Dupont Circle; Expensive
This fine seafood restaurant has been a training ground for area chefs. Early this summer, Bobby Beard left to take over the kitchen at New Heights, and sous chef Tom Meyer became head chef. The restaurant has maintained its standards through these changes because of the management skills of owner Regine Palladin.
The menu, which changes daily according to the availability of ingredients, is written on a blackboard. First-course choices at a recent meal included perhaps the best brandade in the city, a flavorful tuna tartare, and delicious grilled fresh sardines. The star of the main courses was a grilled whole flounder. Scallops were perfectly cooked. The wine list is well chosen and reasonably priced.
Pesce, 2016 P St., NW; 202-466-3474. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. PIZZERIA PARADISO ** Dupont Circle and Georgetown; Inexpensive
At peak times, lines snake down the front steps at the Dupont Circle location of Washington's best pizza place. It's a little easier to find a seat in the Georgetown outpost, which is larger. Both serve the same pizzas made from good bread, stretched thin, sparely topped, and cooked on the floor of a woodburning oven.
Pizzeria Paradiso does not deliver; this is a pizza to eat as soon as it comes from the oven–if you try to take it home, it will steam in the box. You may have a favorite combination of pizza toppings, and the pizza makers will accommodate your preferences, but the set pizza toppings–the spicy Atomica, the classic Margherita, the Napoletana with capers and anchovies–are remarkably good.
Pizzeria Paradiso, 2029 P St., NW, 202-223-1245; 3282 M St., NW, 202-337-1245. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No wheelchair access at P Street. THE PRIME RIB [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
If you want to go out for a special occasion and avoid the possibility that the couple at the next table is dressed in shorts and tank tops, consider the Prime Rib. It's the only area restaurant that requires a jacket and tie for gentlemen. The supper-club decor, the pianist, and the tuxedoed waiters give an aura of elegance to any occasion.
As the restaurant's name suggests, the house specialty is roast prime rib of beef, but the bone-in rib eye is also superb. The kitchen also makes definitive versions of two celebrated Chesapeake Bay seafood specialties: crabcakes and crab imperial.
The Prime Rib is pleasant at lunchtime, when it is less crowded than in the evenings. A luncheon cut of prime rib sells for $21, and there are daily specials, which range from Monday's pan-sautéed flounder to Thursday's turkey and dressing.
The Prime Rib, 2020 K St., NW; 202-466-8811; theprimerib.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. RABIENG ** Falls Church; Inexpensive
Diners unfamiliar with the restaurant scene might wonder why two of the area's best Thai restaurants are so close to one another. The answer is that the proprietors of the very successful Duangrat's decided to open a less formal place.
Rabieng serves provincial Thai cooking on bamboo placemats instead of white tablecloths. Though the prices at Duangrat's are not high, they are even lower at Rabieng. Virtually all nonseafood main courses are less than $10. Good bets for appetizers are the spring rolls; satay; Tidbit, crispy rice cakes with a coconut-pork dip; and pla dook, fried chopped catfish seasoned with chilies, lime juice, red onions, and cilantro.
Pleasing main courses are the southern sotah shrimp sautéed with chili paste and fava beans; essan grilled chicken or quail with a choice of sauces and sticky rice; tepo, pork sautéed in spicy kaffir-lime sauce on a bed of watercress; peppercorn beef; beef Mussaman curry; and pad Thai. Singha beer from Thailand is a good accompaniment to the cuisine. Dessert fanciers should savor the mango with sticky rice.
Rabieng, 5892 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-671-4222. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No wheelchair access. RAKU ** Bethesda; Moderate
Asian fusion has become so common that it often falls flat. Raku, where Japanese sensibilities dominate but Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean are given face time, too, is a rare exception.
An expansive sushi menu lists trendy crunchy rolls and cross-cultural ones like the witty "Seoul train," which marries tuna and kimchee into a heat-lover's nirvana. Tops among Raku's originals are yellowtail sashimi with sesame-wasabi ponzu sauce; tuna tartare with lemon basil sauce and peanuts; wok-charred halibut with a sauce of oranges, grainy mustard, and miso; and Szechuan strip steak with cilantro and shallots and lime-leaf potato purée. There's an impressive roster of boutique sakes and respectable wine and beer choices.
Desserts are more Western but no less satisfying. House-made chocolate-malt ice cream is pure pleasure and frozen lemon mousse is lightness itself. The witty Asian-modern decor includes a pair of giant chopsticks dangling from the ceiling.
Raku, 7240 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-718-8680. Open daily for lunch and dinner. RAY'S THE STEAKS ** Arlington; Expensive
This is a casual restaurant that places the emphasis on the food. Decor is plain, almost nonexistent. The exposed kitchen is in the rear. The noise level is high. Chef Michael Landrum spends most of his time in the kitchen but makes frequent trips out front to see that his customers are happy. He is a fount of knowledge on the fine wine list.
The beef is all-natural, farm-raised, corn-fed Hereford and Angus beef from Iowa, Nebraska, and Washington state and marries tenderness and good flavor with firm texture and lower fat. Aside from porterhouse and T-bone, just about any steak you might savor is available–New York strip, filet mignon, rib eye, entrecôte, Chateaubriand for two, and on occasion the less-common hanger steak, flat iron, and culotte. Sauces are varied and excellent. There are several seafood preparations. Mashed potatoes and creamed spinach are free garnishes. A good selection of appetizers and a few house-made desserts round out the menu.
Ray's the Steaks, 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-7297. Open daily for dinner. RESTAURANT EVE ** Alexandria; Expensive
Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong have created the best restaurant in Alexandria. Patrons pass through a narrow alley in the center of Old Town Alexandria to find themselves in a modern though graceful space. Diners can choose between the bistro and the more elegant chef's tasting room that offers a choice of two tasting menus–one of five courses for $79, the other of nine courses for $98.
