Hours: 7 to 10 a.m.; 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; 6 to 10:30 p.m.
Atmosphere: Hotel dining facility.
Price range: $7.95 for steak to $15.95 for tournedos.
Reservations: Recommended for large groups.
Credit cards: Major.
Special features: Accessible entrance. Highchairs and booster seats. Children's menu. Pay parking lot.
It's happened to all of us. We've taken a trip, found a place to stay, and settled in for dinner at the hotel or motel restaurant, only to discover high prices and few redeeming qualities.
Unfortunately, this is also the case at Smithson's, the main dining room in the new Capitol Holiday Inn on C Street in Southwest.
The restaurant's proximity to the Smithsonian would make it a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Yet the restaurant seems uninterested in the casual walk-in trade. A family leaving the Smithsonian in the afternoon could not have an early supper at Smithson's because dinner does not begin until 6 p.m.
A greater discouragement is the management's attitude about its own parking lot: tickets are validated only for registered hotel guests.
Smithson's is named for James Smithson, the Englishman whose benevolence helped create the Smithsonian Institution. Tourists and natives alike will enjoy the story of Smithson printed on the back of the dinner menu. The walls of the restaurant are lined with museum-type memorabilia. But by listing on its menu items popular in different regions of the country, the restaurant attempts too much, and succeeds with too little.
All-inclusive children's dinners ($4.95) include soup or fruit appetizer, salad bar, potato, hot fudge sundae and soda or milk. The main selections are hot roast beef, hamburger steak, spaghetti and chicken.
Our eldest child would have enjoyed prime rib, but we steered both children to the reduced price under-12 menu.
Our daughter selected the hot roast beef with a fruit cup appetizer. The fruit was the canned chunky variety with a sprinkling of sliced fresh strawberries. Her dinner was not much better: thin slices of fatty, gristly beef served under a dried brown paste. (All dinners suffered from gluey gravies and sauces that seem to have been reheated -- hardly an appetizing presentation.)
The butter topping on our son's spaghetti had the same adhesive texture, and the accompanying meat sauce had a barbecue flavor.
Turkey gumbo soup was a thin tomato-based broth containing a few vegetables and uniform turkey squares. It was barely better than the fruit cup.
All dinners included the salad bar: an assortment of marinated vegetable salads, wet iceberg lettuce and a few toppings.
For our dinners, we selected items that required little preparation. The executive cut of prime rib ($10.95), actually choice beef, was a medium-rare underseasoned slice.
The fresh salmon with bearnaise ($10.25) was a small bony piece of fish under an aging remnant of bearnaise sauce. An undercooked new potato and a broiled underripe tomato half accompanied the entree.
While we sipped coffee and the children enjoyed their hot fudge sundaes (the best treat of the meal), we realized how fortunate we were to live in a city with a variety of top-quality restaurants. We had begun our evening with the hope of finding a comfortable addition to the nearby Smithsonian world. We were disappointed.
Dinner with a half carafe of wine, tax and tip was $44.17. Parking was an additional $3.