The Washington Post


Where to host a crowd

Large parties aren't a problem at these big dining rooms.

  • Updated 09/14/2012
  • 6 Items

Just steps away from the downtown theaters, 701 boasts a comfortable bar and an attractive dining room. Chef Ed Witt shows his wit on the plate: his ham and cheese ravioli, for example. He rolls out the pasta, which incorporates a little whole-wheat flour, stuffs the pockets with cheddar cheese, spoons a delicate mustard sauce over them and tops off the dish with crisp sails of baked prosciutto and fresh basil. Each packet is like a tiny grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich as conceived by an Italian maestro. It's at once elegant and comforting.


Eric and Ian Hilton have a funny way of telling people they're not empire builders: They keep opening cool places to eat and drink. Following on the heels of Chez Billy in Petworth is the brothers' new Brixton, a ground-floor tavern topped with a lounge capped with a rooftop deck. The British-bowing retreat taps into Eric's Anglo passion. Where else can you get Scotch eggs and samosas followed by the possibility of sipping under the stars? With the exception of a salad here or pot de creme there, the short menu highlights British pub staples.


The New York family-style Italian restaurant is known for shareable portions. Despite its size (nearly 700 seats) and its parentage (it's part of a New York chain owned by the Alicart Group), the restaurant succeeds where I thought it would fail by serving food that really and truly smacks of an Italian grandmother's kitchen. Make that a couple dozen Italian grandmothers' kitchens. I've never seen a single plate of food here that couldn't serve a herd of diners.


Like its New York counterpart, the 332-seat D.C. restaurant attempts to replicate the atmosphere of an authentic Texas barbecue experience. If you're a newbie, prepare to dine a little differently. At the door, you're given a card that is stamped at the meat, side dish and dessert counters. Customers fetch their own sides and meats, which are sold by weight and bundled in butcher paper; servers, some of whom must squat down to hear you in the din, retrieve drinks and desserts. Whatever your pleasure, this is messy, roll-up-your-sleeves eating.


The sense that you've come to the right place begins at the impressive red mahogany door and continues at the front desk, where one or two gracious hosts -- as flawless as models -- bid you welcome, relieve you of your wraps and take you to a table that is quickly decorated with a plate of hummus, olives and radish slices, along with a basket of thick grilled bread. The red oak floors are buffed to a sheen. The lighting is honeyed. Near the coffered ceiling are Greek words for different grapes and dishes, illuminated from behind: definite scene-setters. The bar is thoughtfully separated from the main dining room by a half-wall, while the Wine Room, a private space for as many as 55 diners, features windows with gauzy curtains, giving it the feel of a restaurant within a restaurant. The classy touches offset any disappointments.


Lunch at Jose Andres's enduringly popular downtown Mediterranean restaurant presents a microcosm of its neighborhood. In the same dining room you will find power lunchers discussing policy sitting next to groups of wide-eyed, shorts-wearing tourists. Neither group seems out of place in the handsome, high-ceilinged dining room, decked out in Adriatic blue and white. If the mezze menu has one drawback, it's that the entire table is asked to partake. But if orders are placed strategically, a group can experience more of the menu.

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