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Jan 31, 2014 06:42 AM

If you were forced to spend a big zero birthday working....

Sigh. I have a birthday with a zero coming up in a few weeks, on a Tuesday night. Thanks to the fall shutdown, a work trip to federal agencies got postponed, and the best date for everyone but me was my XX birthday. Numerous decades involved, and enough said on that, since I am in serious denial. On the actual day, I need to entertain a group of ten and I don't know much about their food preferences, allergies, etc. Moreover, to fit our expense parameters, it would help if entrees were in the low to mid twenties. Fortunately, my boss will be along, and happily understands that under the circumstances he will need to buy a bottle or three or four of very nice wine (which can't be expensed since we work for a public agency ourselves).

A few more parameters: for budget reasons, we are staying in Arlington, and unless the weather is really bad would prefer to take metro into DC, but I will be darned if I am going to spend my big birthday at someplace in Arlington (am I wrong? If so why?). So, I would strongly prefer to be within a few blocks of a station. I hate herding cats, and it will be easier to do without a lot of walking involved. Secondly, the group varies quite a bit in age, so while some would probably appreciate a 'happening' spot, the rest are more sedate (like me :-)) and probably wouldn't. Finally, I'd like a quiet place where we would have a chance of at least discussing the day's meetings and getting a chance to know each other better. I am totally open on type of cuisine.

Since the day in question is a weeknight finding spots that will take a group doesn't seem to be a huge issue. I've considered Zaytinya, and may go there the next night with just a friend, but I am worried that not all the group will appreciate small plates, and that it will be too noisy. I've had a very nice dinner previously at Bistro Bis, but it is just a bit pricier than my expense account will allow.

Based on the menu and the photos, I am considering Cedar. Sure, it looks a bit sedate, but sedate is good when you turn xxx.....

So, where would you go?

And bonus points for where I could go the next night, just with a good friend who is also a colleague, to blow off steam about how I had to spend my xxx birthday with my boss at a business dinner...?

(and don't feel too sorry for my whining, as the real celebration will be most of the previous weekend in San Francisco :-))

Any ideas appreciated!

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  1. I'm sure others will have more experience with the kind of place you're looking for, but I'd consider Proof and Central. Proof might be a little higher price than you asked. Are you at an Arlington stop where you can take the yellow line to Gallery Place? Lots of options around there.

    I'd say Zaytinya is too loud, but good idea for the next night. But for the next night, I'd consider going to 14th St, the strip from Logan Circle to U St where there are a gazillion new and fun restaurants.

    6 Replies
    1. re: mselectra

      I'd strongly second Proof and Central -- both are excellent spots, but will require some planning for a table of 10. These spots, in my view, have some of the most consistent, excellent food in the city. They're interesting, nice spaces. And metro accessible. (Proof was my, "I'm turning 30 meal," significant other edition).

      If you can push the budget, I'd also toss Corduroy on the list. If enough advance time, you could get a great table upstairs. Food is excellent, and good wine selection. It may be slightly easier for a table of 10. But if Bistro Bis is out, so too may be Corduroy. (Corduroy was my, "I'm turning 30 meal," sister edition).

      Finally, if you are of the view that Central and Proof are too pricey for the group, I'd suggest reserving an upstairs table at Bistro du Coin in Dupont. Although I'd certainly recommend Central or Proof first, if you need somewhere "budget," but still has excellent food and a good atmosphere and that will accommodate a large party, Bistro du Coin is terrific. A friend recently had a birthday here and it was great. That said, it isn't turning X0 great.

      I don't quite see Zaytinya for what you describe, as it is a bit loud. Also, unlike Central, Proof, or Corduroy, the conceit at Zaytinya is small plates to be shared with the table. Although this is great if you are with family and friends, I steer away from this concept when with work associates. And Cedar has never struck me as amazing, though I haven't been in some time, so others here may have a more relevant sense.

      Also I recommend 14th St for something more casual. Proof's two sister restaurants -- Estadio and Doi Moi are both great, though neither take reservations. And there are a huge number of other good spots up and down the street that will be enjoyable for a variety of ages.

      1. re: shawington

        Thanks for the suggestions thus far, to all of you.

        I looked at Corduroy, and it did appeal, other than price. Proof was also a bit pricey, but Central is a bit less (I am assuming you all are referring to Central Michel Richard, right?). My major concern is whether they'd be noisy; I called to inquire about space and got a non-committal answer to the question about whether the table could be in a quiet location. (they do have private dining, but I don't want that: it will end up costing more as some of the group won't want a full three course or more meal and will spend less than the per person amount for private dining). and, when I called there was lots of noise in the background, though it was lunch time. Second concern: i didn't see ANY vegetarian options on the Central menu. Has anyone been with a vegetarian? (I figure with a group of ten folks, all from California, that the odds are at least one is vegetarian :-)) More thoughts?

        1. re: susancinsf

          Central will be noisy -- the room I was thinking of is in the back, and I'm sure is what they meant by "private dining." So if you can't get that, you don't want to be in the main part of the restaurant. I also think it's fair to say it isn't particularly vegetarian friendly. So, for those twin reasons, I'd probably scratch Central.

          I do want to emphasize -- particularly given your interest in cheese, wine, & vegetarian options -- I'd very strongly recommend Proof, if there is any way you can work it into the budget. This is a fantastic place for a big bday celebration, wine and cheese are great, and it is an atmosphere that will appeal across the ages. It's been one of my favorite restaurants for years (I'm now 31), and it is one of my parents' favorite spots when they come visit (in their 70s). And I don't think there is much of a material difference in price between Cedar and Proof, either.

