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First-Time Visitor with One Dinner in DC - Please Help!

We're going to be visiting DC for one night in a few weeks. It's my first visit to the city, and since we'll only have one dinner, I'd really like to know what restaurant should not be missed. We have no special requirements or constraints, but it would be nice to be able to walk (we're staying at the Sofitel). Thanks in advance for your recommendations!

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  1. Ici Urban in your hotel is suppose to be pretty good but I haven't been yet. So far my favorites are Ceiba and Proof.

    1. I would go to either Central or Corduroy. Both are quite different but in my opinion they offer some of the best meals I've had in the city in recent memory. Creative and delicious meals. For a more lively atmosphere go to Central. For a more subdued atmosphere where the focus is completly on the food go to Corduroy.

      For higher end (and clearly more expensive, although the other places will run $100+ for 2 people depending on what you order) I would go to Equinox, Palena, or Citronelle.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Elyssa

        Would a solo diner feel out of place at of any of these suggestions? I also will have one free night in DC for dinner. I'll be staying near the zoo but would be open to any place within a reasonable cab ride. Thanks in advance.

        1. re: buttertartz

          I haven't been to Corduroy, so can't say. Central is a lively restaurant and you can ask for table to view open kitchen. If you're going to by yourself, I'd recommend Central for those reasons.

      2. I would vote for Citronelle also. It's not really within walking distance, but if you only have one dinner in D.C., why not go for what many consider the best restaurant in the city. I had an excellent meal there a couple weeks ago. The food is outstanding, and no matter where you're seated, you'll have a great view of the kitchen and will be able to see the masters at work. Citronelle is located at 3000 M St., NW inside the Latham Hotel.

        I also recommend Obelisk. Again, not within walking distance but worth a small trip. Obelisk is a small Italian place that offers a three-course menu--that changes daily--for $70 per person. In addition to your appetizer, main course, and dessert, you'll get a healthy array of antipasti, a pre-dessert cheese course, and a post-dessert assortment of goodies. I also had a wonderful experience here recently. Obelisk is at 2029 P St., NW.

        5 Replies
        1. re: ries27

          " no matter where you're seated, you'll have a great view of the kitchen "

          That's just not true.

          1. re: Hal Laurent


            Care to elaborate? We were seated at a table in the first row of the upper tier and had a great view. Given the huge opening to the kitchen it seemed to me that most folks would have at least some view no matter the vantage point. Where were you seated where it was difficult to see the kitchen? Just curious.

            1. re: ries27

              It's been a couple of years since we were there so I can't describe the layout exactly, but there were plenty of tables (including ours) that had no view of the kitchen at all (although we could see the wine room). I believe we were on the lowest level.

              We also didn't think the food was as good as it cost. Maybe we ordered badly, but at that price point you shouldn't be able to order badly.

              1. re: Hal Laurent

                Could be I was just spoiled by our excellent view. Being on the second tier of seating, our view was completely unobstructed.

                I agree with you that a restaurant of Citronelle's caliber (and price) shouldn't serve a bad meal. We were pleased with everything we ate, however.

                All that said, I think for this circumstance I would recommend Obelisk over Citronelle anyhow.

                1. re: ries27

                  We weren't served a bad meal at Citronelle, we just didn't think it was a "wow" meal. For that kind of money I expect "wow".

        2. I'd second Obelisk, which is my favorite restaurant in DC, and one of my favorites in the country. It's tiny, has warm friendly and knowledgeable service, and the food is italian in theme (as noted below) with the finest, generally local ingredients. Imagine something rather like Chez Panisse in Berkeley, but more Italian in focus.

          I ate at Citronelle last month and although the food was perfectly fine found it overpriced (and the wine list even more so). It is also much like any high end restaurant anywhere, and not especially unique. Others differ.

          If you want a Washington experience, consider the Prime Rib, a very old fashioned lobbyist steak house (coat and tie still required from men). The food is very good--but it's a steak house and you may not want that. On the other hand, you will see the older, establishment Washington at dinner, and you may find that amusing.

          1. Thanks for all the recommendations! I had noticed Citronelle consistently popping up on "Best" lists, but it sounds a little formal for us. Obelisk sounds much more our speed. Nobody has mentioned the Blue Duck Tavern, but it shows up quite a lot in other threads - any thoughts about Obelisk versus Blue Duck Tavern?

            6 Replies
            1. re: aching

              Blue Duck is really good if you like roast meats, especially things that are a little harder to find: great sweetbreads, bone marrow, goat cheese grits.

              I second Central though as being a more casual version of Citronelle. But I haven't been to the new Corduroy, but really enjoyed it in its old location, or Obelisk.

              1. re: aching

                I would choose Obelisk over Blue Duck Tavern in a heartbeat. In fact, I'd choose Obelisk over just about any but a handful of restaurants in DC. Every experience we have had at Obelisk has left us feeling like it was absolutely perfect in every way. No other restaurant has achieved that, although CityZen came very close.

                1. re: aching

                  If you want to go to Citronelle but don't want the formality, go to the upstairs lounge at Citronelle. An abbreviated menu, but no reservations necessary (or taken), no dress code, and a la carte dining. Go for the vichyssoise 2008, the mushroom cigars, tuna napoleon, and the soft shell crab. Dessert is a must here, try the kona souffle and the jolie pomme - and share. You might have to fight. Sauterne by the glass is a bargain.

