The Washington Post


Quiet meetings

You won't have to fight against restaurant noise to discuss business in these serene settings.

  • Updated 05/16/2014
  • 4 Items

Fans of cooking shows should aim for one of 10 stools at the counter. Few restaurants put their audience as close to the action as this one. From just feet away, customers might catch one worker frying, another peeling shrimp, a third shaping rice balls.The most senior performer is Hiroshi Seki, 65, a shy man with a sharp knife. He and his daughter have transformed a former barbershop into a serene two-story stage for sashimi, tempura, udon and other Japanese dishes.


I love the gentle rhythm of dinner in the narrow, low-lit townhouse owned by Peter Pastan, whose famous shyness is summed up by the restaurant's facade, which has no sign. The five-course Italian menu is based on seasonally available ingredients; the chef knows not to over-embellish good materials. The pastas are amazing, the entrees less so and the desserts hew to the Italian inclination to go light on the sweeteners.


Almost everything about dinner at Plume, in the sumptuous Jefferson Hotel, is designed to make you want to come back for your next anniversary or pay raise, whichever comes first. Pools of space separate one beautifully dressed table from another, yet the servers in bespoke suits are never far from granting your next wish. Chandeliers sparkle from coffered ceilings. A fire crackles in the hearth. The chairs are so plush, you are tempted to curl up and take a nap, but the eyes stay open to examine the silk wallpaper that sets you in 18th-century Monticello. This is the rare restaurant where entrees outshine first courses. Fashion trends are bypassed in favor of tradition. Picture lobster Thermidor and a proper veal chop, the meat cooked just the shade you ask and served as a fan of slices on the bone.


Food scribes are sometimes accused of chasing what's new at the expense of saluting tradition, which is one reason I made a mad dash to 1789 for the Georgetown stalwart's 50th anniversary this year. In a world of pop-up dining rooms and assertions by some trendsetters that "interesting" food is a worthier aim than "delicious" cooking, 1789 represents a slower time and place. Some impressive talent has passed through the kitchen of this crown jewel in the Clyde's Restaurant Group. The latest is Anthony Lombardo, a former sous-chef at the recently shuttered Casa Nonna in Dupont Circle. Lombardo is not bigger than the institution or his predecessors, but his best efforts prove something: 1789 isn't just for history buffs.

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