Here are mini reviews of the Washington-area restaurants found on Tom Sietsema’s list of recommendations.
1226 36th St. NW, 202-965-1789
Tradition has always been part of a visit to 1789 in the shadow of Georgetown University, but jackets for gentlemen are no longer recommended. Each dining room has a distinct personality; each enjoys flickering table lamps, nooks for intimate gatherings and classical music that doesn’t interfere with conversation. The jacketed servers are gracious and charming. Appetizers tend to be more interesting than entrees here, but that’s true of a lot of restaurants. Full review.
701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-393-0701
Dressed for success — or at least for a supper club — in soft blues and browns, 701 bends over backward to encourage patronage. At lunch, there’s a bar deal that offers one of a choice of five dishes and a glass of wine. The pre-theater menu runs throughout dinner on Sunday. There aren’t many upscale restaurants dishing out live music, but here, piano on Thursday night is followed by piano and bass on Friday and Saturday. Full review.
692 Federal St., Paris, Va. 866-336-0099
Few restaurants bridge old and new better than this inn in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The chef is imaginative with an artistic streak, partial to arranging his food in delicious rows on its plates. But he never forsakes flavor for gimmicks. All the intimate dining rooms are welcoming, although warm weather typically finds me outside on the flagstone terrace, and the underground tap room with fireplace calls to me in winter. The upstairs provides reasons to linger, provided you plan ahead: six romantic guest rooms. Full review.
2519 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-223-6941
This casual Foggy Bottom restaurant roams across two floors, each equipped with its own bar and dressed with colorful beads, old light fixtures and posters collected from flea markets. Yes, it’s noisy upstairs on music nights, but who goes to a place celebrating New Orleans for quietude? The kitchen fusses over the details. A chalkboard on the ground floor announces the weekly specials, one of which is that New Orleans tradition of red beans and rice, served on Tuesdays rather than the customary Mondays, when Bayou is dark. Full review.
9812 Falls Road, Potomac, 301-299-3000
At Bezu, fusion has given way to a fully French menu — and a chance for diners to be fed as if they were dignitaries. The dining room beyond is inviting in orange fabric alternating with Jerusalem stone on the walls and tall booths that suggest that what’s said in Bezu stays in Bezu. If you can, avoid the tables that run down the middle of the room, the least cozy of the 50 or so seats (calling ahead might help). Wine drinkers are encouraged to book on Monday night, when Bezu offers its bottles for half-price. Full review.
1100 New York Ave. NW, 202-216-9550
Another place to eat Italian. Do I hear a yawn out there? Bibiana might stifle it. The restaurant has the considerable advantage of chef Nicholas Stefanelli. The best spot in this attractive space is behind the stainless-steel-beaded curtains in the main dining room. It’s as noisy as anywhere else here, yet it feels discreet. Full review.
1337 14th St. NW, 202-567-2576
A confession: I’m not crazy about beer. That’s one reason I’m so passionate about Birch & Barley in general and Greg Engert in particular. They make it impossible for you to stay cool to their 500-plus-bottle expertise. When the sudsmeister comes to the table and gives his spiel about, say, Scottish ale aged in whisky barrels, his enthusiasm rubs off. Husband-and-wife chefs Kyle Bailey and Tiffany MacIsaac (he focuses on savories; she concentrates on sweets) follow suit by finessing what it means to be a tavern. It would be easy for a diner to fill up on the bread board and its amazing pretzel rolls, but pace yourself. Full review.
12724 Occoquan Road, Woodbridge, 703-499-9550
As the owner of this French gem in Prince William County is apt to tell you himself, he not only cut and stained the mahogany tables in the dining room, he sewed the curtains for his windows and arranged the Virginia cobblestones for his walls. Youssef Eagle Essakl spent 25 years working in other people’s restaurants before striking out on his own a couple of years ago, and the experience shows. Bistro L’Hermitage delivers a mostly polished performance, coaxed from soft jazz and a kitchen that sends out quiet pleasures. Nothing is terribly complicated; much is rewarding. Full review.
