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A few DC Questions to narrow my choices...

Hello all:

Will be in DC for a few days for work, mid-February, and have to figure out where I will eat!

I will be staying a few blocks east of Dupont Circle (I guess you would say that is towards Downtown?) , and may be dining alone a good part of the time. I have a few ideas already, based on the boards and previous trips, but had a few questions too:

First question is, just how expensive is Palena? It looks very appealing but the website doesn't give a clue as to what I will pay for dinner there. If I decide just to eat in the bar in the front room, which I understand is somewhat cheaper since it isn't a tasting menu (?), will I be able to get a spot on a week night without a reservation? Thoughts on any recent visits to Palena would also be welcome.

Secondly, on my last visit we really enjoyed Sushi Ko. However, I think it is bit of a haul and didn't appear to be easily Metro accessible (?). OTOH, Kaz Sushi Bistro is very close to where some of my meetings will be. Is it comparable? I am not a big fan of trendy rolls; I much prefer more traditional sushi rolls and small hot plates (which were particularly good at Sushi Ko).

I also loved Thai Square but am not sure I will have the time this trip to trek out to Arlington. OTOH, really good thai food isn't that easy to come by in SF....so, is there any possibility that any new, wonderful thai restaurants have opened up a bit closer to downtown?, or should I bite the bullet and think about heading out there again....

and just one more question: I love Southern cooking, and again, not that many good choices in the bay area. I have made a note of Oohs and Ahs and probably will check that out. I am assuming/hoping it is open for lunch: is that correct? and if I wanted high end Southern influenced cooking, where should I go?

Thanks for the help; I promise to report back!

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  1. The high-end Southern answer is easy: Vidalia on M Street.

    9 Replies
    1. re: bordeauxfan

      Vidalia is a good restuarant, goo dwin list, and I like the ambiance. However,it is only marginally Southern cooking, unless you count putting pork in almost everything a Southern tradition. It has very few Souhern dishes (even the shrimp and grits have ham in them). shington does not have a good high-end Southern restaurant. Forget B. Smiths, Gerogia Brown's is awful, Indigo Landing is a factory kitchen for tourists. The best Southern cooking in Washington is in small, very casual places like Flavors and Oohh's and Aahh's.

      1. re: Dakota Guy

        I'm gonna disagree about Oohh's and Aahh's as well as Georgia Brown's- it's not phoenomenal, but it's certainly southern and it's certainly good, especially for brunch.

        1. re: Dakota Guy

          I was just checking out the VIdalia website, and notice that it states, "describes Vidalia's cuisine as regional American cuisine with a subtle southern influence." I do agree that it seems fairly subtle in some of the dishes, but then if it is good...

          Any comments from the Hounds on 21P? It is cheaper than Vidalia, close to my hotel, and I notice they are running their restaurant week special ($30 for three courses, and lots of choices, included shrimp and grits) through the end of March....if the food is good, I could stay within my perdiem at those prices...

          Thanks for the suggestions so far, keep them coming!

          1. re: Dakota Guy

            Putting pork in almost everything IS a Southern tradition. And yes, even Shrimp and Grits. At least started with bacon drippings if you don't have tasso, andouille or ham.
            The closest to high-end Southern in town is Georgia Brown's. They get the ingredients and flavors right. Favorite hangout of DC local political elite since it opened - when they're not stopping off at Ben's.
            Acadiana has a pretty good riff on New Orleans cooking but that's different from Southern.
            Oohh's and Aahh's serves very good food but it's adapted to appeal to Northern palates that just aren't going to ooh and aah over the real down-home thing. That may be good enough for some. The food is not like anything I ever had growing up in the South. There's lots of carryouts in NE, Anacostia and PG County where you can find good Southern food if you hunt.
            Maybe long-simmered collards and fried catfish aren't what people want at high-end restaurants. Bean pie probably doesn't sell as well as some fancy chocolate thingie.

            1. re: MakingSense

              Agree that there is a plethora of other soul food places if one is adventurous. The one I feel the worst about not having tried is at 17th and U, next to the liquor store. The signs outside speak to some good finds, yet I always fail to try it. Certainly going east more yields more opportunities with every block.

              As to whether these soul food places are southern or not is dependent on the owners most likely.

              1. re: Dennis S

                I actually loathe the term "soul food" as do most of my Southern friends, black and white. We all cook and enjoy pretty much the same down-home foods we grew up with, the differences being how expensive the ingredients were. That's where the expression "high on the hog" came from - the more money you had, the higher up on the pig the cuts came from. You just have to get the flavors right.
                Where the owners came from? I used to get some of my favorite greens from Kenny's in NE, cooked by Southerners - from South Korea. But they got it right for their customers.

