EVERYTHING OLD is new again, and not just Bob Fosse's choreography. For instance:
* If old sports jerseys turn into wall hangings, they're new again, sort of. Memorabilia is abundant these days, with two new restaurants, the Sporting News Grille, opening Monday at 13th and F streets NW (202/628-6999), and two-month-old Willie & Reed's at Fairmont and Norfolk avenues in Bethesda (301/951-1100), both doing the Planet Hollywood/All Star Cafe decor thing.
Willie & Reed's is looking to be the new Duke Ziebert's of sports recycling, boasting an autographed Wayne Gretzky jersey, a signed Mia Hamm jersey (yo!) and a signed soccer ball from the entire '99 Women's World Cup soccer team, a '99 Mystics team ball (you go, Claw!), a "game-used" Cal Ripken Jr. No. 8 and a Rod Langway jersey.You could practically reforest Yellowstone with the bats, including specimens from such recent record-breakers as Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, Robin Yount, George Brett, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr. and slammin' Sammy Sosa. They also have a Super Bowl trophy, a team-signed Redskins Super Bowl XXII ball, a Heisman Trophy (carefully unattributed), then-Athletics owner Charlie Finley's 1972 World Series Trophy, zub zub zub.
And like the deli-to-deluxe old Duke's, Willie & Reed's upscales the pub-plus menu, going beyond the fried calamari and quesadillas and crab dip to grilled veggie wraps, pick-your-own-ingredients chopped salads and shrimp and bacon club sandwich -- and even further to the blackened chicken pasta, veal chop, grilled marinated pork loin with sweet potato puree and shrimp and grits. (The chef is a veteran of both John Harvard's and Georgia Brown's -- Howsoon Cham, nicknamed H.O. probably so that nobody got confused about orders by yelling, "How soon?")
The Sporting News Grille has a Ripken bat (commemorative, not game-tested), signed and officially dated from Sept. 6, 1995, the day he broke Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played; a photo collage of the 1933 pennant-winning Senators autographed by the players and a bunch of old Sporting News covers, including a copy of the first edition from March 17, 1886. (The restaurant does not have any direct connection with the publication, but licenses the name.) There are autographed lithographs of Nolan Ryan, Ted Williams, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, two dozen baseballs signed by various batting heroes, including Mickey Mantle and Williams, and another ball autographed by the first 11 Cy Young award-winners. The sentimental favorite for the time being, however, is probably the Joe DiMaggio game jersey and autograph.
Menu-wise, the Grille says it wants to fill that gaping chasm between the upscale, pin-striped steakhouse and the very casual family steakhouse, presumably targeting the mid-level managers of the red-meat crowd (i.e., the "new" Caps and Wizards fans). It's fairly traditional: Cobb and Caesar salads, oysters on the half-shell, baked mozzarella, linguine with clams, surf 'n' turf 'n' tail (filet, shrimp and lobster tail), rigatoni with seafood or veal meatballs, crab cakes, sesame-crusted tuna, chicken parmigiana, roast pork chops and, for the hearty boys, veal chops, New York strips and prime ribs all by the pound, which will fill the gap in your shirt buttons, if nothing else.
And if you want to go monitor a monitor, Willie & Reed's has a total of 20 satellite TV screens in the restaurant, ranging from the one 61-inch screen down to the eight-inch one in the men's room and the 10 32-inchers above the bar. The three private rooms upstairs, each with their own remotes, are probably guaranteed to become the Sunday night/Monday night hangouts to beat. (There is not a monitor in the women's room, according to co-owner Scott Reed, because a poll and consultation with women patrons and pros suggested that having a TV in the restroom might "prolong the visit," thereby increasing the wait line. Just so you'll know it wasn't an arbitrary decision.) The Sporting News Grille has (only) four 27-inchers at the bar, but on the other hand, that means you can safely retreat to the far end of the restaurant. Or the men's room.
If Willie & Reed's seems star-struck, incidentally, it's no coincidence: Reed and partner Mike Wilson met while working at the original Official All-Star Cafe in New York, and Reed's history with Planet Hollywood goes back to the original 57th Street site.
