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Important Birthday for Girlfriend - need suggestions

Hello all! I am seeking some advice as to where to take my girlfriend for her 30th birthday in Washington, although we would be fine with traveling to NoVa or MD too....

She is a foodie, I am not so I don't know whats great at the moment. She originally wanted minibar, however we both agreed that we didn't need to spend that much money right now.

Some places she has mentioned wanting to go recently is Central, Founding Farmers, Adour which are all quite different is my understanding.

Bottom line, it should be a special place, doesn't need to be super formal, as we are both casual people It also should accomodate my taste for meat and potatos.

Price-wise, I'd love to walk out the door under $200 total.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

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Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006

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  1. I'd give this a shot if you are looking for something good but a bit different. It fits your "doesn't need to be super formal" and will hook you on their meat and potatos. If your "foodie" girlfriend is stuck on French, she'll have plenty to enjoy with the Belgian ideas there... and you might really like the beer (try things on tap that they recommend, and keep an open mind). You won't blow your budget. It can get crowded and noisy, so tell them what you want in terms of a quiet table (if that is what you want). I'd also recommend the corner seating at the bar. The fries are great too, so get a side order up front. If you spend $200, you have spent way too much on wine when the beer is outstanding.

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    Belga Cafe
    514 8th Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003

    1. I guess I need to ask if you "under $200" includes wine. I would think that you can do a very good meal at a lot of places if it doesn't, and probably even if it does.

      Palena should fit the bill nicely.

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      Palena
      3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

      1 Reply
      1. re: dinwiddie

        I totally and completely and utterly agree with dinwiddie here. Palena would be perfect -- in the back dining room IMO.

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        Palena
        3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

      2. Central is perfect for you in every way.

        1. Adour is quite special and would be good for her 30th. The other two I would try out another time not for her birthday. For some place different and delicious, try Bistro Cocoa in Cap Hill. Romantic and beautiful setting and great food. Celebrated a friend's birthday recently.

          Um, you said bottom line you want a place to accomodate your meat and potatoes taste...isn't this your girlfriend's bday and she should be the first priority?

          1. I think Central is fabulous, and the food is amazing. My only concern is that it can get really really loud in the dining room, and the tables by the kitchen are really distracting - especially for a foodie ;). I would avoid the suggestions for Belga Cafe b/c I think the food is very inconsistent. After a couple bad meals I vowed never to go again. Another suggestion to consider is Black Salt. I think the food is great for a foodie, and my last meal was over the top dishes for everyone at the table (apps and mains). Only thing is that you really need a car to get there. Also, I think Palena is great as well. And if your tastes are more mainstream, Palena has a great burger. Both Black Salt and Palena (cafe side) are also not too formal. Good luck!

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            Palena
            3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

            2 Replies
            1. re: erinnf

              odd. went many times to Belga, and never had a miss on any plate...

              1. re: spwiley

                The venison dish at Belga is the worst venison I've had. The steak/frites are very good.

            2. take her to Le Auberge Chez Francois in great neck VA. This alsatian restaurant is a great place to celebrate a special evening, the food is great (make sure to order early a souflee' for desert) Lovely atmosphere, delicious cooking and you should get out for under $200 unless you buy an expensive wine

              1. "Bottom line, it should be a special place, doesn't need to be super formal, as we are both casual people It also should accomodate my taste for meat and potatoes."

                This sentence screams "Central" to me! Don't miss the faux gras!

                1. Central is great, but she mentioned it. You should surprise her.

                  In that vein I rec BlackSalt and let the server know you want to explore the specials and the menu, but go with specials over the menu in general.

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                  BlackSalt
                  4883 MacArthur Blvd., Washington, DC 20007

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Dennis S

                    Noooo.... when a woman makes suggestions, she would like her bf/husband to listen to the suggestions and not do something else. I can't tell you how many purses, gadgets, etc. I have sitting unused in my closet because my husband decided to be creative. I read it as "we know better than you." There are restaurants I really want to go to and if I talk about them, I'd love to know he heard. Glad the OP is going with Central.

                    1. re: chowser

                      But of course this doesn't apply to "You don't really need to get me anything..."

                      Depends on their relationship and everything, but if you know you can meet or beat the expectation but show some creativity outside of the drawn box, there are extra points to be had. Expectation plays so big of a role in dining experiences. Central has to meet the expectation she's built in her mind.

                      1. re: chowser

                        > listen to the suggestions and not do something else

                        ... so if the place does not meet her expectations, hey, not my fault.

                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                          Even better, less brain bashing and a sure thing. Get her a purse she didn't request and any complaints come back to you. Get her the purse she wanted and she can't complain it's the wrong size. Not that I'm saying this happened recently to me or anything.

                          1. re: chowser

                            Ha! That's nice. Well, maybe not for you.

                            At any rate, one could try to meet expectations or exceed. To exceed on a place that already has expectations in place is HARD. Well, unless they want 5 guys and you're going to go to RHB.

                            This person seems to know a lot about what she *might want to check out. Why not expand the horizons with something that will meet or beat the original expectation. If the final selection even only MEETS the original expectation you have a plus one point in your favor for finding something she didn't ask for. If it beats the expectation you're so many points ahead.

                            On the other side you have to HOPE that the suggested selection meets her expectations. Now if it doesn't meet up you can try to put that on her.

                            Good luck with that.

                            If it meets, you're okay. If it beats you're plus one.

                            There's just so much more upside to a new/alternate suggestion that should/would/could beat the original expectation. There's little downside comparatively.

                            Everything has risk. Mitigate it.

                    2. Her idea of Central is a good one.

                      My other suggestion would be Birch and Barley - I think you can do the tasting menu + the beer pairings and walk out the door for under $200. They have just really knocked it out of the park the last couple times I've been there. For a special occasion, request a table in the back room by the kitchen - the two tops in the front are packed awfully close together.

