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Posted at 3:06 PM ET, 01/16/2008

Restaurant Week Begins

By Erin

We are three days into Restaurant Week, that biannual charge of bargain-seeking diners eager to pack restaurants beyond capacity. In past years, I've filled my week with daily lunch and dinner reservations to survey how different restaurants stack up. Though my dining card may not be quite as ambitious this year, I will be reporting back on thoughts.

Last night, I booked a reservation at the restaurant of the Morrison-Clark Inn. Chef Janis McLean returned to the restaurant last year and has been reviving some of the Southern-inspired dishes that brought it acclaim in the late '90s. The elegant space is quite small, so it didn't take many reservations to fill the seats last night. At peak time, only one large table remained empty. That somewhat slowed service initially, but water refills were attentive and the servers were quite friendly.

At Morrison-Clark, the four appetizer choices included bourbon-glazed shrimp over grits, a roasted salsify soup, mixed greens and a salad of hearts of palm. The shrimp were flavorful, though the grits were undercooked and bland. The four entree choices were a duo of lamb -- a chop and a Moroccan-inspired stew -- with polenta, a perfectly cooked petite whole-roasted chicken with Brussels sprouts, black cod over lentils and a roasted butternut squash risotto. All were generous portions. Three desserts were offered: a chocolate ganache gateau, lemon chess pie with chantilly cream and blackberry compote, and a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream. Desserts were a highlight. The chess pie was delicate, while the pudding was warm and gooey with the rich ice cream melting down the sides. It struck me as a good substitute for those craving the sticky fig pudding at the recently closed Inn at Easton.

Restaurants that participate in the promotion take several approaches to their menus. My favorite places are those like DC Coast and Kinkead's, which offer nearly all of their menu with the very occasional extra charge for more expensive items. Others, like Agraria, choose to serve a separate menu with limited offerings. Still others, like Vidalia, charge up to $10 extra on more than half of the entrees. Though I hate to limit myself to a choice of just a few options per course, a meal price can quickly skyrocket with a few extra charges. Morrison-Clark passed out the full menu, but used a star icon to designate Restaurant Week options. The restaurant did not offer the option of upcharges for entrees that were not designated with the icon. When an establishment offers several appealing choices, I am happy to order off of the promotional menu. Otherwise, I've learned that it just isn't worth it.

Two years ago, I visited Poste with several friends, who quickly jettisoned the promotional menu in favor of the regular one. Determined to stick with the true Restaurant Week experience, I ordered from the limited options and asked for bites of everyone's food. Sure, they ended up chipping in more money, but were my savings worth having to settle for a salad while friends shared charcuterie? Which restaurants do you favor during Restaurant Week?

If you can't make it in by Sunday, here is a list of places where you can nab a deal next week or even through the end of the month.

Butterfield 9 and Willow will extend through Saturday, Jan. 26. 1789 will serve through that Sunday along with Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo, Oyamel and Zaytinya. Dino and Farrah Olivia will offer Restaurant Week promotions through the end of January.

Corduroy, which will close its doors on Jan. 31 to prepare for an early-March opening in its new location, will offer Restaurant Week for lunch and dinner through Jan. 26. After that, the restaurant will host what chef Tom Power calls "liquid liquidation." In an e-mail, Power explained that the restaurant will serve "a shrinking menu (both in price and number of items offered) and great deals on drinks. What ever is left after restaurant week will be sold at huge discounts (close to cost)."


By Erin  | January 16, 2008; 3:06 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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We partook of Restaurant Week at Taberna del Alabardero on Monday. They offered two options for each course on their regular Restaurant Week menu, but they did have a vegetarian Restaurant Week menu available if you ask. My partner opted for a duck-based pumpkin soup, seafood skewers on risotto, and flan, all of which he said were excellent. I ordered off the alternative menu with a veggie-based pumpkin soup, mushroom-stuffed peppers, and puff-pastry with fruit. It was delicious. We'd definitely consider going there again.

Posted by: sprite | January 16, 2008 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Went to Zola on Tuesday. The entire menu (no surcharges) was offered. The food was delightful. The service was a bit slow, but we were not in a hurry. I was just happy I could choose what I wanted with no limitations! I highly doubt I would go there on a regular night as it is a bit to 'trendy' for me...but it was perfect for RW.

Posted by: alaythya | January 17, 2008 8:30 AM | Report abuse

We also went to Taberna del Alabardero for lunch. I was appalled that they had only two items to choose from for each course. They also were clearly low end items that frankly weren't even worth the restaurant week amount. I won't go back there.

