Wife and I visiting DC in a month for our anniversary. Having dinner and spending a night at the Inn at Little Washington, but don't have reservations yet for the remaining nights. Have heard good things about Kinkeads and Makoto. We want to do a different type of food every night, including one night where we could do some high-end dining that is more southern in nature. We're from NYC and have more than our share of great French and New Americans up here to choose from. We'd like to go to at least one really great place that is relective of the area and not of the type you could easily find in NY. Inventive chefs and multi-course tasting meals highly desirable!
Well, if you are from NYC and want a multi course tasting meal that is neither Italian, French, Spanish, Fusian, etc. that you cannot find at home then there is a problem. D. C.'s absolute best is arguably Citronelle (1st choice) which is essentially French/modern American but one of their tasting menus is exactly what you should order. In fact they only have tasting menus. It is the equal of an European two star. You should go and it would be my first choice regardless of your New York experience. I personally would be interested in knowing how you thought it compared to "The Inn." If Michel Richard (the chef/owner) is there it may be your favorite. The restaurant has an international rep. Kinkead's has been uneven since he opened his new restaurant, Colvin Run Tavern, in Tysons Corner which itself has received mixed reviews. (I should note that both the Post and Washingtonian raved but whether this was a rave for Tysons Corner or for the entire D. C. area is a matter for discussion.) Laboratorio and Obelisk are outstanding with Laboratorio somewhat similar to Il Mulino. Maestro in Tyson's Corner is also excellent.
Vidalia is excellent and southern inspired. One of D. C.'s best? Washingtonian thinks so. The chef/owner has been nominated for a James Beard award in the past. While you are at the Inn at Little Washingtonian you should visit Four and Twenty Blackbirds (2nd choice) which is only several miles away. Zagat gives it a 27 for food and there are a number of people who absolutely love it. Its chef/owner and, I believe, two others are from "The Inn." It's price is about a third of The Inn (i.e. $18-24 entrees, $8 desserts with a fairly good wine list with a 100% markup or so. The ambience is wonderful: it's a 150 year old converted building with, downstairs, stone floors, brick walls and wooden beams. Upstairs is more of a private home. You may, overall, like it more than "The Inn."
The Prime Rib on K Street. (3rd choice) This is a variation on a steak house but it originated in Baltimore 40 years ago, opening in D. C. in the mid '70's. It's decor is truly "swanky:" chrome, brass, leopard skin, black leather, mirrors, huge ceramic pots and colorful flowers. A jacket and tie are required. During dinner a pianist plays. If you go you should respect its Baltimore heritage and order a crab cake and/or crab imperial. They are excellent, 80% as good as Angelina's which is Baltimore's best. But they are better than any other crab cake south of Jerry's Seafood in Seabrook, MD. The wine list is incredibly reasonable with a 50% markup, wines such as as Estancia Cab for $25, Chauteau Sovereign Cab for $35, Silver Oak Alexander $90, etc. (You'll appreciate this after seeing the markup on the wines at "The Inn.") Prime Rib is excellent, best steak is the filet or strip topped with Stilton.
"1789." (4th choice) You may find a tasting menu here but you'll probably have to inquire. A 250 year old or better house in Georgetown that is romantic, intimate and with the chef, I believe, having been nominated for a James Beard award several years ago. She is ex-Kinkead's. Not on the top rung of Manhattan's ladder but it is an excellent modern American, etc. restaurant.
Now, I assume you have a car. I also assume you really want an experience that you will never have in New York or most anywhere else. (Like a Peter Luger, 2nd Avenue Deli or Patsy Grimaldi type of thing.) Above I mentioned a "joint" in Prince Georges County called Jerry's Seafood. I even had a post on it last night when I couldn't get in. But I've been there before and honestly know that it hasn't changed. Call and ask for their specific hours. They're open three hours for lunch and four hours or so for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday and dinner Monday. Get there fifteen minutes before they open. You should order: cream of crab soup for your appetizer and a crab "bomb" for your entree. An order of crab imperial for the "table." For the kind of Maryland seafood they serve (possibly as good as Angelina's for their crab bomb-that's what I needed to "research" last night.) this along with Angelina's is the absolute best in the entire state of Maryland. It will not have the ambience of eating on a picnic table on a dock overlooking an inlet (Jimmy's Cantler's, Stoney's, etc.) but then again in March you probably wouldn't want to sit outside anyway. You will not find this in Manhattan.
The Washington DC metropolitan area has two cuisines that I consider "indigenous" and definitely better than anything offered in New York City: Vietnamese and Indian. While the restaurants offering these two items are not exactly The Inn at Little Washington, they have a other-worldiness captured in their unique decor and powerful flavors. I personally would balance a few romantic (and costly) meals in the District with some powerful (and inexpensive) ethnic cuisine from the Suburbs. But that's just me.