Highlights of recent meals in the bistro were a confit of pork belly, a robust oxtail ravioli, a garlicky bouillabaisse, sliced sweetbreads, and a beautifully cooked sirloin of veal. Dinner in the chef's tasting room begins with two or three gifts from the chef followed by such early courses as lobster crème brûlée with baby fennel, sautéed Moulard duck foie gras with poached pears, and ahi tuna carpaccio. Then come the likes of butter-poached halibut with lobster, mushrooms, and cream; gnocchi with roasted acorn squash and toasted pumpkin seed; and a fricassee of rabbit with yellow carrots.
Warm chocolate cake with sliced pineapple and passion-fruit bombe with chocolate mousse and praline are excellent. The wine list is very good. So is the wine service.
Restaurant Eve, 110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450; restauranteve.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. RISTORANTE TERRAZZA ** Chevy Chase; Expensive
With its off-street, out-of-the-way location, Terrazza is still a pretty well-kept secret. It deserves not to be. Trompe l'oeil murals give focus to the dining spaces, though the place could be a tad cozier–this is food that calls for an intimate backdrop.
Chef Robert L. Brown composes his plates with care. Breaded calamari is mated with baby arugula and lemon olive-oil dressing. Black-truffle-and-chicken dumplings bob in an elegant chestnut soup. Pan-fried sardines are marinated with sweet-and-sour onions, pine nuts, and raisins. Pastas and main courses are equally enticing. House-made fettuccine with braised duck, tortellini of roast beets and creamy chive sauce, and gnocchi with spicy lamb sausage are all originals.
On the fall menu, venison with roasted fig sauce was made even more sumptuous with pancetta and caramelized onions. Another earthy plate: braised lamb shank with salsify on soft polenta. Desserts are as spectacular as the rest: pumpkin tart with oatmeal pecan shortbread crust; bittersweet-chocolate bread pudding; and house-made doughnuts with cardamom hot chocolate for dipping.
Ristorante Terrazza, 2 Wisconsin Cir., Chevy Chase; 301-951-9292; terrazzadc.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. RISTORANTE TOSCA ** Downtown DC; Expensive
Before opening his own restaurant, chef Cesare Lanfranconi spent a little over five years running the kitchen at Roberto Donna's Galileo. Ristorante Tosca is perhaps the most attractive of Washington's upscale Italian restaurants. Designed in a muted beige palette with well-spaced tables and conversation-friendly acoustics, it has become a favorite lunchtime meeting place for the law firms that populate the area.
In just two years Lanfranconi has become known for several signature dishes. One is a dish of ravioli, from his native Lake Como region, filled with aged ricotta and raisins and sauced with butter, sage, and Parmesan. Another is a dish of tender braised veal cheeks with a hearty polenta made from buckwheat flour. Tosca's kitchen table, a booth from which all diners have a full view of the action in the kitchen, is one of the best-designed in town. A tasting menu is available for $95 per person.
Ristorante Tosca, 1112 F St., NW; 202-367-1990; toscadc.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. RT'S RESTAURANT ** Alexandria; Expensive
This restaurant looks like a neighborhood bar. But if you don't go in you'll miss some very good cooking. The food is mostly from Louisiana; the plain decor does not presage what is about to come on the dinner plates.
There is a lot of good seafood here. Oysters come raw on the half shell, fried as part of an oyster loaf, deep-fried plain, deep-fried and topped with lump crab and tasso ham étouffée (Oysters Nezpique), and baked with mushrooms, crab, tasso ham, bacon, and a light cream sauce (Oysters Bienville). There is smothered and deep-fried catfish. Fish filets come encrusted with crushed pecans. Both the trout Orleans with a spicy shrimp-and-crab hollandaise and the Cajun grilled loin lamb chops are terrific.
Two recently sampled, more-elaborate dishes showed well: Creole seafood stew with a mélange of fresh seafood, and fish and veal Atchafalaya–veal scallopine with lobster, shrimp, tomatoes, and a Sherry cream sauce. For dessert consider the house-made Key-lime pie or the crusty crème brûlée.
RT's Restaurant, 3804 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-684-6010. Open Monday through Saturday for lunch, daily for dinner. No bathroom with wheelchair access. SAMWOO RESTAURANT * Rockville; Moderate
It's tempting to stick to the classics at Samwoo: kimchee, the mouth-searing pickled-cabbage condiment traditionally buried in the ground for fermenting; Korea's national dish, bulgogi, thin-sliced beef barbecued at your table; and bibim bap, a composed casserole of rice, shredded beef, vegetables, and egg to mix in a delicious jumble. But there's a world of cuisine beyond the standards in this simple Korean/Japanese dining room with shoji screens and honey-hued wood. Depending on how adventurous you are, you might try yook hoe, shredded raw beef marinated in sesame oil, or gop chang jun-gol, a brothy bowl of beef intestines with noodles and vegetables.
More accessible to Western palates is jap chae, pan-fried vermicelli with beef and mushrooms, or man-doo guk, Korean dumplings in beef broth with beef and egg. Stir-fried kimchee with pork and vegetables and codfish casserole both make for a fiery rush. Barbecue options include thin-sliced brisket and pork marinated in sesame oil. Don't ignore the little bowls of condiments–tiny deep-fried fish, pickled paper-thin cucumbers, and more spicy kimchee–that arrive before the meal. They are meant to be nibbled on before, during, and after dinner.
Samwoo Restaurant, 1054 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-424-0495; samwoorestaurant.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 1789 RESTAURANT ** Georgetown; Very Expensive
Housed in a handsome Federal-style townhouse near Georgetown University, 1789 is one of Washington's favorite special-occasion restaurants. It's booked weeks in advance for holiday meals.
A kitchen renovation last year gave chef Ris Lacoste more room and flexibility in menu planning, and she has taken advantage of it in delightful ways, such as celebrating her favorite Nantucket bay scallops with a five-course scallop menu. Her scallop "margarita" with tequila ice has found a place in the seasonal rotation.
Most 1789 regulars stick with their favorites on the menu–jumbo lump crabcakes, a classic Caesar salad, a robust rack of lamb, sea scallops, and a delicious Tarte au Fromage Blanc with figs and a port wine sauce. It's a menu that always satisfies.
