January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

Cocktail hors d’oeuvres, big steaks and chops, and retro prices--all touches of a bygone restaurant era--are the draw.

No. 25: Ray’s the Classics

Crab Royale at Ray’s the Classics. Photograph by Clay McLachlan.

The most important restaurant to debut last year had no big-name chef, no forward-thinking design. This Silver Spring restaurant, the second from owner Michael Landrum, extends the iconoclasm of his Clarendon original, Ray’s the Steaks. The prices are reactionary—a version of deviled eggs topped with steak tartare, a starter, goes for $5—the valet parking is free, salads are complimentary, and a mix of young and old, black and white, families and couples fills the Cotton Club-by-way-of-Ikea dining room every night.

The menu, which pays homage to both Madame Bollinger, the grande dame of Champagne, and the Notorious B.I.G., the fallen patriarch of gangsta rap, is proudly backward-looking: Chateaubriand for two, double-cut veal chop, and old-fashioned ice-cream floats. Thanks to Michael Hartzer, a Citronelle alum, the quality of the cooking goes beyond most other stabs at Modern Americana—it’s as detailed and precise as it is hearty. A buttermilk-brined, skillet-fried chicken is mahogany-brown and potato-chip crisp; crab royale, an all-Maryland, all-jumbo-lump rendition of crab imperial, is elegant for being so rich. Creamed spinach is transformed into a soufflé. A cheesy, nutmeg-scented spaetzle is so delicate it could fool you into thinking it wasn’t a diet-buster.

Pastry chef Leigh Weinfield, who crafted the fabulous dessert menu, which includes such treats as a buttery apple charlotte and coconut cake, has recently left, so the sweets will bear watching. So will the service, which has ranged from sweetly forgetful to competent. But Landrum’s sequel already has the makings of a blockbuster.

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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 Logan Circle.