2014 Spring Dining Guide

2014 Spring Dining Guide


Sure signs of the season: Shad, crocuses — and another issue of the Spring Dining Guide, in which I look back at previously reviewed restaurants in the area and take their temperature anew.

Hot or not?

The following 19 restaurants were selected for all manner of reasons. Some have added new chefs or expanded their visions. Others initially met with rants in this space; have they improved with time? In a few cases, my choices were based on the simple reality that I hadn’t dropped by in years, and anyone who eats out regularly knows that restaurants can change like kings on “Game of Thrones.”

Unlike the annual Fall Dining Guide, a toast to favorites, this dispatch includes a fair number of dislikes. My feeling is, diners have as much to gain from knowing where not to spend their precious time and hard-earned money as they do from hearing about the market’s best in class.

As a bonus, my Weekend colleague Fritz Hahn rounded up a pack of top bartenders and asked each to create an original, warm-weather cocktail. Drink up!

See more images from the restaurants here.

Bayou Bakery

I don’t get to New Orleans nearly as often as I’d like, but in between visits, Bayou Bakery in Arlington is where I fly to get a taste of what I miss in the Big Easy. It helps that owner David Guas is a Louisiana native and a pastry chef; his praline scones alone are […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Bistro Vivant

Keep an eye on Katie Busch. Better yet, try her cooking at Bistro Vivant in McLean. She’s the third chef to head the kitchen of the spare suburban French restaurant, and by far the best yet. While the former line cook at the Modern in New York hewed to a traditional French script when she […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik


You know you’re in a prime spot for fishing the moment you spy the retail display that fronts one of the few reasons to eat in the Palisades. A sniff of the ocean-y air and perusal of the clear-eyed ingredients — arranged on ice as if jewels on velvet — instill confidence in those who […] Read more...

Michael Temchine

Cafe Milano

Even some regulars will tell you that Cafe Milano, 21, is more about the clientele than the cucina, but my last dinner in the Georgetown ristorante helps explain why Le Diplomate in Logan Circle has become the club of choice for most VIPs and wannabes to see and be scene. The French hotspot is nice […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik


Consistency is one of the hardest particulars for a restaurant to sustain. Which is one reason I always anticipate my visits to Charleston in Baltimore, presided over by executive chef and co-owner Cindy Wolf. Her poster-size menu always forces tough choices, the wine list never ceases to impress me, and isn’t it swell to know […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Domku Bar & Cafe

Washington isn’t brimming with the cooking of Eastern Europe or Scandinavia, two reasons I relish this intimate hybrid restaurant in Petworth. Domku honors Hungary with a hearty chicken stew strewn with soft red peppers, Poland by butter-fried dumplings swollen with potatoes, bacon, onion and the white cheese called twarog. Adding to the fun — and […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Elizabeth’s Gone Raw

“While you’re enjoying your iodized water, let me tell you about the menu,” says the lithe young server at Elizabeth’s Gone Raw, where none of the food is cooked to higher than 118 degrees and all of it is plant-based. Elizabeth refers to Elizabeth Petty, the owner of the Catering Company of Washington, while “Gone […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik


Often, it’s the simple stuff that makes the strongest impression. Take my last meal at Graffiato, where one of the best pastas in recent memory combined pork ragout, fried rosemary, whipped ricotta and gnocchi, or “little pillows of love,” as my gal pal called the $12 dish that rocked both of our worlds. The clamorous, […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Green Pig Bistro

Chef-owner Scot Harlan says he doesn’t dare take the “buffalo” ribs off the menu at Green Pig Bistro, and hurrah for that. A play on common Buffalo chicken wings, the Lincoln logs of red protein rising from its base of blue cheese dressing are, in reality, spice-rubbed pork ribs cooled down with long ribbons of […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik


Northern Virginia looks a lot like Northern California at Härth, the dashing modern American restaurant ensconced in the high-tech Hilton McLean. En route to their tables, patrons pass a formation of birch poles and a slender open kitchen with a few stools for grazers. Menus in hand, diners pause to take in their surroundings. Comfy […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik


Check your food inhibitions at the door. Tonight, you’ll be eating a zesty slice of margherita pizza on a crust so thin you can read through it, corkscrew “pasta” injected with the most vivid pesto ever, and chocolate-covered doughnut ice cream. They will all be game-changers — that fusilli is made with water and a […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Mussel Bar

Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to tell you about a new! improved! Mussel Bar, a changed restaurant from the listless seafood joint I encountered four years ago in Bethesda. Its owner and creator, after all, is Robert Wiedmaier, the talent behind Marcel’s, Washington’s top splurge for French cooking. Sadly, some of the same […] Read more...

Susan Biddle

Nopa Kitchen + Bar

The good news at the youngest restaurant in the impressive collection of Ashok Bajaj is that the front dining room has gotten quieter, thanks to as much as $15,000 poured into sound-proofing the place. What hasn’t changed is the uneven food coming from the Penn Quarter kitchen. At my last meal, the pork belly and […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik


There’s more than ever to like at Nostos since the Greek restaurant, a sibling to Mykonos Grill in Rockville, added another room to its winning formula last year. The extra space adds 30 seats and builds on an attractive brand of neat, chalk-white interiors and black-and-white photographs of both celebrities and fishermen. The menu has […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Restaurant Eve

If you were disappointed by a performance at Restaurant Eve last year, blame a kitchen that churned out more than 60 different dishes for its bar, bistro and formal dining room — “too much,” admits founder Cathal Armstrong. As Eve approached its 10th anniversary this year, the executive chef vowed to return to the kitchen […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

Tabard Inn

As always, the modern American menu reads enticingly. Where else can a diner find short rib spring rolls, gumbo, a fried skate wing sandwich and Fuji apple-rhubarb tart under one roof? Unlike in years past, however, the execution here in Dupont Circle can be a mess. While generous with sausage and shrimp, that gumbo could […] Read more...

Maddie Meyer

Thai Square

This unassuming storefront in Arlington is unlikely to get an award for its hospitality or win a prize for its design, and that’s just fine with owner Sunthorn Rojural. “We want to win customers with our food,” says the Bangkok native. I love his priorities. Even more, I treasure Thai Square’s epic menu, where even […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

The Classics

Welcome to the poor man’s Morton’s, the Ruth’s Chris for folks who want a good steak dinner without the froufrou or the three-digit tabs. Introduced as Ray’s the Classics in 2006 by Michael Landrum, the owner of the democratic Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington, the Silver Spring restaurant shortened its name to the Classics when […] Read more...

Joseph Victor Stefanchik

The Majestic

Returning to Majestic after a long absence felt like reuniting with an old flame. Would there still be sparks? Or would the passage of time alter my affection for the cozy American dining room owned by the talent behind Restaurant Eve and Society Fair, also in Old Town? The date started out well enough, with […] Read more...

Len Spoden