1789 Restaurant, 1226 36th St., NW; 202-965-1789; 1789restaurant.com. Open daily for dinner. No wheelchair access . SOL DE ESPAñA * Rockville; Moderate
A new restaurant with an Old World feel–Majolica pottery on the walls, wrought-iron accents–Sol de España smacks of authenticity. There's nothing trendy about the place, just the kind of good food you'd find in Spain. From the specials menu, start with an appetizer of quail eggs cooked with tomatoes, sweet red peppers, and Spanish sausage. Nibble on a codfish croquette or fresh fried sardines. Also among the specials are showier main courses like roast suckling pig; goat baked with garlic, white wine, and red peppers; pork tenderloin with Oloroso sherry; and the firm-fleshed Mediterranean dorade with onions and potatoes.
From the regular menu try clams in green sauce; baked mussels with bread crumbs and garlic; shrimp with brandy; and veal with mushrooms and sweet sherry. If you have the time–it takes about 45 minutes to cook–whole snapper baked in rock salt is fabulous.
Spanish wines dominate the wine list, which means you can get a decent bottle without digging too deep in the wallet. Desserts range from the traditional manchego with Membrillo jelly to orange bread pudding to a lineup of cakes that sound ordinary but taste very Spanish.
Sol de España, 838-C Rockville Pike, Rockville; 240-314-0202. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. SWEET BASIL * Bethesda; Moderate
West Coast-born chef/owner Napaporn Pitayatonakarn straddles traditional and modern Thai cuisine effortlessly in this contemporary dining room, where Thai musical instruments double as wall art. Rediscover old favorites with the kitchen's take on spicy lemongrass-and-lime-scented salads: green papaya with crunchy ground peanuts; rib-eye steak with chili and parched rice; or classic larb gai, minced chicken with scallions. Or consider a satay of chicken, shrimp, beef, pork, or portobello. Tod mun, curried fish patties, are beautifully done. So are familiar stir-fries like pad kra-prow, with a choice of meats, redolent of Thai basil.
Standouts among the restaurant's original plates are kanom pak gard, turnip cakes fried with eggs, scallions, and sprouts; nuer takai, wok-fried slivers of beef with roasted chili paste; grilled lamb ribs with tamarind bean sauce; and kang talay, a lineup of seafood in green curry. Vegetables aren't neglected–most plates arrive with a heap of carrot salad, tempura long beans, or Asian greens, and there are several vegetarian options.
Sweet Basil, 4910 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-657-7997; sweetbasilthaigourmet.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. SUSHI-KO ** Glover Park; Moderate
Daisuke Utagawa returned to his hometown of Washington in 1983 as a sushi chef at Sushi-Ko, the city's first sushi bar. In 1988 he bought the restaurant and now serves as its creative director, working with chef Koji Terano to move this most traditional of cuisines in new directions. One of Utagawa's innovative moves is pairing Japanese foods with Burgundy wines, with which Japanese cooking, Utagawa believes, has a unique affinity. As a result, this Japanese restaurant has one of the city's strongest lists of Burgundies.
Along with the usual nigiri and maki sushi, the menu offers a selection of innovative "small dishes." New this fall are eel with a balsamic vinegar reduction, ceviche of three fishes prepared three different ways; and pan-fried chicken shiso gyoza.
Sushi-Ko, 2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4187; sushiko.us. Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. TABERNA DEL ALABARDERO ** Downtown DC; Expensive
This Spanish restaurant opened in Washington in 1989 and under executive chef Josu Zubikarai quickly established itself as one of the best Spanish restaurants in the country. Zubikarai went back to Spain in 2002, leaving the restaurant under the capable leadership of chef Santi Zabaleta and longtime general manager Paco Pena.
There is no better place than the Taberna to convince skeptics that there's more to Spanish food than tapas and paella. A recent meal for two started with first courses of sautéed vegetables on a bed of turnips and Cabrales cheese with Serrano ham, and lovely seared scallops with a potato purée. Main courses included sweetbreads and wild mushrooms in a sherry reduction and a surprisingly delicate preparation of the traditional Spanish bacalao, salt cod. Dessert was a delicious fig parfait.
Taberna del Alabardero, 1776 I St., NW; 202-429-2200; alabardero.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. TACHIBANA ** McLean; Moderate
This popular Japanese restaurant sets the standard in Northern Virginia. Two sushi bars offer the freshest raw fish in portions larger than most. Available are two or three types of tuna, yellowtail, red snapper, California rolls, and more-exotic offerings such as sea urchin (uni).
Cooked dishes occupy a prominent place on the lengthy menu. Very good are the grilled fish, slightly charred but moist preparations that include not only the familiar filets of salmon and rockfish but also whole fish, such as sardines and Spanish or horse mackerel. For the adventurous, fish jaws–actually the head of fish to the gills–of yellowtail and sometimes of other types are worth a try; the flesh is very flavorful. Also excellent are the crisp and almost greaseless shrimp and vegetable tempura; chicken, beef, or salmon teriyaki; crunchy negimaki made of scallions encased in grilled beef; and breaded and deep-fried cutlets of pork and chicken. Simple and filling noodle dishes like thick udon rice noodles in an aromatic broth and topped with shrimp tempura or cold soba buckwheat noodles are good.
Tachibana, 6715 Lowell Ave., McLean; 703-847-1771. Open daily for lunch and dinner. TAKO GRILL * Bethesda; Moderate
Singles hang at the stylish sake bar sipping cocktails and boutique sakes. Couples and families gravitate to the bright, often-frenetic dining room with jellyfish halogens, splashes of red, and attractive ceramics–every morsel arrives on its own special plate.
Tako's menu is one of the most varied in the area. Sushi fans have all the usual choices, such as tuna and salmon, plus offbeat items like octopus with seaweed, jellyfish marinated in sesame vinegar, and specials like Japanese red-snapper sashimi.
Besides sushi, diners can turn to teriyaki, tempura–including the rare mussel-and-squid tempuras–a zingy ginger pork stir-fry, hot and cold Japanese soups, and grilled robatayaki tidbits like asparagus and beef tongue. Vegetarian options also go beyond the usual cucumber avocado rolls and vegetable tempura to several varieties of seaweed, string beans in sesame sauce, cooked black seaweed with fried tofu, and shiitake tempura. Service is just about the only weak link at Tako–it often has a harried, "sorry I forgot" quality.
