THE TOUR BUS crowds are so thick at Hogate's these days that the D.C. waterfront restaurant serves as many as five or six thousand people a week for group lunches, in addition to the normal restaurant, lounge and catering customers. Over the years I have heard many complaints. Last year the restaurant's managers formed a company and took over ownership of the restaurant, and ever since they have been trying to improve Hogate's reputation, says managing director Dan Mesches.
They still have some distance to go. The organizer of one tour group recently sent a complaint to me and the Better Business Bureau because the restaurant seated the 44 of them in two different rooms, kept them waiting an hour before they were served, brought the wrong entrees and had to replace them, and plunked down a small bare cup of dessert before the main course was cleared. They quoted the server as saying that for tour groups the restaurant can't be bothered to cook steak to order. It was a pretty disappointing dinner for $23. Hogate's offered no apologies or explanation at the time, according to the group leader.
When I called Hogate's for an explanation, Mesches responded, "We just made a very big mistake. Our hospitality, which we have been working on and on which we pride ourselves, was nonexistent." He followed up by refunding the group's $966 bill.
What about not cooking steaks to order? "With large groups, we ask for one temperature," Mesches said, adding that the restaurant will heed special requests from individuals. I hesitated to ask why groups would order steak at a seafood restaurant.
WE'VE HAD Cuban-Italian, Japanese-French and Chinese-deli restaurants, but Faizi's threatens to corner the market on hyphens. This four-month-old restaurant on Columbia Pike in Arlington is Italian-Peruvian-Ethiopian, and serves two or three Pakistani dishes, along with New York deli-style sandwiches.
TILA'S Clive DuVal has organized a benefit on Saturday at his Chevy Chase restaurant for Share Our Strength (S.O.S.), which contributes to hunger relief and development agencies. The theme is Latin/Southwestern, and the roundup of chefs will provide Washington's first opportunity to sample the work of California chefs John Sedlar and Steve Garcia of St. Estephe, as well as Mexican author Patricia Quintana. They will join Jeff Tunks of the River Club, Kep Sweeney of Twenty-One Federal of Nantucket in Massachusetts and the Tila's staff to create a menu that Tila's will offer to the public from 7 to 10. Ten percent of Tila's dinner receipts will be donated to S.O.S. Reservations are not necessary.
THE WAIT FOR a table at Bethesda's Rio Grande Cafe has grown so long that you might consider waiting in Ballston instead. A second Rio Grande Cafe is slated to open in Ballston Station, but not before October. Just across from the Ballston Metro stop, the new Rio Grande Cafe will have both indoor and outdoor seating.
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.