ONE GOOD HOT spell, and Washingtonians start screaming for summer coolers. Fortunately, there are a few remedies we can suggest, and even better, they're easy on the budget; so if you're just barely hanging on until vacation, you'll be able to hang in a little longer.
It's hard to get much cooler than those beauties on the half-shell (look what it did for Aphrodite), and if you can get them cheap, it's even cooler. Several places strategically scattered around town are offeringcut-price half-shells at happy hour, making it even happier, including the Georgetown Seafood Grill on 19th Street (1200 19th St. NW: 202/530-4430), where each weekday from 4 to 7 one variety from the day's oyster menu is available for 50 cents; the Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th St. NW; 202/347-4801), where the usual $17.95 a dozen/$9.95 a half-dozen prices are halved weekdays from 3 to 6; and its corporate sibling Clyde's at Mark Center in Alexandria (1700 N. Beauregard St.; 703/820-8300), where the $16.95 and $8.95 plates are half-price from 4 to 7.
Not only that, but all of those establishments have also reconsidered the oyster option for night owls. You can check back into Clyde's from 10 to midnight, or between 10 and 1 arrange an encore at the Old Ebbitt, which not only has one of the most atmospheric spots for shellfish-slurping anywhere but which now offers theater-goers a high-image, low-cost after-hours snack. The Georgetown Seafood Grill offers the half-dollar half-shells Saturdays from 5:30 to 10 and Sundays from 5 to 10 as well, although only for customers seated at the bar.
And starting Monday, when Cashion's co-creator John Fulchino's new Johnny's Half Shell brings even more cool to Dupont Circle (2002 P St. NW; 202/296-2021), you can expect a few happy-hour oyster temptations there, too.
However (and here follows one of our frequent consumer-education asides), not all oysters are created equal, or priced the same, either; and especially in warm weather, you should pay attention to the oysters' origins.
At Black's Bar & Kitchen in Bethesda (7750 Woodmont Ave.; 301/652-6278), for instance -- which used to be, when it was the Gulf Coast Kitchen, a bar also celebrated in this column and elsewhere for its 50-cent oyster policy -- chef-owner Jeff Black has been buying primarily "boutique" oysters from Canada, which may cost twice what the more common varieties go for; so for the moment, at least, Black is among those sticking to market pricing.
And as we all know, it's also important to get oysters from beds that have been monitored for bacteria levels. So go by the general rule: A bargain is only a bargain when it's worth the money. Ask about safety inspections.
Speaking of half-priced coolers, Courses' favorite wine sale, the annual half-price-bottles weekends at Sam & Harry's downtown (1200 19th St. NW; 202/296-4333), kicks off July 5 and runs through Labor Day. Every one of the more than 400 bottles on the wine list are 50 percent off, so book your dinner reservations -- we recommend the table in the wine room, of course -- and let the beachbound traffic bind itself up without you.
If you consider a cold-water dunking to be cooling, you might conceivably get a Titanic kick (sorry) out of two special menus being offered during the run of the musical "Titanic" at the Kennedy Center Roof Terrace Restaurant July 7-Aug. 22 (202/416-8555). Each of the prix-fixe dinners, the "Astor" with tournedos of beef and morels as the entree and the "Straus" menu with chicken Lyonnaise, cost $38 and were re-created from the meal records of the White Star line and the Titanic itself. John Jacob Astor, of course, is memorable in the movie and musical as the richest man in the world; Isador and Ida Straus, the Macy's department store owners, were the older couple that elected to stay together until the bitter end, which might make this a good romantic-date idea. The dessert, however, was probably not from the original recipe file: It's a chocolate Titanic filled with raspberries and floating on a tide of caramel straight toward a lemon sherbet iceberg. (And we're the ones apologizing for bad jokes?)
And finally, real brew fans will breathe easier just knowing that the former Olde Towne Tavern in Gaithersburg, reborn as the Summit Station (Summit and East Diamond avenues; 301/519-9400) but with most of the crew, notably brewmaster Joe Kalish, still securely on the premises, officially reopened this week. Whew! Brew.
It's sort of cool in a different way -- although its about-to-be neighbors Sam & Harry's, Morton's, etc., may not think so -- but the Washington branch of New York's Smith & Wollensky steakhouse also sails into operation July 7 (1112 19th St. NW; 202/466-1100). Like S&H, S&W's wine list has earned Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence. (One of its corporate siblings is New York's Cite, which serves not only first-class beef but, dangerously, all the wine you can drink to go along with it). And, like S&H and Morton's (and Ruth's Chris, et al.), Smith & Wollensky sells signature steak knives and cigars. This red meat craze may be getting out of hand -- especially when you consider that there are at least four other major chophouses on the drawing boards even as we speak. One being planned in Fairfax is at this point supposed to be called the Edge City Chophouse, which we'd like to think is a cutlery joke as well as a regional one.
Truth in advertising: A reader questioned my description of sea urchins as marine mammals rather than invertebrates, and indeed that definition (which came from a very reputable food encyclopedia and which just stuck in my head) is wrong; they're invertebrates, of course, echinodermata just like the sea cucumbers. But it should have rung a wrong gong, regardless.
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