January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

A sleek but warm hotel dining room and lounge near GW University.

No. 31: Circle Bistro

Photograph by Kathryn Norwood.

You know that favorite rec­ord you come back to after a long day? That’s how this low-key bistro feels—content to be in the background but as soothing as a Diana Krall ballad.

The spare but comfortable orange dining room—and the reasonable prices—suit nearly every occasion: a first date, dinner with parents, a quick pretheater meal, a round of happy-hour martinis, a business lunch. The cooking is remarkably consistent. Chef Brendan Cox, an Eastern Shore native, clearly loves Chesapeake ingredients, but he constantly plays with new flavors—deploying lemongrass in an excellent appetizer of seared scallops and setting off a slice of seared foie gras with 50-year-old balsamic vinegar. And he hasn’t forgotten his days working at Equinox. Perfect potatoes dauphinois set off a lovely, lemony slab of brook trout meunière, his duck confit surpasses that of many French kitchens, and a mushroom salad dressed with a bacon vinaigrette and capped with a poached egg makes earthiness feel elegant.

Desserts, save for a simple apple croustade, aren’t the kitchen’s strong suit, but chances are you’ll want to come back anyway.

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.