                1. re: MakingSense

                  I should've been more clear on my phrasing - "soul food" certainly encompasses more than southern - and in my mind does NOT include all true "southern". Domain issues.

                  1. re: Dennis S

                    I pretty much agree with the Wiki definition of it as food associated with African Americans of the Southern US, even if its served in cities far from the South. Wiki's entry has what I think is an accurate description of the foods included in the cuisine as well.
                    You are correct that there are other typical Southern dishes of British, French, Spanish, Caribbean and American Indian origin which have all blended together over the centuries since most of the cooks were black. In my hometown of New Orleans, many of the top Creole chefs have always been black but all their food wasn't "soul food." What the cooks and chefs prepared at home was often very different from what they cooked at work.
                    I think soul food traditionally includes certain foods and preparations that were determined by economic and sociological circumstances. Using fancy ingredients or upscale preparations seems oxymoronic.

          2. re: bordeauxfan

            Ok I tried to post this, but it didn't go so I am going to repost if it duplicates sorry.

            1. Palena- back room for two people with a bottle of wine I think was around $150 for three courses.
            2. I don't know sorry.
            3. Regent Thai it isn't new, but it is good. It is at 18th and T st.
            4. Hands down Southside 815 for real southern food. Vidalia isn't Southern, Georgia Brown's is so-so, but Southside is great traditional Southern and isn't very expensive either. It is in Alexandria, a bit of a trek, but it is worth it.

            Good luck, and good eating.

          3. Palena is very expensive, $25+ per entree, if memory serves me correct. I love the bar area ambiance and its menu (don't miss the fries) and don't suspect you'll have a problem on a week night, especially if you can go earlier in the week. I don't think they take reser but it's in the same ballpark as Palena price wise. So it's vations for the front room, but I'd call to be sure.

            Vidalia is perferct for haute southern cuisine in an elegant setting. Same ballpark price-wise as Palena.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Meg

              I don't consider Palena to be "very" expensive, but you will spend $60 to 80 per person for a 3 to 5 course meal. If I have any complaint about it, it is that the wine list, while much better than it used to be, is still not as extensive as other restaurants of it's quality. The front room is less expensive than the back, but that is to be expected as it is more a bistro and the back a dining room.

              Citronelle is quite good, as is Maestro. If you can get a reservation at Komi, you should try there. If you like sushi, Kaz Sushi Bistro at 1910 I St is quite good, and only a few blocks from the Farragut North Metro (a couple of stops from Dupont, actually in walking distance from the Circle) We did a wine dinner there last night and had a great meal.

              Unfortunately the best Thai food is in the suburbs, not in DC proper. If you want to be adventursome, take the Red line to Wheaton in MD and walk the three blocks to Ruan Thai. Just a hole in the wall, but great watercress Yum, seafood salad, smoked eggplant salad, and good curries. It is on Amherst St, at the corner of Univ. Blvd.

              You should go for Ethiopian food while you are in DC, it is the best city in the US for it. Etete on 9th St is considered one of the best, but there are a couple in Adams-Morgan just north of the Circle that are also good. Of course, the best are the hole in the walls that you can search for on this board, that are along the U St. corridor (also easy to get to on the Metro)

              Don't be tied to close to Dupont Circle, DC is not that big and easy to get around by METRO or cab. Cleveland Park has some very good restaurants, Dino (best and most fairly priced wine list in town for Italian wines), Palena, Lavandeau (country french).

              Taberna del Alabardero has great Spanish food, but it is expensive. However, the tapas at the bar are a real deal at happy hour. You could also go to the Gallery Place Metro stop and try Zyatinya or Jaleo for small plates (tapas and meze).

              For Southern food, other than the already mention Vidalia, try Cashion's Eat Place on Columbia Rd. in Adams-Morgan or Acadiana in the Penn Quarter/Mt. Vernon Sq. (more Cajun really)

              1. re: dinwiddie

                I have to disagree with Cashion's or Acadiana as Southern. First, Acadiana is pseudo-Cajun/Creole. To me, Southern is Virginia, Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, .... and especially Carolina low country. If you count Creole as Southern, you might as well count Tex-Mex or Cal-Mex as Southern. Cashion's is a good place to eat but it as Southern as Vidalia. Both great places but they only have a Southern accent, they are not Southern cooking.

