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My DC experience

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My first trip to DC was to be for a football game (Steelers at Redskins). No I'm not a Steelers fan. A small group of friends go every year to a different football stadium and check out the town. DC did not disappoint! It's an eclectic group of friends ranging in ages from the mid-30's to mid-70's. And, since I am a professional chef, the task of restaurant research falls to me. 3 days/3 restaurants for dinner anyway. Here's my report at least.
Accomodations: Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill was not bad. Parts of the hotel and the surrounding area was under construction however. While we were there there was a convention of what looked to be sado-masochists. Seriously. Although we didn't have any children with us, you might imagine some of the costumes. Interesting scenery to say the least.

Meals: Matchbox has received a fair bit of positive comment on this board, and with that in mind, we decided to go. Unfortunately they don't take reservations on Sat. nights, so it was kind of tough for 7 of us to get a table. We hung in there however and were rewarded with a very good meal. Matchbox isn't innovating cuisine here. Any number of these types of restaurants can be found in a large city. The food itself was very consistent, although the service was a little slow. We received our apps AFTER we received our entrees. We were told by our server that a 17-top had just ordered in and she was trying to get our food before we got stuck behind the 17-top. Anyway, I had the sliders with the fried onion strings which were good. Well made and tasty enough. For my entree I had the fried chicken, which was a tad burnt (meant: rustic) but the inside was very moist. Again, good. No dessert, since it was to be a drinking night all around.

For breakfast we headed to the Billy Goat Cafe (next to Starbucks) about a block from the hotel on the corner of E and New Jersey. A fair bit chaotic and not that great, but very cheap.

For lunch that day there's a 'divey' liquor store directly across the street from the hotel. I had noticed the NY DElI sandwich sign attached and decided to check it out. Surely we could do better than room service or a gift shop sandwich. Anyway, inside the liquor store and upstairs there is a good sandwich shop, with a large selection of hot and cold sandwiches, chips, sides, sodas, and obviously adult beverages. Very inexpensive and very good. Unfortunately I do not have the name.

Central Michel Richard was the meal I had been anticipating and agonizing over. As a chef, this is the food I love to eat. My dining partners would be happy at an Applebee's however. Anyway, I decided that we'd have at least one 'upscale meal' and this was it. I was not disappointed. Central easily ranks with Bouchon in bistro 'Frenchness'. I started with Foie Gras with Rillettes and it was fantastic. Perfectly seasoned and well-presented. Next course was an onion tart, which was just kind of OK. More like a pizza than a tart though. Very tasty. For my entree I had Cassoulet. I am a cassoulet freak. I love to make it often. This was good-bordering-on -great. Bistro Jeanty in Yountville has the best I've ever had, but this was very good, although served in a less rustic style. My wife had the Fried Oysters which were excellent. For here entree she had braised Beef Cheeks, which were also excellent. Portion sizes were bigger than I expected. My foie gras terrine was about 3 oz., which is a lot of foie gras. Enophiles rejoice! The wine list is very heavily skewed to France, so be prepared. I did manage to convince a couple of chardonnay drinkers that they should try Viognier, which they loved. We also had a couple of bottles of excellent Cab. Franc. Dinner was moderately expensive, about $70/per person.

I decided to use the concierge and was rewarded with Bistro Bis, on E near Union Station. It's attached to the George Hotel. Very French bistro, I was even able to pay homage to the painting of Paul Bocuse adorning one of the restaurant walls. Breakfast here was excellent. Very refined and not terribly expensive. My homemade corned beef hash was $12 bucks. We went back the next day with similar results.

Between all the museum hopping and the football game, we weren't able to take in as many restaurants as I would have liked. I really wanted to try Bistro d'OC, Pizza Paradiso, and some others which received high Zagat or CH marks. BTW, just inside the Bud Pavillion at FED EX field is some really excellent BBQ. Very tasty. I can't wait to get back!

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  1. Thanks for the report, chefpels. It reminds me I REALLY need to get back to Central! The french onion soup and that burger.....so worth the extra miles to walk it off.

    1. Thanks for reporting back. And for reigniting my craving for the faux gras and rillettes at Central.

      1. Just one note: no foie gras at Central, only faux gras, which is a 'tricky' take made with chopped chicken livers and a ton of butter. I love it. The rillettes are easily the best I've ever had and also different than the classic but greasy French version which is a bit disgusting to me.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Steve

          I am stunned that I didn't catch the tricky spelling on the menu! I consider myself and foie fanatic and although subtle, I would swear it was foie. I was amazed at the portion size as well, but now I know why. Unbelievable. Thanks for the info!

          1. re: chefpels

            Just got the new issue of Art Culinaire (Fall 2008/#90) and it profiled, among other things, Michel Richard's 'Faux Gras'. The recipe is included.

        2. Hey you visited places right around where I work. I'm happy to hear you had an enjoyable DC visit. Now onto your review:

          - The divey liquor store/deli is a unwell kept secret here. It's named Kogood.
          - Even the hamburgers at the DC location of Billy Goat's aren't that great either. If you are staying in the area again and want a "cheap" quick breakfast, I suggest hitting up Cafe Phillips next to Irish Times.

          3 Replies
          1. re: botnot

            I also work in that area. I've been to the liquor store sandwich shop a few times. It's decent, but I think Phillips, Sunspot and Au Bon Pain are better.

            You could have walked to Johnny's Half Shell for happy hour (half price oysters) and Taqueria Nacionale for a decent, cheap lunch.

            Next time you should tailgate at the Redskins game!

            1. re: 4X4

              unfortunately most of our time was spent down and around lincoln monument and museums, etc....and, as expected from my less-than-adventurous dining compatriots, we had the 'privelege' of waiting 40 minutes for a table at the ESPNZone...what a waste. Next time I'm coming by myself! Thanks for the info.

              1. re: chefpels

                ESPN Zone? what were they thinking? (end snark)

                glad you had fun, and always appreciate the feedback from out-of-towners how DC is doing.