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Grilled Ham and Chimay Cheese Sandwiches with Caramelized Belgian Endive Recipe

Grilled Ham and Chimay Cheese Sandwiches with Caramelized Belgian Endive Recipe

Ingredients

Endive

  • 4 heads of Belgian endive, root ends trimmed and discarded, leaves separated
  • 1/2 cup Belgian white beer (such as Hoegaarden)

Sandwiches

  • 8 5x3x1/2-inch slices country-style bread
  • 8 thin slices country ham or prosciutto (about 8 ounces total)
  • 8 ounces Belgian Chimay 'à La Bière' cheese or German Temptin cheese, thinly sliced
  • Whole grain brown mustard or whole grain Dijon mustard

Recipe Preparation

ENDIVE

  • Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add endive leaves and sauté until almost translucent and beginning to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle sugar over and sauté until endive leaves begin to brown and edges are deep golden brown, stirring often, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beer and orange juice and boil until liquid is reduced to thick glaze and coats endive leaves, 3 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let cool to room temperature.

SANDWICHES

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Arrange bread on baking sheet. Spread 1 side of each bread slice lightly with butter. Turn 4 bread slices over, buttered side down. Divide ham and cheese among plain sides of 4 bread slices. Top with remaining bread slices, buttered side up.

  • Heat large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 sandwiches to skillet and cook until brown on bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer sandwiches to same baking sheet, browned side up. Repeat with remaining 2 sandwiches. Bake in oven until sandwiches are brown on bottom and cheese melts, about 5 minutes.

  • Place 1 sandwich on each of 4 plates. Spoon endive, 2 pickles, and mustard alongside each and serve.

Recipe by Mathieu Palombino

Nutritional Content

1 serving contains the following: Calories (kcal) 536.3 %Calories from Fat 56.9 Fat (g) 34.0 Saturated Fat (g) 14.7 Cholesterol (mg) 109.3 Carbohydrates (g) 27.4 Dietary Fiber (g) 4.3 Total Sugars (g) 6.9 Net Carbs (g) 23.1 Protein (g) 32.0Reviews Section

D.c. food rag

It’s funny how something as simple as a piece of grilled salmon, if done right, can be so memorable.

Chef Patrice Olivon, one of my instructors from L’Academie de Cuisine, believes this mantra should be every fine-dining restaurant’s recipe to success – never serve the customer more than they can eat. The diner should not leave hungry, rather, they should leave wanting to have the same dish all over again. Finishing a dish and thinking, I really want a few more bites of that is much more satisfying than thinking, someone put me out of my misery!

A few weeks ago, I visited Palena Café (pictured, right) in Cleveland Park for the first time. The café offers an a la carte menu, instead of the main dining room’s pre-fixe menu. The cafe menu offers a selection of pastas, wood-fired oven and grill entrees.

I ordered the grill frittes Wild Alaskan King Salmon, cooked medium rare. The salmon came with a salad to start, and was accompanied by shoestring frites and a balsamic anchovy vinaigrette.

I have never in the past ordered my salmon medium rare, mostly because I was unaware I had the option of doing so. However, working at Cashion’s has shown me when dealing with high-quality cuts of wild salmon, there is no better way to enjoy it. A slightly translucent center helps to keep the fish moist and flavorful.

When my food arrived, I was immediately offset by the fist-sized portion of salmon on my plate. My only thought – this better be perfect.

The medium rare center, the grill char on top of the fish and its vibrant, fresh flavor all pointed to perfection. I took my time, making sure to savor each and every bite. I especially liked the balsamic anchovy vinaigrette that was drizzled
around the plate. It gave the dish a hint of acidity that contrasted nicely with the flavor of the salmon.

Although I strongly believe in Chef Patrice’s words, I admit that I don’t always abide by them. Occasionally when I go out to eat, I go out to eat. That’s why stuff-your-face establishments such as Fogo de Chao and The Cheesecake Factory exist. Call me a hypocrite, but sometimes I just want an unnecessarily gigantic plate of food.

Restaurants such as Fogo de Chao and The Cheesecake Factory will probably never be respected as fine dining establishments, but I guess they do fulfill a certain, if not primal, need – the need to feed (Nice rhyme, right?). Sometimes this is great, but other times, this can go horribly wrong. Every time I pass a Fogo de Chao, I remember the only time I have ever been, and the hours I spent in the fetal position afterwards, so full from all of that damned meat they dump onto your plate.

Even so, the example of Palena shows the validity of Chef Patrice’s words– I was full enough when I finished my salmon, but I still wished I could experience its flavors all over again. I have thought about this piece of fish often since I ate it, wanting to return to Palena to order it again. Or, if I could somehow install a restaurant-quality grill inside my tiny apartment, to recreate that char-grilled flavor myself.


Washingtonian’s 100 Best Restaurants

Let the conversation begin: It&rsquos simply not possible to put together a list of the 100 best restaurants and please everyone.

This list was a year in the making. Just days after wrapping up the last survey, we wiped the slate clean (nobody in the top 100 has a sinecure) and started over, combing the region in search of deliciousness&mdashfeasting on foie gras, munching on pizza. More than 350 diner&rsquos report cards and some added pounds later, we came up with what we believe to be the area&rsquos 100 best right now.

What were we looking for? Not just good cooking but memorable cooking that communicates a sense of place or personal expression. Not just good service&mdashis the server there when needed?&mdashbut the feeling of being pampered.

Decor? Ambience? They&rsquore not as important as some might think. Ambience can enhance an experience, but in our book it&rsquos no substitute for really good dining.

So here&rsquos to a new year of memorable meals. May our list be a trusty companion on your dining-out excursions, and may you find deliciousness wherever you go.

100. 3 Bar & Grill ★★

2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington 703-524-4440

Cuisine: Brian Robinson oversees an appealing roster of upmarket pub grub (chips with house-cured bacon, mussels steamed in beer) and rib-sticking Southern staples (collard greens, scallops with grits and ham). The cooking is more sophisticated than it reads, but the owners&mdashwho also operate the popular bar Whitlow&rsquos on Wilson down the block&mdashkeep the mood loose.

Mood: Clarendon/Courthouse yuppies flock to the Art Deco&ndashaccented dining room for comfort food in a dressed-up setting.

Best for: A filling meal on a budget drinks and appetizers on the patio.

Best dishes: Fried oysters with cornmeal crust shredded duck with pickled cucumbers, bourbon molasses, and lettuce leaves for rolling (Vietnam meets the American South) chicken and waffles pork shank in a smoky stew of beans and chickpeas Hawaiian malasada doughnuts with dark-chocolate/coffee dipping sauce.

Insider tips: In winter, ask to sit in the ski-lodge-like room with a fireplace in summer, the patio is the place to be. There&rsquos a good weekday lunch deal: a soft drink and daily special for $10.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

99. Bibiana ★★

1100 New York Ave., NW 202-216-9550

Cuisine: Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj&mdashhaving tried his hand at Modern American, cutting-edge American, traditional Indian, and Indian fusion&mdashindulges his passion for Italian cooking with this elegant restaurant on the edge of Penn Quarter. His chef is Nicholas Stefanelli, most recently of Mio, who oversees a menu of salads, pastas, pizzas, and main courses and manages to balance the needs of his well-traveled diners for lightness with his desire to tweak tradition.

Mood: It&rsquos no looker&mdashfrom the garish appointments to the unrelenting tones of brown, the dining room seems to have been outfitted by the sort of furniture stores that supply the area&rsquos McMansions. The early crowds&mdasha mix of tourists, curiosity seekers, and diners with billable hours&mdashdon&rsquot appear to mind and have given the place the buzz of a play on opening night.

Best for: A client dinner.

Best dishes: Oysters with lemon emulsion tender veal meatballs with marinara crisp-crusted pizza for one, capped with a runny egg and strips of lardo braised veal cheeks with white polenta, wild mushrooms, and hazelnuts a thick twirl of squid-ink spaghetti with good crabmeat chocolate bomba, a half-moon of ganache-draped chocolate mousse with a hazelnut-mousse center a superb tiramisu.

Insider tips: The lounge offers a brief menu of small plates and pizza from 2:30 to 5:30 on weekdays.

Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

2007 14th St., NW 202-797-7171

Cuisine: Late in life, soul legend and DC native Marvin Gaye found redemption in Ostend, Belgium, where he wrote his classic &ldquoSexual Healing.&rdquo This upscale U Street tavern pays homage to Gaye&rsquos beginning and end, combining the robustness of Belgian cooking with the directness of upscale soul food. The result? Pub grub of surprising finesse and power.

Mood: A large portrait of Gaye dominates the dimly lit dining room, which feels both cozy and festive.

Best for: Hearty food before a night of U Street revelry Belgian-beer enthusiasts an early weeknight dinner.

Best dishes: Seared foie gras over caramelized onions sea scallops with braised leeks Niçoise salad with ahi tuna coconut-curry mussels or wine-and-shallot meunière mussels, both of which come with fries and three dipping sauces chicken and waffles atop braised greens seared halibut in beurre blanc bacon-topped burger on a brioche bun.

Insider tips: Reservations can be hard to come by on weekends. The inside bar upstairs can be noisy the partially covered deck is great. Desserts remain the weak spot&mdashif your sweet tooth beckons, head around the corner to Ben&rsquos Chili Bowl for a post-meal milkshake.

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

97. Pete&rsquos New Haven Style Apizza ★★

1400 Irving St., NW 202-332-7383

Cuisine: The best pizza in DC. The New Haven&ndashstyle pies sport wonderfully thin crusts&mdashcrunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside&mdashand spare, well-chosen toppings. Quality comes at a price: Whole pizzas are all one size&mdash18 inches&mdashand start at $19. Given how good the pies are, it&rsquos easy to forget there are other options here, too, with pasta (spaghetti and meatballs), panini (a riff on an Italian sub), and seasonal antipasti (recently, sweet potatoes with cranberries).

Mood: Though slicker than most order-at-the-counter pizza shops&mdashthere are beautiful photographs of Italian street life, and food comes on ceramic plates&mdashthe space is refreshingly unpretentious and welcoming. Peak dinner hours bring a crush of families, shoppers, and hipsters in search of good pizza.

Best for: A post-shopping slice dinner with a group.

Best dishes: Glorious, calzone-like Sorbillo&rsquos, a turnover of soft dough stuffed with salty ricotta and cubed salumi garlicky white-clam pie a salt lover&rsquos pie with anchovies, olives, and capers a changing selection of antipasti, which has included black lentils with pickled celery root and bacon, fingerling-potato confit with anchovy dressing, and roasted beets with walnuts and Gorgonzola.

Insider tips: There&rsquos now delivery in a limited zone that includes neighborhoods north of Dupont Circle to Brightwood, and pizza arrives in tip-top shape. For added crispness, you can reheat slices in a hot, non-oiled sauté pan for a minute or two. At happy hour, Monday through Friday 4 to 6:30, a pint of Moretti beer and a slice of cheese pizza are $5.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

96. Acadiana ★★

901 New York Ave., NW 202-408-8848

Cuisine: The buttery biscuits that land on the table at the start of every meal amount to a declaration: This is no place for calorie counters. And it only gets better&mdashor worse&mdashfrom there. Jeff Tunks has fashioned a rich excursion into down-home &ldquoLooziana&rdquo cooking, from New Orleans&ndashstyle barbecue shrimp to classic seafood gumbo to oyster po&rsquo boys. If the menu says something is served with warm French bread, chances are there&rsquos a buttery sauce to be mopped up with it.

Mood: For all the decadence, the dining room is almost matronly&mdashwith tall, tapestried booths, oversize chandeliers, and decorative urns. But that hasn&rsquot kept it from becoming a power spot.

Best for: Louisiana expats and anyone who craves Mardi Gras&ndashlike decadence and traditional Louisiana cocktails&mdashwith all the customary kick.

Best dishes: Trio of deviled eggs with toppings such as ham, crab, and shrimp seafood gumbo roast duck over smoky greens barbecue shrimp shrimp and oyster po&rsquo boys (lunch only) chocolate doberge cake Pimm&rsquos Cup cocktail.

Insider tips: Deals here include a $29 three-course pre-theater menu from 5:30 to 6:30 daily, half-price wines on Sunday, and bar specials on drinks and nibbles during happy hours and Sunday football games.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

95. Equinox ★★

818 Connecticut Ave., NW 202-331-8118

Cuisine: Local-eating pioneer Todd Gray crafts carefully chosen ingredients into dishes that honor Italy and France and sometimes the Chesapeake. When the kitchen is on, it can be very good, but basic mistakes (gritty scallops, cold entrées) can get in the way of Gray&rsquos vision. Former Maestro pastry chef Tom Wellings recently joined the kitchen, and his desserts are a highlight.

Mood: There are plenty of big-spending regulars schmoozing away&mdashoften with Gray, who makes the dining-room rounds&mdashat this serene power haunt near the White House. (The Obamas dined there just before the inauguration.) The front dining room is a see-and-be-seen fishbowl the taupe-painted back room is more date-friendly and low-key.

Best for: Lunchtime dealmaking expense-account dinners.

Best dishes: A potted spread of rich foie gras slicked with quince gelée cobia, a meaty white fish, with creamy grits and spinach grilled beef strip loin in sweet Cabernet jus with a day-braised short rib a cast-iron pot of truffled mac and cheese ultra-light ricotta fritters a layered panna cotta with foamed cider and sautéed apples.

Insider tips: Gray was trained at DC&rsquos Galileo, and he excels at dishes bearing an Italian bent. He&rsquos also skilled at regional classics&mdashnobody does summer soft-shells as well as he does.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

94. Et Voila! ★★

5120 MacArthur Blvd., NW 202-237-2300

Cuisine: Sturdy Belgian bistro classics, generous pours from French boutique wineries, a well-chosen Belgian beer roster, and a short menu of wonderful desserts&mdashmany of them centered around Callebaut chocolate&mdashmake chef/owners Claudio Pirollo and Mickael Cornu&rsquos restaurant one that would be welcome in any neighborhood.

Mood: The modish space could fit right into the bustling bistro scene in Brussels&mdashivory and orange walls and clear wall panels embedded with grasses and leaves.

Best for: A relaxed meal with friends or a significant other.

Best dishes: Any of the carefully dressed salads, but especially the chopped endive with Chimay cheese and pecans silken gravlax with crème fraîche and a wedge of olive-oil pancake a robust carbonnade à la flamande (a kind of beef stew) spiked with dark beer a flavorful organic Meyer-beef burger with Chimay and bacon crisp golden fries a standout chocolate mousse Belgian waffle with poached pear and dark chocolate.

Insider tips: As good as many plates are, there are some disappointments&mdashthe hanger steak and moules with garlic and white wine being two. The owners recently introduced a menu of savory and sweet crepes at brunch, and the early results are promising we like a version with ham, cheese, and egg.

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

Cuisine: At this Penn Quarter newcomer, chef Andrew Kitko&rsquos Modern American menu offers just a handful of appetizers and entrées, forgoing the chance to dazzle diners with elaborate dish descriptions and instead emphasizing his commitment to execution. Simple though his dishes are, many are elevated by house-made touches such as duck bacon and pickled figs.

Mood: The contemporary dining room evokes the Pacific Northwest with wood-trimmed walls and photos of giant cedars. A friendly staff and soft lighting keep the small, subterranean dining room from feeling like a basement.

Best for: Happy hour, when there are $5 deals on beer, wine, and cocktails brunch an after-work dinner with office pals.

Best dishes: Creamy oyster pan roast with leeks and Jerusalem artichokes beet salad with pickled figs and goat-cheese fondue pork-belly BLT (lunch and brunch) and smoked-salmon eggs Benedict (brunch) poached lobster atop a sort of deconstructed clam chowder filet mignon with potato-porcini gratin and roasted carrots trumpet mushrooms and poached egg over lentils pumpkin-pecan tart apple-almond brown-butter cake Red Burro cocktail with ginger beer and blackberry purée.

Insider tips: The bar is small, but the bartenders are friendly and eager to whip up special requests.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for brunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch. Expensive.

4917 Cordell Ave., Bethesda 301-951-3484

Cuisine: Subtle spicing and assured cooking&mdashfrom vegetable stews to open-faced meat-and-leek-filled dumplings&mdashset a high standard for the area&rsquos Afghan restaurants.

Mood: Afghan textiles and rugs give the white-walled space a gallery-like feel, but when tables fills up, conversation can get lively, transforming one of Bethesda&rsquos most intimate hideaways into a convivial party.

Best for: Families and groups who enjoy sharing vegetarians.

Best dishes: Fried appetizer pastries such as bulanee (with leeks) and sambosa (with meat and chickpeas) open-faced dumplings known as mantu (with meat) and aushak (with scallions), blanketed with creamy yogurt and meat sauce quabili pallow, a fragrant heap of brown basmati rice studded with carrots, raisins, and braised lamb stewed pumpkin with yogurt sauce melting eggplant spinach with onion and garlic.

Insider tips: Several dishes are finished with dabs of tomatoey meat sauce and yogurt, which can make for a meal of redundancies mix it up when ordering. Desserts are not a high point.

Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Inexpensive.

91. Heritage India ★★

2400 Wisconsin Ave., NW 202-333-3120

Cuisine: Opulent Indian. The curries are lush, the flatbreads are hot and flaky, and dishes seldom seen at quick-serve joints that gloss over the subtlety and variety of this complex cooking find their way into the mix.

Mood: With carved wooden screens, British Colonial furnishings, and vintage sepia photos of Indian princes, the main dining room channels the days of the Raj.

Best for: A communal meal with a group, the better to order widely and experience the myriad styles of Indian cooking a romantic dinner a vegetarian meal full of conviction.

Best dishes: Bhel puri, an Indian-style salad with puffed rice, chickpea vermicelli, cilantro, shallots, and sweet-and-sour chutney eggplant in a velvety sesame-cashew sauce black lentils elevated to star status with cream and butter yakhani gosht, a Kashmiri lamb stew with yogurt and saffron prawns in green-pepper sauce a ginger-shot sag paneer, the classic cheese-and-spinach dish first-rate flatbreads.

Insider tips: While service is friendlier than in the past, the restaurant sometimes seems short-staffed, a situation that&rsquos underscored when it&rsquos crowded. Ask for a table in the dining room overlooking Wisconsin Avenue, preferably by the window.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

90. Assaggi ★★

4838 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda 301-951-1988

Cuisine: The mozzarella bar might intrigue curiosity seekers, but the real draw is chef/owner Domenico Cornacchia&rsquos cooking. It pulls from many regions of his homeland but rings truest when he draws from the stick-to-your-ribs, tomato-based dishes of central Italy. And he&rsquos a whiz with pasta.

