January 2007: 100 Very Best Restaurants

Former Inn at Little Washington staffers strike out on their own.

No. 71: Foti’s

Like pop stars, novelists, and actors, restaurants are not immune to the hazards of early success, as outsize expectations lead to panicked retreat and even flameout. The phenomenon nearly tripped up this country charmer, which is now figuring out what to do for a second act.

Downsizing its ambitions is a good place to start. Foti’s might aspire to haute cuisine, but it’s more comfortable serving up big, satisfying plates of well-cooked food. Nothing wrong with that—not when the plates include a loving ode to ham and eggs (a gorgeous sandwich of cured country ham with a farm-fresh fried egg on top) and a seafood paella with soupy, lavender-scented rice and big, meaty hunks of lobster. Reassuring in their directness, these charmers make a compelling case for chef Frank Maragos’s Main Street sensibility. On the other hand, some dishes could stand recalibrating—like the vanilla-roasted lobster with johnnycakes, whose syrupy-sweet Chardonnay-butter sauce accentuates the fact that the once-coarse corn cakes now resemble half-dollar pancakes, or the Lamb Three Ways, which has so many embellishments it’s the culinary equivalent of a good piece of furniture junked up with bric-a-brac.

Is it still worth making the drive out from the city? If you’re a foodie inclined to keep a tally of the details of every dish, perhaps not. But it’s hard to deny the pull of the Currier and Ives tableau out the plate-glass window, the service remains excellent if less youthfully exuberant, the wine list is affordably priced, and the Baroquely plated desserts, including a soufflé and a chocolate tart, reveal a newfound finesse.

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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.