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Places to Eat That You Should Know About

The Grille at Morrison House hosts popular impromptu singalongs. From left, pianist Pat Rohrer, Thomas Grimes, Herb Seager and Sharon Eddy.
The Grille at Morrison House hosts popular impromptu singalongs. From left, pianist Pat Rohrer, Thomas Grimes, Herb Seager and Sharon Eddy. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By Nancy Lewis
Thursday, April 26, 2007

Of the hundreds of places to eat in Arlington and Alexandria, these are some of my favorites. This list is not encyclopedic. There are no rankings. These are just nine places -- some are single restaurants and others are locations offering lots of choices -- that you should know about if you live here.

The Grille at Morrison House

These two elegant dining rooms are among the loveliest in Alexandria. Paintings and chandeliers, handsome draperies, rich leather armchairs, crisp white napkins and an interesting and nuanced menu make the Grille a perfect place for a romantic rendezvous or a special celebration.

The crab cake is a perfect mound of jumbo lump crab meat, accented with a leek cream sauce and yellow corn. The onion soup is rich and flavorful, topped with just enough Gruyere cheese to complement the caramelized onions and broth but not make it a stringy mess to eat. Fish is a specialty -- it's impeccably fresh, garnished with seasonal vegetables and cooked exactly right.

The surprise comes about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, when locals begin streaming into the dining room that houses the bar, in preparation for what has evolved into mini-performances by some pretty good singers. Pianist Pat Rohrer has been presiding over this songfest for the past two years; its origins go back about seven years. There are loose-leaf notebooks with the words of the songs scattered about the top of the piano. Some of the participants have sung professionally, but anyone can join in most songs -- such as a rousing rendition of the Kingston Trio's "M.T.A." or a host of Broadway show tunes. Sometimes there are solos or duets especially rehearsed for the show.

116 S. Alfred St., Alexandria, 703-838-8000; http://www.morrisonhouse.com.

Jaleo Crystal City

This lively outpost of the downtown Washington original is the classiest of the three siblings (there is another location in Bethesda) in José Andrés's empire. Differing levels in the soaring, triple-height space create a sense of intimacy despite the lively atmosphere.

While every new restaurant seems to serve small plates, this is the original Washington area tapas place, and the proof is in the cooking. The list of tapas is long and constantly changing with the availability of seasonal ingredients. Jaleo is also one of the few places in the United States where you can try the justly famous Iberico ham products. The wine list is voluminous; after all, there's a wine shop on the premises. There's also a private dining room, site of frequent wine dinners.

Two things you can get here that you can't get downtown: reservations and an opportunity to carry on a conversation.

2250-A Crystal Dr., Arlington, 703-413-8181; http://www.jaleo.com.

Chadwick's

Its Old Town waterfront location would seem to make Chadwick's a prime tourist spot, but amble in and you'll find local residents in the majority, just as they have been since the restaurant and tavern opened in 1979. You can get a burger, a steak or anything else on the menu until midnight weeknights and 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The cooking isn't sophisticated, but it's solid. Children are welcomed with a special menu. It's not Cheers, but it's close.


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