Mood: The open dining room channels the buzz of a DC hot spot, right down to the glimpse of the chef intently finishing dishes in the open kitchen.

Best for: A family-style meal for groups who like to share&mdashthe staff is happy to bring plenty of plates.

Best dishes: Burrata cheese with condiments of pesto eggplant, tomato marmalade, and roasted red peppers salumi fritto misto tiny clams in a broth with toasted Israeli-couscous-like pasta a vinegary kale-and-escarole salad gnocchi topped with veal-short-rib ragu and pungent caciocavallo-cheese sauce pasta with blue crab and spicy tomato sauce zeppole, sugared batons of fried dough with zabaglione dip raspberry-and-white-chocolate cake.

Insider tips: Specials include a $14 two-course lunch and a 15-percent discount on dinner checks daily between 4 and 6.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

89. Montmartre ★★

327 Seventh St., SE 202-544-1244

Cuisine: Mussels, steak frites, country pâté&mdashrear-guard staples of the Parisian bistro scene&mdashdominate the menu at this likable, dependable Eastern Market hot spot, but there&rsquos an occasional nontraditional special or two.

Mood: A loud, clangy place that packs customers in so tightly you could pluck a fry off your neighbor&rsquos table. In other words, a real bistro where you&rsquoll find Le Chat Noir posters, not a celebrity chef.

Best for: A budget date a raucous, wine-soaked dinner with friends.

Best dishes: Mussels with chorizo or shallots and cream duck pâté with Armagnac (a special) braised rabbit with buttery linguine hanger steak in a richly reduced red-wine sauce floating island, a meringue surrounded by crème anglaise crème brûlée fruit tarts.

Insider tips: Brunch, so often an afterthought, gets respect here.

Open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

88. Art and Soul ★★

Liaison Capitol Hill, 415 New Jersey Ave., NW 202-393-7777

Cuisine: Chicago celebrity chef Art Smith&mdashformerly of Oprah Winfrey&rsquos home kitchen&mdashand his local deputy, Travis Timberlake, serve up feel-good food. Their renditions of classic Southern fare are both gussied up (an oyster po&rsquo boy turned into a hoecake) and faithful (simple fried chicken with white gravy).

Mood: It might look like a retro-chandeliered hotel restaurant (and you&rsquoll see many a rolling suitcase) but looming portraits of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dwight Eisenhower&mdashand perhaps a Nancy Pelosi sighting&mdashremind you that you&rsquore dining just steps from the seat of power.

Best for: A crowd-pleasing dinner with a big group a gut-busting power lunch snacking at the bar weekend brunch (oh, the lemon pancakes).

Best dishes: Chesapeake Bay fry, a Southern take on fritto misto with oysters, hushpuppies, okra, and shrimp arugula salad with blackberry vinaigrette and watermelon pickles hoecakes (pancake-like rounds made with cornmeal) topped with either fried oysters and rémoulade, apples and blue cheese, or pulled pork and slaw a wedge of buttery-crusted onion pie slathered with goat cheese lunchtime fried chicken, boneless and wonderfully juicy pecan-crusted chicken crisply fried trout drizzled with rhubarb vinaigrette spiced quince trifle &ldquobaby cakes,&rdquo an ever-changing quintet of mini cupcakes.

Insider tips: A budget-friendly Sunday supper features the fried chicken plus two sides for $18.

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Expensive.

87. Grapeseed ★★

4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda 301-986-9592

Cuisine: This wine bar/restaurant pairs whimsical-but-not-cutesy fare with sips from around the globe. The nearly 500 wines, $6 to $20 by the glass, are also available in inexpensive tasting portions.

Mood: Although there&rsquos plenty of goblet swirling and chatter about the subtleties of, say, the cellar&rsquos 37 Pinot Noirs, the blond-wood restaurant doesn&rsquot feel pretentious. One category on the wine list is &ldquokinda sweet, sorta dry.&rdquo

Best for: Wine flights with friends casual dates that still feel special.

Best dishes: Roasted piquillo pepper oozing goat cheese fried oysters swabbed in bacony beurre blanc ultra-rich mushroom fricassee sauté of calamari with chorizo and lemon lobster in spicy-sweet Vietnamese-style caramel sauce roasted balsamic chicken.

Insider tips: Lunch specials abound. Tuesday through Friday there are three $6 shrimp specials plus a special of $12 for two courses chosen from the regular menu.

Open Monday and Saturday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner. Expensive.

86. Circle Bistro ★★

1 Washington Cir., NW 202-293-5390

Cuisine: After a rocky year, the kitchen seems to have stabilized with the arrival of Ethan McKee, a veteran of Equinox and Rock Creek at Mazza, whose French- and Mediterranean-influenced American menu runs to plates such as wild Alaskan halibut with chorizo, Swiss chard, and saffron butter.

Mood: Deciding where to sit can be hard. Will it be the teeming lounge, where you can nibble on snacks such as fries with fines herbes mayonnaise, or the conversation-friendly dining room done in shades of orange, yellow, and cream?

Best for: The Kennedy Center&ndashbound&mdashthere&rsquos a $35, three-course pre-theater meal from 5 to 7.

Best dishes: Crisp potato-crusted oysters with bacon-chive crème fraîche roasted-beet salad with arugula and walnut vinaigrette lamb rib eye with ratatouille and olive tapenade duck with celery root, spinach, crispy leeks, and orange a deconstructed brownie sundae including a dense, fudgy wedge of cake, house-made espresso ice cream, and candied walnuts.

Insider tips: There are lots of deals, including half-price cocktails, beer, and wine at the bar Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 7:30 and free bottomless mimosas at Sunday brunch.

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for breakfast and dinner, Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

85. Villa Mozart ★★

4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax 703-691-4747

Cuisine: Chef/owner Andrea Pace anchors his dishes with familiar Northern Italian flavors&mdashprosciutto with melon, eggplant lasagna&mdashbut elevates them with unexpected accents. When he&rsquos successful, which is often enough (chocolate pappardelle with wild boar), the result feels fresh when he&rsquos not (a caprese salad with buffalo-milk foam), it feels forced.

Mood: Long on charm, this cozy but contemporary townhouse is a prime destination for date nights. Each table is adorned with fresh red roses, and the Italian arias soaring through the dining room set the mood for an evening of romance.

Best for: An old-fashioned date.

Best dishes: Wide bands of smoked prosciutto sharing the plate with hemispheres of sweet cantaloupe coins of eggplant and zucchini stacked with pungent Taleggio a dressed-up &ldquomeat and potatoes&rdquo with lamb two ways (roasted shoulder, grilled rack) and a cube of potato mille foglie delicately poached halibut filet in a comforting but light mushroom-based broth with white beans and artichokes chocolate soufflé, cracked and filled with Grand Marnier sauce at the table.

Insider tips: The wine list is small, but the corkage fee for bringing your own bottle is just $25&mdashcheaper than almost anything else on the menu.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

12 Dock St., Annapolis 410-990-9888

Cuisine: Bob Kinkead calls his Annapolis waterfront operation Kinkead Lite&mdasha more casual, streamlined, and affordable version of his DC seafood emporium. The kitchen early on was a work in progress but has found its groove. Portions are bigger, execution is tighter, and the familiar-looking plates of mussels, oysters, lobster rolls, and smothered fish are now worthy of the Kinkead name.

Mood: The redeeming feature of the bland space, which for years housed Phillips Seafood, is the gorgeous view of the Annapolis harbor&mdashseats along the glass windows fill up fast.

Best for: That rarest of dining-out pleasures&mdasha good meal with a view.

Best dishes: Sweet mussels in green Thai curry with diced squash an ever-changing roster of oysters on the half shell plump, minimally bound crabcakes cornmeal-crusted flounder in a creamy sauce garnished with tasso ham, mushroom matchsticks, and baby shrimp swordfish steak with confit of basil-draped baby tomatoes excellent seasonal tarts (peach in summer, pear in fall, apple in winter) elegant, Eastern Shore&ndashstyle caramel layer cake.

Insider tips: Think seafood calls exclusively for white wine? Think again: The important thing is to complement the sauce or accompaniment, and the embellishments for Kinkead&rsquos seafood are generally big and bold-flavored. Accordingly, there are red-wine by-the-glass picks that pair well with the restaurant&rsquos catches of the day, including a rosé made from Malbec. And servers will pour a taste of any by-the-glass wine.

Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Expensive.

83. Passage to India ★★

4931 Cordell Ave., Bethesda 301-656-3373

Cuisine: Chef/owner Sudhir Seth tackles his native India&rsquos every culinary corner on his menu, which ranges far beyond commonplace curries and tandoori meats. With an impressive level of accuracy and consistency, he conveys the flavors of not just the familiar north (with its reliance on kebabs) and south (with its breads and veggie stews) but also the east and west.

Mood: The low-lit dining room, with elaborate wood carvings and photographs of Indian palaces, is a throwback in an age of clean-lined, bustling spaces: quiet, serious, almost serene. Waiters in jackets and bow ties tend to their tables with a military-like precision.

Best for: Anyone willing to venture beyond the safe ground of butter chicken anyone seeking an oasis of calm to dine in.

Best dishes: Sev-murmura chaat, a mash-up of puffed rice, vermicelli, and dates, sweetened with tamarind a potato-stuffed samosa dressed up with chickpeas and yogurt juicy, thin slices of lamb cooked in the tandoor oven shrimp in a coconut-based curry with coriander and garlic a marvelous pickle plate a dessert of fresh mango peeking out from a blanket of cardamom-spiked yogurt.

Insider tips: If you want to sample some of Seth&rsquos complex and layered cooking but are on a budget, come at lunchtime. Main courses arrive with a side of lentils, rice, and a salad&mdashall for about $10.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

82. Jackie&rsquos ★★

8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring 301-565-9700

Cuisine: If restaurants were people, this would be the hearty partyer who hunkers down with Wittgenstein in his spare time: playful but with a serious side. That side&mdashevident in the fine stemware, thoughtfully composed salads, and detailed riffs on American comfort food&mdashtransforms what otherwise might be a convivial night of fun into a minor gastronomic outing.

Mood: The dining room&mdashall exposed beams, dangling light bulbs, hot-pink pillows, and sculpted plastic chairs&mdashis a masterpiece of retro chic. It&rsquos framed by a bar with a drop-down projection-screen TV and an open kitchen, and it crackles with an energy rare in fine dining.

Best for: Dining out without getting dolled up&mdashor having to leave the kids at home.

Best dishes: Butter lettuce with anchovy dressing and aged sheep&rsquos-milk cheese Prince Edward Island mussels in a Madras curry broth with lime jelly and cilantro pan-seared swordfish with shrimp butter pimiento-topped &ldquoElvis&rdquo burger Hudson Valley duck leg with duck sausage a roast of braised pork, house-made sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and hominy stew.

Insider tips: Frank Morales, who previously manned the stove at Rustico, has recently come aboard to run the show. The streamlined menu is a little less zippy, and Morales is given at times to overproducing his dishes, but the Elvis burger is better (and bigger) than ever and the cheese grits are otherworldly.

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner (cafe menu on Monday), Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

Cuisine: Chef Jonathan Seningen turns out an ever-changing, all-over-the-map roster of seafood that encompasses the au courant (a crudo of mahi mahi with pickled jalapeño) and the enduring (fish and chips). Meat lovers might want to look elsewhere&mdashthere&rsquos only one non-fish entrée on the menu&mdashbut seafood fanciers will smile. Every fish is sustainably caught think Arctic char, not Atlantic salmon.

Mood: The softly lit, minimalist dining room has turned into something of a weeknight clubhouse for Georgetown couples and families. On weekends, tables are filled by a snappily dressed crowd of thirtysomethings and internationals.

Best for: A quiet date or dinner brunch.

Best dishes: The menu changes daily, but look for a trio of smoked fishes&mdashsalmon, mackerel, and bluefish oysters three ways beet salad with pistachios and goat cheese gingery tuna tartare tempura-fried pufferfish with piquant cilantro sauce for dipping whole grilled Greek dorade with olives and chimichurri lingonberry linzertorte with Taleggio ice cream butterscotch tart.

Insider tips: Pastry chef Heather Chittum is a top talent even if you&rsquore not having a meal, you can graze on her sweets at the bar.

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

Cuisine: Vegetarians and believers in portion control will find little to like about this buzzing den of immoderation, perhaps the finest of the area&rsquos growing contingent of Belgian-inspired restaurants. Chef Robert Wiedmaier&rsquos menu abounds in burly servings of beef stews, lamb sausages, and roasted rabbit&mdasheven salads sport bits of pork. Just as hearty is the Belgian-dominated beer list that&rsquos as thick as a novel and closely managed by a suds sommelier.

Mood: A gleaming open kitchen is the backdrop for a frenetic dining room, where cooler-than-thou servers cater to hungry beer lovers and celebratory groups, while gaggles of young professionals swarm the granite bar at happy hour. In summer, try the patio for a quieter scene.

Best for: Celebrating with a large group&mdashyou don&rsquot have to worry about being too loud, and dishes are easy to share.

Best dishes: Buttery lentils supporting a house-made lamb sausage triple-fried frites, herb-dusted and served with three mayos garlic-happy mushrooms and spaetzle with a crunchy baguette slice and a warm poached egg coq au vin, liberally scattered with bits of bacon fried-parsley-flecked snails a soufflé-like black-currant-and-fig clafoutis.

Insider tips: Resist the allure of the steamed mussels&mdashmore-flavorful pots are to be found elsewhere. Instead, splurge for Wiedmaier&rsquos house-made charcuterie.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

1942 Ninth St., NW 202-232-7600

Cuisine: Ethiopian is among the great strengths of Washington&rsquos ethnic-dining landscape, with restaurants, bars, groceries, and even bakeries dotting the scene. This family-run operation remains the best spot to dig into the complex, spice-laden stews, called wats, that form the backbone of the cuisine. Tiwaltengus Shenegelgn, who runs the kitchen, is a star in the local community, and no wonder: Her cooking is the most refined, with clear flavors and a lingering depth in her saucing.

Mood: The coziness and sophistication call to mind a contemporary urban cafe, and the multicultural crowd, sipping cocktails and sharing platters of stews, reinforces the relaxed vibe.

Best for: A cheap and sustaining meal before or after a concert or outing on U Street a big gathering with friends (particularly if the group includes vegetarians).

Best dishes: Sambusas, crisp, three-cornered pastries filled with spiced beef or lentils yebeg wat and doro wat, the former made up of sliced lamb, the latter involving a leg of chicken and a hard-boiled egg, and both of them buried in the same thick, spicy, brick-red sauce a vegetarian platter with azifa (brown lentils with Ethiopian mustard), kik alicha (a creamy, yellow-lentil stew), and yemisir wat (spiced red lentils).

Insider tips: The coffee ceremony, which takes place in the afternoon, is a treat, featuring strong, dark brews, bowls of popcorn, and the smell of incense&mdasha chance to take a moment, slow down, and breathe.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

78. Eventide ★★½

3165 Wilson Blvd., Arlington 703-276-3165

Cuisine: Chef Miles Vaden&rsquos ambitious Clarendon kitchen doesn&rsquot produce anything too out-there, but his Modern American cooking is full of surprises. A classic tartare is made from bison, sweetbreads are rolled in oats, and octopus comes not grilled but marinated, escabeche style.

Mood: You might expect a crowd out of Twilight in this soaring, Goth-chic dining room. But under the black chandeliers sit casual families, empty-nesters, and smartly turned-out young professionals.

Best for: Bar snacks in the downstairs lounge or, in the summer, on the roof dinner dates.

Best dishes: Grilled-pear salad with blue-cheese flan octopus with olives and mashed chickpeas Arctic char over spaghetti squash and spicy-tangy rémoulade duck with foie gras butter and lush polenta cake.

Insider tips: Virginia permits unfinished bottles of wine to be taken home, and the restaurant provides wine &ldquodoggie bags.&rdquo

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch. Expensive.

11120 Rockville Pike, Rockville 301-881-0081

Cuisine: What&rsquos come out of the kitchen at Jeff and Barbara Black&rsquos folksy first restaurant can best be described as uneven. But now it&rsquos a different story with Nate Waugaman behind the stove. Gone are the scattered attempts at fusion fare, and in its place are house-made charcuterie (plus a whole lot of excellent Benton&rsquos ham from Kentucky) and rootedly American roasts and fish dishes. Finally, the food has one personality, not 15.

Mood: Driving past strip mall after strip mall, you might miss this creaky, sunshine-yellow Victorian set back in the trees. (Look for the diner-like neon let&rsquos eat sign.) Inside the tiny dining rooms, funky charm abounds, with cheerful young servers and side tables made from antique ovens.

Best for: Lunch or dinner after hitting White Flint Mall families (although the place can get very loud) satisfying a case of small-town nostalgia.

Best dishes: Charcuterie, including lomo, peppery soppresatta, rustic rabbit pâté, and a wonderful pumpkin marmalade fried green tomatoes stuffed with goat cheese artfully presented beet carpaccio over rounds of ashy goat cheese fried oysters with lemon and chopped egg grilled trout with brown-butter vinaigrette rustic vegetable lasagna in the summer, a fabulous mixed-bean salad with ham.

Insider tips: Don&rsquot be hesitant to make a meal out of the generous appetizers&mdashthey tend to outshine the entrées.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Moderate.

76. Black&rsquos Bar and Kitchen ★★½

7750 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda 301-652-5525

Cuisine: You never quite know what you&rsquoll find at Jeff and Barbara Black&rsquos Zen-slick suburban dining room. Sure, there will always be the solid raw bar and reliable wood-fired steaks and seafood. But beyond that, the ever-changing menu might skitter from fried chicken and waffles to white-bean-and-prosciutto bruschetta to plantain-crusted shrimp with mango salsa.

Mood: With its twinkling pool out front and mood-lit dining room inside, Black&rsquos stands out among its neighboring chain restaurants. It&rsquos the closest Bethesda gets to a Malibu brand of chicness and, not surprisingly, has become a magnet for expensively groomed thirtysomethings with a taste for $10 Dark and Stormys. But it&rsquos not all see-and-be-seen: Look beneath the arty mural of a vineyard and you&rsquoll see plenty of casual families and empty-nesters.