1201 24th St. NW (in the Park Hyatt Hotel), 202-419-6755
Fat apple pies resting on a marble counter, jars of canned fruit lining the walls and a garden of carefully arranged produce lead the way to the dining room, where spindly chairs and quilts on the wall further prepare a diner for something homespun. Not so fast. New York designer Tony Chi created the space — a maze of glass, steel and wood — and chef Brian McBride crafted the American menu, a document that pays tribute to farmers. A table in the softly lighted inner sanctum, near the vast open kitchen and the oven that burns oak and apple wood, is like an orchestra seat at a cooking show. Full review.
815 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-659-3727
The Bombay Club is 20 years old, but thanks to a $600,000 nip and tuck, it looks more seductive than ever. Jewel tones in the fabric on the banquettes and a splash of pink on the soft leather chairs do this grande dame proud. Some things never change, though. The service remains courtly, and the white piano continues to be out of place. You don’t have to be a hothead to enjoy the menu; tender venison chops with a gravy of yogurt and cashew nuts, a winter dish, are subtle yet sublime. Full review.
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-944-2026
The name primes patrons for the expected, and I’m fond of the kitchen’s thick, dry-aged rib-eye. But why limit yourself to meat? A meal in this luxe restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown commences on a decadent note, with bouquets of french fries crisped in duck fat, and warm truffle-butter rolls. The restaurant is serious, but it knows how to have fun. Frequenters know to bypass the sepia-tone dining room for the best place to sup: outside, on Bourbon Steak’s courtyard, surrounded by flowers and warmed by fire pits. Full review.
425 Seventh St. NW, 202-737-7770
The focus is on bigness, it turns out, extends to its heart. Despite its size (nearly 700 seats) and its parentage (it’s part of a New York chain owned by the Alicart Group), the restaurant succeeds where I thought it would fail by serving food that really and truly smacks of an Italian grandmother’s kitchen. Trends have no home on the list, which runs to all the usual spaghetti-house favorites. Full review.
101 Constitution Ave. NW, 202-547-8100
Convenient for lobbyists and the people with whom they seek face time, this sleek, gray-and-blue destination on the Hill (notice the Capitol across the way?) is also a prime place to cut into a steak, be it a thick rib-eye or a pedigreed Wagyu sirloin with the texture of butter. Meanwhile, the deep American wine list means you will sip as well as you eat.
1330 Maryland Ave. SW, 202-787-6006
A reservation for a top table prompts heightened expectations. This is a generous and gracious den of luxury: Request coffee, and it might come with warm cardamom-orange cakes. Frequent patrons might be weary of seeing the same amuse bouches visit after visit, but I know there would be a riot if CityZen ever deleted from its drill the little wooden box of warm Parker House rolls that shows up with the entrees. Because I’d be leading the protest. Full review.
1122 Ninth St. NW, 202-589-0699
Tom Power does light better than just about any other chef in town. The easy elegance of the cooking here extends to the rest of this sleek, two-story townhouse across from the convention center. The wood is mostly blond, the lighting is easy, and if you’re in search of a place where you never have to raise your voice to be heard, even at the (smart upstairs) bar, Corduroy is the answer. Full review.
1520 14th St. NW, 202-319-1404
Mark Kuller and Haidar Karoum, the owner and chef, respectively, of the wine-themed Proof in Penn Quarter, built their second project around snacks and small plates; if you go with a group, you can cover a lot of ground. The plates come out as they’re ready; to avoid having a jam of dishes, order a few tapas at a time. The design of the place is as inviting as much of the food. Chief problems: too few seats (113) and too much demand; you can reserve after 6 p.m. only if you’re a party of six or more. Full review.
7272 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda, 301-652-8008
As the region has been inundated with serious-minded pizza purveyors in recent years, the bar for what makes a great pie has been raised. The pie at this relatively recent Bethesda spot, baked in a stone oven and dressed with the usual suspects, is satisfying enough but not so compelling that you’re fighting for the last slice with your mates. Full review.
