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Tom Sietsema’s 7 favorite places to eat right now

Tomato raviolini with goat cheese, marinated cherry tomatoes, basil blossoms and ramps at 2941 in Falls Church. (Deb Lindsey/for The Washington Post)
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Just because restrictions were lifted in Washington this month, opening restaurants to full capacity, doesn’t mean customers can chuck previous protocols. Before leaving home, diners should still take their masks; some restaurants will continue to ask them to cover up when they’re not eating or drinking.

As more people return to dining inside, they need to keep in mind that menus might be briefer and businesses might be short-staffed. Restaurants need your understanding as they attempt to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Curious about what’s new on the scene, or wondering how an old favorite is holding up? Here’s a snapshot of sure bets from around the area:

2941

No time like a global pandemic to rethink the way you do business. For Bertrand Chemel, chef of the handsome 2941 in Falls Church, the crisis led to what he says is a restaurant with the “right balance,” as in, “less rigid.” Go now, and you’ll find a menu that mixes Italian, Asian and French ideas, plus fresh ways to order a meal. No problem if one of you wants the chef’s five-course tasting menu and someone else wants to go a la carte.

2021 Spring Dining Guide

No issue if you want to mix and match dishes, either. The fluke and cherrystone clam ceviche on the tasting menu can be yours even if all you want is a single taste from the kitchen. Lovely and refreshing as the dish is, you’ll want to explore more. Think all fried calamari is created alike? Chemel buys fresh baby calamari, which he dusts with a blend of cake and rice flours and fries into tender golden rings. Their cool dip changes with the seasons; mine featured ramps. The chef turns out some terrific pastas, among them delicate tomato raviolini, a riot of color and flavor thanks to toppers of goat cheese, basil blossoms and marinated cherry tomatoes.

2941’s specials — foie gras terrine served with housemade almond brioche, butter-poached lobster offered with fennel-stuffed stamps of pasta — tend to star luxury ingredients and prompt swoons. But you don’t have to be a swell to dine well. A midweek lure finds three courses for $65, a relative deal given the cooking, service and setting.

If there’s a more engaging place to dine in Falls Church, I have yet to experience it. The draws start outside, where patrons pass a koi pond on their way through the glass entrance, and continue in a dining room whose ceiling soars 29 feet and whose picture windows take in woods, a lake and a tent for those wishing to eat alfresco. Strategically placed art — a bronze statue paying tribute to Sir Isaac Newton on the patio, a 1912 oil painting of the water nymph Clytie by Herbert James Draper — lend the restaurant a gallery air. If it’s just two of us, I tend to grab a seat at the marble-topped bar, and not just because I’m dressed more casually these days. (Folks, the suits don’t fit anymore!) I’ve sorely missed chatting up the talent behind the counter for more than a year.

2941 Fairview Park Dr., Falls Church. 703-270-1500. 2941.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining, delivery and takeout. Delivery via ChowNow. Dinner entrees $28 to $49; five-course tasting menu $99.

Corduroy

Outside dining during the pandemic often means traffic and pedestrians in the background. Not at Corduroy near the convention center. Chef-owner Tom Power thought to set up a makeshift dining room in the unnamed alley behind his upscale American restaurant. It wasn’t easy or cheap. To make the space attractive, Power had a fetching mural of blue mountains and green trees painted over a brick wall and bought 25 tons of gravel to cover the dirt ground. He and two colleagues spent three days spreading the stones around. They had help: big rakes rigged to the chef’s car, which Power drove around until he got an even floor for his chairs and tables, decked out in oilcloth.

Say hello to “Clos du Roy,” among the coziest spots for dinner in the District. (The name uses the French word for a walled-in vineyard, or clos.) The menu embraces some of the chef’s greatest hits along with dishes that underscore the effects of the pandemic. “We look around to see what we have and see what happens” when they’re put together, says the chef. Cabbage soup in spring? Power makes you glad you ordered softly crunchy Caraflex cabbage in a broth of chicken stock, tomato and onion, poured tableside and both lighter and more interesting than you imagine. The chef has you sitting up for chicken, too, a textbook brined breast and confit thigh. They’re crisp of skin, redolent of garlic and thyme and presented with vegetables that speak to the season.

Seafood is superb. Soft-shell crabs are dusted with rice flour and deep-fried, crowned with shredded phyllo and wreathed in mesclun greens that take on the tang of their verjus sauce. A longtime Corduroy signature — rare bigeye tuna crusted in black pepper and coriander — perches on seaweed-strewn sushi rice imbued with the flavors of coconut, ginger and lemongrass. Close with the dessert that also claims forever fans: vanilla-scented bread pudding made noble with brioche, cream and a pistachio cover.