Best for: An oyster craving happy hour a date or catch-up with friends late-night dessert.

Best dishes: Squares of airy cornbread with honey butter mussels with tomato, lemon, and shallot well-shucked oysters on the half shell (we lean toward the West Coast varieties) hanger steak with chimichurri or béarnaise fried chicken with pecans and sweet-potato waffles a spicy, saffron-scented stew packed with mussels, prawns, and other seafood and served with aïoli-slathered toasts salty-caramel trio (with a dreamy caramel tart) Key-lime pie.

Insider tips: The blond-wood bar room is an equally comfortable place to sit, especially in the booths for two. Happy-hour specials abound, with early- and late-night deals. Sunday is half-price wine-bottle night.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

75. Liberty Tavern ★★½

3195 Wilson Blvd., Arlington 703-465-9360

Cuisine: Robust American comfort cooking with Italian accents. Much is made in-house, from the sweet rolls in the bread basket to the egg noodles on the pasta menu to the marshmallow atop an upscale take on s&rsquomores. Note to the waist-conscious: Nearly every dish celebrates duck fat, bacon, butter, or cheese, and portions are hearty.

Mood: The walk-in-friendly Clarendon restaurant has a split personality. The loud downstairs bar swarms with young people noshing on grilled cheeses and drinking up a storm. The second-floor dining room, with its cozy striped banquettes and open kitchen, feels more civilized.

Best for: A casual date or pizza with friends downstairs, a quieter meal upstairs.

Best dishes: Arctic char, smoked in-house and folded over johnnycakes apple-and-endive salad, heavy on the blue cheese and bacon fiery fra diavolo macaroni with fresh lobster autumnal gnocchi with celery root and blue cheese Vermont pizza with white cheddar and apples skirt steak covered in tangy steak sauce schnitzel-style skate, its richness cut with lingonberry sauce homey roasted half chicken with lemon marmalade light but decadent Black Forest cake s&rsquomores pot de crème Masonic cocktail, a citrusy take on a mint julep.

Insider tips: Liberty is among the better takeout options in the area, particularly for a fine-dining establishment&mdasha dedicated window in the back of the restaurant makes it convenient.

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

74. Potenza ★★½

Cuisine: DC has no Little Italy, and its best Italian restaurants have long been tasteful spots for expense accounts or luxe destinations for foodies. This newcomer thus represents a bold departure&mdashan unassuming, big-hearted place where you can dunk your bread into your red sauce, a pizza can constitute the basis for a meal, and glasses of wine come in tumblers.

Mood: One part Carnegie Deli, one part Little Italy: a loud, sometimes chaotic space that practically demands you raise your voice to be heard and where flagging down your waiter is sometimes as tough as hailing a cab at rush hour. But there&rsquos warmth, too, and the sight of diners heartily digging in is a welcome sight.

Best for: A come-as-you-are night of pretense-free Italian indulgence.

Best dishes: Rigatoni With Sunday Gravy, the very definition of red-sauce Italian pappardelle with red Bolognese a plate of gnocchi in a Gorgonzola cream sauce that steers clear of overrichness and is garnished with toasted walnuts a lightly fried, almost delicate pork Milanese the Salame Picante, the best of the surprisingly good, crisp-crusted pizzas the best cannoli in the area a perfect-textured lemon panna cotta gorgeous bombolini (Italian doughnuts) with a side of jelly.

Insider tips: Don&rsquot skimp on bread the loaves come from the adjoining bakery and are among the highlights of eating here. But also try to back-load your meal, saving room for the simple and generally wonderful desserts.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

73. BlackSalt ★★½

4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW 202-342-9101

Cuisine: Of all the restaurants in Jeff and Barbara Black&rsquos local empire, this fishhouse is the most polished and most expensive. But the premise is wonderfully simple: an ever-changing roster of often rustic dishes built around well-sourced seafood and fish, from Maryland rockfish to Japanese hamachi.

Mood: A tidy fish market fronts the restaurant: A stainless-steel-accented bar/cafe is the casual counterpart to the bistro next to the glass-walled kitchen in back. The spaces share tight quarters, a menu, and&mdashwhen the place is full&mdashlots of energy.

Best for: Seafood lovers who don&rsquot want precious preparations of raw fish.

Best dishes: Sweet Nantucket bay scallops atop a zesty puttanesca a many-splendored salad of bitter escarole, sweet candied almonds, salty bacon, and tart apples creamy chowder with crisp fried clams steamed mussels with chorizo and tomato sauce tart Key-lime pie butterscotch pudding with a Scotch milkshake.

Insider tips: You can easily make a meal from a couple of happy-hour-menu small plates and $5 Champagne cocktails, available daily from 4 to 7 in the bar and cafe. You can order one of pastry chef Susan Wallace&rsquos seasonal fruit streusels from the market up front.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

72. PassionFish ★★½

11960 Democracy Dr., Reston 703-230-3474

Cuisine: It&rsquos easy to look at this slick, bustling operation as a corporate seafood house in a Reston shopping center, but chef/owner Jeff Tunks&rsquos kitchen makes a genuine effort to stock local produce and sustainable fishes for executive chef Chris Clime&rsquos globally inspired dishes&mdashfrom a simple bucket of fried clams to Peruvian ceviche.

Mood: The raw-bar items laid out on ice near the kitchen set a tone of authenticity, and the room has the buzz of a fishmonger&rsquos stall. Because the space expands vertically, there&rsquos not a bad seat in the house&mdashall diners can enjoy views of the first-floor action, though things are slightly more subdued in the upstairs gallery.

Best for: A night of downtown sophistication for Virginians&mdashwithout the traffic or the long drive home from DC.

Best dishes: Clams casino fried clams hamachi crudo with grapefruit and jalapeño eight-piece &ldquokamikaze roll&rdquo of tempura prawns, avocado, and spicy tuna red Thai curry lobster honest, lightly bound crabcakes whole-roasted branzino freshly fried doughnut holes.

Insider tips: A special kids&rsquo menu is a welcome departure from the usual chicken-fingers kind of offering. Servers here know their wines&mdashone of the chefs lives on a nearby vineyard&mdashand will bring samples.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

71. Present ★★½

6678 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church 703-531-1881

Cuisine: The New Age&ndashsounding names of many of the dishes, together with the over-the-top presentations (fried shrimp dangling in an elegantly carved pineapple boat), suggests an operation founded on kitsch. But there&rsquos plenty of steak to go with the sizzle: This energetic restaurant has emerged as one of the leaders of Vietnamese cooking, turning out dishes of complexity and refinement&mdashdishes that, at their best, rival the efforts of non-family-style places that typically cost three times as much.

Mood: From the tinkling fountain to the lodge-like surround of wood, a serenity belies the expectation of most ethnic family-run restaurants, which tend to emphasize a stark efficiency and a minimum of atmosphere. Present aims to dazzle you, and not just on the plate.

Best for: Special occasions on the cheap.

Best dishes: A mouthwatering hash of clams served in a giant sesame shell a spot-on preparation of bun, with grilled pork and shrimp, a nest of veggies and a twirl of vermicelli any of the masterful soups, including the Sour Spicy Seafood a tenderer-than-usual rendition of &ldquoshaky&rdquo beef called Cow on the Open Field, tossed in a complex and zingy sauce the best banh xeo, or stuffed crepe, in the area.

Insider tips: Many of the dishes are large and best suited for sharing.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.

Donovan House, 1155 14th St., NW 202-379-4366

Cuisine: What Wolfgang Puck is to America, Susur Lee is to Canada&mdasha culinary mastermind who fuses French techniques and Asian flavors into an exuberant brand. Lee&mdashwhose now-shuttered Lotus, in Toronto, was acclaimed as Canada&rsquos best restaurant&mdashwas recruited to DC&rsquos new Donovan House hotel after Todd English backed out, and his signature take on Asian fusion is on vibrant display: a Szechuan-style duck that pairs a confit-like bird with a stack of lotus pancakes a mountainous slaw of 19 ingredients tossed tableside a platter of dumplings concealed by a lacy pancake and dazzling plates of unconventionally dressed nigiri and sashimi.

Mood: The hotel is owned by the fashionable Thompson Group, and the moodily lit dining room bears the hallmarks of that boutique chain: slick and garish and populated largely by businessmen dining alone and high rollers in search of a good time.

Best for: Sushi. The freshness of the fish and the detail that goes into its preparation make this one of the area&rsquos best spots for sashimi and nigiri.

Best dishes: Singapore slaw robust hot-and-sour soup sashimi of scallop, yellowtail, mackerel, and fatty tuna Brick Roll of spicy lobster, barbecue eel, and scallop duck with lotus pancakes crispy garlic chicken, a fine-dining take on the stir-fry classic black cod with miso mustard molten chocolate cake.

Insider tips: Consider forgoing a main course and instead front-loading your meal. Some entrées rank among the most expensive in town, and the most successful meals here tend to be cobbled together from various parts of the menu: a soup, a salad, a couple of starters, and above all sushi.

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for breakfast and dinner, Sunday for breakfast. Expensive.

69. Sou&rsquoWester ★★½

Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave., SW 202-787-6868

Cuisine: Straightforward Southern cookery as seen through the eyes of one of the area&rsquos most celebrated chefs, Eric Ziebold, and one of the world&rsquos elite hotels, the Mandarin Oriental. From the expertly engineered biscuits and hushpuppies to the meticulously rendered grits and fried chicken, the mastery of detail is inescapable&mdashyou may come away marveling at the clarity of many of these dishes. It&rsquos hard, too, not to wonder whether it was all necessary&mdashwhether down-home food really benefits from being so technically proficient.

Mood: The plate-glass window looks out onto the Southwest DC waterfront, but there the appeal of the multilevel room pretty much ends. This is as sterile as hotel dining gets (pouring a Miller into a Champagne glass seems as incongruous as grits and hushpuppies at the Mandarin Oriental), despite the few Southern-style touches on the table and the earnest efforts of the excellent staff.

Best for: Those who crave unpretentious comfort food and who can put up with digging into it in a pretentious setting.

Best dishes: Root-beer float with Jack Daniel&rsquos a remarkable, seemingly cream-free crab bisque Rappahannock oysters with a house-made grilled sausage the best hushpuppies you&rsquoll ever eat, Sou&rsquoWester&rsquos inspired counterpart to the irresistible mini&ndashParker House rolls at CityZen creamy yellow grits with a yolk-spilling poached egg and miniature bites of veal sweetbreads juicy, well-seasoned pan-fried chicken a filet of porgy with a rich crab imperial banana cream pie.

Insider tips: The hushpuppies, unlike a lot of hot, fried foods, hold up surprisingly well order an extra round or two and take them home.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

444 Seventh St., NW 202-783-7007

Cuisine: Asian/Latin fusion often seems sillier than Tom DeLay on Dancing With the Stars, but this Penn Quarter small-plates spot/sushi bar&mdasha sister to nearby Oya&mdashdefies expectations. Dubious-sounding creations such as a fish-and-chips sushi roll and wasabi-jolted guacamole prove smart and satisfying.

Mood: With its white-on-white palette and mod wall of red branches, Sei makes a striking perch for the fashionistas and pretty young things who gather around the bar to sip Liquid Wasabi cocktails. The dining room tends to be just as loud but not as show-offy.

Best for: A working lunch or pre-theater dinner a big group of friends up for sharing small plates creative and high-quality sushi.

Best dishes: Steamed buns stuffed with hoisin-slicked pork wasabi guacamole with wontons Kobe-beef tataki dotted with jellied ponzu fish-and-chips roll Snow White roll with eel and roasted apple traditional nigiri such as fatty tuna, fatty yellowtail, sweet shrimp, and sea urchin lunchtime miso-glazed salmon burger on brioche.

Insider tips: This is one of the town&rsquos better sushi restaurants, and you can find traditionally cut fish amid all the funky rolls.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Expensive.

67. Westend Bistro by Eric Ripert ★★½

Ritz-Carlton, 1190 22nd St., NW 202-974-4900

Cuisine: This outpost of chef Eric Ripert&rsquos empire benefits from the spending power of its peripatetic culinary master. Among the new wave of casually elegant restaurants to hit DC, this byline bistro has evolved and now speaks with a bit of a Southern accent, with fried okra and shrimp &rsquon&rsquo grits joining salmon rillettes and tuna tartare.

Mood: The slick room fades into the background, making this a surprisingly versatile choice for special occasions, dates, and business meetings. It&rsquos neither hushed nor lively but something in between.

Best for: Happy hour at the U-shaped bar dinner with friends, especially on the small patio in warmer months.

Best dishes: A buttery tuna carpaccio sprinkled with chives a pot of rich salmon rillettes a homey shrimp-and-bean soup macaroni and cheese with ham and toasted bread crumbs a golden-crusted fish burger with saffron aïoli a filet of wild striped bass with Asian spices.

Insider tips: Desserts are a weak spot&mdashthe best of the recent bunch were the corn madeleines and the ginger parfait. And although the menu changes seasonally, the Web site fails to keep pace with those changes, making advance planning difficult.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Expensive.

Cuisine: Chef/owner Peter Smith might dabble in ragoûts and udon noodles, but his real passion lies in mining a deep vein of regional American cooking. He has the most fun with his lounge menu, which features upscale takes on Chicago-style hot dogs (everything made in-house) and the signature French-fry-topped sandwich from Pittsburgh&rsquos Primanti Brothers. The more expensive dining-room offerings are less fun&mdashand less reliable.

Mood: There&rsquos a buzz in the bar and lounge, where cocktail maven Gina Chersevani presides in her flowered apron over a bright-yellow lava-rock bar. The mood in the steely dining room is quieter and more suited for business dinners.

Best for: Happy hours or dates in the lounge (most everything is shareable) Chersevani&rsquos excellent, outside-the-box cocktails, which feature everything from Miller High Life to marshmallows.

Best dishes: Tiny oxtail &ldquotots&rdquo flatbread topped with Buffalo chicken, blue cheese, and celery snappy miniature hot dogs with house-made ketchup tuna-tartare-filled sliders on buttery Parker House rolls Primanti Brothers sandwich with soppresatta, shoestring fries, and a runny egg sirloin au poivre, light on the pepper but thick and satisfying short ribs and foie gras baked in flaky pastry warm beignets served in a paper bag Situation Rum cocktail with hibiscus tea Yes We Can-ton, with Cava and pineapple toasted cider punch.

Insider tips: A weeknight happy hour&mdashwith $3 beer, $4 wine, and half-price flatbreads&mdashruns from 4 to 7.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

65. Indique Heights ★★½

2 Wisconsin Cir., Chevy Chase 301-656-4822

Cuisine: Dynamic Indian flavors find their way into unexpected preparations, such as crabcakes (spiked with anise), Caesar salad with chicken grilled in the tandoor, and especially the lineup of chef/owner K.N. Vinod&rsquos flavor-packed street-snacks menu. Purists can rest assured there are plenty of classic dishes, too.

Mood: A low-lit series of elegant dining rooms, outfitted with silk curtains and a gurgling fountain, is energized by brightly colored plates, glittering granite tables, and red-and-orange-striped booths.

Best for: An introduction to Indian cuisine a filling meal after a day of shopping in the boutiques of Friendship Heights.

Best dishes: Vegetable samosa chaat, spilling with tomatoey chickpeas crab tikki, anise-spiked crab patties with spicy coconut flakes cayenne-rubbed tilapia with lemony rice coconutty Malabar shrimp curry a very peppery chicken chettinad shreekand brûlée, a yogurt-based riff on crème brûlée studded with pistachios.

Insider tips: Midday deals abound. The all-you-can-eat lunch buffet holds about ten curries and dosas for $10.95. Weekday lunch boxes come both vegetarian ($6.95) and meat-filled ($7.95 to $8.95) and include two curries, rice pilaf, and naan.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

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64. General Store ★★½

6 Post Office Rd., Silver Spring 301-562-8787

Cuisine: A loving and affordably priced tour of the simple, soulful dishes that define Americana, from pot pie to fish tacos to fried chicken. Chef Gillian Clark cooks what she loves, and when she&rsquos on&mdashwhich is often&mdashit shows.

Mood: Burlap sacks of potatoes and quirky bits of memorabilia&mdashvintage magazine ads, a stuffed bear&mdashlend the front half of this eat-in/takeaway a homey flavor. But the two dining areas in back don&rsquot really have a sense of place.

Best for: Eating cheaply without resorting to the chains or fast food.

Best dishes: Crispy shrimp on baguettes meatloaf with sweet-sour onion gravy, an occasional special we&rsquod like to see more often tangy collards studded with pork not-too-cheesy macaroni and cheese nicely fried battered chicken an ever-changing roster of luscious pies, including a wonderful coconut cream and lemon chess.

Insider tips: Best to go for lunch, when crowds are usually at bay. The scene at night, especially on weekends, can be frenetic, and with so few tables it&rsquos wise to consider takeout rather than a sit-down meal. Whole pies are available if you call a day or two ahead.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

63. Nava Thai Noodle and Grill ★★½

11301 Fern St., Wheaton 240-430-0495

Cuisine: If it&rsquos not Washington&rsquos best Thai restaurant, it&rsquos easily the most interesting. Owners and cooks Suchart and Ladavan Srigatesook have culled a fascinating assortment of dishes from the night-market stalls and floating barges in Thailand. The cooking is bright and bold, perhaps nowhere more so than in the marvelous and complex soups and the vivid papaya salad (made to order). Even pad Thai is transformed from a gloppy noodle dish into a small symphony of flavor.

Mood: The multi-room setting once housed a Greek taverna, and the rustic-chic appointments aren&rsquot an ideal match for the restaurant&rsquos vision of quick-serve Thai street food. The giant olive-oil bottles of fish sauce that sit on the tables feel almost comical. Then again, the atmosphere is cozy, and when the place is packed on weekends, it&rsquos lively but not loud.

Best for: Food adventurers.

Best dishes: Papaya salad pad Thai hot-and-sour squid a crispy frittata of mussels with green curry Floating Market Noodle Soup, sweet and funky and sour and incendiary drunken noodles.

Insider tips: Don&rsquot hold out for the desserts&mdashnone are worth the calories, even those made that morning.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

2500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington 703-525-2828

Cuisine: To judge by the inclusive menu at this East Coast outpost of the Nguyen family&rsquos popular San Jose restaurant empire, this is one of the area&rsquos preeminent destinations for Vietnamese cooking. Both northern and southern dishes are given their due&mdashas are budget-minded diners: No entrée is more than $17.

