Where to Eat in Washington, D.C. During the Inauguration Slideshow
January 10, 2013
6. Palena Café
Palena is known as much for the cheeseburger on the cafémenu as for the more elegant, seasonally driven food that is served in the dining room. After a stint as the White House chef, it was an interesting move for chef-restaurateur Frank Ruta to set his restaurant in Cleveland Park, far away from the glitzy, lobbyist-packed K Street dining scene. Though the restaurant’s dining room offers sophisticated menu items like Amish poussin, the café really shines as a low-key neighborhood spot, turning out a simple roast chicken from the wood-fired oven and homey pasta dishes like spaghetti with fingerling potatoes, pesto, and garden beans.
5. Ben’s Chili Bowl
The celebrity (and presidential) photos on the wall are clear indications of Ben's Chili Bowl's city landmark status, but the continuous lines out the door (and its election to The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in America 2012 list) are evidence that the restaurant's chili cheese dogs are some of the best in the country. But those in the know don’t just order "dogs," they get the half-smokes, a half-pork, half-beef smoked sausage, which is a native D.C. specialty supposedly invented by Ben Ali, the original proprietor, whose sons took over the restaurant after his death. As the U Street Corridor/Shaw neighborhood around it has gentrified and become trendy, it's a more than 50-year-old bastion of down-home D.C. where college kids, old-timers, and celebrities are all welcome as long as they're willing to stand in line like everybody else, though the president eats for free.
4. Blue Duck Tavern
In October 2009, President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary at the Blue Duck Tavern at the Park Hyatt, which features an open kitchen, a wood-burning oven, and Washington, D.C.'s first commercial Molteni range — in blue lacquer, no less. Chef Sebastien Archambault, who has worked with Alain Ducasse and Guy Savoy, among others, and chef de cuisine John Melfi put it to good use by slow roasting about three-quarters of the dishes on their menu. Roasted bone marrow with red wine apple butter; Muscovy duck breast with pumpkin relish; and Wagyu culotte of beef with red wine braised shallots are among the offerings, and there is first-rate apple pie among the desserts.
Eric Ziebold, CityZen at Mandarin Oriental’s James Beard Award-winning executive chef, gets the diner's attention right away with his Parker House rolls, a puff of melt-in-your-mouth buttery dough, baked fresh during every dinner service. Highlights from Ziebold's tasting menus include pan-seared Washington state sturgeon with stuffed endive, sunchoke pudding, and crispy sunchoke flakes, and CityZen pork and foie gras boudin blanc with braised quince, baby leeks, Darden ham, and hyssop-red wine gastrique. For dessert, sample a sweet treat from executive pastry chef Matthew Petterson, who was voted "Fan Favorite" on the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. His sweet treats include Path Valley heirloom sweet potato pie with Swiss meringue, cinnamon anglaise, and butter pecan ice cream, and Valrhona chocolate brioche with roasted white chocolate and whole milk ice cream.
Yelp / Jocelyn O
After a summer hiatus that saw the closure of America Eats Tavern, his experiment in historical American food, José Andrés has reopened minibar with a culinary vengeance. To wit: reservations are now taken via email, and the price of admission to Andrés’ multicourse, progressive tasting menu of diminutive single-, two-, and three-bite dishes has jumped from $150 to a much more prohibitive $225 without wine pairings. "Minibar is my nerve center. It’s where everything begins," said Andrés. "It is a place of collaboration, of creativity, of love. Here we honor the past and traditions and translate that into ideas for our future."
In keeping with his image as this country’s unofficial culinary ambassador of Spanish cuisine, chef Andrés hired Spanish architect and designer Juli Capella as well as local Washington, D.C. firm CORE to help construct a destination both inventive and inviting enough to match Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup’s aspirations. Those aspirations are exceeded in the dining room, where guests can delve into more than 20 courses, including surprising tastes such as olive oil soup with mandarin, beech mushroom risotto with truffle, and smoked oyster escabeche.
1. The Inn at Little Washington
Patrick O'Connell, self-taught as a chef, opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a garage in a little town in Washington, Va., about an hour's drive from D.C. He formed alliances with local farmers and artisanal producers long before it was fashionable, and developed into a sophisticated modern American chef of the highest order. His partnership with The Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for this Five Diamond Award-winning property has continued.