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Posted at 12:16 PM ET, 08/ 8/2007

Restaurant Week Returns

By Fritz Hahn

I'm of two minds about Restaurant Week.

For many, it's a chance to sample the talents of bold-name chefs who cook at restaurants that are ordinarily out of our normal price range -- and at $30.07 for dinner, it can be a chance to try a few of them over the course of seven days. (Also, having your whole meal cost as much as one entrée means that you feel less guilt about ordering a better bottle of wine than usual.)

On the other hand, both Tom Sietsema's and the Going Out Gurus' discussions are littered with comments from readers who were disappointed that only three main course options were listed, or that restaurants added substantial upcharges for better dishes. Some diners felt as if they were treated differently by staff as soon as they mentioned Restaurant Week -- as if customers seeking a bargain won't tip or won't know anything about food -- while others complained about slow service.

The trick is to find restaurants that treat Restaurant Week as business as usual, offering a full menu (or close to it) as a way to woo new customers and convince them to return when prices have climbed back to normal. It's not as easy as you'd think, but it can be done.

I made my first Restaurant Week stop last night at Corduroy, Tom Power's hidden gem of a bistro in the Four Points Sheraton. I'd been there a few years ago and had a great experience -- eight or nine options for each course, few surcharges and staff that treated us like we were paying full price.

This time around our party of five was very happy to see that most of the normal menu was available, with only a few dishes requiring an extra $3 to $5. Most of those were seafood, like a half-dozen medium-sized oysters on the half shell, delicately briney, served with a splash of champagne scented with mignonette; tender lobster carpaccio; a tangy tomato soup flavored with Thai chilis.

Main courses followed -- a trio of fat scallops served atop garlicky mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms; savory medallions of roast lamb; soft shell crabs flash-fried in philo dough. The only disappointment on the latter was that they came from the Gulf Coast instead of Maryland. My friend Alexandra pronounced the trio of blackberry and peach sorbets the best she's ever had, and it's hard to disagree with the $2 upcharge for that dish. Michel's Chocolate Hazelnut Bars -- a decadent Kit Kat bar for grown-ups -- was also a crowd-pleaser, and was included in the fixed price.

Service, as usual, was excellent, and didn't seem any different from my non-Restaurant Week visits. Our waiter was good-natured about helping me pick out a glass of wine to accompany my scallops. (Everyone else's main course matched well with the light syrah we were drinking.) Including tax, tip and a pricier-than-usual wine, we dined pretty well for under $70 each.

Many of the top rated restaurants are booked solid at this point, but if you're still looking to make reservations, I highly recommend reading Erin's tips for scoring last-minute tables or looking over the list of restaurants that have extended their Restaurant Week deals.

Have a favorite Restaurant Week destination? Any places you'd recommend fellow readers avoid? Leave your opinions in the comments field below.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | August 8, 2007; 12:16 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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Comments

Ate at Ardeo on Monday for the first time. Had a stellar experience. My entree (ono fish) was average but the appetizer mussels were succulent and delicious and the pear upside down cake was tasty. The whole menu was available with just a few modest upcharges ($1-$4). Service was swift but very pleasant and accommodating, despite being obviously slammed for Restaurant Week. Looking forward to going back during regular hours ..

Posted by: NTT | August 8, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

I ate at Taberna Del Alabardero last night. The service was excellent. The menu was limited to two choices for each course, but my tablemates and I had no complaints about our selections.

Posted by: Alena | August 8, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

To this I say... whatever. I love love LOVE restaurant week. I've enjoyed many delightful meals at much reduced prices because of it... for example, I ate at Tabard Inn last night and yes, there were only two main course options that didn't have seafood (I hate seafood), but the one I got was $28 normally.

The whole point of restaurant week is that it's a fixed price menu, which usually means that there's going to be a smaller allotment of dishes. And yes, service is going to be slower because most restaurants are booked solid. You get what you pay for, except in this case, you pay less than normal and love every bite.

