Friday Question of the Day – Restaurant Week Edition by Robyn


Emmm banana and chocolate cake, originally uploaded by pjaol.
Ed. Note: The following was written by Robyn. I’d also like to make this the FQoTD – Do you take advantage of restaurant week? If so, how are your experiences? Any restaurants you’d recommend that really do it right?

First course: Caramelized Gnocchi. Followed by Crab Cakes with house-made tartar sauce. And for desert: Dark Chocolate Soufflé. All enjoyed in a mod, architecturally-lit main room at a fine dining establishment frequented by DC political powerhouses and socialites alike. Sounds exquisite, right? Well not if the gnocchi came out cold, you have to eat around the shells in the crab cakes, and it’s all washed down with a glass of mediocre chardonnay – just one because your lethargic waiter never notices your empty glass to ask for a refill. Welcome to DC Restaurant Week, a week of lunch and dinner specials that lures you in with enticing bargains at fine dining establishments….then chews you up and spits you out feeling unsatisfied with a lighter wallet. For someone who’s admittedly gullible, Restaurant Week gets me every time. Lunch is just over 20 dollars, dinner just over 35 – a steal when most restaurants can charge double that 50 weeks out of the year. So twice annually, I pack my week with at least two Famous Chef restaurants, one Pretentious place, one C-List Celebrity Visited Here During Inauguration, and at least one who claims that Obama has visited or expressed interest in visiting (however mildly). A flurry of texts are exchanged (HAVE ONE SPOT OPEN CEIBA 8PM HEAR BRAISED PORK GOOD) and I look forward to a week of very good eats at places I couldn’t normally afford. Except for the most part, the service and the ambiance is…well, bad. And as a self-confessed Ruby Tuesday fan, I don’t expect much.

Because I’m younger, I don’t own Gucci heels (actually I don’t own a single pair of heels – I think 5 foot 9 is tall enough), and I tend to have a my wide-eyed why-are-there-so-many-forks nature, it’s obvious that I’m there for the specials. Due to this, I feel subject to what I call Restaurant Week Discrimination (RWD). It’s that rushed, indifferent demeanor of the wait staff, the unapologetic plate auctioning (Who got the scallops? Anyone? No one? Sigh…), and the general mechanical nature of the staff as they quite visibly just want to get over catering to us common folk. Sometimes I want to play the part, put on my best Southern twang and exclaim “Oh mah gawd Bernie! Sayz here they serve thar tuna rawr! It ain’t cooked!”

Except I don’t have a friend named Bernie. Any Bernie’s out there want to be my friend?

I get it. It’s a week that attracts us 5-figured salary types and I shouldn’t expect to be treated as royalty. But Restaurants, can you at least humor me? You don’t have to treat me as if I was the First Lady, but maybe like one of her aides? Now I won’t name names, except the most extreme exception to RWD (Rasika), but in general, I’m not a fan.

Now if you excuse me I have reservations at a place where apparently Obama will be taking Malia for her report card. Or so I’ve been told. I said I was gullible.

Any Restaurant Weekers feel my pain? Or want to add to it? Bernie, you out there?

38 Comment

  • Try The Morrison-Clark Restaurant located at 11th and Mass NW. Its well worth the trip.

  • Never going to restaurant week again. Went to one high end steak place that served pre-cooked crappy steak that would have been bad as wedding food. Went to a high end in hotel in Georgetown where I ate one of the crappiest meals of my life. Went to a high end place in Alexandria that was at least adequate but definitely not good. After going 0-3, I am DONE with restaurant week in this city. It’s not like it is even that much of a deal considering most of the places who participate aren’t exactly Citronelle or Komi … total and complete scam.

  • Had an amazing dinner last night at Hook. They treated us like royalty, the food was fantastic, and it was definitely one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve had (including non-RW times).

    Can’t say enough about how pleased we were.