Mood: The expansive dining room tempers its office-building locale with white tablecloths and soothing red walls. Although large groups are often the norm, the space retains its calm, Zen-like energy.

Best for: A good introduction to Vietnamese food, and the menu is broad enough to include something for just about every taste and sensibility.

Best dishes: Luscious pork vermicelli, both northern (saltier) and southern (sweeter) banh xeo, an oversize, web-like crepe with bean sprouts, shrimp, and pork fried shrimp-and-yam patties a fragrant, dill-laced catfish, to be broken into hunks and folded into giant leaves of lettuce a clay pot bubbling with a sweet/peppery caramel sauce and bits of catfish chicken, tart with lemongrass and covered in red-pepper flakes.

Insider tips: Bring a large group&mdashmost dishes are served family style and can feed several.

Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

61. L&rsquoAuberge Chez François ★★½

332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls 703-759-3800

Cuisine: It&rsquos all about nostalgia at this Alsatian institution, now in its sixth decade. Plates are still garnished with sprigs of parsley, and the cooking runs to standbys such as Châteaubriand and Dover sole meunière. Founder François Haeringer&rsquos three sons usually run L&rsquoAuberge these days, but it&rsquos still a place to rediscover what made classical French the favorite cuisine of the Mad Men era.

Mood: Country French dining rooms with dark wood beams, decorative copper pots, and windows framing the countryside seem made for proper celebrations, and the Old World&ndashstyle pampering reinforces the sense of grand occasion.

Best dishes: A robust onion soup light on cheese and heavy on stock a delicate crepe with chives, mushrooms, and Madeira-truffle sauce grapefruit-mint palate-cleanser sorbet the signature choucroute (a hearty lineup of pork, duck, and goose charcuterie and sausages sauerkraut steeped in Crémant d&rsquoAlsace red cabbage and mustards) a marvelous chicken braised in Riesling with jus and haricots verts whipped broccoli purée hazelnut soufflé plum tart with cinnamon ice cream.

Best for: A leisurely romantic dinner, family gathering, or special event.

Insider tips: In summer, the patio is the place to be&mdashit feels as if you&rsquore dining in a meadow. During winter, the coveted tables are fireside. Sunday lunch with light streaming in the walls of windows is also a hot ticket. The price of an entrée&mdashfrom $59 to $75&mdashincludes appetizer, salad, sorbet, vegetable, dessert, and coffee or tea, plus lots of little extras from garlic bread to chocolate truffles. Sunday lunch is a deal at $39 to $49 for a similar meal but with some different menu items.

Open Sunday and Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

Cuisine: How&rsquos this for risk-taking? Sending out a tiny spoonful of offal as an amuse-bouche, then following that with plates of chicken-fried tongue. You might expect that kind of thing from Michel Richard, but from a newcomer with little track record and no corporate backing? Fortunately, in Daniel Singhofen&rsquos case, the chef is a young talent who can make good on his promises. Sometimes he tries too hard, but he connects more often than he whiffs, producing imaginative, intensely flavored dishes that hint at big things to come.

Mood: The space&mdashtasteful and softly lit&mdashsuggests a cross between Obelisk and Komi, restaurants that define the new aesthetic of townhouse dining and that stand as models for the sort of place the chef and owners aspire to.

Best for: Gastronomes who understand that supporting an interesting independent restaurant means enduring a misstep or two.

Best dishes: Pork croquettes with apple-mustard sauce chicken-fried tongue with braised lentils a sunchoke velouté, most recently embellished with raisins and toasted almonds agnolotti filled with bitter greens and accompanied by buttery squash fondue roasted pheasant with deviled quail eggs and olives apple galette mocha-chestnut roulade.

Insider tips: Eola boasts a fine, if smallish, roster of beers, a number of which match well with the dishes on the menu. And there are some surprisingly good deals on the well-chosen, 100-bottle wine list.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW, Second Floor 202-281-6679

Cuisine: You&rsquod have an easier time turning up a moderate Republican on the Hill than finding sushi that&rsquos this fresh and this cheap. Equally uncommon is the rest of chef Hisao Abe&rsquos menu, a roster of largely unfamiliar but traditional Japanese dishes&mdashfrom the rice casseroles called kamameshi to oshizushi, a pressed-sushi preparation deriving from Osaka&mdashthat distinguish it from the conventionally minded raw-fish houses.

Mood: There&rsquos barely space to breathe in this small second-floor dining room containing a sushi bar, a handful of tables, and nearly always a line out the door. Above the hum of the Beatles-only soundtrack, servers encourage diners&mdasha mix of couples and families&mdashto eat and run.

Best for: A first date a good on-the-go dinner for up to four&mdashthe wait will lengthen if tables have to be put together.

Best dishes: Silky monkfish-liver pâté, known as ankimo&mdashthe foie gras of the sea oshizushi, square blocks of saltier-than-normal rice pressed tightly and topped with thin slices of fish eel kamameshi, a hot pot with charred rice, raw fish, and vegetables preceded by a parade of mezze-type appetizers a smooth slab of fatty or white tuna atop a small bed of rice green-tea mochi, a pouch of Japanese ice cream encased in a rice wrapper.

Insider tips: Check out the specials posted on the wall&mdashfresh fish comes in daily (look for the uni) and is the only time Abe strays from his otherwise unchanging menu.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Inexpensive.

58. Vermilion ★★½

1120 King St., Alexandria 703-684-9669

Cuisine: If only all neighborhood restaurants paid this much attention to the craft of cooking. Tony Chittum&rsquos rustic comfort food is full of handmade details&mdashthe terrines, sausages, and pastas are prepared in-house, and many of the high-quality ingredients are from local farms.

Mood: One of Old Town&rsquos most picturesque streets is the setting for this cozy restaurant, which achieves a tucked-away, boho feel with red velvet drapes and exposed-brick walls.

Best for: Dates in one of the cushy banquettes eating at the bar a spur-of-the-moment dinner the excellent brunch.

Best dishes: Roasted scallops with leeks and a potato gratin crusty fried oysters with fennel roasted chicken with smashed grapes and kale rockfish surrounded by clams and a light chowder Maryland rib eye and short rib with blue cheese seared duck with duck sausage and dirty rice apple beignets with cider and apple sorbet goat-cheese cake, at once rich and airy profiteroles stuffed with rocky-road ice cream.

Insider tips: A weeknight happy hour, with $4 appetizers and discounted beer, wine, and cocktails, runs from 4 to 7.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

57. Black Market Bistro ★★½

4600 Waverly Ave., Garrett Park 301-933-3000

Cuisine: Thoughtfully crafted renditions of home-kitchen fare (roast chicken, apple crisp) plus chef-driven creations with the occasional dash of lemongrass or chimichurri. The menu doesn&rsquot change much, but this is one of the most consistent places around.

Mood: With its white-lattice porch and Pottery Barn aesthetic, this collection of cozy dining rooms is loaded with small-town charm. You&rsquoll even hear the windows rattle now and then&mdashthat&rsquos just the freight train rumbling by.

Best for: Casual dinners the terrific brunch a brief respite from city living.

Best dishes: Crunchy cornmeal-fried oysters with freshly made tartar sauce roast chicken, straightforward and satisfying barbecue shrimp over corn-studded grits wood-grilled hanger steak with chimichurri fried-onion-topped cheeseburger apple crisp potato latkes and orange-vanilla French toast at brunch.

Insider tips: The restaurant takes a very limited number of reservations each night, so go early or late to avoid a wait. On nights when there&rsquos a performance at Strathmore, tables usually open up around showtime.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

56. The Majestic ★★½

911 King St., Alexandria 703-837-9117

Cuisine: Comfort cooking with a twist. The coq au vin is spiked with cocoa, and Old Bay aïoli livens up a Chesapeake seafood stew. The chef is Shannon Overmiller, hand-picked by proprietor Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve, and more and more her stamp is on nearly every bowl and plate that emerges from the open kitchen&mdasheven the bread and pickles are made in-house.

Mood: The young and single hover by the bar, where the cocktails of Todd Thrasher and Melissa Horst hold sway the dining room, with its big mirrors and soft lighting, draws couples of all ages.

Best for: A top-notch meal without all the bells and whistles of fine dining.

Best dishes: Chicken-liver mousse as dense as it is smooth crumb-crusted whole sardines with caramelized onions and sage Coco&rsquoa Vin, a delectable, cocoa-laced take on the wine-and-chicken stew that tastes like a cross between the French classic and a mole well-seasoned slabs of meatloaf with mushroom gravy one of the best coconut cakes in the area, served in tall, thick wedges a bourbon milk punch that could double as dessert.

Insider tips: Unless you want to do extra penance on the StairMaster, consider sharing some plates, especially dessert portions are generous. And take advantage of the ongoing specials: The $12 Royal Pick lunch (an entrée and soda or iced tea) and Nana&rsquos Sunday Dinner ($22 per person for entrée, sides, and dessert) are good deals.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday from 1 to 9 for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

1800 Tysons Blvd., McLean 703-790-4669

Cuisine: When it first opened, it seemed that chef/owners Jonathan Krinn and Jon Mathieson&mdashwho had brought moments of playfulness to the white tablecloths at 2941&mdashforgot how to have fun at their hotly anticipated Tysons Corner showpiece. A menu of esoteric ingredients felt forced. Krinn is now working the dining room, and Mathieson&rsquos French-inflected American food is more relaxed. One thing hasn&rsquot changed: The owners throw recession caution to the wind hardly a dish exits the kitchen without being anointed by some little luxury, be it foie gras, truffles, or caviar.

Mood: The office-park dining room is about as exciting as a Ford Taurus. Browns and grays dominate&mdashon the walls and on the suited-up diners, some of whom choose to be seated in the DVD-equipped private rooms. The lounge is livelier, with its conversation-piece bar and tables made from tree trunks.

Best for: A client lunch or dinner.

Best dishes: Most meats, including seared foie gras piggybacking on a gamey venison filet and a duo of duck with breast and leg confit a generous slice of foie gras with caramelized apples a pair of bass filets in a Vietnamese-pho-like ginger broth with cilantro and jalapeños a decadent surf and turf of lobster poached in butter with a short-rib raviolo a rich chocolate bread pudding, its denseness and intensity leavened by savory kalamata olives in the batter and a dollop of olive-oil ice cream grapefruit custard tempered by intensely vanilla ice cream.

Insider tips: If you see a dish you like on the tasting menu, you can almost always order it à la carte in an appetizer- or entrée-size portion. While sommelier John Wabeck&rsquos wine list is hearty and excellent, don&rsquot ignore the creative cocktail list.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

54. Trummer&rsquos on Main ★★½

7134 Main St., Clifton 703-266-1623

Cuisine: This ambitious newcomer, taking up residence in an old inn in off-the-beaten-track Clifton, has emerged as a home of elegant rusticity. The secret&rsquos in the sauces&mdashethereal reductions, froths, and marmalades drizzled or dolloped so judiciously that they never overwhelm. Even braised veal with root vegetables and vermouth cream isn&rsquot as weighty as it sounds&mdashits tiny pool of cream is almost like a condiment. The lineup of talent is formidable: Chef Clayton Miller came to Clifton after stints at the French Laundry in Napa Valley and Daniel in Manhattan co-owner Stefan Trummer, who has shaken and stirred at New York&rsquos Bouley, doubles as cocktail master Tyler Packwood, late of the Inn at Little Washington, is sommelier Chris Ford, from ChikaLicious Dessert Bar in New York, is pastry chef.

Mood: Few traces of the old Hermitage Inn remain in the airy main dining room, where French windows overlook a flagstone waterfall and garden and palm-frond fans twirl from the high ceiling. Service is formal enough that a table of four, six, or eight will all get its plates at precisely the same moment.

Best for: A convivial meal with friends, a romantic repast, or a celebratory dinner for a group (there&rsquos a big communal table in the center of the main dining room). A mostly over-30 crowd gathers in the first floor bar/lounge on weekends.

Best dishes: The house Titanic 13 cocktail, with grape vodka, muddled grapes, and Champagne sorbet floating on top flour-dusted ciabatta a fresh take on pumpkin soup with sweet lump crab, salty bay-leaf crumble, and frothy pumpkin foam frisée with mild curry vinaigrette and celery three ways (puréed, shaved, and steamed) vermouth-braised veal with rutabaga and vermouth cream flaky Nantucket flounder with Yukon Gold purée chocolate cream, a painterly swipe of lush chocolate pudding with hazelnut sorbet and crunchy cocoa nibs.

Insider tips: The wait between starters and main courses can be long. Request a table in the Winter Garden the third-floor dining rooms aren&rsquot as charming.

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch bar/lounge open until midnight. Expensive.

53. Cashion&rsquos Eat Place ★★½

1819 Columbia Rd., NW 202-797-1819

Cuisine: Ann Cashion may no longer be here, but chef John Manolatos has maintained her standards, serving a consistently satisfying lineup of elegantly homey dishes. His Greek-inspired&mdashand family-derived&mdashfare particularly stands out.

Mood: A low-key charmer with the soul of a neighborhood restaurant, serving regulars from Adams Morgan and beyond in a warmly lit dining room brimming with good-time seekers.

Best for: Dates and double dates brunch late-night eating&mdashsous chef Sam Thresher takes over the kitchen at midnight on weekends, putting out a likable menu of chili dogs, shaved-beef sandwiches, and grilled veal.

Best dishes: Pork souvlaki with tzatziki and chilies on grilled flatbread a buttery skillet of Alaskan crab, Parmesan, and prosciutto with Parker House rolls turbot with grapefruit beurre blanc duck breast with foie gras a juicy bison burger (brunch) pear clafoutis.

Insider tips: Sunday through Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30, wines by the glass are half price.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

52. Spice Xing ★★½

100-B Gibbs St., Rockville 301-610-0303

Cuisine: The sibling restaurant to chef Sudhir Seth&rsquos Passage to India trades the elegance and formality of its big sister for a more casual and vibrant experience. It&rsquos a looser operation, but the profusion of flavors emanating from the kitchen&mdashcomplex, vivid curries, lovingly rendered street snacks, well-blistered breads&mdashis testament to the commitment to authenticity. A tantalizing roster of cocktails complements&mdashand balances&mdashthe heat in the dishes.

Mood: The quiet, colorful space manages to be stylish without feeling off-putting, soothing without being somnolent, and provides an appealing backdrop for the riot of flavors on the table.

Best for: A grand meal that&rsquos not out of reach for ordinary weekday dining.

Best dishes: Mini-dosas juicy, plump tandoori wings a single butterflied barbecue jumbo shrimp, foil-tipped and hot from the tandoor oven a Persian-style lamb-and-apricot stew a simple and spot-on chicken tikka masala roasted baby eggplants lychee mojito.

Insider tips: The curries travel extremely well, making good carryout choices. If you order in, you might want to consider getting an extra couple to go to help out with lunch for the week.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive to moderate.

51. The Prime Rib ★★½

Cuisine: No clever juxtapositions, no artful drizzles, no chef-inspired riffs on comfort-food classics. This elegant supper club serves as steward for straightforward if lavish renditions of meat, fish, and potatoes. Shrimp and flounder come stuffed with jumbo lump crab, and the titular star&mdashslow-roasted beef with jus poured atop it at the table&mdashremains a welcome reminder of the virtues of honesty and simplicity.

Mood: Economy? What economy? Here, women are draped in minks, men wear expensive suits, and the waiters are all tuxedoed. It&rsquos a timeless, clubby place that reminds you of your grandfather&mdashif he happened to have his own library.

Best for: A guys&rsquo night out a special-occasion dinner for those who don&rsquot cotton to too much innovation an important business lunch.

Best dishes: Chunky, creamy crab imperial steak au poivre with a side of Marchand de Vin sauce prime rib pencil-thin grilled asparagus with hollandaise house-made Key-lime pie a pink pouf of strawberries Romanoff.

Insider tips:At lunch, men are free to dine without jackets, and all can take advantage of the prix-fixe menu&mdashthree courses for $24.95. At dinner, there&rsquos complimentary valet parking and live piano.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive to very expensive.

St. Regis, 923 16th St., NW 202-509-8000

Cuisine: Jet-setting chef Alain Ducasse&mdashwho has 18 Michelin stars and oversees 22 restaurants from Tokyo to Monaco&mdashaims for elegance that appears effortless. Ducasse&rsquos French technique is both rigorously followed (near-perfect macarons) and thoughtfully tweaked (a halibut meunière with grapes) by his kitchen staff. The menu says the cuisine is &ldquodesigned with wine in mind&rdquo&mdashand sommelier Ramon Narvaez, a Marcel&rsquos alum, stocks an excellent bottle collection.

Mood: A polished team of servers dotes on jacketed men and glammed-up women in a whitewashed room that melds David Rockwell&rsquos modern design with a dark, beamed ceiling. True to the Ducasse brand, the space feels elite, with buttery-leather chairs, glass-covered wine shelves, and three semicircular private booths with gold-painted ceilings.

Best for: Diners who value wine as much as they do food.

Best dishes: Frothed cauliflower velouté with crunchy bits of blanched cauliflower and perfectly cubed croutons flawlessly cooked halibut garnished with grapes (peeled, of course) and walnuts foie-gras-stuffed squab breast atop cabbage (who knew it could be so airy?) hazelnut soufflé with smooth orange sorbet meringue slices with pear chutney and maple-pecan pastry.

Insider tips: Every table gets a plate of macarons&mdashone of the best items out of the kitchen&mdashand house-made truffles at the end of the meal. Instead of dessert, try the cheese plate, a well-selected lineup with thoughtful condiments such as red-pepper jelly and toasted pine nuts in syrup.

Open Sunday and Monday for breakfast, Tuesday through Saturday for breakfast and dinner. Very expensive.

1720 14th St., NW 202-265-2675

Cuisine: What makes this bustling boîte the best wine bar in Washington? It has the best food. Chef Ron Tanaka, a Citronelle and CityZen alum, seldom employs more than five ingredients, creating complex but unfussy small plates that change with the season and are remarkable for their consistency. Owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts maintain the carefully curated list of Old World&ndashonly wines, many of which come from small producers.

Mood: Since it opened, this founding member of the newly hot 14th Street corridor has felt like a favorite pair of jeans. There&rsquos an intimacy in the narrow space, framed by exposed brick and a pressed-tin ceiling, that draws a regular rotation of neighborhood twenty- and thirtysomethings, who squeeze in around the bar while waiting upward of an hour for a table.