* Speaking of old favorites, and (inevitably) of steak: Grilled steak salads may be a bit of a cliche, but there are always versions that stand out of the crowd, and the Black Angus tenderloin salad at the Mark (401 Seventh St. NW; 202/783-3133), which is tossed with watercress, spinach, roasted peppers and shiitakes and topped with a hazelnut vinaigrette and warm goat cheese, is probably in the first rank. And since the Mark has just joined the half-price wine list parade -- every Monday night, affecting the entire list -- this might be the right time to test it for yourself. (Actually, if you get in before Labor Day, you can get the cut price on Saturday nights as well.)
* The old reliable Lebanese Taverna is simultaneously celebrating its 20th anniversary and its newest offspring. The family Aji-Najm, which in 1979 took over a defunct pizza hut at 5900 Washington Blvd. in Arlington (703/241-8681) that had been called Athenian Taverna (keeping rewrites to a minimum to stick within their strict budget), now runs, in addition to that Westover neighborhood standard, a very popular and more upscale restaurant in the heart of the Connecticut Avenue strip in Woodley Park (202/265-8681); a market and catering service in Arlington (4400 Old Dominion Dr.; 703/276-8681); and, as of Aug. 30, a gourmet self-serve cafe/carryout and second catering office in Rockville's Congressional Plaza (301/468-9086). Guess they couldn't arrange the lucky phone number.
* Sandwiches are old news, even if you only go back to 1792 and John Montagu's famous gambling binge (though bread and cheese, melted or not, is thousands of years old). But these days there are as many bread styles to choose from as fillings: Among the new trend hopefuls are Cosi Sandwich Bar (17th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW; 202/638-7101), where the sandwich fillings are actually stuffed inside a sort of flatbread sheath or slipcover, approximately 4-by-8 inches, called "pizza Romana." It's neither what you first think of as pizza dough, nor is it pita, which it might sound like; but a sort of thin, light-crusted bread (with really good olive oil, from the taste) baked all day in an ironclad brick oven in the middle of the restaurant. Then you go waaay indulgent, choosing from fillings such as West Indian curried or tandoori-grilled chicken, sun-dried tomato spread, roasted portobellos, goat cheese and cucumber or even spinach-artichoke spread -- which I would suggest taking home, cutting into strips and turning into front porch nibblies. (The pricing is actually the most pizza-ish part, because it goes by number of ingredients: One (pesto chicken) is $5.75; two (add the spinach-artichoke spread) is $6.50 and three (caramelized onions) is $7.25. Cha-cha-cha.)
Meanwhile the various Einstein Bros. Bagels stores, which have already been offering sandwiches on sourdough, flatbreads and, of course, bagels, have begun serving two new specialties on challah rolls: the "Cobbie," a sort of Cobb salad on the run of smoked turkey, peppered bacon, gorgonzola mayo, avocado and L&T; and a Club Mex with ancho mayo, bacon, pepper jack cheese, etc. Challah, a braided egg bread traditionally baked for the Jewish Friday-night Sabbath meal, will be available in full loaves on Fridays, as well.
***** You know how we feel about these competitive offerings, but of all the "millennium" (i.e., this coming New Year's Eve) packages being put together around town, this is so far the most over-the-top, at least for anything not involving air fare: A six-course dinner prepared by Melrose's Brian McBride, each course paired with a different vintage Dom Perignon (including the '75 rose and the '64, two absolute stunners), the entire meal to be served in the privacy of the Park Hyatt Hotel's Presidential Suite by your 24-hour butler; three days in the suite, and the same suite for New Year's Eve for the next nine years as well; round-the-clock limousine service; a tour of the hotel's private art collection and for your own collection, the clincher: an authenticated Picasso etching -- all this, for a modest $138,600. That even includes tax and tips (although, of course, if you really run your butler ragged, you should perhaps be additionally considerate).
Meanwhile, for rather smaller investments, you may get in on the Dom Perignon menu in Melrose itself ($500 a person, limited seating); have the dinner but with a magnum of Moet & Chandon "Millennium" label Brut Imperial instead ($550 for two), stay overnight and take your flutes home, and so on. The Park Hyatt is at 24th and M streets NW; for more information, call 202/955-3899.
Oh, the stars? Well, surely you remember what the right blessed Dom Perignon said when he first tasted his sparkling wine? "I am drinking stars!" So may we all.
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