The crab meat imperial appetizer is a tower forged from curly micro greens, meaty chunks of buttery avocado and sweet, shredded crab studded with zesty capers.
“I know the three of us are very important people ...” a 20-something Hill climber (unironically?) said to his dining companions as the trio emerged from what must have been an ego-boosting repast at the historical center of the Capitol Hill dining-verse, the fabled Monocle at 107 D St. NE.
As it approaches its blue sapphire anniversary (65 years), the uniquely positioned restaurant continues to cater to its built-in constituency — House and Senate lawmakers — as well as those who covet that (power, access, capital) which they do not (yet) possess.
Nearly every table within the classically appointed main dining room is dominated by bombastic strategy sessions. “Once the Senate reverts to Republican control, bam!, he’s the chairman,” one lobbyist assured a worried client one night.
“We don’t give ’em a gun. We give them the ammunition!” a different influence peddler rationalized on another.
“It’s a tea party thing,” one poll watcher warned.
“I don’t really care who wins,” fired back his thoroughly disinterested companion.
An unabashed self-promoter did her best to drops hints she might be ready to move along — “Every bill I’ve ever worked on now has a public law number attached to it,” she volunteered — between nibbles of steak salad.
And, of course, there are those magical evenings when frazzled staffers pop by to drown their sorrows and dump on former colleagues who’ve left Congress in the rear view.
Man: “What’s he doing now?”
Woman: “I think he’s going to Venable.”
Owner John Valanos wouldn’t have it any other way. The second-generation restaurateur said he’s enjoyed the family-owned front seat to history for going on 30 years. (Constantine G. Valanos, John’s father and founder of the Monocle, died in 2012.)
Per Valanos, one of the restaurant’s longest running traditions — displaying autographed headshots of D.C. powerbrokers — remains alive and well. He said the family has amassed more than 1,000 of the personalized photos over the past half-century, a collection that is spread out between the restaurant (300 to 400 adorn the walls today), Valanos’ home, his parent’s domicile and a separate storage facility.
“We rotate a few. Just because there’s new members who come in, and we’d like them to become regulars, of course,” Valanos said of the carefully curated images that peer at diners from every corner of the establishment.
Then again, photos are no substitute for the real thing.
“If you see a bunch of SUVs parked out front, that’s a night to come in,” he said of the telltale sign a D.C. celebrity is likely mucking about.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.