THE GROANING and moaning gets louder among restaurateurs. The main topic of conversation, it seems, is how bad business is. But I'm beginning to wonder: where?
One recent Friday I was conducting an interview at lunch, and we arranged to meet at The Peasant. Since it was new, and its Market Square neighborhood is pretty quiet, it seemed a good bet, though it doesn't take reservations between noon and 1:30. At noon sharp, the place was full, and after I'd checked my coat I was told there would be a 20- to 30-minute wait. We decided to go elsewhere.
The Palm was quiet these days, we'd heard. So we went there, and again I checked my coat, since the checkroom is adjacent to the entrance. At the maitre d' station, though, we were told that no tables would be available before 1:30. Again I retrieved my coat.
At Sam & Harry's I kept my coat, fortunately, since the maitre d' barely waited until I'd finished my sentence before responding that the restaurant was fully booked. As it turns out, we did find a table at a fourth restaurant -- not because it wasn't booked up, but because the maitre d' recognized me and managed to conjure up some space.
SPEAKING of The Peasant, I am mystified as to why, with its menu chalked on blackboards, the soup listing is no more specific than "soup du jour." And I'm amused at the ingenuity of customers in overcoming the reservations policy. One woman explained to her companion that since the restaurant takes no reservations between noon and 1:30, she reserves for 11:45 and simply shows up 15 minutes late, or she calls at 11:30 to put her name on the waiting list.
TUESDAY evenings are family nights at The Restaurant in Bethesda, and they are nights when everyone benefits. On those evenings The Restaurant offers a special fixed-price children's menu for ages six and over, a menu designed to include smaller portions of The Restaurant's most popular entrees and a sampler plate of appetizers "to educate the palates of young people."
For $12.95, the menu offers the likes of smoked salmon, pa~te' and goat cheese salad for an appetizer, and for the entree either lamb with pesto and gnocchi, monkfish with lemon butter and almonds or grilled chicken breast with three-color pasta and hollandaise. Desserts range from elaborate chocolate marquise to vanilla ice cream. The adult menu, which is a` la carte, ranges from about $4 to $7 for appetizers, $15 to $21 for entrees.
These family nights teach more than culinary sophistication to children; The Restaurant is donating a portion of each Tuesday's proceeds to the Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health, which provides living facilities and services to families of children being treated at NIH.
ON THE OUTSIDE, Raffi's, on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, looks like an ordinary restaurant/nightclub. On the inside, however, you find it's the area's first Armenian restaurant -- though most of the menu is standard Persian -- with plenty of space for live music and dancing. And on the telephone, Raffi's is even more unusual. Its answering machine suggests callers leave a message in "Farsi, English or Armenian."
Phyllis C. Richman's restaurant reviews appear Sundays in The Washington Post Magazine.