Tako Grill, 7756 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-7030; takogrill.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. TASTE OF SAIGON ** Rockville, McLean; Inexpensive
Dove-gray walls and native ceramics give a gallerylike feel to these lively eateries that offer a good introduction to Vietnamese cuisine. McLean is roomier, but both locations have outdoor seating in balmy weather.
Dumpling lovers have myriad choices, from Vietnamese Ravioli, little cellophane noodle squares filled with minced carrots, crab, and pork, to crispy fried wontons. Lime-fragrant salads of beef, duck, and lobster and papaya deliver crunch and fire. Tamer are the vermicelli and rice bowls available with choices of meats and seafood. Black-pepper dishes made with shrimp, steak, or chicken are standouts. Other traditional takes, like caramel shrimp and Saigon crepe, are well done, too.
Where Taste of Saigon distinguishes itself from other family-run Vietnamese restaurants is in a short list of signature plates such as braised lamb shank with five-spice gravy, mussels with black-bean-and-ginger sauce, and French-cut pork chops with Asian spices. Beers and wines can be had, and the house-made sparkling lemonade goes very well with the sweet and salty flavors.
Taste of Saigon, 410 Hungerford Dr., Rockville, 301-424-7222; 8201 Greensboro Dr., McLean, 703-790-0700; tasteofsaigon.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. TAVIRA ** Chevy Chase; Expensive
Here is traditional Portuguese cuisine served in a gracious Old World dining room. Similar to Spanish cuisine in the way Greek and Lebanese cooking are similar, Portuguese fare does have its own distinctive quality. This is best seen in preparations like Ameijoas na Cataplana, a stew of clams, sausage, presunto, and olive oil; the well-known caldo verde, a soup of puréed potatoes, kale, and Portuguese sausage; and cod fritters.
The Portuguese make much of cod. It shows up shredded and sautéed with olives, egg, and straw potatoes, and grilled with garlic and onions. Grilled chicken is made more interesting with the spicy pepper sauce known as piri piri, and grilled meats usually involve a sauce or demi-glace of sherry or port. The best of these are grilled lamb chops with port-wine sauce, a veal chop with dry sherry, and a New York strip with Madeira.
Seared steak topped with an egg is worth getting for the house-made potato chips, and calf's liver with onions and bacon is humble yet savory fare. Paella is probably best eaten elsewhere. A red-wine-poached pear with honey cinnamon ice cream is the winning dessert. The wine list is mostly Portuguese and Spanish, and reasonably priced.
Tavira, 8401 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-652-8684; tavirarestaurant.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. TEATRO GOLDONI ** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
K Street lawyers and other office workers fill every seat at the bar of this lively Italian restaurant by shortly after noon, drawn by chef Fabrizio Aielli's bargain-priced bar lunch. For $12.50, customers get a heaping bowl of rigatoni alla matriciana, an Italian-style hamburger with fried eggplant and a fried egg, or one of half a dozen other Italian favorites, plus a glass of wine.
But there's much more to Aielli's cooking than a bargain lunch. Born in Venice, he is skilled with the seafood and rice dishes at which Venetians excel. His Grand Fritto Misto, a platter heaped with crisply fried oysters, scallops, shrimp, calamari, and thin slices of zucchini, is very good. The menu each day lists half a dozen varieties of fish, served with soft polenta, and another half-dozen risotti.
Teatro Goldoni, 1909 K St., NW; 202-955-9494; teatrogoldoni.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. TENPENH ** Downtown DC; Expensive
Like its sister restaurants–DC Coast and Ceiba–TenPenh has a striking decor, a lively bar, and a menu of updated ethnic classics. Executive chef Jeff Tunks and chef de cuisine Cliff Wharton have put together a menu that ranges over the cuisines of Thailand, China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. You can start with a tasty Filipino-style lumpia spring roll of shrimp and pork, a surprisingly successful Chinese-style Peking duck roll, or Thai-style coconut-and-chicken soup, none of them "authentic" but all of them delicious.
Main-course choices include Tunks's signature Chinese-style smoked lobster, a Green Curry Bouillabaisse with fresh prawns, and an Asian Surf and Turf with a grilled rib eye and tempura shrimp. Pastry chef Jason Andelman's Asian-inspired but thoroughly American desserts are a treat, particularly the trio of crème brûlées flavored with coffee, lemongrass, and ginger, and the chocolate-cashew tart with banana ice cream.
TenPenh, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-393-4500; tenpenh.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, Monday through Saturday for dinner. TUSCARORA MILL * Leesburg; Expensive
The restored mill that gives this restaurant its name provides a delightful setting for lunch or dinner. The mill machinery overhangs the bar. In keeping with the original use of the premises, the walls in those two rooms are rough-hewn and decorated with handmade quilts.
Chef Patrick Dinh has combined a variety of cuisines in his personal style. The Modern American base is expanded with touches from France, Italy, China, and Vietnam. Good dishes are sautéed medallions of lobster with savory lobster butter; an Alsatian baked-onion tart with Port Salut cheese and blackberry coulis; Dinh's cioppino San Francisco-style, a nice array of seafood and fish in a vodka tomato broth; pan-roasted Long Island duckling topped with seared foie gras with jasmine rice and a Port-hoisin-ginger sauce with snow peas and carrots; a grilled pork porterhouse chop stuffed with braised apples; and sesame-roasted salmon with stir-fried vegetables and jasmine rice.
The impressive wine list includes 40 Cabernets or Cabernet blends from California alone. End the meal with the warm berry napoleon with blackberry liqueur.
Tuscarora Mill, 203 Harrison St., SE; Leesburg; 703-771-9300; tuskies.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 2941 [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] *** Falls Church; Very Expensive
This restaurant has a dazzling setting–its 30-foot wall of windows overlooks Fairview Lake. Cooking is in the hands of Jonathan Krinn, a graduate of L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda and an alumnus of the well-regarded Gramercy Tavern in New York City.