Posted by: K | January 17, 2008 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Like "K" and "Sprite" above, I also made the mistake of going to Taberna del Alabardero. After 5 years of participating in Restaurant Week, I can say that Taberna del Alabardero was the biggest disappointment. The food was bland and boring. It wasn't even worth the $30 per person. Between the two of us, we had everything on the limited menu (2 app choices, 2 entree choices, and 2 desert choices). None of them stood out as good/great/noteworthy, etc... In fact, they were just lame. The chef is obviously not talented, and I will not be returning there to find out if their full menu is any better.
I DO NOT RECOMMEND Taberna del Alabardero (try Cafe Atlantico instead - yum!).

Posted by: KandK | January 17, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Coeur de Lion, Henley Park Hotel. Why does this even have a Zagat rating? Knew there were only 3 choices for entrees so assumed they would be great. 2 tilapia were ordered, looked different and tasted different and the sauce only barely stained the plate. The pasta - no offense to TGIF but that's how it looked. The staff was slow and there are only 7 tables. Gave up and paid bill at bar. On-line reservations did not show up and we weren't the only ones; too bad there were seats.

Posted by: fsor | January 17, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Dinner at Indebleu was a great RW experience but lunch at Mie N Yu was an absolute disapointment with such mediocre limited choices.

Posted by: conundrum | January 17, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

We went to Farrah Olivia last night and were truly disappointed. After checking out the menu online, I was very excited to go and try Chef Morou's fusion style food. The best part of the meal was the wine we chose. The service was good; but the food was truly unimpressive. We shared the white grits and shocked escolar to start and both were bland and boring. Next we had the orange scented salmon and the porcini gnudi. The salmon was under seasoned and over cooked; while the gnudi was grainy and the porcini's were much too strong for this dish. We ended with bland "citrus" cheesecake that tasted like the premade kind you can get from the store. All in all, we will not be back.
(We heard similar comments from other diners as well.)

Posted by: Leah | January 17, 2008 4:01 PM | Report abuse

Have been doing every RW for about 3 years now. Highlights have been 701 (generous portions), Butterfield 9 (go for the food, not the atmosphere), and Tosca - my hands-down favorite for offering the full menu, delicious food, and a great deal since it's pretty pricey. Mie n Yu had a good selection to choose from, and the service was still attentive. Indebleu was one of the worst (last year) - only offered two entrees, and the service was awful. Did Taberna del Alaberdero twice - both times it was lackluster. Don't go.

Posted by: JT | January 17, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

We went to Taberna del Alabardero, and were also disappointed with the somewhat bland and limited offerings. The service was OK, but not great. Also tried Teatro Goldoni with friends, they opted not to do the restaurant week menu, but we did and were disappointed; the options that we had were OK, but nothing special. Our friends' food, however, was quite nice.

In previous years I really liked the restaurant week menu offering at 1789 and at the Oval Room. This year we didn't do so well.

Posted by: Megan | January 17, 2008 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Vidalia was wonderful however I did pay more for some of the items, which defeats the purpose, I guess. They did offer a RW wine list, which was a nice treat based on the enjoyable selection. As for RW, I do wonder if I ever actually save money so I would give it 1.5 stars as it does get me out to some of my favorite places but not ever at a cheaper cost. As for Vidalia, it will always get 5 stars from me!

Posted by: J | January 18, 2008 12:39 AM | Report abuse

Both 701 and Ceiba were very good offering most options from the regular menu, few surcharge items, nice presentation, good service, and delicious food. The scallops at 701 and the ceviche at Ceiba were some of the best I've had. Past experiences include: Butterfield 9-mediocre at best; Kaz's Sushi Bistro-super deal, must have eel; Bistro Bis and Indebleu-good examples of why I love RW; Petits Plats-totally missable.

Posted by: rjr | January 18, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Been to Firefly before, but tried it out on Tues night. There were seats available, and the chicken stuffed with (beets?) was in-cred-ible. Desserts were almost unnecessary because you are already full. Tried all three options (went with 3 other people), and the carrot cake was the best.

Posted by: smperk | January 18, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Went to 701 last night it was AMAZING. A couple of surcharges, but nothing unreasonable. By far the best RW experience I've had. Last year at Cafe Atlantico was not a far off second. My worst experience was a couple of years ago at Cafe Promenade in the Mayflower Hotel, where they forgot to put the sauce on my past with frozen shrimp. Even when asked about, the waiter denied it, and it wasn't until 10mins into eater that he brought out the sauce that was originally left off. Poor, poor form for a normally expensive restaurant.