  • RW is touch and go. My philosophy is go to a place where the deal is great. I went to Taberna del Alabardero last night, where the entrees are usually $40, so $35 for 3 courses was a deal. You just have to expect to wait, not get stellar service, it’s a bargain. However, Taverna del Alabardero’s service was good, the food was great, and we ended up talking to one of the hostesses about her experience moving to DC from Sevilla, which was nice. I’ve had good RW experiences, OK ones, and not so great ones. I don’t expect a ton out of it, and I’ve mostly been happy with what I’ve got at RW.

  • I’ve mostly gone for dinner, and I’ve been disappointed every time I’ve gone. I usually pick Washingtonian Top 100 restaurants to see what the fuss is about, and I don’t think I have ever thought to myself “I can see why they are ranked so high.” I can’t say I was treated rudely at any of the restaurants though.

    And of course, I had to cancel reservations for Taberna del Alabardero this week and it gets a good review!!!

  • face it people, dc is not known for its food. i’m from los angeles and i could go on and on about how poor dc’s service and food quality is. the bottom line is that rw is a good opportunity to sample resturants you wouldn’t normally try. everytime i participate, i go with a group of friends and make a fun night out. try not to take it too serioulsy people.

  • The only WORSE times to try a restaurant in DC is Valentines Day or Mother’s Day. Restaurants are usually packed, the food sloppily prepared, the service below their already barely-adequate standards. If you’ve had enough liquor before you might be able to tolerate it, but unless the deal is stellar, it’s hardly worth the hassle. You’re better off going on an off-night like a Tuesday.

  • I honestly feel bad for the servers during restaurant week. They make 2.00 an hour so that for a week they can bust their asses doing the same amount of work for more people than normal, only to be tipped like shit because 1. the dinners/lunches cost less and 2. the patrons are generally, well…cheap- otherwise why would they wait for one week out of the year to eat there? And don’t get me wrong here, I am broke, I can’t afford to eat at most of these places EVER but if someone told you that for a week you were going to have twice the work load and half the pay, would you be excited? Yes it is their job, yes they know this week happens every year, but it doesn’t make it suck any less.

  • New2CH – do you mind divulging the names of the places you went to – just curious?

  • I’ve tried many places over the years and the 3 places that I’ve had great RW meals at are Zola, DC Coast and 1789. At all of those places I received wonderful service and the food was divine. Tonight I’m going to Oya which I hope is just as great.

  • No one is comparing DC to LA here; the fact of the matter is that the quality of food and service generally goes down during restaurant week here. Even compared to the awesomeness of LA.

    I will never feel bad for a server at a nice restaurant unless they are dealing with some major a-holes. Not sure how the logistics work; but if you wait on 3 tables an hour that average $100/meal and they are tipped at 15%; that is $45 bucks an hour. I’m pretty sure that is low-balling it too!

  • I do not feel bad for servers as most of my friends who are servers clear 60k a year. which is more than i make in my cubical. As for restaurant week its never a deal. The restaurants tailor their price fix menus to suit the event. you arent getting the normal 40 dollar entree believe me. And yes the servers are pissy cause they think its amateur hour. Which you know what. it is. people who dont normaly eat out at fancy places or get price fix meals come out of the woodwork but if the restaurants didnt water down the experience and the servers unbunched their panties than maybe they would make a loyal customer.

  • Second U street girl’s review of Taberna del Alabardero. Went there on Tuesday and the staff was very nice and the food was excellent. But yes, RW experiences are generally not that great for all the reasons people have given.

  • Bobby Van’s was the steakhouse and that was the worst — the food came out in about three minutes and clearly had been pre-made. Season’s was the place in Georgtown. Ugggggh. Farah Olivia was OK but nothing spectacular.

  • Thanks New2CH. Bobby Van’s is usually not very good – so no surprise there.

  • I’ll second Bobby Van’s. Terrible. But I’ve also visited Taberna during RW and had a wonderful meal.

  • Rumor has it that they’re going to replace the Georgia Ave. Wendy’s with an asian fusion restaurant and a wine bar!!

