1789 or The Willard Room
Ok, based on the feedback from everyone, I've narrowed my search for a fancy, elegant restaurant to impress my girlfriend and her kids in Washington DC. I'd like to teach the 11 & 14 year old a little about eating in formal place with a nice decor.
So, help me select one of these...
The Willard Room or 1789?
1789 hands down for food (The Willard Room has it all going on with over the top oppulence however, compared to the warmth and charm of 1789). Be SURE to insist that you be seated in one of the downstairs rooms, where there is far more ambience then the siberia which is upstairs. The John Carroll room with it's fireplace sounds pretty good today!
They offer a pre-theater menu before 6:45 pm on weekdays, for $35. Chef Beauchamp has been turning out consistently good food of late, and I have heard only steady praise.
The Willard Room is extremely expensive, yet it never comes up as a foodies' blowout dream place to go. It's just never remarked upon, although I'm sure it's always there for the well healed- want to see and be seen clientele. Expensive and innovative, really a treat yourself to the best cooking and service in the DC area fine restaurant experiences would include Citronelle, CityZen, Restaurant Eve and Maestro to name a few.
The Willard. No contest.
There are many restaurants with lovely small charming rooms like 1789 but they don't build grand hotels with soaring spaces like the Willard any longer. It is tied to the history of this city in a way that 1789 just isn't. Presidents didn't hang out, smoking cigars, at 1789.
Over the years, I have made a practice of taking my children to whatever grand hotel there was in whatever city we were. The Brown in Denver, The Peace in Shanghai. The Plaza in New York. The George V in Paris. The ones they read about when they read about the history of those cities. We stayed there when we could or only had tea. They always remember those even if they were only 5 years old.
Fortunately, it isn't down at the heels and the menu is good. A classic Caesar salad prepared table-side. It's very expensive, but you did say you wanted to knock their socks off. They won't forget the Willard.
I've eaten at both and I would say you're probably better off at the Willard Room. I prefer 1789 personally, and it's one of the last public places in the city that formally requires a dress code to enter. However I would never take a kid there unless they were exceptionally well behaved. Also, 1789 is very much a part of Georgetown but the Willard is more universally a place that belongs to all of D.C. I don't think the Willard Room is worth the money based on food alone, but if you want an experience then go for it.
I've never been to the Willard Room, but 1789 does a really lovely job of making special occasions just that. The staff is attentive, and I've always enjoyed the food. Definitely ask for a table on the first floor, though.