Best for: A group of friends looking to catch up over dinner oenophiles in search of new thrills.

Best dishes: Braised mustard greens with big bites of pork tenderloin and rings of tempura-fried lemon long-roasted Brussels sprouts, their nutty flavor accentuated with fresh thyme a croque madame by way of Italy with prosciutto and fontina a Moroccan-inspired stew of chickpeas with saffron garlic-and-lemon-kissed French fries with house-made ketchup a densely creamy trio of crustless goat-cheese-cake quenelles.

Insider tips: If you show up for dinner when the crowds start congregating just before 7, you can forget about trying to make a movie or show. But you can make reservations from 5:30 to 6:30. And on Sundays there&rsquos rarely a wait.

Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. Moderate.

48. Tallula ★★½

2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington 703-778-5051

Cuisine: Chef Barry Koslow&rsquos terrines and pâtés stand out on a contemporary farm-to-table menu that has moments both robust (cavatelli with veal sausage) and refined (crisp fried oysters with puréed celery root).

Mood: The dining room, with its orange-red walls and Mission-style wood furniture, lacks the character of the restaurant&rsquos popular gastropub, EatBar, but the curvy corner booths give you a wide-angle view on the whole room and subdued lighting makes it feel more intimate.

Best for: Those who believe that good wine is essential to a good meal besides three- and six-ounce pours, you can order ten-ounce beakers and half and full bottles.

Best dishes: Terrines, including the rosy rabbit and silky chicken liver in ceramic pots fried oysters with celery-root purée and apple &ldquorisotto&rdquo marvelous spaghetti squash served casserole style farmers-market lettuces with breakfast radishes and Champagne vinaigrette roasted gnocchi with braised wild boar, Niçoise olives, and rapini cavatelli with lemon, chili flakes, and veal sausage toffee brownie with pistachio ice cream.

Insider tips: Saturday brunch means old-time cartoons such as Foghorn Leghorn and Pepe Le Pew on the big screen in EatBar on Sunday, look for family movie screenings.

Open Monday through Friday for dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

47. Ray&rsquos the Classics ★★½

8606 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring 301-588-7297

Cuisine: Michael Landrum is so obsessive about his aged, hand-trimmed Hereford steaks that he worries a customer might ruin one by ordering it incorrectly. The New York strip can be ordered &ldquorare, medium rare, and medium only.&rdquo This might sound like the work of a control freak, but it speaks to what makes the place worthwhile&mdashuncommon engagement from a passionate proprietor that shows up in everything from the cut-rate pricing to the loving odes to regional classics such as crab bisque.

Mood: The anti-steakhouse steakhouse. Harking to the egalitarian promise of the new Silver Spring, Landrum emphasizes accessibility and affordability. The supper-club-by-way-of-Ikea dining room tends toward austerity, but the place is almost always busy, especially pre- and post-movie&mdashthe AFI Silver Theatre is across the street.

Best for: Good dining without pretense.

Best dishes: Perhaps the area&rsquos best crab bisque crab royale sprinkled with Old Bay among the steaks, the entrecôte and the hanger steak jumbo diver scallops, blackened or wrapped in bacon the ten-ounce Ray&rsquos Hell-Burger with most of the fixings offered at the Arlington original creamed spinach tangy Key-lime pie.

Insider tips: In the bar area, a three-course Bistro Special offers soup or salad, entrée, and dessert for $23.95. For smaller appetites, the Petit Bistro Special&mdash$18.95 for soup or salad, ten-ounce sirloin, and dessert&mdashis an even better deal. Both bistro menus come with free mashed potatoes and creamed spinach.

Open daily for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

46. Mourayo ★★½

1732 Connecticut Ave., NW 202-667-2100

Cuisine: It used to be that the flaming cheese known as saganaki&mdashlit tableside&mdashdelivered most of the excitement in going out to eat Greek. At this cozy bistro, the drama is quieter but more intriguing. It offers a modern makeover of a traditional, often heavy cuisine&mdashfrom the liberal use of Greek wines and ouzos in dishes to the focus on native cheeses. Even better, for all of the refinement, the cooking still retains an essential gutsiness.

Mood: A dynamic ceramic sculpture anchors the back wall, while flashes of dark Aegean blue, glossy wood, and servers dressed in captain&rsquos hats and stripes lend the narrow room a nautical feel. With a recent expansion, there&rsquos now a bar area plus a handful of additional tables. The best part about the renovation? A new entrance means no more blasts of frigid air in the main dining room.

Best for: A night of intense flavors and conversation.

Best dishes: Crisp butternut-squash keftedes, a sort of vegetable meatball with sesame seeds and raisin paste nicely charred octopus with octopus-ink vinaigrette an elegant moussaka with duck, eggplant, and kefalotyri cheese grilled whole fish, especially the branzino.

Insider tips: Some platters, such as the symposium edesmata, a lineup of dips, are a mixed bag, with stellar (fava-bean purée tzatziki tyrokafteri, a spicy feta-and-hot-pepper spread) and not-so-stellar (hummus, skordalia, taramasalata) items. If you ask nicely, the kitchen has been known to let you order individual items or make substitutions.

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

527 Eighth St., SE, 202-543-9090 9713 Traville Gateway Dr., Rockville, 301-309-9090

Cuisine: If all you know about Greek food comes by way of family-style diners trading on heaping portions of moussaka, these cozy mezzeterias&mdashthe creation of three Rockville natives and longtime friends&mdashwill be revelatory. They straddle the lines between authenticity and modernity, between lightness and heartiness.

Mood: The slinky hostess in her cocktail dress could have come straight from a hot club the waitstaff wears jeans and black T-shirts. Those polarities define these brick-walled, bare-tabled restaurants, which have a good deal more heart and soul than a first glance suggests.

Best for: Big groups of friends a night of dining where you can feel free to roll up your sleeves and get your napkin messy.

Best dishes: Spicy lamb sliders with tzatziki olive-oil-drenched squares of watermelon with mint and feta zesty, grandmother-style meatballs in tomato sauce a tangy, full-bodied avgolemono soup Disco Fries, a sort of Greek sloppy joe, with cinnamon-spiced braised lamb spilling over crispy French fries superbly thick Greek yogurt with honey and walnuts loukoumades, or Greek doughnuts.

Insider tips: Portions are bigger and often heartier than at most small-plates spots, usually falling somewhere between a standard appetizer and an entrée&mdashnearly twice the size of a tapa.

DC location open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Rockville location open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Moderate.

44. Johnny&rsquos Half Shell ★★½

400 N. Capitol St., NW 202-737-0400

Cuisine: Traditional doesn&rsquot have to mean hidebound. Nor does a rarely changing menu have to be synonymous with a kitchen that has grown stale. Happily, neither is the case at Ann Cashion&rsquos culinary tour of the Chesapeake and Gulf Coast, where fish and seafood are front and center and the chef, a James Beard Award winner, recedes into the background. More than a restaurant, Johnny&rsquos is a celebration of values that may seem to have gone out of fashion amid a rapidly changing restaurant scene: rooted cooking, simplicity of design, consistency of execution.

Mood: A classic oyster house, from the tiled floor to the white-jacketed waiters to the rolling laughter at the bar. A magnet for the House and Senate (the Capitol is visible from out front), whose staffers flock to the bar after work, the place manages to remain above the political fray&mdasha tribute, perhaps, to the power of good food and drink to diminish what divides us.

Best for: All those who turn away from the increasingly ambitious ingredient lists of some local restaurants, with their many foams and powders and essences.

Best dishes: A roasted-beet-and-cucumber salad with smoked sturgeon and a delicate caviar parfait charbroiled Chesapeake oysters made-to-order oyster stew the best gumbo in the area Maryland crabcakes spicy whole lobster with drawn butter and fresh shell beans a sigh-inducing coconut cream pie, one of the best desserts around.

Insider tips: On Fridays in summer, the restaurant brings back its remarkable barbecue crabs&mdashgood-size hard-shells from Crisfield that are cut in two and dredged in Gulf Coast spices. They&rsquore served on the outdoor patio, where a jazz trio plays.

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

915 15th St., NW 202-628-2220

Cuisine: This modest newcomer stands out more for what it&rsquos not than for what it is. It&rsquos not, for one thing, an exercise in over-the-top richness, larding on the cream, the butter, and the prosciutto, as so many high-end Italian restaurants do. Nor is it the budget buster that the setting and level of execution would lead you to believe. It minds the middle&mdasha place of quiet refinement and moderation. Martin Lackovic&rsquos pastas are among the best in town, all of them imaginatively but judiciously sauced, and he manages to imbue common-sounding dishes with bites of luxury.

Mood: The former occupant of the space was Gerard&rsquos Place, a serious destination for haute French cooking, and an air of formality lingers in this more casual (but still tasteful) setting, which retains its popularity as a spot for wooing potential partners (financial and romantic). But there&rsquos also a new energy, and the staff goes about its rounds with cheer and professionalism.

Best for: A grand night at a good price.

Best dishes: Pan-seared shrimp with roasted peppers, anchovies, and fried capers black-pepper pappardelle with scallops and chili flakes capellaci, tiny squares of thinly rolled pasta filled with lobster and sweet corn a lusty trio of coarse-grained house-made sausages with white beans pan-roasted duck breast.

Insider tips: You can order any of the pastas as a half portion&mdasha way to save but also to sample more of them.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

2. Sushi-Ko and Sushi-Ko Chevy Chase ★★½

2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-4187 5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, 301-961-1644

Cuisine: For raw-fish fanciers, there are few better places to appreciate the subtleties of the genre than these restaurants, which trade on smart sourcing and eschew style points and overambitious menus in favor of careful execution. The nigiri in particular are models of purity and balance: small, well-seasoned pads of rice, atop which sit thin, delicately carved slices of fresh fish.

Mood: The original in Glover Park is the city&rsquos oldest sushi bar and remains a template for the sort of unstuffy dining rooms cropping up around the area (though some might find it austere) the sumptuous spinoff in Friendship Heights manages to ride the line between glamorous and accessible.

Best for: Sushi purists.

Best dishes: Spot-prawn nigiri a presentation of scallop sashimi, alternately rich and clean sashimi or nigiri of salmon, yellowtail, yellowtail belly, and mackerel a light and crisp deep-fried soft-shell crab with ponzu sauce salmon teriyaki.

Insider tips: Sushi, particularly sashimi, makes a surprisingly rewarding take-out dinner (unlike pizza, there&rsquos no chance of steaming), and both locations are attentive to the needs of diners looking to duck in and out.

DC location open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday through Monday for dinner. Chevy Chase location open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-393-0701

Cuisine: Twenty-eight-year-old Adam Longworth, an alum of New York&rsquos Modern American pioneer Gotham Bar and Grill, has steadied this kitchen with surehanded American cooking that shows off an atlas of influences.

Mood: With its shimmery wall of silk threads and baby-blue leather chairs, the renovated dining room&mdashso big it&rsquos usually easy to get a table&mdashhas a freshly swank look. A pianist who plays Thursday through Saturday adds to the charm.

Best for: Pre- and post-theater dining business lunches dinner with the parents.

Best dishes: Clam chowder with gnocchi and prosciutto classic steak tartare topped with a chilled hollandaise &ldquoyolk&rdquo spinach salad with bacon and goat cheese seared halibut with lovely jasmine rice and coconut sauce a Spain-inspired branzino with Serrano ham and olives custardy banana ice cream.

Insider tips: Don&rsquot overlook the cocktails. The bar features the talents of Mo Taheri, the charismatic bartender who&rsquos been mixing Negronis in Washington for 20 years. He makes a mean Manhattan and passionfruit mojito.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Expensive.

40. Sushi Sono ★★½

10215 Wincopin Cir., Columbia 410-997-6131

Cuisine: Some of the most creative, exuberant sushi-making in the area emerges from the busy kitchen at this lakefront restaurant. Chef King Lin is a persnickety shopper (he procures some of the best chu-toro, or fatty tuna, around) and possessed of a vivid imagination. Witness the fishing boat he fashions from a small horse mackerel (the fish is sparklingly fresh) or his magnificent Dragon Roll, a tour de force of color and drama. Rolls are a point of pride&mdashthey&rsquore not filled with the scraps from preparations of nigiri and sashimi but treated (and often priced) as featured players.

Mood: Eye-catching plates of sushi sail through the dining room as heads turn and point, and the line of diners congregating by the door for a table grows longer. (This is arguably the toughest reservation in Columbia.) The bustle is balanced by the serenity of Lake Kittamaqundi visible through the long plate-glass windows.

Best for: A night of splurging on the high-priced delicacies and rarities that dot the menu.

Best dishes: Snow Balls, panko-rolled, deep-fried shrimp croquettes dusted with Old Bay shrimp hand rolls sashimi or horse mackerel (ask the kitchen to fry the skin and bones for a pleasurable treat) sashimi of wild baby red snapper, fatty yellowtail, and o-toro, shipped from Japan salt-grilled geoduck clam.

Insider tips: Stick to sushi and sashimi&mdashthe tempura and the rendition of shabu shabu are ordinary.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

4301 N. Fairfax Dr., Arlington 703-465-8800

Cuisine: Briny scallops get a hit of sweetness from a dice of butternut squash. Creamy-sweet smoked tomato bisque goes tart and grainy with a zesty olive tapenade. Chef Tracy O&rsquoGrady plays with flavor and texture on her seafood-centric menu, and more often than not her pairings come off well. Her years with Bob Kinkead have also made her a master fryer shrimp, scallops, and sweetbreads are all done to a golden turn.

Mood: This sprawling space, with its dramatic drapes and oversize burgundy lamp shades, is more fun when full the bar/lounge has an intimate vibe.

Best for: After-work get-togethers and dinner with gal pals&mdashthe rooms are spacious, and the menu abounds in high/low options.

Best dishes: Crisp fried veal sweetbreads lobster agnolotti filled with sizable chunks of lobster and berthed on a &ldquobutter&rdquo of lobster roe and sherry lemony fried chicken flatbread pizzas, including the signature Willow, with fontina, thyme, lemon, and truffle essence gorgeous farm lettuces with shaved Manchego and citrusy sherry dressing a perfect-for-sharing fisherman&rsquos platter with fried shrimp, scallops, lobster, calamari, pickled fennel, and spiked rémoulade seared day-boat scallops with butternut squash two ways, diced and in ravioli.

Insider tips: Desserts have been disappointing lately, and the wine list is full of underwhelming picks. When making a reservation, ask to be seated in the main dining room the two annexes, often used for private events, feel B-list.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

Hotel Monaco, 555 Eighth St., NW 202-783-6060

Cuisine: Respectful of the classics but with a bit of whimsy, Robert Weland, one of the area&rsquos most underrated chefs, has turned this hotel restaurant into an exciting and consistent destination for smartly conceived, carefully executed American cooking.

Mood: A bright and bustling multilevel space with vaulted ceilings, an open kitchen, and the air of a big night in the making.

Best for: Dinner before or after a show or a game or concert at Verizon Center.

Best dishes: Steak tartare on brioche, a clever variation on the mini-burger craze a slow-cooked hen egg on toasted brioche with hollandaise and black truffles wild-mushroom consommé, earthy and intense spit-roasted poussin a crisp-skinned filet of sea bass capped by a red-wine-poached egg a loving ode to salted caramel, a multipart dessert that never descends into gimmickry.

Insider tips: The restaurant hosts Poste Roasts several times a year during spring and summer&mdashmoderately priced prix fixe dinners centered on spit-roasted meats and small-batch whiskeys and served in the courtyard.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

37. Patowmack Farm ★★★

42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville, Va. 540-822-9017

Cuisine: &ldquoFarm to table&rdquo is given fresh meaning at this country restaurant, where much of what&rsquos served is grown on the surrounding farm. During dinner, chef Christopher Edwards sometimes can be seen outdoors snipping herbs to finish his produce-driven plates.

Mood: The dining room, a glass conservatory perched in the Potomac River Valley, commands a glorious sweep of mountains&mdashand sunsets. By night, candelabras flicker inside and tiny white lights line the rafters.

Best for: A romantic brunch or dinner while it&rsquos still light out&mdashthat way you can work up an appetite with a stroll on the farm&rsquos half-mile woodland trail and take in the view.

Best dishes: Chèvre-and-herb crepe with roasted beets and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar deconstructed croque madame with soft-cooked farm egg, dry-cured ham, and béchamel on a buttery house-made brioche cube meaty beef short rib with spaghetti squash and chanterelles seared diver scallops with carrot tagliatelle, black truffle, and Madeira jus caramel-coffee soufflé with toffee ice cream and crystallized herbs.

Insider tips: Service is solicitous, with servers waxing enthusiastic about every dish. More-informal&mdashand less-expensive&mdashSunday suppers are sometimes offered.

Open Thursday and Friday for dinner, Saturday for brunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch. Very expensive.

4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW 202-298-6866

Cuisine: No sushi bar in the area can match the intensity, focus, and purity of this tiny restaurant in DC&rsquos Palisades. Chef Tetsuro Takanashi&rsquos $60 prix fixe menu presents a parade of tastes and textures, from the simple (a cube of avocado with soybean sauce) to the deceptively simple (a slab of orange roughy with a sweet miso glaze). Many diners also indulge in a few pieces of well-sourced sashimi and nigiri from the à la carte menu. These add-ons don&rsquot come cheap, but selections such as the fatty yellowtail and live scallop offer some of the restaurant&rsquos greatest rewards.

Mood: The dining room exudes Zen-like serenity punctuated by shouted salutations from waitresses and chefs. Wearing the required slippers and sitting on wooden boxes instead of chairs adds to the sense of transport. Most diners seem to modulate their voices as they talk with the Geisha-like, kimono-clad waitresses.

Best for: Diners willing to put themselves in the hands of the chef and let a meal run its course.

Best dishes: The tasting menu of ten or so courses changes regularly but can include persimmon with sweet tofu sauce mussels marinated in oil with ginger and onion shrimp wrapped in wheat bread and fried fried eggplant with soybean sauce fatty yellowtail sashimi with freshly grated wasabi miso-glazed orange roughy beef with mushroom sauce grape purée with Grand Marnier granita.

