Dining and theatergoing usually fit into an evening as well as most men fit into their old army uniforms. And the bulges are likely to obliterate the opening curtain.
Particularly when the theater has a 7:30 or 8 p.m. curtain on a week night, the most sensible plan is to eat a light meal near the theater and fill your crevices if necessary afterwards.While there are many restaurants near Washington's theaters, they are primarily notable for their lack of distinction.Thus, I have sought restaurants where good sandwiches, salads and casual -- meaning rapid -- meals are available, close to the major theaters but not necessarily within walking distance. At each of them a light meal (and sometimes a heavy meal) costs less than $10, allowing leeway for a sundae in Georgetown afterward. Open Monday through Friday, 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 6 to 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 8 to 11:30 a.m.; and Sunday 6 to 10 p.m. (Call to check whether open Saturday evenings). AE, D, CB, BA, V. Reservations. Prices: Sandwiches and salads $4 to $4.50, hot main dishes $5.75 to $9.95.
I have been waiting to tell you about the Foggy Bottom Cafe, not doing so before only because the lack of a liquor license has kept the place in some limbo between a coffee shop and a restaurant. In the interim the menu was abbreviated, lunches and Saturday dinners were discontinued and changes have been constantly on the verge. But I have grown impatient with the waiting. A liquor license may have been granted even by the time you read this, and the hours and menu may swell with the joy of it. But even if not, it would be a shame for the fall season at the Kennedy Center to begin without theater-goers knowing that within walking distance they can feed their bodies as satisfyingly as the new season hopes to fill their souls.
As of my last visit, you could have breakfast at the Foggy Bottom Cafe -- buttery scrambled eggs, French toast made with brioche and served with good apricot jam, excellent croissants -- or dinner. The dinner menu had shrunk to a club sandwich, hamburger, chef's salad, steak with bearnaise, tempura and barbecued ribs, with a soup to start and a homemade dessert. I won't even tell you of the charming dishes the menu obliterated. But the food has remained fresh and well-prepared, more interesting in its presentation than in its description. The chef's salad comes already tossed, its turkey juicy as only freshly roasted turkey can be, its ham and cheese plentiful, its romaine crisp and well-trimmed. I prefer a dressing without the sweetness of Foggy Bottom's Russian-style dressing, but it is not bad. The ribs, too, are sweet for my taste, well-glazed, and served with a spicy tomatoey sauce. If you are from Kentucky or some other rib-proud state, pass them by. But they are meaty, well-trimmed and readily appreciated by non-experts. Tempura is dipped in a light batter and well-crisped, its shrimp juicy and its broccoli nicely balanced between cooked and raw; its soy sauce dip is fine, but nothing special. The message you should be getting is that Foggy Bottom serves high quality Americanized food, walking a middle line but never straying into convenience foods. Occasionally it produces a star -- liver smothered in a peppery, garlicky mustard sauce with scallions was one day's special. And grace notes occur in the ratatouille and shoestring potatoes, which are hair-thin, crisp, light and outrageously good. Warm rolls and good butter. Excellent coffee, refilled every time you even think about taking a sip. Thick hearty lentil soup and airy, lemony cheesecake were one day's beginnings and endings. My major complaint has been the price of its non-alcoholic bar drinks and the use of canned juices along with freshly squeezed orange juice. The kitchen obviously tries hard and is competently supervised. The dining room staff is inexperienced, hesitant, but eager to carry out all its instructions.
Furthermore, the set is of pleasing design. Entering through the hotel lobby, Scandinavian-bright and pretty, you find the cafe a continuation of visual flair. Polished brass curves along the wooden bar which seems to flow around its corners. The unpolished wood tables and captain's chairs are brought color by unusual sprays of flowers and ornate Chinese-style plates on the tables. The carpet is dark, the walls are neutral, and flowers form a decorative theme both in large, handsome framed prints and the geranium garden framed by picture windows. The Foggy Bottom Cafe itself is a welcome bloom in the theater neighborhood's culinary desert.