410 Seventh St. NW, 202-556-2050
This is a loud, big barn of a tribute to Texas-style barbecue. Whatever your pleasure here, it means is messy, roll-up-your-sleeves eating. Spare ribs are the size of motorcycle handles, fabulously meaty and, like every other meat here, deeply infused with smoke. Pork loin, an occasional special, is served in succulent slices with ribbons of fat and a whisper of rosemary in its seasoning. Downstairs, there’s live music Tuesdays through Saturdays. Full review.
515 15th St. NW, 202-661-2400
It’s a designer creation in the W Hotel from celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Whatever your path, if you don’t squeeze in some not-too-creamed spinach, you’re missing one of the best side dishes around (basil gives it a lift). A reservation in the dining room, rich with leather chairs and Palladian windows, typically lets you join the “skip” line that cuts any wait for an elevator ride to the rooftop bar — and one of the most spectacular views in town. Full review.
1700 K St. NW, 202-535-5274
Dining rooms on legendary K street (and at this address in particular) have not fared well in recent years. This elegant Greek newcomer, which has an older sibling with the same name in New York, hopes to beat the odds not just with a different accent but also with a setting that takes patrons on a holiday from the city. There are tough decisions to be made when it comes to ordering from a shaved-ice canvas of fish. Portions are ginormous. Full review.
465 K St. NW, 202-682-3123
Decisions, decisions. A diner confronts a lot of them at this sprawling Japanese tavern in newly hip Mount Vernon Square. Would you like to sit in the dining room, at the sushi counter or at the robata grill? “The whole menu is available everywhere,” a hostess says helpfully. Kushi’s specials are just that; look for bracing live uni, served on crushed ice in its spiky shell. Full review.
2813 M St. NW, 202-338-1784
Patrons leave the bustle of Georgetown for the French countryside when they step inside, which looks every bit of its nearly four decades. That’s a bouquet, by the way. Heavy wood beams, ancient chandeliers and a crackling fire in the cold months convey old-fashioned charm in the main dining room. (Two smaller private areas are perfect for parties.) The menu follows suit; patrons have let the chef know they weren’t interested updating a Gallic path. Full review.
1110 Vermont Ave. NW, 202-386-9200
The downtown restaurant was designed and inspired by the “freedom, expression and liberation” that comes to mind with Abraham Lincoln, says owner Alan Popovsky. Sit next to whomever you like best, because even Ethel Merman would have a hard time being heard in an environment that averages 100 decibels on a weeknight. Mason jars are used for drinks and snacks in this “contemporary log cabin” that happens to find room for 155 guests. Plates are big, portions are petite, desserts are simple. Full review.
1805 18th St. NW, 202-588-1540; 453 K St. NW, 202-289-6899
There are only a handful of places in Washington to find bibimbap and bulgogi, the rice-and-vegetable medley and the barbecued beef that, among other dishes in the genre, make Korean food so easy to like. Mandu looks great and feels great. But the flavors are not as robust as they might be. Full review.
2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-296-1166
Of all the upscale French contenders on the scene, this one, named for the oldest son of veteran chef Robert Wiedmaier, is the one I’m most eager to return to. The service is suave without being stuffy, the lighting erases whatever worry lines exist and the setting marries comfort with beauty. If you’re looking for a stellar steak, you’re apt to find it here in the form of bison entrecote. Long before the recession, Marcel’s offered a three-course, pre-theater menu that included car service to and from the Kennedy Center. Full review.
1700 Tysons Blvd., McLean, 703-506-4300
“A good American restaurant with a small French accent” is how Michel Richard has described this, his spot in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner, and miles from the refined Michel Richard Citronelle in Georgetown and the bistro-style Michel Richard Central downtown. The luscious escargot tart is one of multiple dishes that can make a diner’s heart race with excitement. The restaurant’s interior radiates playfulness; the acoustics aren’t great. When Richard and crew are firing on all cylinders, there’s no more joyful food to be found. Full review.