                      My husband and I are like you and your girlfriend regarding our tastes, and we both love it there.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Raids

                        Wow! You all are great! I really appreciate the advice!

                        I am definently now leaning towards Central after reading all of this, but Birch & Barley is intriuging too. I looked at the tasting menu with beer pairings and it is a great price!

                        I'll have to let you all know which one I go with.

                        Thanks again!!!!

                        1. re: Ramenismyfriend

                          I can't say about B&B, but I strongly suggest that you do something she did NOT suggest. To go into why is to start a long discourse. Trust me.

                          1. re: Ramenismyfriend

                            If you go with B&B, make sure to read up Greg Engbert - Food & Wine chose him as their #3 sommelier of the year (from what I understand, the only beer sommelier to ever be chosen) so you impress her. When you do the tasting menu with the pairings, he brings all the selections around personally and tells you everything you'd want to know about where they are from and what they highlight about the dish.

                            After that treatment, I've been woefully disappointed with the service accompanying wine pairings for tasting menus elsewhere...he's just amazing.

                        2. I agree with Central and with the notion of if a woman mentions a place if you don't do that place mentioned it better be somewhere else pretty damned good and better than what she suggested.

                          I do think Central would be good, perhaps if you contacted them and let them know the situation you could get their table behind the chain curtain with the nice view of the kitchen? We love Central for the fact that it suits all tastes.

                          In the same line as she suggested but better camp: Palena, and Corduroy although depending on wine choices it could push the budget a bit. Both I think would be casual enough and would have things you both would really enjoy food wise. But are both special, as well.

                          I haven't been to Adour so I cannot comment on it.

                          -----
                          Palena
                          3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

                          1. I'm reposting the gist of an earlier response, which was removed by the Chowhoud thought police: if you want to impress this girl, take a very simple menu (I'd recommend a cheese & pate plate, followed by a salmon/leek dinner with appropriate wines) and COOK it for her. Subsequent recommendations, focusing on how to deal with the "recommendations" of a significant other, have missed this mark. Cook for her, win her. Start simple, and fall back on the obvious.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: spwiley

                              Fail. There are times, like Valentine's Day, when it's great to skip the restaurant and cook at home. That would be sweet. But if I initially wanted Minibar on my birthday and ended up with some generic cheese, pate, and salmon thing, I'd be pissed.

                              I just went to Moto for my birthday when I was in Chicago, and while I love my husband, there is no way that he's going to whip me up 10 courses of delectable sweetbreads, luscious and meaty mahi mahi, the best pork belly I've ever had, and butternut squash ice cream, to name a few highlights, all foreshadowed on an edible peanut-flavored menu with accommpanying jam-like fruit puree.

                              (This is why I recommended Birch & Barley because the awesomeness of the beer pairings made that a similarly memorable experience for me.)

                              1. re: spwiley

                                I think you should also take into account that if the poster wants this sort of recommendation, he's better off posting on the Homecooking board. I think it's in everyone's best interest not to second-guess the OP and continue giving restaurant suggestions.

                                Central is a favorite of mine, I'd be very happy if hubby took me there for my birthday. For what it's worth, I haven't found it to be too loud and I think it's a beautiful space. One of my top picks in DC.

                                1. re: mjhals

                                  Since it would ostensibly help out the OP and I still haven't been there, can we review the menu highlights at Central?

                                  1. re: Raids

                                    With pleasure, yum. I haven't been since the fall, but am heading back soon for a graduation celebration dinner. Not sure if the menu has changed (it looks lightly tweaked on th the website, from what I remember). My husband has only gotten the braised lamb shank- he loves it and won't order anything else. I've had the lobster burger, which is wonderful and inventive, but I think I almost like it more for the amazing fries that it comes with. I've also had one of their seasonal scallop dishes and I remember at the time thinking, "only four scallops, what the heck?", but the overall dish was so well-balanced and rich, four scallops was plenty! I've also had their papparedelle which was wonderful and obviously freshly made- great sauce too.

                                    I've heard raves about the fried chicken, but never had it myself (not a fried chicken fan generally). We always split an order of the "faux gras", it used to come with rilletes (which were great, but I always focused on the faux gras), now it looks like it comes with country pate? Oh, and the gougeres are great, but I don't think they're a "must-order" unless you're a) really hungry or b) really love gougeres.

                                    That's pretty much the highlights for me. On my upcoming visit I look forward to trying the steak tartare- recently had a great version at Bistro Bis so I'm interested in comparing.

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                                    Bistro Bis
                                    15 E Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

                                    1. re: Raids

                                      I haven't been since the newest chef so there may be new strong points, but:
                                      Faux gras, rillettes, charcuterie are all very well prepared.

                                      For a meat lover the hanger steak, short rib, lamb shank, burger have all been very good on my visits. As was the fried chicken and cioppino. I had the scallop dish didn't love it.

                                      I normally love the goat cheese caesar salad, the last time I had it though it wasn't as good. The bacon and leek tart is also very good. I also like the lobster burger.

                                      Pretty much any dessert you order will be great. I love the cheesecake, kit kat bar, banana split (although it is huge) and chocolate mousse.

                                      I think the best option because it is so much food with two people is to split either an app or dessert because the portions are generous. Or plan on taking multiple to-gos. They can pack up leftover dessert quite easily, even the mousse! But it always ends up being a lot of food.

                                2. Tonight's the Big Night! We could not get a res at Birch & Barley so we are definently going to Central....

                                  I am even more sure of the choice after looking at the cocktail menu since my girl is an fan of creative and inventive cocktails.

                                  I will update everyone on how she liked it!