Half-pours of wine: Two and a half to three ounces of wine, rather than five or six, means you don't have to dip into the college fund–or overindulge–to enjoy a Sauvignon Blanc with oysters, a Barolo with rack of lamb, and a Banyuls with a pear tart. Great places for short sips (all serve wine by the full glass, too): Grapeseed (4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592), Sette Osteria (1666 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-483-3070), and 2941 (2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church; 703-270-1500).
Small plates: Spanish tapas and Mediterranean mezze were the original "small plates"–appetizers you could make a meal of. Now everyone's doing it, from Fahrenheit, at the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown (3100 South St., NW; 202-912-4110), where a new menu celebrates small, medium, and large plates, to Tallula (2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-778-5051), where diners can mix and match bite-size hors d'oeuvres, to Jackie's (8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-565-9700), with its mostly small plates and nibbles.
Bar menus from top chefs: Roberto Donna of Galileo (1110 21st St., NW; 202-293-7191), Frank Ruta of Palena (3529 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-537-9250), and Fabrizio Aielli of Teatro Goldoni (1909 K St., NW; 202-955-9494) were among the first to offer well-priced bar menus in their upscale eateries.
Of late, others have followed suit. Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450), Michel Richard of Citronelle (Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW; 202-625-2150), and Morou Ouattara of Signatures (801 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-628-5900) have all conjured up bar eats that let diners experience the chef's wow factor at a fraction of the regular price.
Cheese plates in unexpected places: A first-rate cheese plate is a given in an upscale dining room like Galileo (1110 21st St., NW; 202-293-7191) or the Inn at Little Washington (Main and Middle sts., Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800).
Now places that are easier on the wallet are catching on. Dino (3435 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-686-2966), a neighborhood eatery in Cleveland Park, has a showstopping lineup of Italian cheeses–from a four-year-old Parmiagino Reggiano to sharp, aged Guffanti Pecorino; three cheeses for $12, five for $18. Sonoma (223 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-544-8088) offers three cheeses for $10 and six for $20. Pick from an array that recently included Taleggio Vecchio, a cow's-milk cheese from Italy, and Friesago, a sheep's-milk cheese from Minnesota.
Washingtonian staffers contributing to this section were Cristina Abello, Susan Baer, Susan Davidson, Ken DeCell, Rebecca Dreilinger, Kim Isaac Eisler, Mary Clare Fleury, Kimberly Forrest, Brooke Lea Foster, Garrett M. Graff, Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head, Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Chad Lorenz, Leslie Milk, Aparna Nancherla, William O'Sullivan, Cindy Rich, and Chris Wilson. Also contributing were Cathy Alter, Ann Cochran, and Matthew Graham.