Posted by: Christina | August 8, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

lunch today at Ten Penh was SLOW. but the gazpacho was lovely (with crab garnish).

Posted by: SSMD | August 8, 2007 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Had a great time at Viridian on Monday. Not too crowded, decent selection of RW specials, and the gazpacho was PERFECT for such a hot day.

Posted by: U St | August 8, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Three of us had lunch today at La Tasca in Clarendon and it was great. All you can eat tapas, just about their entire tapas menu, and a dessert for 20.07 each. I only wish I had set aside more time for lunch to truly enjoy the experience. We look forward to restaurant week every time it rolls around!

Posted by: Terry Dowdy | August 8, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Had dinner Monday at Cafe Atlantico, it was excellent! There were no surcharges on the entrees and upon checking the regular menu, it was an amazing deal. Also, they had a selection of wine bottles that were available at $30 a piece! Our waiter recommended us a bottle and it was delicious. The chocolate cake for dessert was decadent and my flank steak could not have been better! DEFINITELY will be going back!

Posted by: Erin | August 8, 2007 9:00 PM | Report abuse

We're dining at Zaytinya tonight (my first time!) and I'm curious if we can get things that aren't part of the RW package...Hmm?

Posted by: ChickieBaby | August 9, 2007 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Very disappointed in D'Acqua. The service was good, we didn't feel like we were being treated differently than any other diners. But, the menu selections were pretty limited, the servings were small, and the monkfish was dry and had very little flavor. I'll never go back--restaurant week or otherwise for such poor food. But, at least we didn't pay full price for for a bad lunch!

Posted by: Disappointed | August 9, 2007 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I have to disagree with the previous post about D'Aqua. Friends and I had lunch there on Monday and thought it was fantastic. We found the selections varied, and the portions large -- tons of calamari in the frito misto and huge pieces of monkfish, cooked perfectly and very flavorful -- it's wrapped in pancetta, how could it not have flavor??

Posted by: SEC | August 9, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Bobby Van's was not good. They even dumbed down their Caesar salad (I've had better at cafeterias) with no grated parmesan for example, rather than just cutting its size. Their "New York Strip" tasted like a steak at a cheap steak and egg breakfast. It doesn't help their rep when the waitress assures you it is their usual quality but smaller (it wasn't close to their quality -- I like their steaks). And failure to even ask about coffee after dinner is typical of the sneering attitude that so often accompanies Restaurant Week diners. Just to note, the two of us split a decent bottle of wine, so we weren't obviously being cheap.

Posted by: gurgle | August 9, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Vegetate's service was horrid last night - at a minimum slow and inattentive (I have not been there otherwise). The 2nd floor dining room was horrifically loud. Some of the portions were miniscule. The quinoa entree had no flavor and the coconut-basil dessert was incredibly tough and chewy. I definately do NOT recommend it. I am vegetarian and think its a much better deal to go to a restaurant with fewer veggie options that actually taste good and good service.

Posted by: Tina | August 9, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I also ate at Bobby Van's this week. I was very impressed with their service. They treated our party with the greatest respect (although I think they may have seated all of the RW patrons in the same back section). I don't enjoy steak and I went to the steakhouse for a friend. I was extremely dissapointed with the rigatoni dish I ordered. Very, very bland. I only ate about 1/4 of it--completely unsatifying. However, my companion enjoyed his steak and we both liked our salads and desserts. I will not be ordering the pasta on my next trip to Bobby Van's, but I will return.

Posted by: E.Streeter | August 9, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I was going to try Ruth's Chris in Dupont, but it got terrible reviews on City Guide, and I didn't want to show feeling like a phony. I'd rather wait until I can afford a nice meal than to go just because it's RW.

