Twice a year, fanny-pack clad tourists, preppy Hill staffers, and suited lobbyists alike await the DC Restaurant Week list as if it will be some heaven-sent, foodgasmic miracle, powerful enough to even make Tommy Lee Jones laugh at Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Yet like every new MGMT album that promises to be different from the last one, most generally end up still disappointed; waiting in lines, not checking the fixed menus before they arrive, or having a very awkward date over extremely overrated tacos (I’m talking to you Bandolero – kidding…sort of).
Thankfully you decided to stop looking at Taylor Swift eye-roll memes long enough for me to help you navigate DC Restaurant Week. Below are my tips to help avoid, or at least mitigate a painful experience, as well as some of my recommendations on where to dine.
Don’t just go somewhere because it’s Restaurant Week. If you’re allergic to shellfish, you’re not going to Uncle Jimmy’s House of Mussels when it’s not Restaurant Week, so if you don’t like French food, don’t go to Bistro Lepic just because you can shave a few dollars off your meal.
Do your homework. You’d never go into a Hill meeting without Googling, Facebooking, and otherwise legally stalking the crap out of the other person first – so don’t go to a restaurant without checking out their Restaurant Week menu online first. They may only offer things you think are icky.
Be prepared to wait. Yes, it’s Restaurant Week. No, discovering that early-on and the fact that you’ve been here before doesn’t mean you won’t have to wait. Go early, sit at the bar, and try not to be annoying (no one cares why your boss didn’t vote for John Boehner for Speaker).
Go with a large group. Restaurant Week is the absolute perfect time to go somewhere with a large group for several reasons. First, 90 percent of the restaurant is ordering from the fixed menu. There’s basically an army of kitchen staff who have been cooking and plating the same three entrees for the past four days. Your food is likely to be on time, hot, and the order correct. Second, there are dozens of people at the same time as you seeking a two-top or a four-top. Get creative. Go with five or more people, as it’s likely easier to get seated on time. And last, but not least, it’s a fixed price meal which means splitting the tab is as easy as throwing the cards in a pile. This also means you can order a few bottles of decent wine for the table, and assuming everyone is drinking at the same pace, you’ll likely leave full, feeling happy, happy, happy, and not too broke.
Below are a few places that stood out based on my experiences there, and if the Restaurant Week menu is available, I ordered for you. You’re welcome.
Acadiana (lunch: BLT salad and oyster po’ boy; dinner: turtle soup, crawfish Étouffée, and key lime pie),
Belga Café (lunch: salmon cake; dinner: lamb Navarin),
Bistro Lepic & Wine Bar (lunch: pate or black mushroom risotto, and duck, or calf’s’ liver; dinner: salmon tartare or onion tart, and organic chicken with curry or beef medalions),
BlackSalt, (lunch only, menu not yet available),
Café du Parc (dinner only: pork rillettes, Australian lamb, and beignets),
District Commons (lunch: mixed greens salad, brick-pressed chicken; dinner: seafood chowder, pork-rack chop, and banana chocolate cake),
Elisir (menu not available),
Graffiato (lunch: red beets, Jersey Shore, and beet cheesecake; dinner: arancini, roasted prawns, potato gnocchi, and apple crostata),
La Chaumiere (lunch: fish soup or boudin blanc, roasted Cornish hen or calf’s liver, poached pear; dinner: chicken liver mousse or Caesar salad, salmon puff pastry or veal stew, profiteroles),
Mintwood Place (dinner only: pay the extra $5 for maple pork cracklins or deviled eggs, grilled beef heart or octopus salad, five grain risotto or salmon, key lime pie),
Oyamel (lunch: baby catus salad, crispy Brussels sprouts, BBQ pork tacos, sweet potato flan; dinner: ceviche, tortilla soup, braised short ribs, shredded beef tacos, tres leches),
The Pig (crispy pig ears, croquet-madame, Cuban pork salad, braised cheeks, or boar ragu – desserts not listed),
Rasika (menu not available),
SEI (menu not available),
Vinoteca (dinner only: wild arugula, black angus, sweet potato and banana terrine),
Woodward Table (menu not available),
Zaytinya (lunch: kale salad, grille chicken thigh, sautéed dill shrimp, and Greek yogurt and apricots; dinner: hommus, seared salmon, beef meatballs, sea scallops, and walnut ice cream).
This is just a small sample of some of my favorite restaurants on the DC Restaurant Week list, and a few of the dishes I have had and thoroughly enjoyed. You can find the menus and reservations links from their site.
Good luck, and don’t order anything with truffle oil on it. Ever.