Insider tips: There can be hidden costs&mdashthe only water you&rsquoll be poured is bottled water for an added charge, and the only tuna is the excellent but expensive fatty tuna.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-944-2026

Cuisine: This Four Seasons hot spot is only nominally a steakhouse. The force behind it is San Francisco&rsquos Michael Mina, known for his flair with fish. Accordingly, the tuna tartare is more memorable than the porterhouse. Beware the prices: Care for a $75 snifter of single malt after that $85 lobster pot pie?

Mood: The chocolate-leather-clad dining room exudes a sort of modern elegance. But the place has a sense of humor, too&mdasha gratis trio of McDonald&rsquos-inspired fries (fried in duck fat and served with house-made ketchup) welcomes every table.

Best for: Dinner on the boss&rsquos dime splurging on date night cocktails and appetizers in the lounge.

Best dishes: Spice-poached-shrimp cocktail chilled lobster with yuzu classic wedge salad tuna tartare, which sets itself apart with sesame oil and Asian pear creamy shrimp Louis pan-roasted chicken with mac and cheese, a Trump-style TV dinner garlic-and-chive pierogi boozy butterscotch pot de crème made with 18-year-old Macallan caramel apple coconut candy bar.

Insider tips: Pace, pace, pace. After those fries comes the bread course: a skillet of buttery truffle rolls. Do too much nibbling at the outset and you might not make it through the appetizer&mdashwhich would be a shame because the desserts are some of the area&rsquos best.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

34. Teatro Goldoni ★★★

Cuisine: Chef Enzo Fargione, who was head chef at Roberto Donna&rsquos late Galileo, revived this K Street destination almost two years ago, dazzling the business crowd and attracting foodies with creative spins on regional Italian cooking. Among his tricks: a slice of branzino in a cigar box that releases a puff of &ldquosmoke&rdquo when the lid is lifted. But gimmickry isn&rsquot the norm&mdashmost dishes are thoughtful refinements of fare you&rsquod find in a traditional Northern Italian home, such as rustic gnocchi with lamb ragu.

Mood: Management has dropped the Euro dance tracks in favor of classier tunes, and the service has warmed up. Still, it&rsquos a fairly hushed dining experience, despite the circus-themed decor.

Best for: Large parties, either in the back room or at the chef&rsquos table in the kitchen a bite at the bar.

Best dishes: Smoked branzino butter-roasted baby octopus mozzarella and candied tomatoes with balsamic gelatin cubes lobster cavatelli with mushroom-studded cream sauce gnocchi with lamb ragu and pecorino fondue risotto with lobster rib eye with sweetbreads and cannellini beans basil and sweet-corn sorbets vanilla gelato.

Insider tips: Fargione&rsquos &ldquochef table&rdquo is an over-the-top indulgence: a sumptuous procession of more than a dozen intricate and imaginative courses served at a private table in the kitchen&mdashone of the best (and costliest: $125, not including tip and tax) blowout meals in the area.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

Cuisine: Washington has never been blessed with an abundance of Italian restaurants&mdashuntil 2009, when we saw an explosion of pizza-and-pasta shops and every third restaurant opening seemed to trot out a version of grandmother&rsquos meatballs in red sauce. Competition notwithstanding, this expense-account haven remains virtually unchallenged as the premier destination for Northern Italian refinement. Chef Massimo Fabbri is a virtuoso of pasta, which he makes daily.

Mood: The beige dining room is as bland as the food is comforting&mdashpleasing the lawyers and lobbyists who flock here to talk business and twirl tagliatelle. Servers are polished if a bit mechanical, but they&rsquore fluid in a way that recalls the era that their white jackets and bow ties suggest.

Best for: A client lunch or dinner.

Best dishes: Simple but satisfying salads, including one with shaved radicchio, poached pears, and a square of Gorgonzola or soft buffalo mozzarella with a mosaic of beets ribbons of carrot pappardelle sauced with rabbit ragu small pillows of ravioli concealing veal, prosciutto, and mortadella in a rich wine reduction deconstructed carrot cake bomboloni bursting with pomegranate reduction and served with bittersweet-chocolate gelato.

Insider tips: For a livelier experience, sit at the bar, where happy hour&mdashnightly from 5:30 on&mdashmeans free plates of sausage and baskets of focaccia and you can get an affordable half order of pasta.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

480 Seventh St., NW, 202-628-7949 7271 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda, 301-913-0003 2250-A Crystal Dr., Arlington, 703-413-8181

Cuisine: In a sense, no restaurant in Washington has been more influential than this hopping tapas spot, which birthed the small-plates movement and turned fine dining into a more freewheeling affair. Well into its second decade, it remains a remarkably vibrant operation, still capable of astonishing diners with its broad palette of flavors&mdashnow bold and bright, now lusty and rich, now delicate and subtle. It also remains one of the area&rsquos great dining bargains. Of the three locations, Bethesda is a close second to the DC original, with Crystal City a distant third.

Mood: A big, moodily lit space where BlackBerrys give way to potent pitchers of sangría and the passing of plates&mdashwhere dining out becomes a chance for community and conviviality.

Best for: Big groups special occasions pre-theater and pre-game dining.

Best dishes: Stone-size boiled baby potatoes with a mojo verde sauce a good and garlicky gamba al ajillo house-made grilled sausage with white beans bacon-wrapped dates beet salad with pistachios.

Insider tips: It&rsquos best to order only a couple of tapas at a time rather than all at once&mdashdishes can crowd the table. And great as the sangría is, a number of good Spanish wines by the glass are available, including some fruity, mineral whites.

DC and Bethesda locations open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Crystal City location open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

1226 36th St., NW 202-965-1789

Cuisine: What&rsquos the best way to freshen up a meat-and-potatoes institution that dates to the early days of Camelot? In this case, hire a couple of kids. Daniel Giusti, 25, gently pushes boundaries, drizzling beef carpaccio with chili oil and pairing a New York strip with chestnut polenta, while Travis Olson, 28, is one of the best of a new breed of area pastry chefs.

Mood: Like stepping back to the Federalist era. Five dining rooms are wedged throughout two floors of a historic mansion and done up with gaslights, antique maps of Georgetown, and bud vases. In this come-as-you-are age, 1789 has a jackets-only policy, but a loyal brass-buttoned crowd is only too willing to comply.

Best for: Celebrating a birthday or anniversary.

Best dishes: The menu changes frequently, but recent hits have been lush veal cheeks with bits of preserved orange over celery-root purée broiled Gruyère-topped oysters a stunningly pretty and delicious rack of lamb with white beans pork chop with cider jus Nantucket bay scallops in any preparation addictive, slightly tangy cider doughnuts pumpkin-soufflé cheesecake peach-and-blackberry buckle (in summer).

Insider tips: The restaurant tends to go all out for the holidays, with lavish Christmas decorations and an Easter bunny come spring. Ask for a table in the downstairs John Carroll Room&mdashwith its crackling fireplace, it&rsquos more inviting than the rooms upstairs.

Open daily for dinner. Very expensive.

30. Four Sisters ★★★

8190 Strawberry La., Suite 1, Falls Church 703-539-8566

Cuisine: This family-run restaurant has long provided Washingtonians with a kind of Vietnamese Cooking 101&mdashintroducing them to the glories of pho, of smoky grilled pork over slippery rice noodles, of folding bits of crepe into giant fans of lettuce. Nearly two decades on, it remains not merely the area&rsquos best introduction to the genre but&mdashamid a flood of competition&mdashthe best Vietnamese restaurant, period. The menu is long and sprawling and turns up few outright misses. To come across cooking this colorful, this beautifully presented, this delicious&mdashat prices that harken back a decade or more&mdashis astonishing.

Mood: None of Washington&rsquos celebrated architects had a hand in the design of the interior, but no other dining room is as comfortable and as inviting. And few other settings can transform a simple, inexpensive meal into an event.

Best for: Newbies to the cuisine old hands looking to be reawakened to the excitement of Vietnamese cooking done with flair and finesse bargain hunters.

Best dishes: The finest shrimp toast you&rsquoll ever eat in the area soft, slippery rice-noodle crepes stuffed with minced wild mushrooms expertly roasted marinated halves of quail with blood-orange slices and a lime-juice-and-black-pepper &ldquodip&rdquo lotus-root salad an excellent variation on the meat-veggie-and-noodle salad known as bun.

Insider tips: Skip dessert in favor of a superlative Vietnamese iced coffee&mdashstrong, dark, and creamy.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

228 N. Market St., Frederick 301-696-8658

Cuisine: It didn&rsquot take long for this Frederick hot spot to emerge as arguably Maryland&rsquos best restaurant. Chef/partner Bryan Voltaggio, 33, a runner-up on the most recent Top Chef, cannily channels the best of Restaurant Eve, from the cool sophistication to the burning ambition. In dishes that draw inspiration from places as diverse as Morocco, Thailand, and his native Frederick, Voltaggio seamlessly fuses rustic, seasonal cooking with hyper-modern techniques without overworking either.

Mood: A historic brick-mansion exterior gives way to a hushed gallery-like space on the inside. Clean white walls adorned with abstract art make you focus on the food. It&rsquos not all serious: Servers finish off their suited uniforms with Converse sneakers.

Best for: A celebratory splurge a romantic anniversary dinner foodies who like the idea of local and the use of foams and powders but are tired of restaurants that overkill both.

Best dishes: A tasting of beets with an impossibly light goat-cheese mousse and dehydrated beet cylinders a house-made charcuterie plate, which includes the smoothest fennel sausage and well-thought-out condiments such as an orange-peel chutney artisanal-goat-cheese ravioli with an earthy mix of chanterelles and corn lamb two ways with North African flavors (eggplant, ras el hanout, and lentils) butter-poached lobster with an essence of coconut an unlikely chocolate/peanut-butter mousse with cilantro pudding.

Insider tips: For a grandly indulgent meal, try Table 21, where dinner is served in the kitchen (parties of four or fewer only). Keep Volt in mind for brunch it&rsquos just as good as&mdashif not better than&mdashdinner.

Open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Table 21 open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner. Expensive to very expensive.

3715 Macomb St., NW 202-885-5700

Cuisine: Its reputation was built on wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, but the kitchen&rsquos small-plate specials&mdashwhich can include a fry plate of batter-dipped sardines and lemon slices&mdashhave come to overshadow the pies. Chef/owner Peter Pastan and his crew scour the markets for the best each season has to offer for their ever-changing list of specials. The one constant: intensity of flavor.

Mood: The cramped main dining area can be noisy, but it&rsquos a good option for families with youngsters and for those who enjoy a charged atmosphere. For anyone who doesn&rsquot, the cozier back bar and the quieter upstairs offer a more relaxed experience.

Best for: All those who claim the Washington area lacks simple, authentic Italian trattoria fare at reasonable prices.

Best dishes: Seasonal specials of late have included a Romanesco cauliflower deepened by anchovy, sweet garlic, and a touch of hot pepper plump, tart sardines that taste of the sea and an exceptional eggplant Parmesan. Among regular menu items: the Vongole pizza topped with cockles in the shell the simple Margherita pizza with tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil superb house-made sorbets and ice creams.

Insider tips: Late Saturday and Sunday mornings bring house-made doughnuts as well as freshly baked onion-topped bialys and plain bagels served with cured salmon, house-made cream cheese, and red onion.

Open Monday for dinner, Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Moderate.

Cuisine: Of all the wine bars that have opened here, this one has the most ambitious and interesting kitchen. Still, it has often seemed better for grazing on the cheese and charcuterie boards than for splurging on a full dinner. But chef Haidar Karoum is better than ever. He&rsquos always had an Asian bent, and you&rsquoll still find his signature miso sablefish. He&rsquos branching into newer territories, turning out perfectly seared sweetbreads and delicate gnocchi, too.

Mood: A leather-and-brick room carved into the middle of Verizon Center territory. Unlike its neighbors, it&rsquos refreshingly small&mdashsometimes frustratingly so. Stop by the bar on a weeknight and it&rsquos likely to be jammed five deep, and forget dropping in without a reservation. It&rsquos also loud with conversational din and so darkly lit that servers hand out flashlit magnifying glasses with the menus.

Best for: Dates or small groups late-night dining (Thursday through Saturday, the kitchen serves cheesesteaks and meatball subs until 1 am) busting out of a Sancerre rut&mdashenlist one of the smart servers to navigate the wine list of 1,000-plus bottles.

Best dishes: Pork confit that tastes like a mix of pork belly and Peking duck, its richness cut with cilantro and vinegary slaw creamy sweetbreads over a sauté of charred corn meatballs with goat-cheese agnolotti miso-glazed sablefish perfectly pink duck breast with pomegranate vinaigrette shrimp burger (lunch only).

Insider tips: At the bar during lunch, $12 buys you an entrée or sandwich and a glass of wine. Desserts have been generally disappointing&mdashconsider one of Adam Bernbach&rsquos retro cocktails instead, such as the Mirrorball, a cool, faintly sweet mix of Riesling and eau de vie.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner (open late Friday and Saturday). Expensive.

26. Obelisk ★★★

Cuisine: Simply conceived, carefully executed excursions into regional Italian cooking. The five-course menu, the only option ($70 Tuesday through Thursday, $75 Friday and Saturday), starts with the best part of the meal: a long parade of beautiful snacks for the table, such as burrata cheese with olive oil, miniature meatballs, and oozy risotto fritters.

Mood: Owner Peter Pastan is perhaps best known for his chaotic and crammed pizzeria, 2 Amys. Here, at the restaurant he opened 22 years ago, the vibe couldn&rsquot be more different. Set in a Dupont Circle brownstone, the tiny dining room feels intimate and urbane.

Best for: A leisurely date or dinner with friends.

Best dishes: Recent standouts on the ever-changing roster have included a rich, brothy bowl of guinea-hen raviolini with poached egg a pork chop marinated in grape must and sorbets and ice creams.

Insider tips: Be careful not to stuff yourself on the antipasti&mdashportions for the remaining courses tend to be large.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

25. Blue Duck Tavern ★★★

Park Hyatt, 1201 24th St., NW 202-419-6755

Cuisine: Perhaps nowhere is provenance made more of than at chef Brian McBride&rsquos hearth-like hotel kitchen, where the menu lists every farm, city, or town that the main ingredients in his seasonal and regional dishes come from. Top-notch raw materials are the foundation for what might be termed upscale downscale cooking&mdashthink glazed carrots or hand-cut fries served in copper vessels and portioned to share.

Mood: The multi-room space with glass walls, slate floors, and Shaker furniture can feel austere in daylight, but it glows pleasantly after the sun sets. The restaurant has become a hot spot for power players&mdashincluding the President and First Lady&mdashand it&rsquos not uncommon to see Secret Service agents.

Best for: Brunch (one of the best in town) or an impressive dinner, with equally impressive people-watching, for finicky out-of-towners.

Best dishes: The menu changes frequently, but standouts have included soft-shell crab crispy sweetbreads warm Swiss-chard pie sturgeon rillettes with caviar roasted chicken pork weisswurst with red cabbage short-rib hash and cinnamon-bun French toast (breakfast and brunch) house-made ice creams.

Insider tips: Desserts are as large and shareable as the entrées. Pacing can be a problem, but the servers are excellent and willing to help chart your courses&mdashand maybe throw in a free glass of wine for the pleasure of doing so.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Expensive.

24. Kinkead&rsquos ★★★

2000 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-296-7700

Cuisine: A paean to all things piscatory, Bob Kinkead&rsquos flagship serves up glittering platters of raw, shucked oysters, chowders that would make a New Englander pine for home, and crab-stuffed filets of fish that honor and improve on the Maryland fishhouse staple. In an age of freewheeling fusion, this trusty veteran of the DC restaurant scene remains a kind of gatekeeper for vanishing culinary values&mdashfor cooking that looks to the past but isn&rsquot bound by it, fine but unfussy and rooted in a sense of place.

Mood: Upstairs, it&rsquos a proper setting for a business transaction or a date. The excitement is downstairs, around the bar, where the spirit of an Irish pub mixes with the sophistication of a supper club.

Best for: All those traditionalists who seek quiet excellence from a restaurant.

Best dishes: Plump, sweet Ipswich clams, fried to a turn oysters on the half shell any of the rotating list of chowders the best crabcake in town a filet of cod topped with crab imperial and sided with spoonbread a generous portion of skate wing, either pan-seared or crusted apple tarte Tatin.

Insider tips: A new lunch-menu promotion offers a choice of soup or chowder and a sandwich for $12&mdashor an excellent crabcake and house-made fries for $17.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

23. Charlie Palmer Steak ★★★

101 Constitution Ave., NW 202-547-8100

Cuisine: Charlie Palmer was the first of the celebrity chefs to come to DC with the idea of reinventing the steakhouse, and his Capitol Hill restaurant, with its winning blend of convention (big portions, big flavors) and innovation (modern accents such as fava-bean purée), created the template for the expensive experiments that have followed&mdashBLT Steak, Bourbon Steak, J&G Steakhouse.

Mood: There&rsquos nothing dark or clubby about the high-ceilinged space, which dispenses with conventional steakhouse trappings. From the pools of water lined with stones and the warm tones of blue and brown, this might be an upmarket sushi bar. Despite its proximity to&mdashand views of&mdashthe Capitol and a regular clientele of power players, it offers a relaxed dining experience.

Best for: Wining and dining clients dinner for out-of-town guests who like to geek out watching Meet the Press.

Best dishes: A buttery duo of foie gras coriander-crusted Kona kampachi head-on prawns roasted rack of lamb porterhouse for two Alaskan halibut with crab-and-asparagus risotto side dishes of Parmesan gnocchi and potato purée a tasting of six sorbets and frozen custards a trio of crèmes brûlées, including a knockout espresso version with cinnamon foam.

Insider tips: There&rsquos free corkage for up to two bottles of American wine&mdashthe restaurant stocks only American wines, with at least one from each state. The sommelier might offer to bring your wine to the proper temperature, compliment you on it while pouring, and expertly steer you toward other excellent choices from the list.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

22. BLT Steak ★★★

Cuisine: In taking on the classic American steakhouse, chef Laurent Tourondel has Frenchified it, softening its edges and aiming to imbue it with more sophistication. Meals begin with a big Gruyère popover (he knows better than to tamper with the steakhouse belief that size trumps all), and continue with a Mason jar of chicken-liver pâté as silken as whipped butter and five times as intense. The plates of seafood and steak that follow are monstrous, and often monstrously rich, none more so than a five-ounce portion of Kobe beef.