The modern French-American menu changes seasonally. A constant is the very good breadbasket prepared under the supervision of the chef's father. A recent meal included halved quail with the cavity filled with a porcini stuffing, braised cipollini onions, and an orange bay-leaf jus; caramelized pheasant breast cooked medium rare with a mousse made of morsels from the leg and truffle chips; and a dessert of pear-and-chestnut croustade with sesame-and-Szechuan-pepper ice cream and tempura bananas served with a shot glass of cinnamon red-wine soup with berries. Other top appetizers are the Hudson Valley Foie Gras and a pair of tartares, one of Kobe beef, another of yellowfin tuna.
Main courses have included a honey-and-soy glazed Chilean sea bass and a rack and loin of New Zealand venison. A ten-course tasting menu is available for $105 to $115, with wine pairings an extra $80. Vegetarian and white-truffle tasting menus are also available. Dinners end with an old-fashioned free dessert of cotton candy and other tidbits.
2941, 2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church; 703-270-1500; 2941.com. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner, Sunday for brunch. VIDALIA [Blue Ribbon Award Winner] **** Downtown DC; Very Expensive
After closing for a renovation in 2003, Vidalia reopened with a wall of magnolias behind the bar and the same Southern-inspired cooking that has made it one of DC's best-loved restaurants. This fall Peter Smith, for 12 years executive chef at Vidalia, announced his departure, but recent visits have revealed no decline in the quality of the cooking.
Owners Jeffrey and Sallie Buben continue to serve superb versions of their Five Onion Soup with duck stock and duck confit; grillades and grits with braised veal cheeks and tasso; their signature shrimp and grits; and wonderful pork chop with a sweet potato soufflé and turnip greens.
A few of the restaurant's best items have been limited to the lunch menu: a crisp fried chicken breast with cream gravy; a Kentucky Burgoo of rabbit with okra, corn, and tomatoes; and a great barbecue-pork sandwich on toasted cornbread. Whatever you order, get a side of the crisp, slightly sweet, and addictive hushpuppies, and save room for a slice of the best lemon chess pie in town.
Vidalia, 1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990; bistrobis.com/vidalia. Open Monday through Friday for lunch, daily for dinner. WOO LAE OAK ** Arlington; Moderate
Most Korean restaurants are small and don't seem welcoming to Westerners. Not Woo Lae Oak. Part of a small international chain, it is large and open, many servers speak good English, and it has a good non-Korean clientele as well as expatriate Koreans. It's a perfect place to experiment.
When seated, diners are served an array of side dishes and condiments, from mild shredded cabbage or radish to the fiery kimchee. Grilled dishes of short ribs, marinated beef, and other meats, which diners cook for themselves on grills at the table, are popular. Eat them with bean sprouts wrapped in lettuce leaves. Other appealing dishes are pan-fried dumplings (mandoo); medallions of fish or meat coated with an egg batter and pan-fried; a warm rice salad of vegetables and morsels of beef that diners mix themselves (bibim bap); and a variety of meal-size soups, ranging from the tame mandoo soup to searing soups with seafood and red-pepper paste. The menu indicates which dishes are incendiary.
Woo Lae Oak, 1500 S. Joyce St., Arlington; 703-521-3706; woolaeoak.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. WURZBURG HAUS * Rockville; Moderate
It's not glamorous, and it's certainly not trendy, but a meal here can be soul-satisfying. We're talking herring in sour cream, goulash and schnitzel, and sausage platters with bread dumplings and sauerkraut. And a beer lover's dream of a list to wash it all down with. Portions are generous–even smoked salmon with potato pancakes and dill sour cream isn't a dainty plate. In fact, most dishes are easily shared, though it's more interesting to mix things up and take home the leftovers.
Try the veal schnitzel with spaetzle and either paprika or mushroom-cream sauce or breaded; sauerbraten with red cabbage; Vienna-style breaded chicken with German potato salad. The wursts are numerous. Fortunately, a combination plate delivers several–weisswurst, bratwurst, bauernwurst, and knockwurst. The biergarten motif and dirndl-skirted waitresses may seem hokey–and South Beach diet guru Dr. Agatston would hardly approve–but it sure is a naughty pleasure.
Wurzburg Haus, Red Mill Shopping Center, 7236 Muncaster Mill Rd., Rockville; 301-330-0402; wurzburghaus.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. YIN YANKEE CAFE * Annapolis; Moderate
The fusion-inspired cream-of-crab soup spiked with lemongrass, a frequent special, goes down like velvet, familiar yet with the thrill of discovery. And even when the soup's not on, Yin Yankee is well worth the trip. Shades of red and yellow suffuse the dining room with warmth, while a fish tank and a shimmering wall of water cool things off. Sushi offerings start with the usual rolls, sashimi, and nigiri. Seaweed salad with conch, baby tako, or ika sansai is a mix of crunch and briny flavor. More unusual is carpaccio of tuna and salmon, and creative combos are inventive indeed: Try the crunchy lobster roll or go exotic with tuna and cashew.
If sushi's not your thing, no problem. Try whole fish roasted in banana leaves; tea-smoked duck with scallion pancakes; the house bouillabaisse, a coconut-infused tomatoey brew; and, best of all, Crabchop, a lumpy crusted crabcake on a stick with wasabi mayo. The drinks list includes boutique sakes, wine, and a well-put-together beer lineup: Javer from Germany, Otter Creek Copper Ale from Vermont, and Mardesous from Belgium.
Yin Yankee Cafe, 105 Main St., Annapolis; 410-268-8703; yinyankee.com. Open daily for lunch and dinner. YANYU ** Cleveland Park; Expensive
The energetic Jessie Yan owns not only Yanyu but also the popular Spices just down the street and Nooshi in downtown DC. Yanyu, the most elegant and most accomplished of her restaurants, features a pan-Asian menu of luxury ingredients beautifully presented.
