Charlie Palmer Steak

A slickly designed steakhouse that draws plenty of big names.

From January 2006 100 Very Best Restaurants

THE SCENE. Despite the swirl of cigar smoke at the bar and the clubbiness among its well-connected patrons, celebrity chef/owner Charlie Palmer's restaurant is far removed from the steakhouse its name implies, from the design (whose soft blue and muted orange is more suited to a '70s-style cocktail lounge) to the ambitious wine program to the menu (full of gelées, reductions, and sometimes intricate, cheffy creations).

WHAT YOU'LL LOVE. If the glimpse of the Capitol through the plate glass windows doesn't stir your patriotism, the all-American wine list might. (Note to techno-geeks and oenophiles: Ask for the restaurant's hand-held computer notebook before consulting sommelier Nadine Brown.) And there's something quintessentially American in the swaggering, bold flavors of chef Bryan Voltaggio's cooking, whether he's doing up a proper chop or prime rib or turning something as ostensibly delicate and Asian as an appetizer of tuna tartare into a dish with all the grandeur and savor of his bone-in New York strip.

WHAT YOU WON'T. Steak prices are high–$64 for a Wagyu sirloin–and the wine list is studded with extravagant markups. The steep tabs ensure that for many the restaurant is elevated into the special-occasion category. Problem is, the staff isn't geared to treat the diner with the kind of extra care and consideration that makes for not just a great meal but a memorable one.

BEST DISHES. Foie gras with an apple tarte Tatin, the best foie gras dish in the city and easily the biggest; a soy-soaked tuna tartare topped with a quail egg; a succulent butter-poached lobster; trio of crèmes brûlées.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.