Not many restaurants are as transportive as the glassed-in dining room at 2941 (2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church; 703-270-1500; 2941.com). Koi swim past the front walk, the soaring windows look onto a shimmery pond, and gorgeous, colorful sculptures hang from the ceiling. Chef Bertrand Chemel—who moved here after earning three New York Times stars at Manhattan’s Café Boulud—keeps the sumptuous, truffle-strewn food up to the setting. Add in crisp service and you’ve got the perfect place to clink flutes of Krug.
A blind date could flow into a leisurely dinner—or you might want it to end after a drink. Keep your options open at the cute, casual wine bar behind the Del Ray cheese shop Cheesetique (2411 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-706-5300; cheesetique.com). The marble-topped bar is comfortable for anything from a beer to a spread of charcuterie boards and small plates. The vibe is upbeat and relaxed, and for times when the conversation runs dry, the bartenders are engaging.
In DC, Bar Pilar (1833 14th St., NW; 202-265-1751; barpilar.com), with its shareable seasonal plates and well-crafted cocktails, and the cozy lounge at Firefly (1310 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-861-1310; firefly-dc.com) fit the bill, too.
At the W Hotel’s rooftop bar, POV (515 15th St., NW; 202-661-2400; starwoodhotels.com), the fashion-forward crowd gets such a full view of the White House that catching a Marine One landing isn’t out of the question. The spiked hot chocolate, hamburgers, and samosas aren’t cheap (and there’s better food at J&G Steakhouse downstairs), but what you’re really paying for is a front-row seat.
When it warms up, a more laid-back crowd gathers amid the herbs growing on the roof deck at Eventide (3165 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-276-3165; eventiderestaurant.com), which overlooks Clarendon and serves a more casual menu—spiced shrimp, shredded-chicken salad—than its main dining room.
A traditional dinner-and-a-show date gets a makeover at Westend Bistro (1190 22nd St., NW; 202-974-4900; westendbistrodc.com). There’s a pair of seats at the “pass”—the counter between the kitchen and the dining room—that afford a close-up of the theatrics of well-drilled cooks. A meal can be anything from a simple burger to a multi-course tasting menu.
The four-person Table 21 in the kitchen at Volt (228 N. Market St., Frederick; 301-696-8658; voltrestaurant.com) allows diners to watch Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio craft 21 courses using ultramodern techniques—past bites have included nitrogen-frozen coconut and caramelized-onion “noodles.”
Celeb chef Wolfgang Puck’s pizzas are a highlight in the buzzing lounge at the Source (575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-6100; wolfgangpuck.com), his restaurant in the Newseum. But it’s his mini-burgers and General Tso’s chicken wings that attain holy-grail status.
The offerings are a bit daintier at modern-Southern restaurant Vidalia (1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990; vidaliadc.com), but they get major points for being free on Tuesday from 5 to 7. Chef R.J. Cooper whips up off-the-cuff appetizers, and if it’s not crowded, you and your date might find yourself the sole snackers on a party tray of Kobe-beef canapés. Friday from 5:30 to 9:30, there’s a special “pork and Pinot” tasting, where six porcine small plates ($4 to $8) are paired with four Pinot Noirs.
Turn dinner into a roving adventure by sampling courses at five or six restaurants. Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood, where eateries are within easy walking distance of one another, is prime territory. Start with a margarita and fried plantains at Guajillo (1727 Wilson Blvd.; 703-807-0840; waheeyo.com), an IPA with blue-cheese-and-bacon-scattered potato chips at 3 Bar & Grill (2950 Clarendon Blvd.; 703-524-4440; restaurantthree.com), or beef-filled pastries at the Eastern European hangout Café Assorti (1800 Wilson Blvd.; 703-465-0036; cafeassorti.com). For an entrée, you’ll find bowls of Vietnamese soup at Pho 75 (1721 Wilson Blvd.; 703-525-7355), messily great burgers at Ray’s Hell-Burger (1725 Wilson Blvd.; 703-841-0001), and nice takes on fish at Tallula (2761 Washington Blvd.; 703-778-5051; tallularestaurant.com) in nearby Lyon Park. To finish things off, we’d go for the house-made s’more or deconstructed Black Forest cake at the Liberty Tavern (3195 Wilson Blvd.; 703-465-9360; thelibertytavern.com).
If a night out is as much work as it is play, you and your date can rub elbows with other powerbrokers at Bourbon Steak (2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-944-2026; michaelmina.net), where K Street suits and Georgetown socialites indulge in celebrity chef Michael Mina’s expense-account-priced entrées, duck-fat French fries, and seafood-heavy menu. The lounge, where seating is first come, first served, has more whimsical—and wallet-friendlier—snacks such as lobster corn dogs, black-truffle popcorn, and excellent burgers.
Hip politicos—Michelle Obama, Al Franken, and Rahm Emanuel among them—flock to Rasika (633 D St., NW; 202-637-1222; rasikarestaurant.com), a glamorous space decked out in sparkling beaded curtains and rust-orange booths. The inventive and modern Indian food—flash-fried spinach, black cod with star anise—makes it one of DC’s most sought-after reservations.
For childhood favorites with a gourmet spin, visit Buzz (901 Slaters La., Alexandria; 703-600-2899; buzzonslaters.com), where chef Josh Short uses local ingredients for one of the best brownies in Washington as well as seasonal cupcakes, tarts, and pies.
Traditionalists can get updated renditions of French classics—perfectly tall soufflés, textbook macarons—at Adour (923 16th St., NW; 202-509-8000; adour-washingtondc.com), where the relaxed lounge is a cozier bet than the whitewashed dining room.
(3241 M St., NW; 202-625-4488; hookdc.com), pastry chef Heather Chittum seamlessly fuses sweet and savory flavors, and though her dessert menu is constantly changing, one of our favorites—a lingonberry linzertorte with Taleggio ice cream—never goes away.
Spice Xing (100-B Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-610-0303; spicexing.com) has the striking decor and vibrant flavors of big-ticket Indian restaurants, but its prices—most entrées are less than $14—are almost cheap. Weekdays from 5 to 6:30, a handful of appetizers are $3 to $4, and beer, wine, and rail drinks are $2.50 to $4.
One of Washington’s best steakhouses, Ray’s the Steaks (2300 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-7297) doesn’t have stuffy servers or leather booths—but it also has few slabs of meat costing more than $25.
There’s a similar stripped-down feel to Comet Ping Pong (5037 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-364-0404; cometpingpong.com), where three Ping-Pong tables in back await customers looking to work off the good pizza, wings, and ice cream.
Forget having cocktails before dinner—at PS 7’s (777 I St., NW; 202-742-8550; ps7restaurant.com), booze maven Gina Chersevani and chef Peter Smith will put together a seven-course tasting menu with a drink to match every dish. Chersevani often uses kitchen gadgets, including a dehydrator, to come up with ingredients for her cocktails (ever try root-beer powder on the rim of your cocktail?), while Smith’s food runs the gamut from French- and Asian-inspired entrées to gleefully fun bar food such as house-made hot dogs and French-fry-stuffed sandwiches.