Her dishes often depart from the traditional. The Lobster Garden Roll substitutes lobster for the traditional shrimp and takes the level of the seasonings up a notch–a lovely variation on the spirit of the original. The remarkably light Lily Bulb Dumplings are a nice contrast in textures. The star of the menu is the Big Duck, a delicious version of Peking duck, carved at the table and rolled in pancakes with plum sauce, scallions, and cucumber. In addition to the à la carte selections, there are two tasting menus that offer several of the restaurant's signature dishes, including the duck, for $30 and $40.
Yanyu, 3435 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-686-6968. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, Wednesday through Saturday for lunch. ZAYTINYA ** Downtown DC; Moderate
In the Middle East, every meal is preceded by mezze, a selection of "little dishes" meant to show the host's generosity. Inspired by the success of Jaleo, their tapas restaurant, chef José Andrés and his partners decided to see if they could persuade a Washington audience that mezze made a similarly satisfying meal. The verdict: Zaytinya's glass-walled dining room has been packed ever since.
The first challenge at Zaytinya is narrowing the choices down from the hundred or so possibilities. These range from Middle Eastern standards like hummus and baba ghanoush to less familiar but no less delicious possibilities like braised lamb shank over an eggplant purée or quail stuffed with tomatoes and feta. You can afford to be adventurous–few of the dishes cost more than $7, and a selection of three per person will feed a table handsomely. Some favorites include pork and orange-rind sausage; braised rabbit with lentils; addictive little manti, beef-stuffed pasta in yogurt sauce; squid with spinach and sometimes other greens; and fried mussels with pistachios.
The second challenge is figuring out how to slow the service. You can control the pacing by ordering a few dishes at a time.
The wine list has one of the nation's largest selections of Greek wines. There are several reasonably priced dry rosés that go particularly well with this food. Ask your server for suggestions.
Zaytinya, 701 Ninth St., NW; 202-638-0800; zaytinya.com. Open daily from lunch through dinner.
Blue Ribbon Award Winners
The Inn At Little Washington
Cashion's Eat Place
Colvin Run Tavern
L'auberge Chez FranÇOis
The Prime Rib
Changes In The Top 100
Black Market Bistro
Buck's Fishing & Camping
Le Tire Bouchon
Sol de España
Bobby Van's Steakhouse
Evening Star Cafe
Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant
Bistro Bis •• to •••
The Grille • to ••
2941 •••to •••
Four and Twenty Blackbirds ••• to ••
La Côte d'Or Café •• to •
Restaurateurs Of The Year
Chef Jeff Tunks met Gus DiMillo in 1988 when they were part of the team that opened the River Club for Capital Restaurants Group. A few years later, the pair met David Wizenberg when all three worked on the opening of Notte Luna. Tunks then moved to the West Coast and on to New Orleans.
DiMillo and Wizenberg became friends, and when they decided to open a restaurant, they persuaded Tunks to come aboard as chef. They finalized the deal in 1997 at Tunks's wedding in New Orleans, and in 1998 they opened their first restaurant, DC Coast, at 14th and K streets in downtown DC. Tunks was in the kitchen, DiMillo ran the front, dealing with employees and guests, and Wizenberg handled the logistics and finances. It worked, and they stuck together as a trio, starting two more restaurants, the Asian-themed TenPenh in 2000 and the Latin restaurant Ceiba in 2003.
More than just business associates, the partners enjoy one another's company. To find dishes, furnishings, and menu ideas for TenPenh and Ceiba, they have taken scouting trips together to Asia and to Central and South America. No business relationship is without friction, but Tunks and Wizenberg acknowledge that DiMillo is as skilled at keeping the peace in business transactions as he is in the dining room. He was voted by his peers in the restaurant industry the Hospitality Ambassador of the Year in 2003.
Although the three restaurants are different, they have some things in common. Each is in a downtown DC location and has a dramatic decor. The menu of each takes a theme–coastal, Asian, and Latin American cuisine–and, while modernizing its presentation, remains true to its essential flavors. Each restaurant has achieved success by building a faithful clientele and has been praised by critics and peers in the restaurant community.
For their dedication to good food and service, for their contribution to the vitality of downtown DC, and for their generous contributions to the community, Jeff Tunks, Gus DiMillo, and David Wizenberg are The Washingtonian's Restaurateurs of the Year in 2005.
Gus DiMillo, Jeff Tunks, and David Wizenberg are partners in DC Coast, TenPenh, and Ceiba.
Twenty Places To Watch
District Of Columbia
Mussels and Fries, a New Seafood House, and French Cooking Meets India
Belga Café (514 Eighth St., SE; 202-544-0100). Bart Vandaele, former chef for the Dutch ambassador, cooks classic and contemporary Belgian dishes in a stylish restaurant on Barracks Row. Good selection of Belgian beers. Moderate.
Black Salt (4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-342-9101). A seafood restaurant and fish market from Jeff and Barbara Black, owners of Black's Bar & Kitchen and Addie's. Expensive.
CityZen (Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 1330 Maryland Ave., SW; 202-787-6006). Chef Eric Ziebold, formerly at the French Laundry, serves three- and five-course menus in the Modern American style at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's new luxury restaurant. Very Expensive.
IndeBleu (707 G St., NW; 202-333-2538). A hip downtown restaurant with a color-coded cocktail map in the bar and swinging sofas in the lounge. The menu is French with flavors of India. Expensive.
Komi (1509 17th St., NW; 202-332-9200). Chef Johnny Monis's casual American restaurant offers good cooking and conscientious and enthusiastic service. Moderate.
Palette (Madison Hotel, 15th and M sts., NW; 202-587-2700). This elegant new restaurant got off to a rocky start, but new chef James Clark's menu, which reflects his Southern background, looks promising. Expensive.
Restaurant Kolumbia (1801 K St., NW; 202-331-5551). With first-rate ingredients and solid technique, chef Jamie Stachowski transforms what was Le Tarbouche into a Modern American restaurant. Expensive.
French and American Comfort Food and Elvis Mini-Burgers
Centro (4838 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 301-951-1988). New chef Liam LaCivita has taken this chic space to new heights with menu changes inspired by his Pugliese grandparents and his background in regional Italian cuisine. Moderate.
