Decent food, not stiff white table cloths
coming to DC with my girlfriend for a first time visit. Staying at the Renaissance Hotel (9th St NW) for 4 nights.
We love good food, but not really sitting across from each other in a stiff restaurant (we prefer somewhere with some people watching, maybe a communal eating table). As a reference, our favourite restaurants are The Purple Pig in Chicago (communal tables, sharing food portions), eating at the front bar at Gramercy Tavern in NYC, or Jamonera in Philly (tapas food with sherry tasting).
Any recommendations for somewhere casual but also good food - maybe tapas or small portions that we can share? Or somewhere with communal tables that might be fun? Places near the hotel would be good, but I hear the subway in DC is good so we can travel further for somewhere different to eat and have a good evening.
Also, any bar/resto that does sherry/port or good wine tasting samples?
I'd suggest checking out Estadio. I think that may fit the bill for you well. The food is excellent, an atmosphere that sounds similar to what you are requesting, some communal tables, some bar seating around an open kitchen. Perfect to get small plates for sharing. (If you go, I highly recommend the mixto charcuterie plate -- a great value.)
For a real communal table, if you want a much different experience, check out Seasonal Pantry. It is in Shaw, which (in my biased view) is a great upcoming food scene in DC, and it is very close to your hotel. They do a single communal table for 12 folks, seating at 8, with a set menu for the night. Sort of expensive--around 100 to 130 depending on the night--but it is all inclusive, at least. Very good food, and an atmosphere I think you'd love. Weekend seats can fill up very quickly, so you'll want to check out the website soon to see if there is anything available, and then check back.
As for sherry, a local bartender who has gained some acclaim recently opened Mockingbird Hill, a bar that focuses on sherry. Not too far from your hotel, it is also in Shaw. I'd highly recommend you try that.
and if those other recommendations' availability (tho' Little Serow works on a no res basis but worthwhile by all accounts) well anyway, if they crap out you're still at the heart of Jose Andres' little empire, Jaleo and Zaytinya et al are reliable fallbacks (is that the new kiss-of-death? like "it's not you it's me" or "I DO love you, but more like a brother") and yeah Shaw/Mt. Vernon Square are a short hike and H street NE is an easy Circulator ride (or cheap cab).
Happy Hour at Proof is worth a try for great cocktails and $5 pours of nice house wine, accompanied by an excellent and generous charcuterie board ($33) and a nice selection of cheeses ($15 for three, if memory serves). The restaurant also has a robust wine list with the option for small pours at $2 each.
For tapas you should check out Estadio. I don't think they have a communal table but they have a bar and a chef's table in front of the open kitchen (my personal preference). Great drinks and Spanish tapas.
Also along the small plates line are Graffiato and Kapnos. Both owned by Mike Isabella (of Top Chef fame). Graffiato is Italian small plates and Kapnos is Greek small plates. I think Kapnos has a communal table. Both have a vibrant scene with excellent food.
You might also like Le Diplomate for great people watching and delicious French bistro food.