However, I wouldn't mind going to B. Smith's. I've gone twice during a regular day, and so I'd consider RW to be my self-treat discount for being one of their unofficial preferred diners.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | August 9, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

My friends and I ate at Acadiana Tuesday night and had a great time! They offered a smaller selection of appetizers and desserts, although there were still quite a few, and their full entree menu. Only 2 entrees had a surcharge (9$!!!) but we were all pleased with our choice: we all ended up ordering the same dish (grilled redfish with seafood jambalaya risotto) and all loved it. Of the desserts offered, the bittersweet chocolate cake with pistacio ice cream and caramel was the best.

Posted by: TxChic | August 9, 2007 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Having dined in previous years during Restaurant Week at Taberna del Alabardero, I was looking forward to my trip this year. Unfortunately, it was VERY disappointing. While the food was decent (I thought the appetizer selection was a bit unappealing and wan), our service was HORRIBLE. As soon as we were seated, our waiter treated us like distainful street scum, hardly awknowledging our presence (never asked how we wanted ANY of our meats cooked, and both dishes were such that it mattered) and left us dangling for HOURS. While I appreciate not being rushed during a 3 course-dinner, being treated as if you were brought in off the streets is inexcusable and rude. In light of this experience, I am hesitant to recommend or visit this establishment ever again.

Posted by: mwk7m | August 9, 2007 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Having dined in previous years during Restaurant Week at Taberna del Alabardero, I was looking forward to my trip this year. Unfortunately, it was VERY disappointing. While the food was decent (I thought the appetizer selection was a bit unappealing and wan), our service was HORRIBLE. As soon as we were seated, our waiter treated us like distainful street scum, hardly awknowledging our presence (never asked how we wanted ANY of our meats cooked, and both dishes were such that it mattered) and left us dangling for HOURS. While I appreciate not being rushed during a 3 course-dinner, being treated as if you were brought in off the streets is inexcusable and rude. In light of this experience, I am hesitant to recommend or visit this establishment ever again.

Posted by: mwk7m | August 9, 2007 3:10 PM | Report abuse

On a positive note - I ate at BLT Steak for Restaurant Week (lunch only), and was VERY pleased! Despite the limited offerings on the special menu, absolutely everything was delicious and the service was cheerful and efficient. I will definitely be returning, if not only for Restaurant Week, but the great food and service.

Posted by: mwk7m | August 9, 2007 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I dined at Viridian on Tuesday evening and it was a good RW restaurant. I felt like they had enough choices for RW and the service was very good.

Posted by: Tracey | August 9, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Four of us tried out Posh Restaurant last night for the first time.

Pro: The ambiance (live jazz, decent interior design) was lovely. The service was above par - the manager came by to check on us several times to make sure everything was "up to our expectations."

Con: The food? Not so impressive. They had some creative ideas for dishes that weren't thought all the way through. A "ribs" plate of fish meat was challenging to pull apart from the tiny fish bones. The seafood jambalya pasta was just a creamy sauce and too little cajun flavor. My crabcakes were average - nothing to write home about.

In the end, the service provided a good experience but I wouldn't go back. Oh and the drink list was ridiculous. $12 for a cocktail? That is more expensive than Poste and they have some of the best creative drinks in town!

Posted by: HStDiner | August 9, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

RE: B. Smith's
We went to B. Smith's for RW awhile back and were very disappointed in the food. The service was great, but the menu was limited and apart from one dish, didn't really seem representative of their usual fare. Hopefully, they've improved their RW offerings by now, but just thought I'd let YourStrawberry23 know that it wasn't worth the trip before.

Posted by: foodnerd | August 9, 2007 6:33 PM | Report abuse

I tried Dino in Cleveland Park last night and have to say I was slightly dissapointed. Nothing was truly outstanding. Everything I had was good; the polenta was VERY good but overall, I don't think I'd go out of my way to return. Oh well, that's what Restaurant Week is all about - trying places out at a good price.