                  1. re: Steve

                    That's good advice from Steve. I wish we had done that instead of eating in the restaurant proper.

                    1. re: Hal Laurent

                      I am NOT a fan of Blue Duck Tavern. You can do much better.
                      How about Kinkaid's (seafood) in Georgetown or Komi, in Dupont?

                  2. re: aching

                    Obelisk is unique; I've never been to Blue Duck (except for a quick breakfast); it looks perfectly good, but it's a hotel restaurant. Obelisk is Peter Pastan's individual idea of an serious but unstuffy Italian restaurant. Understated, friendly but utterly committed to the food. Komi and Palena also I understand have that (Palena I've been to and liked, Komi I have not but all the chatter on the board and what I've heard from friends is that it's worth trying). Still, Obelisk has been around 20 years; I go every three weeks and it remains, to me, the one revelatory restaurant in the city.

                  3. Definitely Komi if you can secure a reservation. If not, then Palena. Or Obelisk. If not those, then the bar section at Palena (no reservations). If not that, then Ray's the Steaks just over the bridge.

                    Other than those, I don't know of anything that's a "can't miss." A lot of stuff I love, but no destination places.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MartyL

                      I would pick Komi too, especially if you're looking for someplace really memorable but not too formal (but it's a little further from your hotel than some of these).

                    2. Palena's back room. Or Komi if you can't get in there.


                        1. All right, we've got reservations at Obelisk! All they had was 9:30, but that actually works well for people on PCT, and you all convinced me. Thanks again for your recs - I'll report back on our meal!

                          1. Ooh ooh, one more question please! Is Obelisk dressy? I'm thinking no jeans allowed but no tie required - is that correct?

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: aching

                              I don't recall seeing anyone wearing a tie when I was there. I was wearing dress pants, dress shoes, and a casual short-sleeve "golf" style shirt and didn't feel out of place. I wouldn't recommend jeans, though.

                              1. re: ries27

                                That's what I thought - thanks!

                                1. re: aching

                                  Can't wait to hear your post-meal-post. We absolutely love Obelisk. If you didn't already ask, call back and see if you can get the window table. It's priceless people watching in Dupont.
                                  PS another tip: try NOT to fill up on the delicious antipasti...it's hard though...and the bread...because the pasta course is next and it's the very best of the bunch. If you fill up on the antipasti and pasta, you'll run out of steam half way thru the entree and not be able to enjoy one of the best cheese courses you've ever had!

                            2. Thanks to all your recommendations, we had a lovely dinner at Obelisk on Saturday. We ended up not walking, as we were pretty footsore from a day of museum-going, and our reservation was at 9:30. But a quick cab ride from our hotel put us right at the front door. Our table was ready and waiting, which is always nice (and, randomly, seated right next to us was someone S went to college with and hadn't seen in 20 years!).

                              We placed our order (love the handwritten menu), and the food started flowing. In addition to bread and butter, the first course, antipasti misto, included burrata, heirloom tomatoes in balsamic vinaigrette, a little piece of suckling pig stuffed with something yummy, sardines with carmelized onions, and fried squash blossoms. It all was delicious, but the heirloom tomatoes really stood out - and we're from California, where we can get good tomatoes all the time. These ones, though, were heavenly, especially paried with a bit of burrata.

                              For the primi course, I had eggplant ravioli with pine nuts and S had chicken raviolini in a broth with a poached egg. We both preferred mine, although his certainly was good (and probably would have tasted even better on a cold day). For the secondi, I had a white fish (can't quite remember what kind) with a stuffed artichoke and roasted peppers, while S had a pork chop served on a bed of white beans. Again, though both were good, I think mine was better.

                              Then came the cheese: a parmigiano reggiano, a soft goat cheese, and a taleggio, with a green tomato chutney. They were all delectable, but I wish I had had more of an appetite at that point! (I am such a wimp with these prix fixe menus!) We shared our dessert - a cocoa nib panna cotta with a crispy chocolate cookie on the side. This panna cotta - I can't really describe how amazing it was! It was a pale brown color, so I just wasn't prepared for the incredibly deep, intense chocolate flavor - insanely good! And we wrapped up with some little treats - toffee, mint jelly, and biscotti.

                              It really was lovely. Thanks again for the recs, DC Hounds!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: aching

                                So glad you liked it. Remember i told you don't fill up on the Antipasti? Now you know why! We ended up taking our cheese home last time and ate it the next day. They always do a marvelous job w/ fish there...it's always the best choice. i have had that panna cotta before and now i'm drooling...:)
                                Were you able to snag the window table??

                              2. I'd go to Central (unless you are looking for somethng fancy). I love the food there, it's a cool atmosphere, and it won't break the bank. The other reason I like to recommend this to visitors is that it is only a couple blocks from the Hotel Washington. The terrace at the top of the hotel has a terrific view of the monuments and White House at night, if that kind of thing interests you - good place to buy a basic drink before dinner (it's not a good place in terms of quality but the view is worth a drink).

                                Also, love Komi and you can walk to Dupont Circle from there.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: baconjen

                                  the rooftop is closed..they are turning hotel wash into a W hotel and reportedly enclosing the terrace. Which sucks...best place to view the city is now no more...

                                  1. re: DCDOLL

                                    Thanks for the update...I'm pretty bummed about this.

                                2. aching,
                                  Thanks for the report. Glad you had a nice dinner. Obelisk really is great.