Jackie's (8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-565-9700). In a place with style and a '60s pop vibe, Ann Cashion protégé Sam Adkins serves dishes like brined brisket and Elvis mini burgers with pimento cheese. Moderate.
L'Oustalet (302 King's Farm Blvd., Rockville; 301-963-3400). A terrific duck confit and some of the best fries around are among the French comfort plates at this new bistro by Marcel Bernard, formerly of Les Halles and La Miche. Moderate.
Red Dog Cafe (8301-A Grubb Rd., Silver Spring; 301-588-6300). Wood-oven pizzas, Tuscan chicken under bricks, and addictive macaroni and cheese make this the sort of place any neighborhood would want to call its own. Inexpensive.
Tandoori Nights (106 Market St., Gaithersburg; 301-947-4007). A glamorous Indian spot, complete with martini bar, that deftly delivers the standard dishes as well as some delicious inventions. Inexpensive.
Zest (200 S. Market St., Frederick; www.eatatzest.com). A new Frederick location in a renovated historic building and new menu promise to make one of Maryland's most interesting restaurants even better when it reopens. Moderate.
Mexican Small Plates, New Indian and Japanese Places
A la Lucia (315 Madison St., Alexandria; 703-836-5123). Diners familiar with Galileo need only be told that this is the restaurant of former maître d' Michael Nayeri. It's small, informal, and very professional. Lunch is mostly panini and pizza. Moderate.
Bistro des Celestins (6876 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-534-8059). An offshoot of award-winning La Cote D'Or, this restaurant emphasizes the bistro food of France, from sandwiches, omelets, and crepes to frog's legs, swordfish, and steak frites. Moderate.
Fiore di Luna (1025 Seneca Rd., Great Falls; 703-444-4060). Replacing Yannick Cam's Le Relais, this attractive restaurant boasts chef Andrea Pace, who operated the kitchen at Cafe Milano. The cooking is northern Italian, good, and consistent. Expensive.
Matsuri Sushi and Sake Bar (150 Elden St., Herndon; 703-707-0367). A new and very good Japanese restaurant with a broad menu. It has unusual sushi items like white tuna, and an extensive list of premium sakes. Moderate.
Oyamel (2250-B Crystal Dr., Crystal City; 703-413-2288). A new small-plates restaurant specializing in Mexican antojitos from the owners of Jaleo and Zaytinya.
Sarita's (2794 Graham Rd., Falls Church; 703-533-9448). Good bets at this bright, cheerful, and authentic Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant are the yucca with fried pork, grilled Cornish hen, and sautéed pork chops. Moderate.
SupperClub of India (13055 Worldgate Dr., Herndon; 703-736-0466). This Indian restaurant has striking decor and fine food. Highlights include the luncheon buffet and fish and meats from the tandoor. Moderate.
|Addie's, 11120 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-881-0081||••||Modern American||$$|
|Andale, 401 Seventh St., NW; 202-783-3133||••||Mexican||$|
|Argia's, 124 N. Washington St., Falls Church; 703-534-1033||•||Italian||$|
|Bistro Bis, Hotel George, 15 E St., NW; 202-661-2700||•••||French||$$|
|Black Market Bistro, 4600 Waverly Ave., Garrett Park; 301-933-3000||•||Modern American||¢-$|
|Black's Bar and Kitchen, 7750 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-6278||••||Seafood||$$|
|Blue Point Grill, 600 Franklin St., Alexandria; 703-739-0404||••||Seafood||$$|
|Bombay Bistro, Fairfax (703-359-5810) and Rockville (301-762-8798)||••||Indian||¢|
|Buck's Fishing & Camping, 5031 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-364-0777||Modern American||$|
|Buon Giorno, 8003 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1400||•||Italian||$|
|Café Atlántico, 405 Eighth St., NW; 202-393-0812||••||Nuevo Latino||$|
|Cafe Milano, 3251 Prospect St., NW; 202-333-6183||••||Italian||$$$|
|Carlyle, 4000 S. 28th St., Arlington; 703-931-0777||•||Modern American||$|
|Cashion's Eat Place, 1819 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-797-1819||•••||Modern American||$$|
|Ceiba, 701 14th St., NW; 202-393-3983||••||Latin||$$|
|Chez Marc, 7607 Centreville Rd., Manassas; 703-369-6526||•||French||$$|
|Citronelle, Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW; 202-625-2150||••••||French||$$$|
|Colvin Run Tavern, 8045 Leesburg Pike, Vienna; 703-356-9500||•••||Modern American||$$$|
|Corduroy, 1201 K St., NW; 202-589-0699||••||Modern American||$$|
|The Crossing at Casey Jones, 417 E. Charles St., La Plata, Md.; 301-932-6226||•||Modern American||$$|
|DC Coast, 1401 K St., NW; 202-216-5988||••||Modern American||$$|
|Divino Lounge & Restaurant, 7345-B Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 240-497-0300||•||Latin||$|
|Duangrat's, 5878 Leesburg Pike, Baileys Crossroads; 703-820-5775||•••||Thai||$|
|Equinox, 818 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-331-8118||•••||Modern American||$$|
|Four and Twenty Blackbirds, 650 Zachary Taylor Hwy., Flint Hill, Va., 540-675-1111||••||Modern American||$$|
|Four Sisters (Huong Que), 6769 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church; 703-538-6717||••||Vietnamese||¢|
|Galileo, 1110 21st St., NW; 202-293-7191||••••||Italian||$$$|
|Gerard's Place, 915 15th St., NW; 202-737-4445||••••||French||$$$|
|Grapeseed, 4865-C Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592||•••||Modern American||$$|
|Green Papaya, 4922 Elm St., Bethesda; 301-654-8986||•||Vietnamese||$|
|The Grille, Morrison House Hotel, 116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria; 703-838-8000||••||Modern American||$$|
|Heritage India, Northwest DC (202-333-3120) and Dupont Circle (202-331-1414)||•••||Indian||$|
|Hollywood East Café, two Wheaton locations, 301-942-8282 and 240-290-9988||•||Chinese||¢|
