The Washington Post


Tradition reigns

Restaurants where table linens and gentlemen wearing jackets are still the rule rather than the exception.

  • Updated 09/14/2012
  • 4 Items

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.


Fine dining is alive and well at chef-owner Robert Wiedmaier's sumptuous stage set of a French restaurant, where the bread service features three kinds of butter and the menu spans seven courses, if time, money and appetite allow. Few Washington establishments know how to pamper as personably as this one; it doesn't hurt that the dashing servers look as if they were recruited from a Parisian runway to catwalk through the West End dining room. Chef de cuisine Paul Stearman lavishes equal attention on the plates. Table 25, situated in a discreet nook between the main and the private dining rooms, is one of the happiest places to land. The choice seat comes with a view of the busy kitchen, thanks to a strategically placed mirror on the opposite wall.


Graying lions in dark suits discussing tomorrow's headlines and tourists hoping to spot someone they voted for come together in a Reagan-red setting; the walls quote sayings such as "An empty stomach is not a good political adviser," painted in gold letters. The menu is a throwback, starting with oysters on the half shell and shellfish bisque, and continuing with liver and onions and pork chops with mustard sauce, everything delivered by no-nonsense gentlemen sporting gold vests. (If "Mad Men" ever films in Washington, here's a camera-ready reference.)


Civility reigns at The Prime Rib, which opened in 1976 and appears not to have budged much since. Men are still required to wear a jacket and tie, live piano and bass music continues to create a supper-club feel, and red meat and stiff drinks are cause for celebration rather than guilt. If you like tradition, you'll love this art deco-style steakhouse.

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