Posted by: Elisse | August 9, 2007 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Zola: the entire menu was offered with no surcharges. Service was great. Food was great. I had poached lobster as an appetizer and beef as an entree.

Posted by: rachel | August 10, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Met with friends at Bobby Van's for lunch on Monday looking to take advantage of RW. Unfortunately, I can't comment on the food as I never got to eat. While the rest of my party was served as ordered, I endured a lengthy wait (something about my order being the most popular on the menu) after which my dish went to a diner who'd arrived and ordered the same thing well after I had. Finally, after an animated discussion with the manager ("we'll get it right next time-- it's really busy today!), I cancelled my order and they then had the gall to charge me for the unserved meal and icetea which I'd paid for previously. Bottom line, Bobby Vans is off my list RW or otherwise.

Posted by: JH | August 10, 2007 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Re: BLT Steak. Are you kidding? My lunch there yesterday was kinda disappointing. The steak was literlly half the size of my RAZR phone (and no sides are served with it either, nothing but a piece of garlic), my friend's panzanella was drenched in dressing so she had to leave most of it uneaten (and with the very small portions of everything they served that was a BIG deal) and the creme brulee was served in a cup the size of an espresso. Normally I eat 6 small meals a day and I am used to small portions so for me it was enough food but I am sure most of my "normal" companions were hungry an hour later. Even at $20, that was NOT a deal. Some nearby diners ordered the $16 hamburger/fries off the regular menu and that seemed like a much better deal - it looked quite good. Overall, I will not be returning...

Posted by: Ropespin | August 10, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I ate at Mahogany last night and had a great meal. The full menu was offered with only 4 upcharges (2 appetizers, 2 entrees). The jambalaya and chocolate souffle I had were amazing. My boyfriend loved the catfish fingers. The service was very good. My only complaint is that the music was a bit loud, but I would definitely go back and pay full price.

Posted by: Sarah | August 10, 2007 1:00 PM | Report abuse

To say Aria Trattoria was a disappointment would probably not do it justice. The food and service were below what you'd get at McDonald's!! We barely saw our waitress and had to flag down someone to go get her. Then when she arrived, we had to TELL her that we were ready for the next course. It seemed like a revolving door of waiters would bring out each course, and they'd forget the wine we were supposed to receive with each course. When that would eventually show up, the water refill I asked for wouldn't! It was just one thing after another until one of the waiters knocked over my half full wine glass and just gave me an "Oops, sorry" and did not offer to refill it. The food itself was fairly bland and I was really disappointed that when my ravioli appeared, it was literally a plate of 5 ravioli and nothing else. Not even a basil leaf or any sort of sauce. My friends were equally disppointed in the quality or their meals (chicken was dry, salmon tasted funny, dessert was really tart, etc.) Spare yourselves and go to Bertucci's or the Olive Garden if you want some decent italian food!

Posted by: Jess | August 10, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Hi, I'm Italian, I was looking for a good Italian restaurant to eat at lunch in Downtown and I found one called Va Piano (Go Slow) between M and 18th which has very good pizzas, thin crust type, selection of home made pastas, and good, strong Italian espresso...they even have Italian birra...
and quick service in spite of the name...
good lunch!

Posted by: Carlo | August 10, 2007 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to point out that at most high-priced/couture/non-chain/for distinguished palates only restaurants, the portions are usually smaller than what you'd find in chains like the Olive Garden or Applebees. For example, I saw some of the dishes served at Citronelle on Foodnetwork's "Giada's Weekend Getaways" and judging from the portions if I were to dine there, I'd be prepared to order something from every available course plus three heavy drinks, or I'd just plan on having a good snack at home before heading out.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | August 10, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Had two good experiences:

Lunch @ Agraria - great service, nice food, not crowded at all, was able to get last-minute reservation

Dinner @ PS 7's - wonderful, delicious quality food, 6-8 choices for each course, although it was packed (bar was very busy, we had to wait a while even with our reservavtions and waiter was admittedly swamped) it did not detract from our experience as server, etc. went out of their way to make up for it

