Capital Cuisine

 

washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C. is becoming known as much for its haute cuisine as its politics.

 

 

Bastions in the ‘Burbs

These three new eateries are worth jumping on the Metro for.

  • Brabo: Chef Robert Wiedmaier brings a Belgian/French to Old Town Alexandria, coupled with a tasting room and a market.
  • Michel: An artistic French bistro at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, via Michel Richard.
  • Mussel Bar: Another Robert Wiedmaier Belgian-focused spot, highlighting seafood, in downtown Bethesda.
 

The number of restaurants in Washington, D.C., is growing steadily, rising from roughly 1,400 in 2001 to 2,000 in 2010 (there’s another 2,000 in the surrounding suburbs). With the expansion of ethnic eateries, spots that focus on single items and a blossoming of the fine-dining scene, the options for adventurous eaters in our nation’s capital abound.

Global Reach

Just a few years ago, serious diners deemed D.C. light on ethnic choices and felt it had little depth to its fine dining, says Candice Siegel of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. Well, that’s all changed.

From Spanish and Ethiopian to Turkish and Japanese, there are plenty of new high-end and casual options. Take Kushi, for instance. At this ultramodern Japanese izakaya and sushi spot in up-and-coming Mount Vernon Square, the tasty omakase, a seasonal, eight-course chef’s tasting menu with sake pairings, features items like a thinly sliced hirame and a robata of beef tongue.

Another ethnic newcomer we recommend for excellent small bites is the smartly designed Spanish spot, Estadio on what’s become a trendy stretch of 14th St. NW in Logan Circle. A cool setting with wrought iron touches, colorful tiles and a slight industrial bent, it serves solid classic tapas, as well as entrée-sized portions, accompanied by a wonderful Iberian wine list. Among a long list of choices is a delicious grilled octopus with a potato-caper salad, and you can’t go wrong with any of the terrific quesos (cheeses).

Galileo III
Galileo III is the third incarnation of Roberto Donna’s Italian in Downtown.

Ethiopian restaurants, meanwhile, have become much more prevalent here over the past few years (after all, the largest Ethiopian population outside the home country is in D.C.). One local food tour firm, DC Metro Food Tours, has even added a new Little Ethiopia tour to highlight these restaurants along historical U Street. (If you’re headed that way with a hankering for Ethiopian, try Etete. The company works with some 80 restaurants and shops overall in its multiple food tours of D.C., which focus on cuisines and restaurants that make the city unique, says Director Jeff Swedarsky. The firm has been able to expand based on an ever-increasing variety of impressive restaurants.

 

Down the Road

Make reservations for these buzzy eateries set to open in 2011:

  • Fiola: Well-known chef Fabio Trabocchi (recently head chef at NYC’s Four Seasons Hotel) will open this casual Downtown Italian.
  • Graffiato: A new Penn Quarter Italian from former Top Chef contestant, Mike Isabella (formerly of Zaytinya). An on-site charcuterie/cheese bar is planned.
 

For a slice of the Aegean, there’s Morso, a Med-Turkish spot that moved into Georgetown this past year. The sleek, angular furnishings are set off by Jerusalem stone and gold and bronze fixtures, while the menu consists of beautifully presented small-plate wonders like foie gras with almond-pepper brittle. Another worthy Mediterranean addition is Agora tucked away on a sleepy Dupont Circle block. It means “gathering place” in Greek, and we’ll take them up on that, particularly given the extensive, authentic Turkish items, the crisp beers and the friendly ’tenders. There’s a wood-fired oven turning out Turkish flatbreads with toppings like spicy Turkish sausage, kasar cheese and pesto, while a pan-seared veal sweetbread with shallots is also a winner.

Viva Italia

Suddenly, when you want Italian, it’s hard to make a decision. Restaurants from the boot are popping up all over the city. Some are extensions of upscale New York or national brands and others are completely new ventures. This year, the city will highlight the influence of Italians in D.C. with its La Dolce DC promotion from March-July to include unique dining options, special art exhibitions and fashion shows.

You may want to make time for both Dupont Circle’s Casa Nonna—an  entry from the BLT group, where the former chef at Fyve, Amy Brandwein, turns out twists on classics plus pizzas from a wood-fired oven—and Galileo III, the third incarnation of Roberto Donna’s Italian in Downtown. There’s a curving bar that’s perfect for sampling dishes, but if you have a party of about a dozen, you can go for his over-the-top, multicourse “laboratorio,” with 12-15 courses.

Speaking of Downtown, the bright, airy Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca is another solid contemporary Italian newcomer that livens up the dining options. Helmed by prominent D.C. restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, it was named by Esquire as one of the 20 best new restaurants in America.

For a chic, more moderately priced Italian, the folks behind Downtown’s Siroc opened the Northern Italian Vento in Dupont Circle last year. We like the simple, comfortable, candlelit interior and subtle, creative dishes like a saffron fettuccini with rabbit ragu.

Finally, you can’t get much bigger than the 700-seat Carmine’s—an offshoot of the famed family-style NYC eatery—that serves massive portions, heavy on the garlic, as its Big Apple sibs.

Thunder Burger & Bar
Thunder Burger & Bar is the perfect destination for carnivores bound for Georgetown.

Burgers, Dogs and Brew

Following a nationwide trend of eateries focused on doing one thing well, a handful of restaurateurs in D.C. are going the single-minded route.

The team that brought Ted’s Bulletin to Capitol Hill opened DC-3 in the same neighborhood, a vintage-style, counter-service hotdog storefront named after the DC-3 airplane, where charcoal-grilled hot dogs come in multiple versions. Plus, there’s cotton candy for sweet tooths.

For a casual, carnivorous bite and over-the-top décor (including a rock sound track) we can’t resist Thunder Burger & Bar in Georgetown. There’s beef, venison, portobello options, large portions of salad and fresh draught beers.

And though it’s far from single-minded, the 550-count beer list at Logan Circle’s Birch & Barley makes it a brew-lover’s nirvana. Of course, the New American small plates focused on seasonal, local fare are outstanding, and the setting with exposed bricks and oil lamps is perfect for lingering.