3000 M St. NW, 202-625-2150
The underground hotel dining room is desperate for a makeover, but the buzz of a well-fed crowd and expert service help diners forgive appearances. Chef Michel Richard is among the country’s best and brightest. Few others have his gift for weaving textures and colors into every dish, or his playful wit. The Frenchman’s amuse bouche, for instance, might be a single bite of four miniatures, including a crab cake the size of a quarter and a ratatouille-filled taco not much bigger than a postage stamp. Full review.
107 D St. NE, 202-546-4488
This Washington insider’s hangout offers an unpretentious setting where tourists in sneakers are as comfortable as lawyers in pinstripes. The menu is a throwback; about the closest this kitchen on the Hill gets to contemporary cooking is the chili butter gilding an order of rib-eye steak. Full review.
2029 P St. NW, 202-872-1180
Three things you can always count on at this intimate Italian restaurant run by the famously mellow Peter Pastan. 1) Dinner will commence with so many, and such enticing, breads and antipasti that you will be tempted to ask for the rest of the meal boxed up for home. 2) The house-made pastas and grilled meats, typically simply sauced, are models of restraint but also soulfulness. 3) The room, a mere 30 seats, is about as spare and beige as when the place opened in 1987. Full review.
800 Connecticut Ave. NW 202-463-8700
Regulars such as the White House press secretary underscore how close you are to the other oval room. If there’s one lesson Tony Conte took away from his time at the four-star Jean Georges in New York, it’s this: “I try to keep things exciting,” says the chef of the Oval Room. Every dish, he notes, should have “a little pop and a little zing.” Walls the color of sage and chairs in burnt orange make for a smart place to see and be seen. Full review.
1200 16th St. NW, 202-448-2300
Here’s a place that refuses to acknowledge economic hard times. Would the gentleman like a velvet stool for his attache case? (Oh, why not?) Shortly after you’re handed a menu, something delightful appears: first warm cheese puffs and a spoon of scrambled egg glistening with domestic caviar; then a demitasse of soup, perhaps liquid squash capped with a whip of cinnamon, more savory than sweet. For a luxury restaurant, the menu is pretty short; the chef likes to impress in quiet ways. Full review.
555 Eighth St. NW, 202-783-6060
I’m dreading cold weather. It means a suspension of one of the best ideas this restaurant in the Hotel Monaco has ever hatched: an outdoor teak-and-stone table next to a garden of tomatoes, raspberries and herbs that offers the chance for a group of you to graze on (pick one) beef brisket, wild king salmon, baby goat or crackling suckling pig cooked by the chef on a nearby wood-fired grill. Fortunately, inside the restaurant is pretty delicious as well. Full review.
2020 K St. NW, 202-466-8811
This longtime downtown steakhouse is more a ritual than a restaurant; the atmosphere is posh, the staff pampers and, yes, the prime rib is still the primary draw. Civility reigns; men are required to wear a jacket and tie, live piano and bass music creates a supper-club feel, and red meat and stiff drinks are cause for celebration rather than guilt. Full review.
633 D St. NW, 202-637-1222
Prepare yourself for seductive, original Indian food. There’s nothing on the chef’s menu that I wouldn’t relish eating again. Vikram Sunderam is a genius with spicing, but I also appreciate the way the Bombay native marries fresh ideas with traditional ones. The service is cosseting and the backdrop fetching. True, the restaurant is hard on the ears. But that’s a small price to pay for a gem of a meal — and I’m talking a diamond. Full review.
110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria, 703-706-0450
Five courses, seven courses, nine courses: There are multiple ways to explore the impressive range of chef Cathal Armstrong in his 50-seat Tasting Room next to Eve’s less-formal bistro. Yet another option is to hand the menu back to the waiter and let Armstrong surprise you with what he thinks is best, which could include any of the entire restaurant’s repertoire of 63 dishes in this gracious, renovated dining area in Old Town Alexandria. Full review.