“I wish more people would eat out on weekdays,” says the chef. Do him — and yourself, really — the favor.

1122 Ninth St. NW. 202-589-0699. corduroydc.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining and takeout. Delivery via Skip the Line. Entrees $25 to $39.

Imperfecto

No matter what you think of the bridge between Latin America and the Mediterranean created by Enrique Limardo, you can’t say he over-promised. Take the name: “We seek perfection, but we will never achieve it,” says the chef of his effort in the West End. Yet the journey, he adds, should be a happy one.

If you think fine dining is on pause, Imperfecto would beg to differ

Plenty in his new restaurant, a luxe extension of his Seven Reasons on 14th Street NW, will make you glad to be there. The dining room, inherited from entrepreneurs who never got around to introducing a Greek theme, is airy and light-filled. The staff, many of whom come from the well-regarded Fabio Trabocchi empire, are a poised and informed bunch. From the bar flow some of the most beautiful and delicious drinks around.

As for the cooking, there’s little on the menu that you’ve likely encountered before. Creamy burrata, dusted with vegetable ash, comes to the table with tiles of pineapple stained with balsamic vinegar, a minty-fresh pesto and a blush-colored syrup made from extra-sweet Kumato tomatoes. A dramatic octopus tentacle shares its plate with an herby lentil salad atop a sauce of mushrooms and tamarind. Limardo has a knack for pairing contrasts. He’s playful, too. Brined, steamed, fried cauliflower sports a crackling crust spiked with cayenne, onion, garlic and more — hence its name: “Egyptian KFC.” Gratis housemade candy bars in sleek wrappers signal dinner’s end.

The restaurant isn’t flawless. But it’s never, ever boring.

1124 23rd St. NW, Washington. 202-964-1012. imperfectodc.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining. Entrees $31 to $59; 12-course chef’s tasting menu $150 per person.

Mattie and Eddie’s

The fries and corned beef at the new Mattie & Eddie’s in Arlington tell you much of what you need to know about the new Irish pub. On their way to becoming stellar fish and chips, the potatoes are aged at least a week, then are subject to a labor-intensive process of cutting, washing, soaking, draining and cooking twice. As for the corned beef, guests don’t see the tender braised brisket until after 17 days of prep work: a long soak in pickling spices followed by a long sit with a spice rub.

Mattie & Eddie’s channels the Irish spirit of a veteran chef’s grandparents

The man behind the menu is veteran Washington chef and Dublin native Cathal Armstrong, who’s a stickler for making what he can (two kinds of bread) or buying the best. The vegetables swimming in the meatless Irish stew hail from the pedigreed Path Valley Farms in Pennsylvania, and Kerrygold butter sweetens whatever it’s added to — which turns out to be a lot of dishes in the sprawling dining room in Westport (formerly Pentagon Row).

The restaurant, which follows Siné in its space, pays tribute to Armstrong’s paternal grandparents and incorporates many of his youthful memories. The appetizer with the best backstory is braised sardines mashed with tomatoes and onions and brassy with cayenne and lemon juice, a riff on a snack Armstrong, one of six children, says his father made when it was just the two of them at home watching rugby. Aw. The main course with the most parts is the all-day breakfast, an eye-opener of eggs, several kinds of sausage and ham, fried potatoes and sweet baked beans that’s also a belt-buster. Bodacious.

Sunday afternoons are sweetened with live music, led by fiddler extraordinaire Brendan Mulvihill.

1301 S. Joyce St., Arlington. 571-312-2665. mattieandeddies.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining, delivery and takeout. Delivery via DoorDash. Sandwiches and main courses $16 to $32.

Mykonos Grill

Owner Angelo Mitsotakis cut such a career as a maitre d’ in his native Greece, it got him to the United States on a distinguished talent visa in 2012. Appearances on “The Real Housewives of Athens” and the Greek version of “Top Chef” put him in the spotlight. He also orchestrated parties for the VIP cast of the film “Mamma Mia!,” shot in his homeland.

Mykonos Grill in Rockville feels suspended in time. The blue-trimmed depiction of a Greek village on white plaster walls is scenery I recall admiring the last time I dropped by — more than a decade ago — and the cooking tastes just as familiar. When Mitsotakis tells me some of his cooks have been around as long as the restaurant, which opened in 1998, I’m not surprised. The moussaka — sliced eggplant layered with meat and mashed potatoes so satiny they resemble custard — tastes as before. Lamb chops with lemony roast potatoes are still a path to pursue.