Posted by: amanda | August 10, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Had two good experiences:

Lunch @ Agraria - great service, nice food, not crowded at all, was able to get last-minute reservation

Dinner @ PS 7's - wonderful, delicious quality food, 6-8 choices for each course, although it was packed (bar was very busy, we had to wait a while even with our reservavtions and waiter was admittedly swamped) it did not detract from our experience as server, etc. went out of their way to make up for it

Posted by: amanda | August 10, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Had two good experiences:

Lunch @ Agraria - great service, nice food, not crowded at all, was able to get last-minute reservation

Dinner @ PS 7's - wonderful, delicious quality food, 6-8 choices for each course, although it was packed (bar was very busy, we had to wait a while even with our reservavtions and waiter was admittedly swamped) it did not detract from our experience as server, etc. went out of their way to make up for it

Posted by: Amanda | August 10, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Went to The Monocle for lunch on 8/7, a first visit to this restaurant. Staff extremely friendly, very attentive service by everyone, food was very good, except the seafood bisque was a bit spicier than I prefer. The hangar steak was totally out of this world; I took a piece home, sliced it up and had a steak sandwich for lunch today. They give you a four course meal, all in less than a hour, and it doesn't seem rushed.

Of course, Congress is (thankfully) out of town and so are the lobbyists, so it isn't the least bit crowded. Definitely a "go back" place. On restaurant week!

Posted by: drrisk | August 10, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

Tried Oya last night. . .appetizer, wine, and dessert were good, but the main entree was awful! Service was waaaay too speedy. . .we really didn't have an opportunity to enjoy our courses as they kept trying to take the dishes away.

Posted by: Wahoo | August 10, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Agraria and Lavandou:

Agraria for dinner was a nice experience. The Rest.Week selection was extensive (at least 5-6 selections from each of the starter, main, and dessert courses. The setting was elegant and service was attentive. The wine service was a bit slow, but was comped by management--I didn't expect this at all. I would go back. I just hope the portions are bigger on a normal night.

Lavandou for dinner. My first time there and I liked the ambience. We were warmly greeted by the host and had a pleasant waiter. The R.W. menu was extensive. Unfortunately, my selections were not great. The vegetable purse was delivered warm on the outside, frozen on the inside. The marlin was good, but a little overdone. The nice waiter must have been busy as it took him 20 plus minutes to get our desserts and another 30+ minutes from the time we finished them to get our bill. Each delay was addressed after I flagged down the staff. Nevertheless, I'd be happy to visit again. I think these were mere hiccups based on the night's crowd.

Posted by: Arlington | August 11, 2007 11:06 AM | Report abuse

I tried Bombay Club for the first time and was disappointed, despite the fact that the good was great. The lamb rojanjosh was wonderful, but the service was awful.

I called a few hours before I made my reservation and told the restaurant that I would be about 15-20 minutes later than the time for my reservation. The person on the phone told me it would be very difficult to seat me because the restaurant was completely booked, and that was "messing up" his second seating by arriving late. I apologized and told him that if I arrived and they could not seat me because they were full, that was fine with me, since it was my fault that I'd be late.

When I arrived (15 minutes later than my reserved time), we were seated promptly. The restaurant was definitely not full. There were at least 5 empty tables where we could have sat.


The food was good, but the waiter was awful. He simply put the restaurant week menu in front of us and told us to order right away. We asked if we could order desert later but he told me no, that I had to order it right away. So, we ordered and the food was quickly brought to us...we felt very rushed the entire time. Then, when I asked for coffee with my desert, he didn't bring my coffee until about 10 minutes after bringing my dessert!

I would definitely not return to this restaurant.