  • Robyn, get some heels. Nothing more impressive and sexier than a tall woman on heels. 🙂

    Hmm.. was that off topic?

  • I’ve participated in several restaurant weeks. Lunch is the way to go, especially now that dinner is $35. I did lunch yesterday at Oval Room (would go back after tasting everyone else’s entrees, wouldn’t order the chicken again. Service was GREAT), and tomorrow night I’m going to 1789.




  • If you average 10-15% tips at many restaurants in this city you’re lucky. Way too many tourists, midwestern transplants and foreign folks for whom tipping is, well, foreign. I really wish the whole tipping ‘game’ would go away and businesses like restaurants and bars could just pay their staff a living wage. I managed a restaurant for a while, and there’s nothing like seeing your staff go home with near minimum wage after busting their ass for hours just because they had to wait on a bunch of cheap or uninformed bastards. These folks were really good on the customer service side of things too, but the reality is most people can make more money doing far easier work. What you end up seeing in terms of crap customer service her in DC is the dregs who don’t have the drive to make that happen.

    Alright, cue the “I tip at least 20%” song and dance from y’all…. 🙂

  • Well yes, obviously I’m not getting the same $40 entree during RW, it’s a prix fixe menu, but a restaurant who serves $40 entrees is a place I’m going to go on RW because I’m not going to go there otherwise.

    Glad to hear other people had positive experiences at Taberna del Alabardero, they definitely impressed me.

  • My vote goes to Equinox. Great Meal! I mean Great Meal. I went to Charlie Palmer’s too. I always go to CP for RW. My GF ended up ordering off the regular menu as the RW selections were uninspiring.

  • I have to second springroadintoaction’s comments about Hook. I just had a great experience the other night, even though my group was seated in a room clearly opened specifically for restaurant week with rental furniture. When we sat down, I thought it was going to be another mediocre RW meal, especially since I’d had a just ok lunch there over the summer. Instead, the food was delicious and the portions were huge. I think the best part, though, was our waiter, who was the nicest and most capable waiter I’ve ever met in DC.

  • I never do RW anymore – the $35 price doesn’t include wine, so you wind up paying just as much anyway. Plus, I never order dessert so I don’t feel like I’m getting a deal by having three courses. And every chef and cook I know despises RW because it’s incredibly boring for them to have to cook the same few things over and over.

    But, all that said, I know people who enjoy it and it gets them to try new places.

  • Mei n Yu in Georgetown is pretty rotten for restaurant week. They seat you in the freezing cold attic in a deserted room, then proceed to ignore you.

    My general hatred for restaurant week stems from my own weakness. I think, “oh, hey, I’ll only spend $40!” Then I get there and I “upgrade” this entree or that, order a $15 drink (or two), upgrade the dessert – and whammo. I’ve just $100. I’m a fool that way.

  • Argh restaurant week. Getting in the way of my having a spontaneous sit-down dinner in Penn Quarter last night because everywhere was booked booked booked. (Oyamel to the rescue.)

  • Seriously, I tower over people, like an amazon warrior woman. And I fall a lot in heels. I’m just not cut out for them.

  • More individual RW reviews:

    Great: Il Mulino

    Good: Agraria

    Ok: Ardeo, Caucus Room

    Bad: 701

  • NiNi says — Rubys doesn’t offer restaurant week and our service is always the same. We refill your glass once but since it is about 100 ounces and thats all it takes.

    If restaurant week is an excuse to make gucci restaurants turn in to a rubys experience — back off. Theres only one salad bar with rie crutons in this city. Robin will tell you there is only one restuarant with brocollli mayonase salad. I make that.

    Who want to go to a restaurant that makes you feel like you did when you sat at the childrens table during thanksigiving at Ant Emma Jeans anyways. I am an adult and expect to be treated like the lady i am. If you want to give me second class service then I will squirt mashed potatoes out of my mouth like zits and start food fights.

  • A suggestion for the light of wallet and the heavy of heart. Chicken hearts to be precise. If any of you have access to an auto, simply cart yourself to Green Field, a churrascaria for those who simply refuse to pay $100 a head for subpar filet and month old sopressata.