            2. For Southern, nothing compares to Oohs and Aahs, which is indeed open for lunch. Try to get a seat at one of the five stools. This is a real dive, but it has been spiffed up a bit to acknowledge its success. Lemon pepper wings, rice with gravy and greens would be a terrific order, but they also have excellent shrimp (the proprietress is from Coastal Carolina), short ribs, and turkey chop.

              If you need to go upscale - that doesn't lose its soul, then I'd order Swamp Thang at B. Smith's, located inside the former Presidential Suite at Union Station. Scallops, shrimp, and crawfish over greens with a mustard cream sauce.

              If you want to have an exceptional Thai dinner without schlepping out to the burbs, then you need to consider Thai X-ing. But there is only one table. The place opens up at 4pm. It's five blocks east of Oohs and Aahs at 515 Florida Ave, NW. The red curry salmon is transporting.

              The front room at Palena doesn't take reservations, which can be a bit of a problem. You can eat from the regular dinner menu or a special bar menu that many on Chowhound find inexpensive and delicious. The roast chicken gets most of the raves, and I have to agree. But I can live without the other options like the burger or fries which some folks go wild over.

              The back room only serves the dinner menu and takes reservations.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Steve

                Thanks for the mention of Thai X-ing: this isn't one I've heard about....but wow, one table? Do they do take out?

                1. re: susancinsf

                  Yes, almost everyone does takeout. The 'one table' thing is not a question of exclusivity. It's in the English basement of a townhouse on an otherwise residential block. Downscale, funky.

                  But many have complained about incredibly long waits for the food. A one man operation. I recommend calling 30 minutes in advance an order of the red curry salmon and eating there if you can. If you go, you will realize you've stumbled across something very special.

                  Here is the link to my report:

              2. Palena is indeed very expensive and there are other places to go besides there. I'm accused of pumping it too much, but go to Dino just down the street- much cheaper, thought not as much of "high" food, it is still truly excellent and very affordable. Plus you will be somewhere that is almost all locals only.

                For sushi there is no better sushi than Sushi Taro in town and it's a little pricey, but close to where you are staying.

                For southern I'd skipp Ooh's and Aah's- I'm just not a fan at all. Id head towards Vidalia for the very high end on M street or to gospel brunch at Georgia Brown's on Sunday. Both very close to where you'll be.

                2 Replies
                1. re: jpschust

                  Unfortunately, I don't get into town until quite late on Sunday, so brunch isn't an option. Can you tell me more about why you aren't an Ooh's and Aah's fan? Thanks!

                  1. re: susancinsf

                    I think the location is dirty and I've never had decent food there.

                2. Palena is very expensive, if you order off the formal dining room menu (which unless things have changed very recently, you can do in the cafe/front room. dinner for one, during the week, they won't take reservations in the cafe but really, you should be able to get a spot, especially if you're ok sitting and eating at the bar. and, it does NOT have to be "very expensive" when sitting in the cafe. again, unless things have changed drastically (my last visit was about a month ago) you'll have a few $10ish dollar options for entree's - just remember that they don't come with sides. still....unless you really want to keep it under say $30, you'll be ok.

                  also in the Cleveland Park neighborhood is Dino, as another jpschust has mentioned - excellent spot, and you can sit and eat dinner at their bar as well.

                  and re Thai food, just forget about DC proper if you want the best stuff - this is a touchy subject on this board(!), my favorites happen to be Thai Square and Bangkok 54 -- so yes, bite that bullet if you must have the best Thai. one thought, though: near where you'll be staying is Rice. I've always liked it. I do agree with those who feel it's a notch below where it was when it was newer...and they can be a little inconsistent, but I've always enjoyed my time and my food there, when popping out to the burbs wasn't an option. it's on 14th St at about R St., if i'm remembering correctly.

                  1. Sushi Ko is actually somewhat accessible from Dupont Circle, if you're comfortable taking the Metro Bus. On P street, there is a G2 bus that runs from Georgetown U all the way to Howard U. From Dupont Circle, you can hop on this G2 bus and take it to Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown and then transfer to a 30 bus heading north to Friendship Heights. A few blocks up from the Wisconsin & P intersection is Sushi Ko on your right hand side. I'd highly recommend Sushi Ko over Kaz, but if you've never had Kaz before, wouldn't hurt to try it at least once.

                    Kaz does serve traditional rolls.


                    If you can make it out to Thai Square again, it's definitely worth the trip. I see many similiar thai dishes wherever I go, but nowhere have I ever found anything like their Honey Duck.


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Chownut

                      Actually the D2 bus directly from Dupont to Glover Park would be a lot easier.