          1. re: susancinsf

            Central can get pretty noisy depending on the night and how full they are. They do have a private room though. I love it but you should also be sure it fits your price range.

            In terms of veggie items, if they eat fish there are a lot of options. If not, I would put together a meal from the appetizers, salads and sides. They would be perfectly satisfied with one of the delicious salads (the goat cheese cesar is great) and an order of the decadent mac and cheese.

            1. re: susancinsf

              You know, just a thought, if you've never been to Rasika, don't think you can do better than their food and it's great for vegetarian and would, I think, feel festive and special. But noise could again be a problem. I *think* it's in the price range you're talking about, depending some on how people order.

              It's hard thinking about a good place for a group of ten. At Rasika I did five people once, a couple of whom have hearing problems, which I mentioned on the opentable res, and nobody complained about the noise. In general, probably being seated away from the bar if it's happy hour is a good idea? For example, the Proof happy hour can get loud and crowded, but I'm not sure the rest of the restaurant is like that....

              PS: I'm also wondering about 701, but I've only had drinks there, and it's been a while, so it's not really a recommendation, just a thought.

              Some of the other places people are suggesting will, imo, be more of a hassle to get to via metro (because of switching to red line) if you're worried about herding cats. Not bad, but since you mentioned it as an issue....

              1. re: mselectra

                I think Rasika has a smaller room that you could probably get with a group of 10. It's very good if people are ok with Indian.

        2. Cedar would be a very good choice. In addition, they permit corkage, at $25 per bottle, so if you want to bring some special bottles, you can do so. I always bring wine from my cellar and allow Chef McCloud to design a tasting menu to go with what I bring. I have never been disappointed.

          I celebrated my 60th birthday there, with 8 of us, and had a great time.

          As I noted, they also have a pretty good tasting menu option and they do not require that everyone at the table opt for it in order to take advantage of it. That is good because my son and I usually take that option, and my wife just has an appetizer and entree.

          While places like Proof would also be good, they have a fantastic wine list btw, they are more expensive.

          Depending on what you want spend, I would recommend Palena for the next night. The Cafe is more casual than the dining room, but the food is superb at both. Of course, Palena is a little pricy for a group.

          1. So, one of the group has more ties in DC than I do and had the following comments: She doesn't see Cedar as 'festive' because it is underground. but then, she is half my age. Should I take her perception of the ambiance with a grain of salt?

            She also asked me to throw italian in the mix. Did a quick search on the board and came up with Fiola, but that is definitely out of the price range. Any thoughts on CasaLuca?

            and one final note: I love good cheese selections. Proof appealed for that reason.....

            2 Replies
            1. re: susancinsf

              Cedar is underground and I think it may get underrated for that reason. I don't think it is any less festive than, say, Central. (I will admit I rarely go to Cedar but when I go I am happy.)

              Cedar would certainly be quieter than Central, which I find to be a little loud.

              I agree small plates is awkward with a big work group.

              I had a nice lunch at Woodward Table the other day--might be worth considering. Bibiana is italian and a step down from Fiola, but might still be a little expensive.

              1. re: susancinsf

                As to Casa Luca, since opening, I feel like their prices have crept up significantly. So while it was designed as a more budget option, I don't think it is at this point. I was there a month ago, and our bill exceeded 150 or 175 a couple (and no bottles of wine were ordered, either). I'd put this on par with Proof, Cedar, etc., with respect to cost. Casa Luca in my view is good, but not great. I'd not do this as a big bday celebration dinner.

                Bibiana, by contrast, I think is delightful. So to further that suggestion, if you do go the Italian route, I think Bibiana is the strongest choice among Casa Luca, Fiola (too expensive for you), and Bibiana.

              2. First, there is no reason why you can't stay in Arlington. Think of it as the Left Bank of DC - per the original design.

                The upstairs at Lyon Hall wold work for you. It is an Alsatian restaurant with a big buzz downstairs but the upstairs is not as raucous.

                Go for the 'kraut' garni, the gruyere spaetztle, the short rib frankfurter, carrots with dill, and warm pretzel. Many good things on the menu for all tastes, but it changes often enough that I am not familiar with everything. They make their own goat cheese as well as have very good charcuterie and cheeses. discounts on a few items before 7pm.


                1. Cedar works. I think Bistro D'Oc (upstairs near the fireplace) might be a good french bistro spot to check out and should fit all appetites. It's also walking distance to Metro Center.

                  Another place to consider would be Hank's Oyster Bar. See if they can sit you in the private room upstairs near the bar. Walking distance to Dupont Circle metro.

                  Also Ardeo might be a good fit for this group. You can likely get a quieter table upstairs. There is a lot to choose from for different dietary restrictions and it's right near the Cleveland Park metro.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Elyssa

                    I booked a table for 10 once upstairs at Ardeo (jeez 10 years ago? really? 10? YEARS?) for a diverse group, omnivores, vegetarians, pescetarians, people with certain religious restrictions, everyone seemed happy.

                    I dunno. Firefly? I've only had apps there but have always liked it.

                    1. re: hill food

                      I've had dinner at Firefly, though it has been a few years. Indeed, I found my old post:


                      Looking back, i can't remember the food at all, although I can remember that I liked the drinks, but I do remember the ambiance as being more casual, and not quite as celebratory, as I would like for this meal.