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Sep 18, 2011 07:41 PM

Tosca, Marcel, Ray's, Jaleo: need pleasant atmosphere for four 50-somethings to have a grown up dinner

To make a very long story short, we are four 'hounds visiting DC and celebrating our shared anniversary. We have narrowed our choices down to Ray's the Steaks, Marcel's, Tosca and Jaleo - each has an appeal to us for a different reason. What I want to know is - at which one is the atmosphere the most conducive to a pleasant meal?

I don't want to have to shout to be heard. I don't want the room bright like an office. We ladies want to wear a nice dress and not feel out of place, and I don't want the tables so close together that I can hear my neighbor's conversation better than the one in my own party. Not to sound overly picky, but at this point in my life, I know what I like. I appreciate all your inputs -- you 'hounds are amazing! Thank you!

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  1. I like Jaleo a lot, but it's too casual for a special occasion meal. And loud.

    Marcel's is heads-and-shoulders above the rest overall, but priced accordingly. You will easily drop $200/person inclusive if you drink. But the food and service are impeccable, and it is gorgeous and romantic.

    Tosca is also nice, just a level down from Marcel's. An excellent choice, and will come in a bit lighter in the wallet. It's not loud, but it's not hushed like Marcel's is.

    Everyone on this board knows I am a huge Ray's fan, and if you'd like steaks for dinner (they do seafood well too, not just steaks), it's an incredible bargain for what you get. As long as you make a reservation, request the quiet side of the dining room, and you will not have to shout, though it will definitely be more boisterous than Tosca. You will not be out of place being dressed up, but there will be folks there dressed casually.

    10 Replies
    1. re: DanielK

      Thanks, Daniel, for the prompt reply. We were partial to Tosca - and your post make us even more so.

      1. re: collinsline

        You're welcome!

        And to weigh in on other people's additions to your list, if Tosca is in your alley and price range, you also can't go wrong with Corduroy, Oval Room, or Proof. I'd have a hard time choosing between them.

      2. re: DanielK

        DanielK gave you spot on advice. But I'll throw in a couple more possibilities that are closer to Tosca than to Marcel's: The Oval Room and Corduroy. Both serve New American cuisine rather than Italian, but the ambiance, price, and professional service are quite similar.

        701, another restaurant in The Oval Room family, has the added plus of jazz music on the weekends. The jazz creates pleasant background; I've never found it to be intrusive on our two visits there.

        1. re: Indy 67

          Thanks, Indy 67. 701 was actually on our short-list but we really enjoy a cheese course and didn't see one on their menu. The Oval Room was on our list as well, but some comments on other threads said that it is little dated and rather stodgy. Funny -- although I want a grown-up atmosphere, I don't want stodgy. I am not sure how to articulate the difference between the two -- it's a fine line. I just know that I'll know it when I see it. (We can only dine on a Monday night, so no jazz. In fact, Monday closures have limited our options as well.)

          Another one that we came close to including in our list was Central. I voted yes (just for the good food) but my husband thought their menu looked too casual. (Citronelle will have to wait for a fatter wallet!)

          1. re: collinsline

            Central's menu may look casual but the dishes are really elevated. It's classic American cuisine with a French technique. The food is very, very good but the room can be rather loud. And similar to Ray's you'll see a variety of different dress.

            I haven't been to Tosca in a long time but I remember it being great. Corduroy is also a great choice (get the scallops!) and I would ask Bibianna to the list if you want Italian.

            1. re: Elyssa

              Thanks, Elyssa. I thought Central's menu looked very French bistro -- mussels, whole roasted chicken, steak frites, etc... My husband and I have another evening in DC (just the two of us). Maybe we can make Central our stop at that time.

              1. re: collinsline

                Please don't strangle me for throwing another suggestion out there, but if you like a cheese plate, consider Proof. Some people have complained that it is noisy, but I haven't found that to be the case since it first opened. The food is exceptional and you'll be thrilled with the cheese.

                I fear that Tosca will make you feel it is stodgy. The food is great but it looks like the inside of a Marriott conference room.

            2. re: collinsline

              Oval Room dated and stodgy?? I can't imagine what aspects of the menu and decor would lead someone to that conclusion. At least I can understand what led someone downthread to conclude that Tosca looks like the inside of a Marriott. Tosca is contemporary Italian decor -- sleek and understated like decor done by Armani -- but I really do understand how someone else could use less charitable words to describe this understated look.

              1. re: Indy 67

                Didn't mean to offend. Just a bit staid and tired after 10 years. And it always seems brighter than it should be. That's probably what reminds me of conference rooms.

                1. re: katecm

                  I wasn't offened by your comments about The Oval Room. Just unconvinced based on the meals I've eaten there. I put this thread out of my mind until this morning when I finally got around to reading Sietsema's Wednesday, September 21 chat. Sietsema gives several shout outs to The Oval Room including mention of a pasta preparation with jalapenos with sea urchin. I want to try that dish!

                  I can see where you find the lighting brighter than it needs to be, but on the food we clearly have a case of your mileage may vary.

        2. Marcel's is a fantastic meal. You really can't go wrong there. (especially with a great bottle of wine, and if you order the puff pastry-wrapped lamb) If it's an early enough dinner, you can do the pre-theater menu at Marcel's.

          Jaleo might be too loud/too much hustle & bustle for what you're looking for, but the food is fun.

          Ray's is a great choice, but it's not as quiet, dimly lit, or relaxed as Marcels.

          An option to consider: Citronelle by Michel RIchard, which has a main dining room, and a more moderately priced lounge. It's the best restaurant in the city, in my opinion.

          Central (also by Michel Richard) is also a fantastic choice.

          3000 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20007

          1. Marcel's is a beautiful place for an anniversary and the food is just fantastic. You definitely would not feel out of place dressed to the nines.

            Tosca is very good, the atmosphere isn't as special, but still very formal and the food is fantastic. I think you would be happy with either, but Marcel's has the ambiance that your post suggests you want.

            1. Cross Ray's and Jaleo off your list and you will be fine. Jaleo is not very good and Ray's is great but not for something like this. It's a quick meal. Tosca and Marcel's are two of the best special occasion shops in the city. You can't go wrong with either.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Bigcitywine

                Thanks, Bigcitywine. What are your thoughts about The Oval Room?

                1. re: collinsline

                  Sorry I have not been yet but it's on my list.

                  1. re: collinsline

                    Since you're the OP and since you were still fine tuning your decision as of October 5, you might want to check one more source if you haven't celebrated yet: Tom Sietsema's Fall Dining Guide is now appearing online. The restaurants he reviews are linked by the common thread "Places I'd like to become a regular." The list isn't an attempt to be an encyclopedic review of the top restaurants in the DC metro area.

                    A number of the names that have come up for discussion on this thread -- both from your original list and additional recs in the replies -- are in Sietsema's review.

                2. You might also consider Charlie Palmer Steak. The food is very good and I think you would appreciate the atmosphere for this occassion. The service is professional and the dining room affords diner's ample space so you never feel cramped and can easily carry on conversation. The decor is sleek and modern yet warm and inviting. There are nice views outside of the ample windows that look toward the Capitol. With its proximily to Capitol Hill, I think you will find other patrons to be well-dressed as well.

                  I agree with the other posts that the decor at Tosca can evoke a hotel conference with the heavy beige curtains (always closed) and otherwise non-descript interior. But for what it lacks in visual charm, the food is outstanding.