If white collar establishments are more of your preference, I highly recommend: Vidalia (chef Jeffrey Buben is well known amongst New York cuisine elite), Georgia Browns (superb Southern cuisine, elegantly prepared), or Kinkead's (tasty American brasserie which some argue has the best seafood in the District). At all of the above establishments you will be certain to find exquisite food, well-stocked cellars, and indulgent desserts.
Thanks for the informative replies. Let me state that I am not some kind of NYC snob who thinks that Manhattan is the center of the culinary universe. It just happens to be where I eat most of my restaurant meals due to my living there! I'm starting to have reservations about the "Inn" after reading various opinions on this webpage. I'm hoping the entire experience of staying and eating there will add up to provide an experience that is as memorable as the high tariff would allow you to expect. For $600 + for one evening stay and dinner, I am expecting quite a bit.
A "joint" as opposed to a 4-star is fine with me, I just want a few novel food experiences that are different than the ones I am used to in NYC. I have decided to put myself in the hands of you DC natives and am going to make my restaurant choices entirely from among suggestions made here. Thanks.
I will post again about my DC experience. I'm sure it will be good. Any of you coming to NYC soon, feel free to ask for some tips!
One VERY important point about "The Inn" and their $500 to 800 per night rooms: approximately half of them are in another building one half block's walk away from the original building which houses the restaurant and the original rooms. For some it is not important that they stay in the original building. For others it is a priority. I just thought I would mention this. As you noted there is a significant diversion of opinions about "The Inn." In fairness I should also note that there are significantly different opinions about The French Laundry and Alain Ducasse also. When restaurants approach certain heights in price or "exclusivity" a number of people begin to react somewhat negatively. You should go regardless of what is written on this board by me or anyone else. I do think it is important that you be aware of the two buildings and, if necessary, to confirm that you are staying in a particular one. The Inn is in some of the most beautiful countryside on earth. This could be a wonderful experience and a true memory.
re: Joe H.
I'm glad to see that Joe is mellowing a bit about the Inn, given that his past posts have been downright vituperative in the Inn's regard. I went there for my anniversary last year and had a truly memorable meal, and haven't ever felt quite so pampered in a restaurant. The decor is "over-the-top" quasi-Victorian, but still manages to be in good taste. I can't comment about the rooms, since I didn't stay there, but Joe is right on in his description of the surrounding countryside. Rappahannock County is becoming the Sonoma County of the mid-Atlantic region, with artisanal cheesemakers, organic specialty farms and orchards. March is not a primo growing time, but if you have a few daylight hours to poke around some of the back roads, you will see some beautiful country. Call Heidi Eastham at Rucker Farm (#540-675-3444) for directions from the Inn (it's just a couple of miles up the hill). She milks her own goats and makes some really beautiful fresh chevres. Ask her if she has any tomme de Rappahannock to sell. It's an awesome aged natural rind goat cheese. There's a guide to Rappahannock farms that was published in the Post a couple of years ago--Heidi has it framed on the wall in her creamery and you can use it to pinpoint some other local sights to visit in the area. The Sunnyside Farm store in Little Washington is also a place to check out for locally produced food items and info.
I second the recommendation that you go to Eden Center in Falls Church (corner of Wilson Blvd and Leesburg Pike--also called Route 7) to Hong Que, The Four Sisters, for excellent Vietnamese food. The pho restaurant two doors down, between Hong Que and the asian grocery store has excellent pho and is quite a quirky place. Quite a few So. Vietnamese politicians and military officials settled in this area and the owner might be one of them. He has quite a collection of Vietnam-themed paintings on the walls, and bookcases full of books about American politics in the Vietnam era, and biographies of American politicians.
Don't bother looking for Mexican food in DC. there are much better places in NYC.
NYC is hard to beat for Chinese food, but Full Kee in Bailey's Crossroads, VA (Columbia Pike at Route 7, in the shopping center near Office Depot and Trader Joe's, has stuff you don't often find, like congee with various innards or duck blood, real Chinese peasant dishes, as well as more refined offerings.
Vidalia is quite special--DC is the Northernmost reach of the South, and Vidalia does refined Southern-inspired dishes with cornbread, grits, greens, etc. They serve the best lemon chess pie you will ever wrap your lips around.
If you go to Kinkead's, order fried clams. My husband grew up in Long Island and summered in Maine, eating fried clams all of his life. He said that Kinkead's were the best he's ever eaten.
Have a great visit!
Kinkead's is the only place in the D. C. area that has authentic fried "whole bellied" clams that recall his days on Martha's Vineyard at the original 21 Federal. I am certain that this is the southern most outpost for "real" fried clams.