3417 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-244-7995
I’ve always admired Ripple for the warmth of its service and the wit of its dining rooms, and now I can vouch for the cooking at the year-old restaurant in Cleveland Park as well. Since chef Logan Cox came aboard in May, the modern American bistro has evolved from a shiny bauble into a certified gem. Full review.
2275 L St. NW, 202-730-2500
One of the liberating things about serving a modern American menu is the carte blanche it extends the chef; contemporary “American” cooking can be just about anything. Sure enough, Ris, named after its chef, Ris Lacoste, has almost as many accents in its repertoire as Meryl Streep. Food is served with a generous hand. Customers tend to either like or dis the interior, which opens with a bar, continues with a sea of closely set tables and goes off into different directions with small private dining rooms (the most attractive tables). Full review.
1112 F St. NW, 202-367-1990
Typically packed with fat cats, this might be the most moving-and-shaking restaurant in town. But is it a place for food enthusiasts as well? If I had my doubts the past few years, two recent dinners in this lair for lobbyists, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in April, have put them to rest. I applaud Tosca’s “Dine at Dusk” deal, a three-courser with lots of options offered from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for $38 — about what you’d pay for a single fish entree later in the evening. Full review.
922 N St. NW, 202-408-9724
With a choice of 16 or 24 “Nouveau American” courses, Rogue 24 won’t be for everyone. I wouldn’t recommend the place for a blind date or a meat-and-potatoes sensibility. Many of the small plates are decorated with edible dust and soil. Instructions for some dishes, including a single radish on a brush stroke of butter that is supposed to be swiped from its bowl with your fingers, are ridiculous. By evening’s end, however, you are likely to consider buying tweezers for your kitchen and possibly booking a return trip. Full review.
11414 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda, 301-984-5252; 7863 Tysons Corner Center Suite N11L, McLean, 703-288-3852
The same company that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster (Darden Restaurants) claims this concept, but Seasons 52 cooks with a comparatively light hand: No dish on its menu is more than 475 calories. Chef Ben Erjavec says he doesn’t use cream or butter in his cooking, nor does his kitchen have a fryer. The wine list includes plenty of reasons for going off any diet you might be on. Large- and small-scale party accommodations available. Full review.
1330 Maryland Ave. SW, 202-787-6868
The name suggests something folksy, but the food at CityZen’s simpler sibling in the plush hotel is seductive. Not far from several local theater companies, Sou’Wester would be wise to trim its trencherman portions; some of us would rather not to fall asleep during the second half of a show. Inside advice: Tables 91 through 94 come with views of the Potomac, but the most romantic of the landings here might be No. 86, overlooking the Tidal Basin Although the service is serious, the menu lets you have some fun. Full review.
1503 17th St. NW, 202-462-8999
There’s not a finer source for sushi in Washington nor a more alluring setting in which to admire it. To experience the restaurant at its most thrilling, you’ll want to upgrade from the narrow main dining room to the handcrafted white oak counter in the rear and order the chef’s tasting menu, which starts at $100 a head. The many details explain the lofty tab: gorgeous pottery, wasabi grated before your eyes, a private cooking show starring Yamazaki and chef de cuisine Masa Kitayama. Full review.
1739 N St. NW, 202-331-8528
Named after the lodging place in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” the business dates to 1922. But the kitchen is very much of the moment. Packaged in a low ceiling and black-and-while tile floor, the main dining room proves cramped and clattery. I prefer the cozier space upstairs or, better yet, the enclosed garden if the weather allows. The inn’s address, on a quiet, tree-lined street near Dupont Circle, gives it the air of a well-kept secret. The occupied couches in the firelit lounge tell you otherwise: You’d better have a reservation. Full review.
575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-637-6100
The best cone in the city? My vote goes not to that pricey gelateria in Logan Circle but to the Source, next to the Newseum. That’s where chef Scott Drewno and his crew fill fragile, faintly sweet cones of sesame and miso with minced tuna tartare and a dusting of shaved bonito. The restaurant’s pan-Asian concept comes courtesy of California boss Wolfgang Puck, yet the plate manages to feel personal rather than corporate. Full review.