|Il Pizzico, 15209 Frederick Rd., Rockville; 301-309-0610||••||Italian||$|
|Indique, 3512 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-244-6600||••||Indian||$|
|The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800||••••||Modern American||$$$|
|I Ricchi, 1220 19th St., NW; 202-835-0459||••||Italian||$$$|
|Jaipur, 9401 Lee Hwy., Fairfax; 703-766-1111||•||Indian||$|
|Jaleo, downtown DC (202-628-7949), Bethesda (301-913-0003), Crystal City (703-413-8181)||••||Spanish||$|
|Jean-Michel, 10223 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-564-4910||••||French||$$|
|Jerry's Seafood, 9364 Lanham-Severn Rd., Seabrook; 301-577-0333||•||Seafood||$$|
|Johnny's Half Shell, 2002 P St., NW; 202-296-2021||••||Seafood||$|
|Kaz Sushi Bistro, 1915 I St., NW; 202-530-5500||••||Japanese||$|
|Kinkead's, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-7700||••••||Seafood||$$$|
|La Bergerie, 218 N. Lee St., Alexandria; 703-683-1007||••||French||$$|
|La Chaumière, 2813 M St., NW; 202-338-1784||••||French||$|
|La Côte d'Or Café, 2201 N. Westmoreland St., Arlington; 703-538-3033||•||French||$$|
|L'Auberge Chez François, 332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls; 703-759-3800||•••||French||$$|
|Lavandou, 3321 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-966-3003||•||French||$|
|Layalina, 5216 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-1170||•||Middle Eastern||$|
|Le Paradou, 678 Indiana Ave., NW; 202-347-6780||•••||French||$$$|
|Les Folies Brasserie, 2552 Riva Rd., Annapolis; 410-573-0970||••||French||$|
|Les Halles, 1201 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-347-6848||•||French||$|
|Le Tire Bouchon, 4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax; 703-691-4747||•||French||$$|
|Maestro, Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, 1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean; 703-821-1515||••••||Italian||$$$|
|Majestic Cafe, 911 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-9117||•||Modern American||$|
|Makoto, 4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-298-6866||•••||Japanese||$|
|Malaysia Kopitiam, 1827 M St., NW; 202-833-6232||••||Malaysian||¢|
|Mannequin Pis, 18064 Georgia Ave., Olney; 301-570-4800||•••||Belgian||$$|
|Marcel's, 2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-296-1166||•••||French-Belgian||$$$|
|Mark's Duck House, 6184-A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-532-2125||•||Chinese||¢|
|Melrose, Park Hyatt Hotel, 1201 24th St., NW; 202-419-6755||••||Modern American||$$$|
|Montmartre, 327 Seventh St., SE; 202-544-1244||••||French||$|
|Mykonos Grill, 121 Congressional La., Rockville; 301-770-5999||•||Greek||$|
|Nizam's Restaurant, 523 Maple Ave. W., Vienna; 703-938-8948||••||Turkish||$|
|Obelisk, 2029 P St., NW; 202-872-1180||•••||Italian||$$|
|Palena, 3529 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-537-9250||•••||Modern American||$$$|
|The Palm, 1225 19th St., NW; 202-293-9091||••||American||$$$|
|Panino, 9116 Mathis Ave., Manassas; 703-335-2566||••||Italian||$|
|Persimmon, 7003 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-654-9860||•••||Modern American||$$|
|Pesce, 2016 P St., NW; 202-466-3474||••||Seafood||$$|
|Pizzeria Paradiso, Dupont Circle (202-223-1245) and Georgetown (202-337-1245)||••||Pizza||¢|
|The Prime Rib, 2020 K St., NW; 202-466-8811||•••||American||$$$|
|Rabieng, 5892 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; 703-671-4222||••||Thai||¢|
|Raku, 7240 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-718-8680||••||Asian||$|
|Ray's the Steaks, 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-7297||••||Steak||$$|
|Restaurant Eve, 110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450||••||Modern American||$$|
|Ristorante Terrazza, 2 Wisconsin Cir., Chevy Chase; 301-951-9292||••||Italian||$$|
|Ristorante Tosca, 1112 F St., NW; 202-367-1990||••||Italian||$$|
|RT's Restaurant, 3804 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-684-6010||••||American||$$|
|Samwoo Restaurant, 1054 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-424-0495 or 301-424-0496||•||Korean||$|
|1789 Restaurant, 1226 36th St., NW; 202-965-1789||••||Modern American||$$$|
|Sol de España, 838-C Rockville Pike, Rockville; 240-314-0202||•||Spanish||$|
|Sushi-Ko, 2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-4187||••||Japanese||$|
|Sweet Basil, 4910 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-657-7997||•||Thai||$|
|Taberna del Alabardero, 1776 I St., NW; 202-429-2200||••||Spanish||$$|
|Tachibana, 6715 Lowell Ave., McLean; 703-847-1771||••||Japanese||$|
|Tako Grill, 7756 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-7030||•||Japanese||$|
|Taste of Saigon, Rockville (301-424-7222) and McLean (703-790-0700)||••||Vietnamese||¢|
|Tavira, 8401 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-652-8684||••||Portuguese||$$|
|Teatro Goldoni, 1909 K St., NW; 202-955-9494||••||Italian||$$$|
|TenPenh, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-393-4500||••||Asian||$$|
|Tuscarora Mill, 203 Harrison St., SE, Leesburg; 703-771-9300||•||Modern American||$$|
|2941, 2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church; 703-270-1500||•••||French-American||$$$|
|Vidalia, 1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990||••••||Modern American||$$$|
|Woo Lae Oak, 1500 S. Joyce St., Arlington; 703-521-3706||••||Korean||$|
|Wurzburg Haus, 7236 Muncaster Mill Rd., Rockville; 301-330-0402||•||German||$|
|Yanyu, 3435 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-686-6968||••||Asian||$$|
|Yin Yankee Cafe, 105 Main St., Annapolis; 410-268-8703||•||Asian||$|
|Zaytinya, 701 Ninth St., NW; 202-638-0800||••||Mediterranean||$|