2011 Spring Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Even before I've had a chance to read the menu, the bartender at Old Ebbitt Grill lets me know what I should order. "We serve the best oysters in town!" he calls out to me and to everyone else who takes a seat at the long wooden stretch in one of the oldest restaurant brands in the city. Sure enough, the chilled bivalves - neatly shucked and typically offered in six or so varieties - are superb.
I can't say that about anything else I've tried in recent months on the wide-ranging menu, copies of which are invariably sticky from use. Not the chili, which is as much about sugar as spice. Not the falafel, which are pasty. Old Ebbitt's turkey burger induces sleep, and its grilled pizza tastes like a refugee center for leftovers (its drizzle of truffle oil doesn't help). One afternoon's crab cake smells of old age; one evening's linguine with shrimp is so limp that the pasta could have been cooked in a dishwasher. A rare pleasure is crisp golden trout, draped with a frothy hollandaise and served atop a bed of bright green beans.
Service can be irritating. Place an order for oysters, and an upsell commences: "Want some shrimp with that?" On my most recent visit, my waiter forgot to drop off bread; a guest and I sat for 20 minutes before our appetizers arrived.
Opened in 1856 in another location, this neighbor to the Treasury Building evokes the Victorian era with gaslights, green velvet banquettes and a forest of mahogany. Paintings of marching bands and fireworks over the White House lend a sense of excitement to the sprawl. But Old Ebbitt Grill takes patience and understanding to endure.
Expect company. Through the revolving door might come a busload of tourists followed by a convention of badges trailed by a bunch of business suits, everyone directed by the hosts as if they were planes instead of customers landing. Breaking bread at Old Ebbitt Grill is as relaxing as eating in the Metro Center station at rush hour.