When a secluded weekend at Camp David is out of the question and dinner in the family quarters seems too routine, White House residents have been known to play Hail to the Chef at their favorite local restaurants.
But just as administrations have come and gone, so have some of the restaurants -- notably that French eatery just around the corner, the Sans Souci, where John Kennedy liked to tuck into the onion soup and Betty Ford lunched with her husband.
However, some presidential choices have survived the electoral process. Richard Nixon preferred Trader Vic's, Gerald Ford the Jockey Club. Jimmy Carter dined with his staff at the Szechuan. Ronald Reagan celebrated a birthday at Jean-Louis. And you, too, can dine like a chief executive -- but without concern for the affairs of state.
Descriptions have been excerpted from reviews by Phyllis C. Richman. Abbreviations for credit cards are as follows: AE, American Express; CB, Carte Blanche; C, Choice; DC, Diners' Club; MC, Master Charge; V, VISA. JEAN-LOUIS 2650 Virginia Avenue NW (In the Watergate). 298-4488. L $25, D $40-$120. AE, D, MC, V. Reservations required. Full bar. Hundreds of meals over the years may blur, as a restaurant critic sums things up, but one dish at Jean Louis I will never forget: a fresh foie gras, nearly raw inside, its surface crusty, surrounded by thin slices of poached pear and sauced with a faintly sweet sheen of vegetable reduction. But that is not all that Jean Louis does superlatively. The small restaurant has matured, its staff is surer, the chef is digging deeper into American products. The menu changes daily, but sampled highlights include corn soup with Belon oysters, a jewel-like terrine of vegetables, ovals of white chicken streaked with earthy black truffles. Jean-Louis is an education as much as an enjoyment, where you can still discover the taste of rabbit kidneys (delicate), the combination of raspberries and caramel (delicious) and the possibilities for flakiness in cream-filled pastries (endless). JOCKEY CLUB 2100 Massachusetts Avenue NW (In the Fairfax Hotel). 659-8000. L $11-$15, D $16-$22. AE, CB, D, MC, V. Reservations required. Full bar service. One of the handsomest of Washington's dining rooms, the Jockey Club is dim and intimate, plush with leather banquettes and extravagant flowers. The menu is French; the service is as polished as the surroundings. Crab dishes are best, particularly the lightly curried crab Jockey. Soups are a highlight. And sauces can be excellent. Cheesecake is exceptional here, and the wine list has an admirable selection of California's better wines. SZECHUAN 615 I Street NW. 393-0131. L & D $4.35-$10.95. Banquet menu available. AE, V. Reservations accepted for parties of four or more. Full bar. The most remarkable thing about the Szechuan is that with years of changes the food remains remarkable. Each Szechuan and Hunan sauce balances fire and spice; each has its own distinctive taste; each manages a subtle blending of faint sweetness and acid and salt and aromatic spices that make Szechuan cooking exciting. The menu goes on for pages: whole fish in a catalogue of sauces, frog legs and scallops, beef sliced or shredded and pork in similar variety. Casseroles. Vegetable dishes. Combinations with asparagus or cauliflower. Lamb with water chestnuts in hot garlic sauce. Seafoods, fresh and moist. Whole crispy fish will show you how satisfying a sweet Chinese sauce can be. Try chicken or beef with orange peel. At the Szechuan, it's the kitchen that counts. TRADER VIC'S 16th and K Streets NW (In the Capital Hilton). 347-7100. L $5.99-$11, D $8.50-$19. AE, CB, DC, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Full bar. Within a Polynesian wonderland of oversize shells and bark cloth, rattan thrones and tiki gods, you can order anything from ham and eggs to Chinese stir-fry dishes and Indian curries. Start -- and maybe continue -- with outlandish and delicious drinks of fruit and boozes. With them, have fried tidbits like crab Rangoon, won tons filled with a spicy crab paste. The meats barbecued in wood-fired Chinese ovens are well-trimmed and accurately cooked. Vegetables are fresh and crisp. And special talent shows in the noodle dishes such as the pake noodles with sesame seeds.