                    2. N. of Dupont circle is an Italian restaurant, Il Tomat that has always been good and reasonably priced.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: stumpworks73

                        I disagree. La Tomate (note how they don't even know the diff between Italian and French), is mediocre at best, to my mind. Nice spot for drinks, though.

                        1. re: moreskordalia

                          I'd agree with that- mediocrity at its finest.

                          1. re: moreskordalia

                            They also call themselves an "Italian bistro"...uh, that would be a trattoria. To be fair, I believe they were actually sort of French when they opened, and then the great Italian wave of the 1980s hit, and they went Italian. I guess they didn't want to pay to replace their signage.

                            1. re: moreskordalia

                              The wine at La Tomate is discussed often as the worst in DC. I had a bottle of Chianti that had an aroma of shoe leather.

                          2. A new-ish Thai place near Dupont Circle that I like very much is Mai Thai, or My Thai, I can't remember which. It's on 19th Street about 2 blocks south of the Circle. Personally, I think it's on par with Thai Square.

                            1. Forget the definition of southern. Go to Blue Duck Tavern at 24th and M and eat the grits or duck-fat-fries, followed by a drink at the bar and you'll forget you ever ached for any other craving. And you'll feel fancy in the uber-chic lobby. If you're eating alone, I don't suggest Palena. It's pretty cozy and couply. Uni on P street has good straightforward sushi. Urbana on P Street is a great place to grab a drink at the bar or cozy up with a book.
                              (La Tomate is a tourist trap, i second the nod toward Etete - delicious - and anything on U Street will make you happy - Al Crostino, Creme, Tabaq and even Axis if you want a steak and a friendly cocktail. Brunch at Saint Ex on 14th street is great, too. Hot waiters.)

                              have fun!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: clfost

                                actually, grits *and* duck fat fries sound pretty good to me :-)

                                1. re: susancinsf

                                  I'm not fond of grits, but the fries at Blue Duck are among the best in the entire world.

                              2. I am also a supporter of skipping Ooohs and Aaaah's. The neighborhood is not great( would definitely not go alone at night), the restaurant seemed pretty dirty(food in big tins that had tinfoil covering it, nothing was made to order and the macaroni and cheese was the worst I have ever had. I have yet to find good southern style cooking in this area. Try sticking to something DC does well, like the Ethiopian suggestion.

                                1. if you want southern cooking I would have to say Indigo Landing. I know some snobs on here said it was touristy but the night I went they gave out complimentary foie gras and the food was excellent. The service was the best I've had in a while. you can probably skip the deserts though. Both were disappointing.

                                  1. Far be it from me to gratuitously bad-mouth any establishment just out of spite, but I have to speak out on the topic of Oohs and Ahs:

                                    After reading many positive reviews about its authenticity, cooking, etc., I took a couple of out of town friends to Oohs and Ahs. IT WAS UNBELIEVABLY EXPENSIVE. I mean, really - out of this world. $18-$20 per plate for fried chicken, catfish, etc.?!? I have no real qualms about the food - it was approximately what I expected - but quite frankly the prices had me wondering whether or not my friends and I had been discriminated against....

                                    Anybody else have a similar experience?

                                    1. To answer specific questions -

                                      1. No, the front room at Palena is not a tasting menu. It is the full menu. It is just more casual than the main dining room. It is tiny and cramped. Anyway, the assumption that tasting menus are cheaper is faulty. Tasting menus are typically multicourse meals and are not cheaper than the regular menu.

                                      Expensive is a relative term. Yes, in absolute dollars, Palena is pricey, but the value is phenomenal. So I guess I'd say in "value terms" Palena is moderate.

                                      2. You will be very close to the famed Tabard Inn. Also pricey, also great value. Incredible atmosphere and service.

                                      3. There is a nice Thai place at the northern end of Dupont Circle, 1/2 block east of Connecticut and S. It is basically next to Ruth's Chris Steak House on S St. Sorry I can't recall the name.

                                      4. I second the comments on Vidalia as not being very southern but as being great.

                                      At the northern end of DuPont Circle, there is a Thai place I like very much. I think

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Just Visiting

                                        Do you mean Thaiphoon? I agree, the food there is quite good although the atmosphere is pretty loud and hectic.

                                        1. re: hamster

                                          Right! Thaiphoon. Thanks! I've been lucky enough to get one of the booths in the back, and they are a bit sheltered and much quieter. The flavors at this place just amaze me. Everything is so fresh and bright. I really enjoy it more than any other Thai place. In fact, I'm the only one I know who doesn't like Tara Thai one bit. Maybe Thaiphoon is just a different style of Thai cooking? I don't know. All I know is that I really like it.