What surprises me is the long list of choices. Despite the pandemic, “we stayed open seven days a week and offer the full menu,” says the owner. Grazers will appreciate the combination plates that fit lots of different tastes. The spreads, among them herbed white beans and fish roe whipped with potatoes, could fuel a small party, and a gathering of crackling spanakopita, moussaka, a lamb chop and lemon-sauced stuffed grape leaf goes down like a highlights reel of main courses. Specials include a catch of the day; say yes to trout stuffed with spinach and feta.

As much as I enjoy sitting inside or out, on the front patio, takeout customers have a nice liquid advantage: 50 percent off wine to go. Opa!

121 Congressional Lane, Rockville. 301-770-5999. mykonosgrill.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. Delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats. Entrees $23 to $38.

The Point Crab House and Grill

Bobby Jones, the chef and co-owner of one of Maryland’s prize crab destinations, says his seafood restaurant 10 miles north of Annapolis was inspired by long-ago summer family gatherings at his grandmother’s “little creekside rancher” on Kent Island. Three sides of the Point’s dining room are windows or see-through garage doors that put customers face to face with a fleet of boats; the menu channels the late Patricia Lyons Jones with dishes including “Mom-mom’s” crab soup. The bowl packs in seafood and country ham along with seemingly a bushel of vegetables, in a broth made rich with a quartet of stocks.

Get your Maryland crab fix at the Point Crab House, along with ace service and a water view

Indeed, the Point is a crab lover’s bonanza where you can enjoy the main event as a dip, atop toast, steamed to order or mixed with mayonnaise, lemon juice and hot sauce and presented as a broiled cake. For the steamed crabs, Jones buys only live specimens from the Chesapeake Bay, which he plies with a seasoning blend that runs a dozen ingredients long. The texture is as much a selling point as the taste; different grinds of some of the seasonings add a pleasant crackle to the eating. (Anticipate fingers stained red with paprika, chilies and cayenne, too.)

Not into crab? Not to worry. The delicious options include spicy steamed shrimp, fish and chips staged in a fry basket and tacos (pork or fish) distinguished by their two-ply cradles: a soft flour tortilla lined with a fried corn tortilla. The arrival of summer means local tomatoes on your burger and Key lime pie on the dessert list. No matter the season, the setting and service are big selling points. The staff’s T-shirts say it best: “Get to the Point.”

700 Mill Creek Rd., Arnold, Md. 410-544-5448. thepointcrabhouse.com. Open for takeout, indoor and outdoor dining. Sandwiches and entrees $10 to $36.

Ruthie’s All-Day

Name a restaurant wish, and Ruthie’s All-Day grants it. Easy parking? Check. Entrees with mass appeal (smoked meat, grilled fish and vegetables) that average $20, sides included? Ditto. The drinks are as serious as any in Washington, and true to its name, the Arlington restaurant serves breakfast five days a week. Chef Matt Hill and his business partner, Todd Salvadore, have worked at some of the area’s best restaurants, and they’ve incorporated best practices into everything they do at Ruthie’s, a tribute to the chef’s late North Carolina grandmother.

There’s a lot in the name, and on the plate, at Ruthie’s All-Day in Arlington

A custom wood smoker made from a repurposed propane tank, along with an Argentine grill and box smoker in the kitchen, flavor much of the Southern-inspired menu. Hill sweats the details. Biscuits are baked every 30 minutes or so, and the side dishes are best in class. Mac and cheese gets finished with Parmesan breadcrumbs, and the braised greens served with smoked tomatoes sting with the juice of pickled Fresno chiles. It’s not all brisket, spare ribs and wood-grilled salmon or chicken. Sprinkled among the family-friendly eats are dishes that hark to Hill’s fine dining days at Charlie Palmer Steak and the late Range. Cue the sparkling tuna tartare, garnished with strips of nori and sharing its plate with a brushstroke of pureed avocado freckled with Korean chile flakes.

“I want to be open all the time and for all people,” says the chef of his window-wrapped restaurant. Truth in advertising.

3411 Fifth St. South, Arlington. 703-888-2841. ruthiesallday.com. Open for indoor and outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. Delivery via DoorDash and Uber Eats. Entrees with two or three sides $14 to $43.

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