Posted by: RWeater | January 18, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Hits & Misses of my RW experiences this week for the benefit of others--

Farrah Olivia!!
(all of these restaurants had interesting variety of options on RW menu, delicious food, great service)

(the RW menu wasn't very representative of their regular menu, so I ordered off the regular menu while others in my party ordered from the RW menu - all was very good, though pasta portions were small and the RW cheese ravioli was a boring option)

The Caucus Room
(very limited RW menu; good soup and sorbet, but entrees were merely adequate and rather boring, and very slow service)

Posted by: Best RW Experiences This Week | January 18, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

We went to PS7 last night and of all the years we've been taking part in RW, this was by far the best place we've experienced. The staff was very knowledgable and willing to pitch in where needed. For instance, one of the people who helped check us in later came over to refill our wine glasses. The person who brought us water and bread heard that we planned to ask the waitress a question about the menu and he was able to answer it for us. When was the last time this happened to you? One in our party has a serious food allergy and our waitress deftly handled the challenge and walked him through the options that were without flour. PS7 had at least 6 appetizer and entree choices. We sampled the winter salad and the chorizo & clam risotto as apps. The mains we devoured were the pork loin, the lamb steak and the salmon. Portions are good enough to share and so we did! This is how RW is supposed to be. So many times I am disappointed with limited menu items - PS7 is an absolute delight AND they even gave us a coupon to come back! Talk about service - soup to nuts, AMAZING. Oh, and they're extending this promotion in-house until 26JAN08. Give it a try! Tell your friends!

Posted by: Debbie H | January 18, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

My restaurant week faves
Tosca & Corduroy
Good to try
Ok Restaurants, but cheap enough that they're not worth the restaurant week crowds

Posted by: rb | January 18, 2008 7:14 PM | Report abuse

I went with my husband and another couple to 1789 last night for RW. None of us had ever been before. Everything on the menu is available for RW, with an upcharge for scallops, lamb, or beef fillet. I had the mussels with chorizo as an appetizer, which was fantastic. The fillet was also great, although the spinach side was very salty. My husband had the lamb which was really great--moist and flavorful. He also had the steak tartare which was pretty much a miss flavor and texture-wise. The service was very attentive and warm. The biggest disappointment was the dessert. Go for the ice cream--the rest are pretty mediocre. The wine list is a bit on the pricey side but all in all we had a very luxurious meal (complete with cozy fireplace) for a reasonable price.

Posted by: tkpk | January 19, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Go with friends to Zatinya in order to sample as much of the delicious menu as possible.

Standbys are 1789 and DC Coast. Been to both during and outside of RW. Service and food are always consistently amazing.

I think the only time I was disappointed by RW was Jaleo because the food didn't taste as fresh or well prepared as it usually was. Go outside of RW.

Posted by: Kat | January 20, 2008 9:44 AM | Report abuse

I had a very wonderful experienced dining out in PS 7 last night (Saturday) It was really great. I love the food and service is incredible and attentive.

Posted by: Nicole | January 20, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Of all the power dining restaurants that I have been through. Bistro Bis was definitely weak in service. It appears they were understaffed and the service was a combination of Ihop and Dennys level of professionalism. Food was lousy and the upcharges defeat the purpose of restaurant week. Food is mediocre and marginal service. Would not really recommend BISTRO BIS.

Posted by: Violy | January 20, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Completely agree with the post above--Bistro Bis was awful. Inattentive service, limited selection of food for the RW menu with many, many additional charges. I paid extra to have the lamb and it was terrible, but it took our server a good 20 minutes to come back and check on us, and by that time my husband had already shared his entree (pork, nothing special) with me. I've always had good RW experiences (Butterfield 9, Neyla, Cieba, Zola, 701 are just a few and all were very good) so I guess I was due for a bad one.

Posted by: teddy | January 24, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I just wanted to say what a great experience we had at Farrah Olivia for Restaurant Week. Despite the fact that they only listed a few options online (these were the non-upcharge items), they offered their entire menu, which I thought was a really nice idea.

The painted soup was delicious. I really enjoyed my chicken and my friend really liked his salmon. The black-eyed pea risotto was OK-I definitely would not order it in the future. The dessert wasn't the greatest (we all had the chocolate) but it wasn't bad.

Service was very good. They even provided an amuse bouche. I would definitely go back, both during and outside of RW.

I also had a very good experience at PS7's. I really liked that they offered "RW wine". At our table we tried Sarah's Salad, the butternut squash soup, and the wedge all of which were good. Everyone also enjoyed their entrees. My dessert was OK. Service however, was excellent, we were not made to feel like "Restuarant Week" diners.

Posted by: Sara | January 25, 2008 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I took some out of town guests to Agraria and it was a complete and utter embarrassment for me. The food and service were absolutely horrible; the wait time on starters was about 45minutes! I previously went there for RW last August and had an amazing time. Found out the executive chef departed in the fall and the place has gone down hill! Such a beautiful space with awful food and service!

Posted by: Julia | February 1, 2008 4:02 PM | Report abuse

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