FROM WHAT I hear, the prices in France are daunting this season. You can dine as if in France much cheaper, however, by reserving a table at Le Chardon d'Or in Alexandria between January 25 and February 2.
Chef Gilles Furtin of the three-star L'Auberge du Pe`re Bise in Talloires, France, is the third in Le Chardon d'Or's guest chef series. He will be preparing fixed-price menus at $50 and $70 a person, with seatings at 6 and 10 p.m. each evening, and promises menus that are "half traditional and half nouvelle cuisine." For reservations call 838-8000.
ADAMS MORGAN REACH OUT --
You can put your dining to good use on Tuesday. Sixteen Adams Morgan restaurants, which formed a group called ARROW (Adams Morgan Restaurants Reaching Out to Washington), have pledged to contribute 10 percent of their total sales on January 26 to the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Schwartz Housing Project, which helps AIDS victims. Restaurants contributing to the project are Belmont Kitchen, Cafe Lautrec, Cities, The Collector, Dakota, Fasika's, Fish, Wings and Tings, La Fourchette, Meskerem, Mr. Henry's of Adams Morgan, New Orleans Cafe, New Orleans Emporium, La Plaza, Patrick's Good Food, Perry's, and So's Your Mom.
EMPTY SAMPLE CASE --
No more Samplings. Steve Goldspiel's pleasant little restaurant which offered wine by the tasting glass and food by the mini-plate, has closed its doors, for personal reasons. I hope it won't be long before Sampling's talented chef, Janet Terry, has a chance to show her creativity to us from another kitchen.
WIRED TO EAT --
The newest wrinkle in drumming up restaurant business is the restaurant hotline -- 591-4FUN -- run by a company called Speaking of Excitement. The service is free to diners, who are referred to restaurants on the hotline's lists when they call. The hotline will make reservations, and in some cases will offer discounts, the likes of five percent off the bill or a dozen free mussels on the second visit. Restaurants foot the bill of the service; most pay about $40 a month to join this referral service. If their names appear in advertisements, the charge is $400 a month.
The hotline lists "almost 100 to 150 restaurants," says head sales representative Claudia Greves, who claims the hotline gets nearly 500 calls a week. By Greves' calculations, most member restaurants get 5 to 10 reservations a month from the hotline. Some of the restaurants tell another story; La Brasserie and Dar Es Salam, both of which were paying $400 a month, have cancelled the service. La Brasserie reported two reservations in two months, Dar Es Salam got none. One of the success stories, says Greves, is Chase Grill. The manager of that restaurant said he gets about two or three reservations a week from the service.
I called the service and asked for a restaurant recommendation in Alexandria. Eastport Raw Bar and Shooter McGee's were offered. "Both have very fine food," said the voice on the telephone when I asked which of the two he would suggest. Next, when I asked for a restaurant with dancing, he recommended Apple of Eve, the Kennedy-Warren and the Georgetown Library, adding that Bristol Grill and Metro Cafe are restaurants with lounges. He also volunteered to send me some discount coupons for restaurants, and told me he could reserve a limousine for $35 an hour. When I asked him about a minimum, he admitted that there was a three-hour minimum, adding that was just long enough to eat at a restaurant.
For several years a group of 10 Washington hotels were offering restaurant referrals on lobby computers. La Brasserie reported that from the computer service it received about 30 reservations a month, and 250 people a month looked at the restaurant's menu on the computer. The computer service cost the restaurant $400 for three months. Then there are discount coupon books, for which the restaurant pays no entry fee, just the cost of the discounted meal as the coupon is used.
But the best referral service, said some restaurateurs, is the good will of hotel concierges. Restaurateurs invite them to dinner or throw a party for them to show off their restaurants. That way, say the restaurateurs, the concierges can be making referrals from first-hand experience when hotel guests are looking for a place to eat.