POTOMAC, Washington's biggest, glitziest and most expensive restaurant ever, has closed. It was a year old and 750 seats strong. It defined "chutzpah" for Washington.
In July, amidst rumors of its impending death, it was issuing press releases saying, "Potomac has confounded its critics and become Washington's top-grossing restaurant." It had ranked 10th in Restaurant Hospitality magazine's list of the most successful restaurants in the U.S.
Potomac was indeed often crowded. I was there a recent Sunday afternoon when the outdoor tables were filled with sunshine- seekers and the inside was packed with chandelier-seekers. It was a place visitors wanted to see; all of us in Washington, too, wanted to see it -- once.
Does its closing mean that Washington wasn't ready for Big Apple sophisticaion? Not on your life. The restaurant's failure more likely means that Washingtonians will sightsee at a restaurant once or twice, but it takes good food and good value to bring them back.
We have too many good restaurants for us to settle for the likes of a $16.50 salad of watery baby shrimp, ham and bits of duck on a fluff of greens, or an $11.25 apple-and-pear pancake as heavy as polenta. Potomac was full of good cheer and excuses. When our Eggs Chesapeake were billed $20 rather than $9.75, the manager blamed it on the computer. We suggested they fire the computer.
They didn't stop at the computer.
Still, Potomac is a loss. It was an adventure for Washington that wasn't fulfilled, but we kept hoping. And it brought a great pastry chef, Dieter Schorner, to the city. It took time for the pastry kitchen to hit its stride, but once it did he produced a pecan pie that could take over the South, and extraordinary chocolate-filled macaroons afloat in vanilla custard sauce.
Most of all we'll miss the flamboyant Warner LeRoy, whose dinner jackets outdazzled his chandeliers and whose boisterous good spirit dazzled us all.
Right before Potomac closed I got a cryptic note from LeRoy. I'd written that Leo Steiner of the Carnegie Deli said he'd decided to open a branch in Washington because Warner LeRoy had told him it was a good town to open a restaurant. LeRoy circled the quote and scrawled a reminder that he had once promised me he'd bring a good corned beef sandwich to Washington.
But I didn't think he meant it to be someone else's.