VOTE WITH YOUR APPETITE: The $20.04 prix-fixe menu at Charlie Palmer Steak (101 Constitution Ave. NW; 202-547-8100) has taken on a political flavor. Through the Nov. 2 presidential election, lunch patrons of the Capitol Hill restaurant can vote a straight party line with gazpacho, hanger steak and lime curd (that would be the Bush menu) or clams with cucumber "linguine," filo-wrapped cod and Boston cream pie (the Kerry bill of fare). Chef Bryan Voltaggio says he came up with the idea as a way to continue the popular three-course lunch deal he offered during Restaurant Week in August. From a creative standpoint, "I was lucky," he says. "The opponents come from two very different food regions." So which menu is selling better? "We try to be bipartisan here," Voltaggio diplomatically danced around the question, adding that diners could mix and match dishes from the two menus. Okay, so which slate of dishes would he vote for? "I like the southwestern flavors from the Bush menu, but I'm also partial to seafood." Talk about flip-flopping on important issues!
SPREADING HIS WINGS: "I've been with the old man a long time" -- 11 years at Vidalia and 21/2 at the Occidental, jokes chef Peter Smith, who is saying goodbye to his boss and mentor, chef Jeff Buben, the owner of the southern-themed Vidalia (1990 M St. NW; 202-659-1990) later this week. "As hard as it is to end the relationship" at the long-running restaurant downtown, it is time to move on and open a place of his own, says the 34-year-old protege. Together with several partners, Smith is looking at potential sites for his yet-to-be-named restaurant, which will feature a modern American slant "with world influences." Buben says he is looking inside his company, which includes Bistro Bis, and beyond for Smith's replacement. Until the position is filled, he adds, "everybody is going to have to work a little harder."