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See and be seen

Dive into the District dining scene at these happening spots.

  • Updated 09/17/2012
  • 6 Items
 
 
1.

The name primes patrons for the expected, and I'm fond of the kitchen's thick, dry-aged rib-eye. But why limit yourself to meat when the kitchen is so adept with fish (say, silken black cod on a nettle foam with black pasta bow ties)? Bourbon Steak's sophisticated cocktails and people-watching opportunities heighten the experience. Frequenters know to bypass the sepia-tone dining room in the Four Seasons Hotel for the best place to sup: outside, on Bourbon Steak's courtyard, surrounded by flowers and warmed by fire pits.

2.

Here's a sample of what I love about the modern Italian restaurant You can order a life-affirming grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup at lunch, and a clutch of spaghetti bejeweled with Santa Barbara-fresh sea urchin and gorgeous prawns at dinner. Here, the beautiful people have a suitable setting in which to twirl their pasta. The dining room's curved ceiling appears to glow with gold leaf. The rosewood tables are linen-free but so smooth and polished they could double as mirrors.

3.

Named for one of the best -- and most playful -- chefs around, Central Michel Richard knocks one hit after another out of this lively food park. Desserts are intended to send you home on a sweet high.

4.

Plenty of downtown restaurants put a steak sandwich on their lunch menus. Only this one, near the White House, bundles rosy slices of Asian-spiced beef with kimchi and pickled carrots in crisp ciabatta. The kitchen is incapable of doing anything ordinary, evinced in part by a veneer of coconut panna cotta and a sunny scoop of mango lassi (you read that right) that looks like a fried egg by way of the Taj Mahal. I never eat at the arty Oval Room without seeing a famous face or learning something new. My most recent lesson: Chef Tony Conte is cooking better than ever.

5.

In most American cities, Rasika West End would rank as the best source for Indian cuisine. In Washington, the upstart faces formidable competition from a member of its own family: the original, jewel-toned Rasika, introduced to Penn Quarter by restaurateur Ashok Bajaj in 2005 and nurtured from day one by chef Vikram Sunderam. Drop by the baby brother for midweek lunch, and the scene is as boisterous as if it were Saturday night. The differences between old and new materialize the moment you step inside: A bar leads to a fizzy dining room where a three-dimensional ceiling evokes a canopy of trees and the blue booths ringing the perimeter take their cue from Indian ceremonial carriages. In the back of the restaurant is a raised retreat called the Library Room, named for the shelves of books that enclose it. Even more intimate is the glass-walled, eight-seat kitchen table.

6.

The best cone in the city? My vote goes not to that pricey gelateria in Logan Circle but to the Source, next to the Newseum. That's where chef Scott Drewno and his crew fill fragile, faintly sweet cones of sesame and miso with minced tuna tartare and a dusting of shaved bonito. If my job didn't require me to cover the entire menu, I'd order the beautiful snack as my appetizer, entree and dessert. That's not to say there aren't other compelling things to try in this cool, airy (and loud) second-floor dining room. The restaurant's pan-Asian concept comes courtesy of California boss Wolfgang Puck, yet the plate manages to feel personal rather than corporate.

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