Mood: Most nights, the room is a tastefully lit, leather-appointed stage for the important and those who long to get a glimpse of them, from media mavens to political power players. Cash is flashed, and the Bordeaux flows.

Best for: Those wanting to impress, be it a big date or an important client curiosity seekers who have the fortitude to resist the sticker shock that comes with seeing a steak priced near three digits.

Best dishes: Grilled double-cut bacon, its insistent richness leavened a little by a condiment of chopped garlic and parsley oysters on the half shell, cool and clean and smartly sourced bone-in sirloin double-cut rack of lamb a marvelous crepe soufflé, which swells to the size of a giant turnover.

Insider tips: The best parts of the meal are the popovers and pâté, and they come free regardless of whether you order the most expensive slab of beef or a simple hanger steak.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

21. Café du Parc ★★★

1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-942-7000

Cuisine: At a time when &ldquobistro&rdquo can mean anything at all and when French chefs are making themselves giddy with variations on classic combinations, this charming cafe amounts to a quiet stand for the old ways, a place where technical mastery supplants innovation and the menu, which changes seasonally, remains proudly canonical (mussels, quenelles de brochet, steak tartare). Antoine Westermann, a three-star Michelin chef with restaurants in Paris and Strasbourg, is a consultant and, though working largely from across the pond, has made this one of the area&rsquos most consistent restaurants.

Mood: Outside, on the umbrella-topped patio, is one of the most charming settings in DC&mdasha slice of cafe society. Inside, particularly upstairs, is a different story: The food may put you in mind of Paris, but the room is nondescript. A seat near the bar downstairs splits the difference.

Best for: Anyone who believes that the only true cooking is French and those who long for the deep satisfaction to be had from dishes prepared without fanfare and with a regard for detail.

Best dishes: A robust steak tartare surmounted by a raw quail egg pâté en croûte Antoine Westermann, a tour de force of savory pastry making the best pot of mussels in the area a slab of pork belly, expertly rendered and crisped a deceptively simple roast chicken with its own juices mille-feuille, a rich sandwich of creamy sweet custard held together by two crisp panes of pastry.

Insider tips: To keep tabs low, two can split the pot of mussels, listed as an entrée on the menu it makes a terrific appetizer.

Open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate to expensive.

20. Corduroy ★★★

1122 Ninth St., NW 202-589-0699

Cuisine: Simplicity is chef Tom Power&rsquos mantra, and his well-balanced plates allow the high quality of the ingredients to shine through. You won&rsquot find oddball combinations, just intensely flavored soups beautifully cooked seafood, meats, and game and sauces that enhance rather than steal the show.

Mood: Splashy abstracts on the walls, acres of polished blond wood, and furnishings and textiles in earthy shades make the dining area sophisticated and welcoming, though the space really comes alive when it&rsquos full. Corduroy&rsquos upstairs bar is something of a secret hideaway with its own menu, more affordably priced than the main dining room.

Best for: An intimate dinner with a close friend a light meal at the bar after an event at the convention center across the street.

Best dishes: Kabocha-squash soup with a gauze-like cheese crisp sublime red-snapper bisque duck-egg-and-leg salad lamb loin with garlic crépinette (a house-made lamb sausage) and creamed spinach Muscovy duck with fig sauce chocolate tart with caramelized bananas house-made ice creams.

Insider tips: Request a table at the front of the restaurant in the back, clatter from the open kitchen can be distracting. Corduroy&rsquos location in a historically designated rowhouse means it&rsquos not handicapped-accessible.

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Moderate to very expensive.

19. Ray&rsquos the Steaks ★★★

2300 Wilson Blvd., Arlington 703-841-7297

Cuisine: Superb cowboy cuts, hanger steaks, and New York strips butchered in-house by proprietor Michael Landrum. The emphasis here is on good value&mdashamong the complimentary treats are Tiger Butter fudge, spiced cashews, creamed spinach, and mashed potatoes.

Mood: You won&rsquot find many of the accoutrements of the old-guard DC power dens here. Landrum&rsquos steakhouse&mdashwhich moved from its smaller Courthouse location last winter&mdashhas the soul of a neighborhood restaurant: noisy, casual, and often crowded, despite servers&rsquo tendency to hurry diners through their meal.

Best for: A fast weeknight dinner sirloins on a budget.

Best dishes: Crab bisque, packed with lump meat Caesar salad New York strip with hot &ldquodiablo&rdquo sauce and blue cheese or velvety brandied mushrooms picanha steak with green &ldquopiranha&rdquo sauce cowboy cut hanger steak with béarnaise buttery crab royale coconut custard pie Key-lime pie.

Insider tips: Landrum will debut Ray&rsquos the Glass in mid-January in the same building as Ray&rsquos the Steaks, with celebrated sommelier Mark Slater, previously at Citronelle, overseeing a menu of 60 wines by the glass.

Open daily for dinner. Expensive.

18. Palena and Palena Café ★★★

3529 Connecticut Ave., NW 202-537-9250

Cuisine: You won&rsquot see chef Frank Ruta crisscrossing town to hit his other restaurants (he doesn&rsquot have others), or hawking his book (he hasn&rsquot written one), or doing publicity events (he claims shyness). Almost without fail, Ruta stays in his kitchen, a subterranean lab where he churns out an array of French- and Italian-inspired dishes for his restaurant and casual cafe that ride the border between lustiness and elegance.

Mood: This is two restaurants in one, so it depends: The one in the back, more formal, conjures a drawing room, all faded elegance. Up front is the cafe, a casually elegant setting where diners feel free to carry on and pass plates.

Best for: Jaded palates.

Best dishes: An Asian-spiced roast chicken truffled cheeseburger any of the exquisite and wholly original soups any pâté, terrine, or sausage that appears on the nightly menu the rotating roster of pastas, ranging from a simple and immensely satisfying pappardelle with ragu to more intricate and refined arrangements cookie plate.

Insider tips: On Mondays, Ruta combines his cafe and restaurant menus, making for interesting high/low eating full of variety and affordability diners can, if they wish, have a burger and a delicately roasted turbot, too.

Open Monday through Saturday for dinner. Moderate to expensive.

17. Marcel&rsquos ★★★

2401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-296-1166

Cuisine: When is the last time you encountered Madeira sauce on a menu? Chef Robert Wiedmaier turns out the kind of beurre-heavy French cooking that once dominated the local restaurant scene and has all but disappeared. But his kitchen is by no means stuck in the past&mdashhamachi crudo and cilantro aïoli are in the mix, too.

Mood: The honey-lit dining room, which lies beyond a pair of heavy burgundy drapes, feels elegantly plush and civilized. It takes you back to a time when the only blackberries at the table were on a tart.

Best for: A dinner to dress up for those nostalgic for the days of Rive Gauche and Sans Souci.

Best dishes: Sweet Alaskan crab legs sided with a brightly flavored crab salad filet of turbotin (a small, flaky relative of turbot) in a delicate beurre blanc rosy medallions of lamb wrapped in phyllo with spinach and duxelles boudin blanc (Wiedmaier&rsquos signature), an elegant, mousse-filled sausage venison with a rich reduction of Carmenère wine grape clafoutis soufflé specials cheese plate with honeycomb and raisins on the vine.

Insider tips: The menu offers a four-, five-, or seven-course menu, but a three-course pre-theater menu ($52) is a good deal&mdashand when you consider the amuse-bouche, the mignardise, and the take-home madeleines, it amounts to a pretty sumptuous meal. If you&rsquore headed to the nearby Kennedy Center, you can valet-park your car for the evening and the restaurant will arrange to have you driven to and from the theater via Mercedes you can also opt to have your dessert after the show.

Open daily for dinner. Very expensive.

16. Zaytinya ★★★

701 Ninth St., NW 202-638-0800

Cuisine: Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese classics get the José Andrés treatment at this Penn Quarter mezzeteria: The peripatetic chef amps up the flavors so they&rsquore bolder and brighter, while downsizing the portions so they fit his small-plates format. His protégé, Mike Isabella, recently flamed out on Bravo&rsquos Top Chef. No such problems here&mdashhis kitchen is a model of consistency and high quality.

Mood: Soaring ceilings, sharp angles, and sculptural jars of olive oil&mdashfor which the restaurant is named&mdashset a downtown vibe, as does the near-constant roar from the packed bar almost every evening.

Best for: Lunch, when the place is less crowded and loud (even better on the patio in warm months) pre-game and pre-theater diners in search of value groups, which are handled well here.

Best dishes: Htipiti, a spread of red peppers, feta, and fresh thyme crispy fried eggplant taramasalata zucchini-and-cheese fritters poached salmon with spicy eggplant veal cheeks with chanterelle-mushroom purée prawns with Persian-style charred-tomato sauce salmon shawarma sandwich (lunch only) Greek-yogurt-and-apricot parfait chocolate visne, a milk-chocolate cream with cherry sorbet Eros cocktail featuring dried baby roses and honey dust.

Insider tips: The mezze theme carries through to the desserts, which can be ordered regular size and in a smaller mezze portion.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Moderate.

1503 17th St., NW 202-462-8999

Cuisine: With so many American chefs spouting the mantra of seasonal and local, procuring high-quality ingredients is too often regarded as a certain route to great food. In sushi, however, where the quality of fish is directly proportional to the quality of the restaurant, sourcing isn&rsquot just desirable it&rsquos eminently preferable. Flying in fish from Tokyo&rsquos famed Tsukiji market, including a host of varieties never seen in this area, DC&rsquos most ambitious sushi restaurant is turning out fresh (and sometimes shockingly expensive) selections of nigiri and sashimi and setting a new standard.

Mood: A serene, high-toned dining room that channels a spa, right down to the music, and is meant to put the focus on what hits the table.

Best for: Sushi fanatics who know that when it comes to quality and freshness, you have to pay to play.

Best dishes: Marinated whole baby octopus, an excursion in texture and funky depths a dramatic presentation of rich, fat-striated Kobe beef, sliced thin nigiri of eel, yellowtail, sweet shrimp, and salmon sashimi of uni (oceanic, rich, creamy), scallop, and the best o-toro in the area black-sesame brûlée house-made mochi.

Insider tips: Raw is the way to go here the cooked tends to be hit or miss (though the hits are big). But if you order à la carte and forgo the omakase menu&mdashin which a chef will devise a special menu for you&mdashyou may have to take charge with your server and self-pace your meal dishes can pile up at the table.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

14. Bistro Bis ★★★

Hotel George, 15 E St., NW 202-661-2700

Cuisine: Straightforward Gallic classics&mdashonion soup, pots of moules, beef bourguignon&mdashshare space with more elaborately sculpted creations. Fashions come and go, restaurants open and close, but proprietor Jeff Buben&rsquos Capitol Hill restaurant endures.

Mood: You&rsquod never know that this plush, honey-toned hotel dining room&mdashthe sister to downtown DC&rsquos Vidalia&mdashwas a bistro, save for the ceramic moutarde jars and magnums of Moët that line the hallway like an exhibit. Well-heeled Meursault sippers sit banquette-to-banquette with big-name politicos in the dining room younger staffers nibble cheese plates at the bar.

Best for: Low-key mussels and wine at the bar dealmaking dinners a date that you want to seem special but not too extravagant.

Best dishes: Onion soup, peppery and gooey with Gruyère creamy duck-liver parfait beet salad, one of the prettiest around mussels with cider cream pan-roasted sirloin with a cone of perfect fries buttery halibut with lobster baked-to-order apple tart fig tart with vanilla custard.

Insider tips: Come dessert time, it pays to remember that Bis rolls one of the best cheese carts in town. And though the parade of big spenders seems content to use the hotel&rsquos valet, there&rsquos free parking in the garage across the street daily after 5:30.

Open Monday through Friday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. Very expensive.

13. Central Michel Richard ★★★

1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-626-0015

Cuisine: Celebrated French chef Michel Richard&mdashthe genius behind the whimsically haute Citronelle&mdashputs his spin on American and French comfort food. Where else can you find divine gougères alongside a killer corned-beef sandwich? Or Budweiser and Chassagne-Montrachet?

Mood: The loud, blond-wood dining room, complete with a Warholian portrait of Richard, is as fizzy as a bottle of Veuve. It&rsquos the antithesis of a stuffy power spot, but the Hill crowd likes it anyway.

Best for: Celebrating anything fans of burgers (there are five kinds on the menu) taking out-of-towners.

Best dishes: Perfectly shucked oysters mussel chowder &ldquofaux gras&rdquo terrine Gruyère gougères corned-beef sandwich an ultra-rich, duxelles-slathered grilled-cheese with a three-cheese béchamel for dipping light and crisp fried chicken cheeseburger with cheddar and bacon macaroni and cheese a messy but wonderful coconut Pavlova Richard&rsquos famed, hazelnut-backed riff on a Kit Kat bar.

Insider tips: Just because the fried chicken is inspired by KFC doesn&rsquot mean you can stroll right in&mdashthis is one of the town&rsquos toughest reservations.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner (closed Sunday in summer). Expensive.

12. Vidalia ★★★½

Cuisine: The shrimp &rsquon&rsquo grits remains a signature, as does the butter-drenched cornbread, the lemon chess pie, and the superlative mint julep (served ice cold in a derby cup). And yes, the kitchen still shops for its ham and bacon from the Shenandoah and scours the waters of the Carolinas for fresh fish and seafood. But to think of proprietor Jeffrey Buben&rsquos steady veteran as a purely Southern restaurant is to miss the message. The South is a starting point for creative chef R.J. Cooper III and his crew, who love nothing more than to put down-home ingredients in the service of bold, boundary-pushing experiments with form and expectation. For all his explorations, Cooper never forgets the crucial lesson that every Southern grandma knows not to violate: Make it delicious.

Mood: Nobody descends into this low-lit, glass-walled dining room looking for charm&mdashit&rsquos as featureless as the food is intricate. But by the time they settle in and enjoy Cooper&rsquos countrified modernism, even the lawyers and lobbyists stop talking about work.

Best for: Gastronomes who can look past the restaurant&rsquos former reputation as a bastion of Southern comfort and appreciate the singular thing it has become.

Best dishes: The menu changes often, but beyond the shrimp &rsquon&rsquo grits and lemon chess pie, you can expect loving and lusty twists on the Reuben (with pork belly) and burger, both available at lunch or at the bar imaginative, full-bodied takes on game (and, of late, goat) and unusually elaborated preparations of fish, including sweet wreckfish and that classic, Dover sole.

Insider tips: The bar menu, though brief, is a good deal&mdasha chance to sample the work of one of the area&rsquos best chefs. And the weeknight happy hour, from 5 to 7&mdashwith small snacks and, on Tuesday, free flights from one of the best wine lists in DC&mdashremains a local treasure.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

11. Inn at Little Washington ★★★½

309 Middle St., Washington, Va. 540-675-3800

Cuisine: Perhaps no restaurant in the region is more beholden to its reputation than this culinary legend, whose three-plus decades lead you to expect dazzling feats of culinary brilliance. Dinners are not, alas, perfect, and epiphanies are rare. But chef Patrick O&rsquoConnell&rsquos obsession with the best ingredients money can buy&mdashwitness his liberal use of lobster, caviar, and foie gras&mdashand the playfulness of his kitchen staff make for a night of grand indulgence.

Mood: Tapestries and tassels signal a grown-up experience, a place of hushed tones and earnest servers. But in some rooms, the tables are packed in so tightly that your neighbors are practically your dining partners.

Best for: Foodies looking for another notch on their notable-eats belts couples celebrating a special occasion.

Best dishes: Tin of Sin, an over-the-top concoction of caviar, crab, and cucumber served in a caviar container sorrel soup with a duo of custards a selection of sashimi made up of four distinct presentations of raw fish a duo of hot and cold foie gras macaroni and cheese with ham and black truffle veal sweetbreads artichoke-filled pasta with braised artichokes limoncello soufflé with Meyer-lemon ice cream.

Insider tips: Wine lovers might consider arriving early and having a glass on the gorgeous patio while looking over the 94-page wine list. And if you can&rsquot get one of the chef&rsquos tables, ask a server for a tour of the kitchen.

Open daily for dinner closed some Tuesdays. Very expensive.

10. CityZen ★★★½

Mandarin Oriental, 1330 Maryland Ave., SW 202-787-6006

Cuisine: In figure-skating terms, Eric Ziebold attempts the equivalent of a triple axel every night, producing high-concept, often exquisite dishes at breakneck speed. One minute, he&rsquos evoking Escoffier with a perfect terrine another, he&rsquos channeling his Iowa mom, preparing tongue with her corned-beef recipe. And he can&rsquot resist upscaling humble ethnic dishes, such as a Russian koulibiac crafted with asparagus and a Japanese shabu shabu made with foie gras.

Mood: A soaring room in the luxe Mandarin Oriental hotel. It might look imposing, but many of the sharply suited servers exude warmth and humor, and the soundtrack has been known to include Radiohead and Jimi Hendrix.

Best for: Diners willing to place their trust in a chef and his vision and to enjoy the ride.

Best dishes: The menu changes monthly, but look for dishes with a Midwestern or Americana bent (Pilsner popovers, grasshopper pie, a riff on Maryland stuffed ham) anything with pasta, all house-made and excellent preparations of beef or shoat (baby pig) dessert soufflés cheeses from the cart.

Insider tips: A $50 three-course bar menu, with two or three choices per category, is geared to more casual walk-ins&mdashin the dining room it&rsquos $75 for three courses or $110 for the tasting menu.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

9. Restaurant Eve ★★★½

110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria 703-706-0450

Cuisine: Long before &ldquolocavore&rdquo became the watchword for area foodies, Irish chef Cathal Armstrong was growing his own vegetables, making his own yogurt, curing his own pork belly, and combing local farms for just about everything else. His plates don&rsquot strive for attention with visual fireworks&mdashthey&rsquore often more earthy than ethereal&mdashbut many leave you marveling at their attention to detail and technique. This is a kitchen where shortcuts are a sin.

Mood: Whether you&rsquore dining at the bar, the leisurely bistro, or the quieter and more formal tasting room, the service will likely strike the perfect balance of warm, precise, funny, and smart. That and the simple decor&mdashhurricane candles lining the stone walkway, paintings of eggplants in the dining room&mdashtake much of the stuffiness out of fine dining.

Best for: A drop-in lunch or dinner at the bar catching up with friends or celebrating in the bistro a multi-course dinner in the tasting room some of the best cocktails in the area.

