FOR YEARS diners have complained about not being informed of prices when daily specials are described by the waiter. And finally restaurants have caught on; many of them now routinely announce the prices along with the specials.
The River Club in Georgetown, though, seems to assume its clients are more interested in calories than cost. The waiter specifies nearly every ingredient of a dish and even its weight -- "an eight-ounce fillet of red snapper," or "eight to 10 ounces of veal" -- as he reels off the specials, but makes no mention of prices. How about hinting, or at least telling us the price per ounce and letting us work it out on our calculators?
River Club owner Paul Cohen was at an adjacent table one evening when we were dining there, and besides insisting we taste bits of the dishes he had ordered, he chewed the fat about his restaurants (in addition to River Club, J. Paul's and Paolo's). You'll have to wait to hear what I thought of the food, but I loved the stories. The best of them was about the supersalesman waiter who was trying to get rid of a day-old portion of red snapper. He recited the rest of the specials, then confided to the diners that there was one portion of red snapper -- "aged 24 hours" -- that might still be available. The customer snapped it up.
BIG-APPLE PIE --
It was a hungry moment for Washington when chef Joe Prinz of Cafe Med was lured to New York to cook for the fancy diet-carryout Gourmet Gazelle, which Washington food writer Ellen Brown has just opened. But Prinz says not to worry: He's returning to Washington, at least part-time, to ply his culinary skills at soon-to-be-opened Pizza Piazza, whose nouvelle pizzas he expects will make others look tame. Exotic toppings are routine now, he figures, so he's starting to focus his imagination on the crusts. How about pizza with black-bean crust for a start?
DISHWASHER'S DELIGHT --
If two sightings make a trend, soup bowls are on their way to extinction. In a New Orleans restaurant, gumbo is being served in a small hollowed-out loaf of bread, and in Washington the new Grand Hyatt's Hamilton's Chophouse is serving its lamb stew at lunch in a hollowed loaf, with the additional bonus of a splash of Irish whiskey. An easy prediction: It will never catch up with the ice cream cone or the hot dog bun, unless someone figures out how you can carry it to your bleacher seat or nibble it as you stroll down the street.
CROSSING THE BORDER --
Los Angeles' City Cafe and Border Grill are making news far beyond that city's borders for their eclectic modern cooking with a lot of Southeast Asian flavor. And now their owners, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, are looking over Washington as a possible site for their next restaurant.