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All We Can Eat
Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/10/2011

Phyllis Richman: The semi-naked truth in trendy dining

The new Pearl Dive Oyster Palace: A Southern-minded seafood shack where the conversations can be just as spicy. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
On a Sunday brilliantly decorated with fall leaves and sunshine, I ventured to sample what’s new to eat in downtown Washington. U Street and 14th Street, once dark and grim, are popping with fresh restaurants. The buzz is deafening. It’s been a dozen years since I retired from the Washington Post as restaurant critic. What have I missed?

Wanting to avoid the purported two-hour waits (a trend I’m glad to have skirted), we arrived at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in the late afternoon. The dinner menus wouldn’t be available until 5 p.m., but we could linger at a table with a tray of oysters and two-digit drinks (another trend I was lucky to skip). The welcome was warm, the dining room was quiet and the enthusiastic waitress offered to ask the kitchen what oysters were available.

At least a half hour later, she returned to our bare table, smiling and bouncy, apologizing that she’d been waylaid by a staff meeting. Is this the New Casual?

Dinner was uncommonly satisfying, the classic success story of superb ingredients simply cooked. Old-fashioned goodness never goes out of style. And once our waitress was on duty, she showed that she knew her job and loved it.

Not so different from a decade ago, I thought, until I idly eavesdropped on the next table.

“I was an underwear model, too,” announced the waiter to the two young men whose drink order he was taking. “Big and tall,” he added.

In my day, a server giving one’s name was enough. Some thought more than enough.

By Phyllis Richman  |  11:00 AM ET, 11/10/2011

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