Zora, I really haven't mellowed about The Inn. But thanks for noting that I was less obnoxious in my comments about it! (Smile!) We do agree though that the countryside surrounding it-and for miles in any direction-is some of the most beautiful on earth. Regardless of one's impression of a restaurant or inn to miss what could be an "American Tuscany" would be a real loss. There are many ways to go to The Inn but one of the most beautiful is to take Route 66 and get off at the Markham exit. With possible stops at wineries such as Naked Mountain, Linden or Oasis and then continuing on backroads by some of the farms and producers that you mention, ending at Little Washington, this would truly be a beautiful even romantic drive regardless of the season. I think you would agree that part of the appeal and charm of The Inn is where it is at and the absolute beauty of what you drive through to get there. In addition to The Inn and Four and Twenty Blackbirds by the way there are also the Flint Hill Public House and Bleu Rock Inn which are fairly close by..
Here my 2 cents on the restaurant scene in DC.
First and foremost when considering "the Inn" please realize that a good part of what your paying for is the service, supposedly it is unparrelled. I've never actually dined there, but many of my friends have been waiters there and I tried out there as a line cook earlier in my career (I was accepted but forewent the opportunity). The food there is very good, don't get me wrong, but it not what disguishs (sp) the Inn from any other venue.
Personally if I only had one meal in DC to eat it would be at Ruppert's. This is not a place to take some one who has any sort of food adversions (allergy or taste wise). The menu changes daily (as all good menus should), but the choice are limited. During my last visit the choices where 3 app.s and 3 entrees (tuna, venison, or squab all 3 on the red side), but everytime I've been there the portions have been perfect and the execution even better. The dishes are imaginitive,and well balanced. I can't say enough good things about this place.
Other venues that have been overlooked by my fellow hounds are;
Jeff Tunks 2 restaurants DC Coast and Ten Penh, both are excellent.
New Heights seems to produce a never ending line of good young talent.
The Lebenese Taverna (around the corner from New Heights) is a fun place especially with a group.
The Owner/Chef of what used to be called The Mark has change her theme and has gotten fairly good press (I'm sorry I cant recall the name of the place, but it's at 7th & D st nw).
There are lots more but these are a few that I think are worth mention.
Also if your looking for BBQ. The best NC style BBQ is just off the beltway on 210 (Indian Head Hiwy) at "The Smoke Shack"
I think the Inn is worth a visit for dinner but probably not worth an overnight stay. Aside from a few high end gift shops, the town of Washington, VA doesn't have much to offer. If you do want to stay overnight, there are quite a few B&Bs that will be at least 1/2 or 1/3 of the cost of the Inn. That money would be better spent at L'Aubuge Chez Francois which serves excellent Alsatian food in a country setting about 35 minutes outside DC in VA. It is probably "the best" around DC in my opinion.
As far as other places in DC to recommend there are quite a few. You mentioned Makoto which is excellent, but is way more rustic than say Bond Street in NYC. One cool thing about it is that it has just 5 tables and an 8 seat bar and I am told it is where the Japanese diplomats dine themselves.
I'll second the suggestion for Vidalia which is top notch food with a southern flair. I would not come to DC without sampling an Ethiopian restaurant, Meskerem is the standout. As far as Vietnamese, I would HIGHLY recommend Four Sisters (aka Houng Que) which is pretty much a "joint". The owners of the Inn supposedly are regulars there if that means anything to you.
I'm sure there are others that I am forgetting...
I definitely agree that you should try Ethiopian - even the NYT acknowledges that DC is way ahead of NY on this cuisine.
I'm not a fan of Meskerem. I like Fasika's the best, but I haven't been there since the renovation. I also like Addis Ababa. Meskerem, Fasika's & Addis Ababa are in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, along with a few other Ethiopian restaurants.
Zed's has also received rave reviews - its located in Georgetown.
I agree that Meskerem no longer is the place to go for Ethiopian, especially since DC has so many great places for Ethiopian. The problem is that the cooking varies with the staff, and in my experience the staff tends to move around a bit. There are many places that I would have recommended 2 years ago that I now avoid, but might recommend in another 2 years.
That said, two of my current favorites are no where near Adams Morgan. Dukem Market, on U Street, is more suited to carry-out than eat-in, but the food is outstanding. Entotto, in Foxhall, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Entotto bills itself as Ethiopian, by way of France (I believe one of the owners opened the first Ethiopian restaurant in France, or so the story goes), and offers a more subtle Ethiopian experience. Both are small operations, and not well suited to large crowds.
Addis Ababa and Fasika's are still reliable standbys, although it's been over a year since I've been to either of these Adams Morgan institutions.
Thanks for all the great replies, you guys make me want to extend my trip! However, due to an unexpected work crisis, our DC trip has been put off until the end of May.
We are going to keep our reservations at the Inn and decide for ourselves. It seems to have the potential for a memorable experience.
Vidalias and Kinkeads seem like keepers.
Makoto sounds great but with Nobu, Bond St, etc.. in NY
it seems like there are more interesting places to go to in DC. Ethiopian is intriguing, so we'll probably do that as well. I'll take note of all your suggestions and thanks again. I appreciate the number of helpful suggestions and look forward to dining in DC.