Fine Food or a Casual Lunch Is Steps Away

Posted November 12, 2004 at 9:43am

Washington is home to not only the nation’s seat of power but also a bevy of top-notch restaurants and talented chefs who are continually raising the bar for D.C. dining. And lucky for those who work on Capitol Hill, some of the hottest dining spots are right around the corner.

Thanks to the resurgence of Penn Quarter, an area located just a handful of blocks from the Capitol, the city’s dining scene has changed dramatically in recent years. Washington still boasts its fair share of wood-paneled steakhouses, but stylish spots with adventurous cuisine are becoming more prevalent.

Here’s an introduction to some popular dining destinations on and near Capitol Hill.

Where the Dining Is Fine

Bistro Bis
15 E St. NW
(202) 661-2700


The vibe: This chic French bistro, attached to the Hotel George, is a popular spot for power players, including lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and Hill staffers. The multi-level dining room, aglow in cherry wood, sets the stage for chef Jeffrey Buben’s sophisticated French cooking. The handsome zinc bar, staffed by skilled bartenders, attracts a sizeable after-work crowd.

On the menu: onion soup topped with sourdough croutons and Gruyère; beef bourguignon; steak frites with béarnaise sauce; grilled tuna with caramelized Belgian endive, bacon, swiss chard and pinot noir veal jus.

Le Paradou

678 Indiana Ave. NW
(202) 347-6780


The vibe: Upon stepping into the elegant, hushed dining room at Le Paradou, the scent of lilies hits your nose and pinpricks of starry light draw your attention upward. And that’s just the beginning of the sensory delights in store. Le Paradou has been open only since April, but it’s already carving a spot for itself in the city’s upper echelon of fine restaurants. Patrons to this upscale French spot commonly include lawmakers, journalists, ambassadors and Supreme Court justices. Sophisticated French cuisine using decadent ingredients makes up the bill of fare, created by acclaimed chef Yannick Cam. Fixed-price menus are available for $58 (two courses), $75 (three courses), $100 (six courses), and the chef’s tasting menu, priced at $135, rolls out an impressive nine courses. A two-course lunch is offered for $28.

On the menu: lobster “purses” with carrot and ginger sauce; boudin blanc with truffles; veal chops with baby turnips; roasted pigeon breast with foie gras and a compote of red cabbage, dates and cumin.

701

701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
(202) 393-0701


The vibe: Overlooking the Navy Memorial fountains, 701 offers a supper-club atmosphere with soothing live jazz every night. If you don’t have time to commit to a full meal, the restaurant’s wine bar offers a menu of small plates, as does “Mo’s bar,” named for 701’s affable bartender, Mo Taheri.

On the menu: caviar; rack of lamb; sea bass with sweet pea pancakes and tomato coulis; pork chops with apple-potato gratin, roasted Vidalia onions and rosemary-cider sauce.

Latest Buzz

Belga Café
514 Eighth St. SE
(202) 544-0100


The vibe: This brand new Belgian restaurant on Barracks Row has been filling up nightly with a Capitol Hill crowd eager for a fresh face in the neighborhood. The menu runs from classic Belgian dishes to more creative Euro-fusion cuisine, and the restaurant features an open kitchen, a communal table and a 10-seat bar.

On the menu: mussels and Belgian fries; Flemish beef stew; sweet and sour duck breast; endive soup with cream of curry; an impressive collection of about 35 Belgian and Belgian-style beers.

CityZen

1330 Maryland Ave. SW
(202) 787-6868


The vibe: CityZen’s grand dining room provides an impressive backdrop for chef Eric Ziebold’s sophisticated American cuisine. Oversized lamps, sparkling chandeliers and rich fabrics lend the space an intimate feel despite the soaring ceilings. The new Mandarin Oriental’s signature restaurant pulled the talented Ziebold, former chef de cuisine of the famed French Laundry in Napa Valley, back to Washington, where he began his culinary career 10 years ago. A three-course menu starts at $70, and a five-course chef’s tasting menu starts at $90. For a more casual dining experience, CityZen’s bar offers a selection of dishes for less than $15.

On the menu: cured pork jowl with melon; slow-baked Atlantic salmon; grilled calotte and poached rib-eye with fingerling potato confit, chanterelle mushrooms and bordelaise mignonette.

Meat and Potatoes

Charlie Palmer Steak
101 Constitution Ave. NW
(202) 547-8100


The vibe: Just steps from the Capitol on the Senate side, Charlie Palmer Steak is a popular and convenient destination for politicians. But this isn’t your grandfather’s steakhouse. The stylish lounge area and contemporary dining room stand in stark contrast to the masculine, wood-paneled furnishings of more traditional haunts. And while there’s no mistaking that Charlie Palmer is a steakhouse, the restaurant also does a nice job with seafood and poultry.

On the menu: filet mignon; dry aged rib-eye; porterhouse for two with chanterelle mushrooms and roasted shallots; poached Maine lobster with fennel ravioli; roasted East Coast halibut.

Brasserie Les Halles

1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
(202) 347-6848


The vibe: This lively French brasserie makes its focus on beef clear before diners even arrive: The restaurant’s telephone hold music is punctuated by mooing cows. The casual dining room has an art nouveau flair, and the moderate prices make Les Halles a good bet for a relaxed meal.