    The Green Field will delight any palate for a pittance. Ask for Gilberto. Restaurant week is always “on” as is your meat ticket (make sure to set it to “green”). A personal favorite is the purple top round (if you want to kill your meat twice, I recommend a tour of duty with any first world military) and skewer ‘pon skewer of chicken hearts. Trust me on this one, make sure they’re well done. These tiniest of “clams” will leave you beating your chest in ecstasy. You will wonder why you didn’t make the trip sooner.

    Red line to Twinbrook and cross the street.

  • @Robyn:

    As a woman who is an inch taller than you, I resemble that remark! Seriously though, embrace your height ; don’t be afraid of heels. And, don’t hate on the amazonian ladies. 😉

    Oh RW.. I went to Ceiba the other day. Was good. I recommend the Peruvian Cerviche.

  • My best RW experiences have been at Ceiba and Cafe Atlantico, I also enjoyed RW at Agraria. I was a bit disappointed by Rasika and Indebleu. (all dinners) I think the key is to go someplace expensive enough that you wouldn’t normally go, and preview their RW menu (important for vegetarians, especially if the RW menu is limited). fyi, some restaurants extend their RW offer for an additional week (or several weeks) so if you didn’t make a reservation this week there’s still time. I’m headed to Equinox tonight!

  • I don’t really do RW anymore either. The difference in quality of food and service on a normal night v. RW is often startling. I think if DC had constant openings of new restaurants, that it could be a way to see what’s out there, but since that isn’t really the case, I’d prefer to just go to one of these places a week/month/year (depending on my current state of employment) on a normal night. To me RW is just a slightly fancier Taste Of… event. I’ll take the steak tartare, a cheese plate and a Middleton neat at the bar at Restaurant Eve anytime. (which is probably equivalent to the cost of 3 RW dinners – so it’s definitely a splurge these days)

  • I’ve had a good experience at the following places: Equinox, DC Coast, Ardeo, Ruth’s Chris (Convention Center)

    Equinox offered a very limited menu but everything was still good. I liked Ardeo because they offered their full menu with only a few modest upcharges. DC Coast and Ruth’s Chris were both packed but the service was still good.

  • We’re going to Ceiba tomorrow so glad to see there were a couple of endorsements for that place.

  • This year I did Poste, Vidalia and Charlie Palmer Steak.

    Poste: RW week menu wasn’t terribly interesting, so went off menu (split dessert, and got a salad appetizer) and ended up paying only about $10 more. It was excellent. My friends that stuck to the RW menu generally seemed quite pleased. Service was perfunctorily attentive, but never snooty.

    Vidalia: Pretty extensive RW week menu, with most of their signature dishes. They have the option of a 3 course or 5 course tasting menu. The food was tasty and the service quite attentive, even if the portions seemed more geared towards the “tasting” option. Highly recommended.

    Charlie Palmer: I ended up going off menu, but the food was excellent and the service was, overall, extremely attentive. My friends that did stick to the RW menu seemed to enjoy it.

    Last year, I had an incredible experience at Ceiba. Chef Geoff’s had extensive selection and the food wasn’t bad, but our server was great–I get the impression that’s an accurate representation of Chef Geoff’s. I had a rather abysmal experience at the Prime Rib, with completely dialed-in food and serivce. TenPenh had a fairly miserable RW menu that both my friend and I that went declined–we split appetizer and dessert, and got our own entrees. The food was great and it came out exactly the same.

    So, mixed bag with RW–I hate the dialed-in menu’s.

  • By the way, best deal I’ve had in the area (a little outside D.C., alas): happy hour at Daily Grill in Bethesda. You can have a decent meal for 3 bucks — that is right — 3 bucks if you get there early enough … Ceiba also has a (alas, far more expensive, but still well priced) three course happy hour price fix. Actually, that would be a good topic — best happy hour deals in D.C.

  • Hook was off the hook. Well worth the money and time.

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