Posted by: Bombay Club | August 12, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

BLT - what a joke. my entree was a fish stick accompanied by green beans and corn that looked like it came from the frozen food section. my friend and I tried not to laugh when we were served creme brulee in a shot glass.
Cafe Promenade - food was very good (major points for the roasted filet and blackout cake) however the terrible service made the whole experience painful to the point that I would not even consider going back. The restaurant was half empty but only had one pathetic server, so everything took forever.

Posted by: CL | August 12, 2007 8:32 PM | Report abuse

Oceanaire treated the Restaurant Week menu and participants as second class citizens.The menu was very limited, printed in a small corner on the bottom of the main menu.When we ordered off the Restaurant Week menu, our server decided we were less important than customers off the regular menu. He rushed us through our meal.He brought entrees in the middle of our appetizers and removed plates and put entrees down while others continued with their chowders.Then, in the middle of our wine pour, he left our table to exchange jokes with another table, and then came back as if we had not been interrupted and waiting.Our food was fine, but even for $30, not a good value-the ingredients were obviously less expensive items for the restaurant.

Posted by: Oceanaire Never Again | August 12, 2007 11:26 PM | Report abuse

I very much enjoyed my RW experience at Rasika. It was my first time there, so I was not sure what to expect. All of the food was great, and the service was also very, very good! I would definitely go back again.

Posted by: Christy | August 13, 2007 6:51 AM | Report abuse

I really enjoyed dinner at Rasika for Restaurant Week and it just happen to be my birthday as well, so it worked out well. The menu had several options to choose and it included their signature fried spinach appetizer and black cod entree. They also had several wines that were a special price ($30.07) and a special priced sangria. The service was also fantastic. I would highly recommend Rasika in the future.

Posted by: Laura | August 13, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

I am a huge restaurant week fan. I went as many places as I could, and am enjoying the few places that are having extended RW (Zaytinya, Oya, Mie N Yu, and Willow to name a few).

I adored the ambience of Lavendou, the selection for RW was good, and the service was personal. I think the establishment was having a difficult time negotiating the additional RW patrons. Their regular menu is good too, so I recommend checking it out any time. They have specials on Tuesdays and their food is great. It seems to be family-run and authentically French.

I went to Mie n Yu last night. Their restaurant week menu is excellent and the service was great, as well as the theme of the restaurant and the drinks. I highly recommend checking it out. I think they have RW prices until the 19th. Call to check though.

I also went to IndeBlu, they didn't have a seperate menu, you simply chose from the regular menu (any entree under $27, and starter uner $11, and then you could choose from three deserts). Our waiter seemed stressed out and annoyed, but the restaurant was packed. The service was slow (most likely b.c of RW) but I had a great time checking out what they had to offer and would definitely go back. The drinks are great as well.

Lastly (I told you I love RW) I checked out Butterfield 9. This restaurant seems business-dinner oriented, but the food is really amazing. We ordered from the RW menu, and opted for a wine pairing for a nominal fee. For a few dollars extra I added foie gras to my dinner, and it was a very generous, perfectly cooked portion, probably one of the best I've had in DC so far. Out of all the places I ate, I think this was the best deal. I know that they have extended their restaurant week dates, but you'd have to call to check on the dates. I highly recommend it!!

Posted by: LJ | August 14, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I had one great experience and one good experience. My great experience was at Ristorante Tosca. Similar to the comment made about Butterfield 9, the atmosphere seemed business-dinner oriented; but the food tasted like I was in someone's Italian grandmother's kitchen - homey and so good. I had the polenta with braised veal cheek appetizer, papardelle with rabbit ragout, and carrot cake dessert. Yum! Tosca also gets points for having quite a few reasonably priced bottles of wine to choose from. I'm definitely going back. My good experience was at Ten Penh. There was nothing really stellar about it. It was just okay. The things I really wanted to try weren't on the RW menu. I was surprised that they weren't offering the full menu, since they're not a super expensive restaurant to begin with.

Posted by: Cin_in_DC | August 16, 2007 6:05 PM | Report abuse

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