On the menu: country paté; escargots in garlic butter; steak tartare; steak frites; hanger steak with shallot sauce; hamburgers.

Hip Spots

Zaytinya
701 Ninth St. NW
(202) 638-0800


The vibe: This stylish Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tapas restaurant from renowned chef José Andrés boasts spirited cooking and a lively bar scene. White stone walls sprinkled with flickering candles stretch toward the airy ceiling, and deep blues and purples channel the color palette of the Greek isles. Well-versed waiters can guide newcomers through the extensive menu and can even order for you if the menu proves too daunting.

On the menu: tomato fritters with fresh mint; cabbage dolmades; spanakopita; carrot, apricot and pine nut fritters with pistachio sauce; skewered lamb; braised rabbit with lentils; Turkish coffee chocolate cake.

Poste

555 Eighth St. NW
(202) 783-6060


The vibe: Part hotel restaurant, part downtown hot spot, Poste serves seasonal American cuisine in a beautifully restored dining room that housed the mail sorting room of the old General Post Office in the mid-1800s. The long dining room with soaring ceilings faces an exhibition kitchen, and in nice weather, the Parisian-style courtyard where carriages once entered the post office becomes a second dining room. Located in the Hotel Monaco, Poste is a casual, but festive, destination for a meal.

On the menu: farmstead cheese with fig jam; pastured lamb chop with housemade cannelloni; pan-roasted Amish chicken served atop vegetable risotto; olive-oil poached Alaskan salmon; truffled french fries.

TenPenh

1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
(202) 393-4500


The vibe: At this bustling, upscale restaurant, the cuisine and the decor reflect the flavors of Southeast Asia. Silk wall coverings shine beneath an undulating ceiling highlighted with colorful spirals, and Asian accents such as an open pagoda and Buddha statues adorn the dining room. Chef Jeff Tunks (also of DC Coast and Ceiba) turns out flavorful renditions of traditional and contemporary Asian dishes.

On the menu: red Thai curry shrimp; curried crab cake with spicy green papaya salad; Chinese-style smoked lobster with fried spinach; five spice honey soy-glazed duck breast.

Power Lunch

Signatures
801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
(202) 628-5900


The vibe: Looks can be deceiving at this elegant downtown restaurant. In the restrained dining room, historical artifacts and political memorabilia are the focus of the decor, but Signatures’ menu heads in quite a different, more unconventional direction. Chef Morou Ouattara likes to play with food, and his cuisine often defies definition. Catering to the time-constrained schedules of the restaurant’s power broker crowd, the chef created four “power lunch” menus that combine scaled-down courses in separate dishes on one plate so there’s no waiting between courses. The appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert all arrive at once.

On the menu: Flash-fried tuna tempura rolls with seven-pepper sauce; organic chicken breast with mac and cheese ragout; black-eyed pea fritters with spicy tomato sauce; cider-cured venison with chorizo fried rice and ancho-bitter chocolate jus.

The Caucus Room

401 Ninth St. NW
(202) 393-1300


The vibe: Owned by several prominent power brokers, The Caucus Room prides itself on being a political haven, and it fits the part with dark wood paneling, brass accents and private nooks for deal-making. The clubby atmosphere makes for prime people watching.

On the menu: Haley’s chopped salad (a mix of romaine lettuce and blue cheese with a mustard vinaigrette, named for co-owner and Mississippi GOP Gov. Haley Barbour); blackened cod; 24-ounce rib-eye; rack of lamb with housemade lamb sausage.

The Oval RoomM

800 Connecticut Ave. NW
(202) 463-8700


The vibe: Being just steps from the White House, the Oval Room attracts political heavyweights and those hoping to catch a glimpse of them. Colorful abstract paintings brighten the soft-hued dining room, which provides a stylish backdrop for all those important political conversations.

On the menu: pistachio-crusted snapper with grilled asparagus; lobster and crawfish spring rolls; vodka-cured hamachi with sticky rice, saffron froth and sevruga caviar; parmesan-crusted pork medallions.

Casual Lunch

Market Lunch
225 Seventh St. SE
(202) 547-8444


The vibe: Located inside Eastern Market’s historical main hall, the Market Lunch counter draws crowds at lunch and on the weekends with its popular crab cakes and hearty breakfasts. The lines move quickly and seats are limited, so fast food is the name of the game here.

On the menu: crab cake sandwiches; North Carolina barbecue; fried shrimp and fried fish baskets.

Montmartre

327 Seventh St. SE
(202) 544-1244


The vibe: This sunny French restaurant is a neighborhood favorite, especially for weekend brunch. The rustic dining room sets the stage for hearty country fare and French bistro standards.

On the menu: carrot and ginger cream soup; country paté; sauteed monkfish with chickpeas and caramelized sweet onion sauce; braised rabbit leg with olive and creamy pasta; winter braised lamb with carrots and potatoes.

The Flying Scotsman

233 Second St. NW
(202) 783-3848


The vibe: This three-story Scottish pub, located behind the Labor Department, is decked out in Scotch pride with tartan carpet, Scottish flags, maps and medieval armor. Upholstered booths provide comfortable seating in the segmented dining rooms, and the pool tables and video games upstairs attract a relaxed after-work crowd.

On the menu: fish and chips; cottage pie; lamb shank braised in Guinness served over egg noodles, peas, carrots and sour cream; reubens and other sandwiches.