Best dishes: The menu changes by the day, but look for Armstrong&rsquos faithfully rendered version of the cool, tangy Indian salad papri chaat lobster bisque, which manages to taste rich and light at the same time crab bisque bacon-egg-and-cheese salad bouillabaisse packed with cod and clams charcuterie any foie gras preparation tarte Tatin Eve&rsquos Temptation cocktail, which puts apple martinis to shame.

Insider tips: A $13.95 two-course Lickity Split lunch is available at the bar on weekdays and is the gastronomic equivalent of pro bono. In the bistro, appetizers tend to be more thrilling than the entrées. Reservations, especially for the bistro, can be hard to come by, so it&rsquos best to book well in advance.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive to very expensive.

Cuisine: Modern Indian cooking, exuberantly conceived and executed with precision. The curries, kebabs, and stews that tend to define subcontinent cooking are starting points for immensely talented chef Vikram Sunderam. In slyly Westernizing these dishes, he incorporates luxury ingredients and sets them off with sauces that speak of care and refinement while retaining the punch of the original.

Mood: Shades of cinnabar and saffron, fabric-swathed walls, and curtains of metal and glittering glass beads all make for a setting that manages to soothe and stir the senses. There may not be a more stunning dining room in all of DC.

Best for: A romantic dinner a night of wowing out-of-towners.

Best dishes: Palak chaat, ethereally crisp leaves of spinach with date chutney and tamarind, and large enough for several to share lobster moilee with ginger, green chilies, and coconut milk tandoori lamb chops slathered with a paste of cashews, ginger, and green herbs truffle-oil-slicked naan tomato/gold-raisin chutney to put on everything samosas oozing chocolate and apple beignet with cardamom ice cream for dessert.

Insider tips: If too-sweet cocktails are your nemesis, mixologist Jason Strich&rsquos tangy concoctions&mdashsuch as the Cucumber Vesper, with cucumber-infused vodka&mdashare sure to please. And you don&rsquot have to order takeout to take home a taste of Rasika: Jars of the restaurant&rsquos gravies&mdashwe like the Kashmiri&mdashare $5 apiece.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

7. Oval Room ★★★½

800 Connecticut Ave., NW 202-463-8700

Cuisine: In chef Tony Conte&rsquos hands, slices of raw kampachi morph into a riff on a pastrami sandwich, Parmesan gets paired with pineapple, and gingerbread turns into a sauce. Recipes for disaster? Maybe for a lesser cook, but Conte&mdasha protégé of Jean-Georges Vongerichten&mdashconsistently pulls off such surprises with stunning results.

Mood: The restaurant&rsquos proximity to the White House means there&rsquos usually a politico power scene (&ldquoHey there, Rahm&rdquo) at lunch. At night the pretty, pale-green dining room feels warmer and more serene.

Best for: A quiet date an easier-on-the-budget meal that still feels like a splurge (entrées hover in the $20s) a spur-of-the-moment dinner, for which reservations are usually more plentiful than at lunch.

Best dishes: Foamy, light, lavishly rich Parmesan custard decadent foie gras brûlée over a circle of brioche the area&rsquos best beet salad, with horseradish and cubes of passionfruit gelée cucumber soup creamy burrata cheese with apple butter-poached lobster over curried rice striped bass with heirloom peppers and littleneck clams braised short ribs.

Insider tips: Request a table in the main dining room&mdashthe area off to the side feels far from the action.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Expensive.

2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church 703-270-1500

Cuisine: Chef Bertrand Chemel, who left Manhattan&rsquos esteemed Café Boulud two years ago to command the kitchen at this destination restaurant, creates rich, rigorously executed French dishes with big-money ingredients&mdashhe loves truffles&mdashand the occasional Asian accent.

Mood: The address is an office building, but the dining room is serene and lovely, with soaring windows overlooking a glittering pond.

Best for: Celebrations weekday business lunches dining at the bar.

Best dishes: Seared foie gras with huckleberries burrata-filled ravioli smothered in Robiola cheese just-creamy-enough clam chowder madai snapper with ginger beurre blanc duck with polenta, acorn squash, and grapes any Wagyu-beef preparation chocolate mousse spiked with Baileys Irish Cream a decadent take on s&rsquomores.

Insider tips: A weekday lunch deal offers three courses for $23.95 a dinner special available every night but Saturday gets you four courses for $58.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for dinner. Very expensive.

5. Citronelle ★★★½

Latham Hotel, 3000 M St., NW 202-625-2150

Cuisine: The ultimate in dinner as theater from culinary showman Michel Richard, who marries technical rigor, up-to-the-moment culinary practices (he&rsquos become obsessed with the sous vide technique), and a wicked sense of humor to produce food that looks like no other and, at its best, rivals the work of the finest chefs in the world. To dine here is to be dazzled&mdasha mushroom soup that looks like a cappuccino, a lobster dish that will fool you into thinking you&rsquore supping on caviar&mdashbut it&rsquos also to come away with a better appreciation of the power of great cooking to produce flavors that couldn&rsquot exist without careful, artful manipulation. More than edible art, it&rsquos wondrously delicious art.

Mood: Heads may turn for a glimpse of a celebrity or politico, but the real excitement is the showpiece kitchen&mdasha brightly lit stage, aswarm with serious-faced cooks, where some of the most eye-catching dishes in the area emerge, ready for their close-ups. Even if you&rsquore not lucky enough to snag a seat at the chef&rsquos table or in the first row of tables that look into the kitchen, all of them are angled to the main stage.

Best for: A night of gastronomic adventure&mdashand excess.

Best dishes: Fried chicken nuggets with mustard sauce crispy duxelles-stuffed cigars of brik pastry &ldquobegula&rdquo pasta, a textural marvel that brings together soft poached lobster, poached egg, and black squid-ink tapioca pearls glazed sablefish with a complex and delicate miso sauce mushroom &ldquocappuccino&rdquo roast duck a superlative napoleon.

Insider tips: The upstairs lounge features the same wondrous cooking at a fraction of the cost of dining downstairs, albeit with tiny tables and less pampering.

Open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

4. J&G Steakhouse ★★★½

W Hotel, 515 15th St., NW 202-661-2440

Cuisine: The name is a hedging of bets from one of the world&rsquos culinary superstars this is no more a steakhouse than Citronelle is a diner. That&rsquos not to say you can&rsquot get a porterhouse&mdashjust that you&rsquod do well to forgo the slabs of beef the pleasures of Jean-Georges Vongerichten&rsquos 27th restaurant are to be found in the casual brilliance of the soups and salads, in the note-perfect preparations of fish and seafood, and in the kitchen&rsquos mastery of detail, which transforms otherwise familiar-sounding dishes into quiet masterpieces.

Mood: The soaring, white-walled space summons a classic old European hotel, minus the formality&mdasha sophisticated and relaxed setting for meals attended by some of the best, most professional servers in DC.

Best for: A meal of elegance and refinement that, unlike many big-ticket restaurants working at a similarly high level, won&rsquot soak you.

Best dishes: Perfectly shucked chilled oysters on the half shell delicate corn ravioli with an iridescent basil purée seared tilefish one of the most gorgeously fried calamari dishes we&rsquove ever tried rewarding renditions of crabcake and burger poached peach with pistachio ice cream and Champagne sabayon molten chocolate cake, as designed by the man who invented the dish.

Insider tips: Downstairs is the Cellar, a low-ceilinged bar and cafe where you can sample the restaurant&rsquos excellent wine list and enjoy a number of the same dishes served upstairs.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday for brunch and dinner. Expensive.

3. The Source ★★★½

575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-637-6100

Cuisine: &ldquoPan-Asian&rdquo has become so ubiquitous a term that it conjures trepidation on the part of many food lovers, whose stomachs tighten at the thought of another ill-begotten mishmash of Western proteins and Eastern spices and sauces. No such worries at this confident outpost of Wolfgang Puck&rsquos culinary empire. Puck didn&rsquot invent the genre, but he knows what works and what doesn&rsquot, and he also knows the key is to achieve a synthesis, to produce a kind of exotic neither/nor. His protégé, Scott Drewno, executes the master&rsquos vision with a light touch and oversees a remarkably consistent operation.

Mood: Hollywood by way of the Potomac: cocktail waitresses in short black dresses, a moodily lit lounge-style space, classic rock from the sound system, and swarms of beautiful people congregating at the downstairs bar. Upstairs is a little less electric&mdashand a little less exciting.

Best for: A stylish night out with friends a blowout meal full of moan-inducing moments.

Best dishes: The best dumplings in the area, delicately fashioned and stuffed with chopped pork belly perfect mini-burgers a magnificent crispy fried bass, fileted tableside Arctic char accented with Indian spices and a cool, vivid raita plump prawns in a zesty Indian curry glazed lamb chops with a mint-coriander sauce, the best lamb dish in town blueberry crumble.

Insider tips: You can order anything from the regular menu in the downstairs lounge. Alternatively, you can mix and match from the two menus, cobbling together a high/low meal of, for instance, sliders and whole fried fish.

Open Monday through Friday for lunch and dinner, Saturday for dinner. Very expensive.

405 Eighth St., NW (inside Café Atlántico) 202-393-0812

Cuisine: Thirty miniature courses&mdashsome a spoonful or a spritz&mdashof celebrity chef José Andrés&rsquos gastronomic alchemy. Olive oil is transformed into a bonbon a beet is spun into tumbleweeds. Andrés turns familiar dishes inside out and upside down&mdashyou&rsquoll never look at chicken wings or cheesesteaks the same way again.

Mood: There are only six seats at this counter on the second floor of Café Atlántico, and diners are served by two or three chefs. You&rsquoll likely have questions&mdashwhat&rsquos the secret behind those edible gumdrop wrappers?&mdashand the chefs encourage a spirited back-and-forth. Imagine two hours of culinary thrills mixed with the coolest science class around.

Best for: Curious eaters, lovers of theater, foodies in search of something new. Note: This isn&rsquot volume eating, although we&rsquove always left sated.

Best dishes: The menu is set each night (tell the restaurant about allergies in advance), but a core of hit dishes, including foie gras swabbed in cotton candy and the fabulously drippy &ldquocheesesteak,&rdquo often appear.

Insider tips: This may be Washington&rsquos toughest seat to come by. Reservations for the two nightly seatings are taken one month to the day in advance beginning at 10 am. If you have your heart set on a certain date, treat it like getting Springsteen tickets and have several friends try to get through at once. Sometimes reservations are gone in minutes.

Two dinner seatings Tuesday through Saturday. Very expensive.

1509 17th St., NW 202-332-9200

Cuisine: Washington&rsquos best restaurant is home to 30-year-old chef Johnny Monis, a wunderkind who disdains the trappings of culinary fame, preferring to expend his creativity and passion on his interpretation of Mediterranean cooking. Exquisitely fresh fish and seafood&mdashin most cases presented raw and imaginatively accented&mdashpredominate at the start of the two set menus, giving way as the long, leisurely night unfolds to family-style preparations of luscious roast goat and suckling pig. In between, diners revel in a variety of tastes and textures, including one of the best pasta courses in the area&mdasheach noodle is accorded a separate dough, then rolled gently by hand and exuberantly sauced.

Mood: The most unpretentious big-ticket destination around: simply appointed, softly lit, with an air of quiet sophistication and a hint of something special in the offing. The staff&mdashyoung, energetic, knowledgeable, and proud&mdashis nearly a match for the cooking. You don&rsquot feel looked after you feel taken care of.

Best for: Gastronomic thrill seekers and all those willing to submit to a very particular idea of what constitutes dinner: an unhurried, sensual, and communal night out.

Best dishes: Roasted, mascarpone-stuffed dates drizzled with olive oil and anointed with coarse sea salt a decadent, deceptively simple dish of sliced scallop with truffle emulsion and black truffles a chewy tangle of handmade spaghetti tossed in a creamy, bright sea-urchin sauce and capped with lobes of sea urchin roast suckling pig and baby goat with warm, house-made pita and a quintet of customizing condiments.

Insider tips: The degustazione menu puts dinner in the hands of the chef, but that doesn&rsquot mean you can&rsquot request that certain dishes on the menu make an appearance.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

FABTS December Meeting

The December meeting of the Fredericksburg Brewing and Tasting Society was held yesterday at Kybecca on Plank Rd. The theme for this month's meeting was "Holiday Beers." There where around 20 members gathered to sample 38 commercial beers and 2 home brews. It was quite an event. There's a partial list of the beers sampled posted on the FABTS web site.

What are "Holiday Beers"? This is a pretty broad category, as evidenced by the number of beers sampled. Also referred to as "Winter Beers" the selection included high hop beers such as Sierra Nevada Celebration or malty "Winter Warmer" styles such as Clipper City Winter Storm. Many of these Winter beers are higher in ABV, for a "warming" effect. In some cases the beers are "Wassail" style offerings and flavored with such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove. And in some cases the brewer simply relabels a year-round beer for the Holidays. In any event, there's a "Holiday Beer" to suite any taste.

There were too many beers sampled to provide detailed notes on each one. In some cases limited quantities necessitated small samples. I don't try to review a beer unless I have a full "serving" and can evaluate from the pour to the end of the drink. However these tasting events are excellent opportunities to try new beers and find ones you want to search out for further exploration. Besides the perennial favorites such as Sierra Nevada Celebration and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, there were quite a few beers that stood out. I'll post some notes on the ones I especially enjoyed.

Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale is a caramel malt flavored drink with just touch of hops. Flying Dog beers are readily available in this area now that they've bought the former Frederick Brewery in Frederick, MD. I've not found Flying dog beers that I've cared much for previously and was pleasantly surprise by this one. At 6.4% ABV this Winter Warmer is easy to enjoy.

Clay Pipe Pursuit Of Happiness Winter Warmer is from another Maryland-based brewer. This 8.25% ABV Winter Warmer has a strong malt backbone that is well-balanced by a nice hoppy kick. Some in attendance suggested that this might be fresh-hopped.

Stoudt's Winter Ale is a Winter release that changes each year. This year's release is brewed with cocoa producing a rich, chocolate malt flavor. I detected a hint of cinnamon a well. Stoudts is a brewer who's beers never disappoint.

Magic Hat is a brewery whose beers I've not previously taken a liking too. However, the Magic Hat Roxy Rolles Winter Amber was quite tasty. The Magic Hat web site says this amber ale is dry-hopped with simco hops. The flavor is malty with a nice sharp hop presence.

Ridgeway Brewing Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout is an English-style stout from the same folks who bring us the "Elf" series of beers. (Bad Elf, Very Bad Elf, Insanely Bad Elf, Seriously Bad Elf.) This is a deep brown colored beer with coffee notes in both the aroma and taste. Caramel sweetness comes through in the flavor as well. A nice stout at 8% ABV.

Fantôme Spéciale De Noel is one of the few "sour" beers I've tried. This Farmhouse Ale pours dark brown with a fruity aroma. The flavor of sour fruit, mostly cherries, comes through the dark malts. I made a note that I want to try this one again in a larger sample before passing judgement. The tartness does mask the 10% ABV.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is another ABV monster at 10% ABV. This Belgian Strong Dark Ale has the aroma of dark fruit. Sweet caramel and butterscotch flavors blend with the peppery spices to create a nice beer. The spiciness lingers in the aftertaste. A nice sipping beer.

Delirium Noël is from Brouwerij Huyghe in Belgium, the same folks who bring us the infamous Delirium Tremens. Yet another 10% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale, this one pours a dark red-brown with a sweet aroma of raisons and other dark fruits. Some clove and candy sugar sweetness as well. The flavor matches the aroma with a yeasty, fruity sweetness over the malt, with a dry finish. My notes state to "buy some" although I left the meeting without doing so.

Next up on my list of highlights is Tröegs Mad Elf. I've always been a fan of Tröegs beers and Mad Elf held up that reputation. This 11% ABV Belgian Strong Dark Ale is flavored with cherries. I wasn't sure what to expect since I'm not a big fruit beer fan. A clear ruby-red pour with a sweet aroma. The taste is well-balanced between malt and spiciness with the sweet cherry flavor peaking through. We also sampled a 1 or 2 year old bottle of Mad Elf that had lost the cherry flavor and was mostly sweet honey flavor.

As if these and 23 other beers weren't enough, we were now in for a very special treat. Rob A. had brought in 2 bottles of Samichlaus Bier, both 1995 and 1996 vintages! Samichlaus was brewed by Brauerei Hürlimann in Zurich, Switzerland up until 1996 when the recipe was sold to the the Feldschlösschen Brewery. It is currently produced by Schloss Eggenberg of Switzerland. This 14% ABV was once considered the strongest beer in the world and everyone was eagerly awaiting the opening of these bottles. The 1995 vintage was opened first. The beer poured a very dark brown with no head. The malt aroma was very strong. The taste was unexpected. This was a very smooth, sweet, nutty beer. It reminded me of drinking a very smooth sherry. The 1996 was only slight less in flavor to me, although some in attendance though the 1996 vintage to be superior. There were only small samples per person but these were exceptional delights. Thanks to Rob for sharing! For comparison a 2006 bottle was also opened. The flavor on the recent vintage was much less intense. Even though the recipe is supposedly the same, there can be little doubt that subtle differences crept in over the years. I think I will keep my 2006 bottle stored away for a few years at least. We also sampled a Samichlaus Helles, which is being bottled in 2007 for the first time since 1986. The flavor of this was more sweet than the previous beers and not quite as malty.

After the commercial beers were finished we got to try a couple of home brews from two members. The first was a Belgian dubbel style beer from Jim (?). Unfortunately I neglected to take any notes on this one, although I do remember thinking it was good with a nice typical Belgian yeast flavor. My apologies to the brewer for not recording more.

The second home brew, from Dave F. was a "smoked pumpkin ale". Dave used real pumpkin, apple wood, and fuggles and willamette hops. This offering was very well-received. Enough of the pumpkin came through to give some sweetness which worked well with the smokey background. This was a "real" pumpkin beer, not a "spiced pumpkin pie" flavor like so many pumpkin beers. Kudos to both these home brewers for sharing.

The large variety of beer was complimented by an equally impressive array of cheeses, courtesy of James and Angela. This treat was much appreciated. Also thanks go out to our host for this month, Kybecca Wine and Gourmet. Kybecca offers a wide array of craft beers, artisanal cheeses and wine. A grand time was had by all and I look forward to the next meeting on January 12. The theme for January will be Stouts and we'll meet at Bangkok Boulevard. Be sure to watch the FABTS web site for more details. Hope to see you there!