Powerbrokers Cut Steaks, Budget at Top Tables: D.C. Dine & Deal

Barack Obama and Angela Merkel
U.S. President Barack Obama waves alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they leave the 1789 Restaurant following dinner in Washington, DC. Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Budget cuts and tax policy aren’t the only things on the table in Washington. Powerbrokers are negotiating at restaurants across town. President Barack Obama occasionally pops out for a meal -- taking Germany’s Angela Merkel to 1789, and first lady Michelle to Komi and Tosca.

Here are our selections, in alphabetical order, for business dining in the nation’s capital.

1. Adour at the St. Regis Hotel: 923 16th and K Streets, N.W., Washington. Information: +1-202-509-8000 or http://www.adour-washingtondc.com

What: Alain Ducasse’s entry into the Washington market offers contemporary French cuisine in a room designed by David Rockwell within a few blocks of the White House.

Why: Executive Chef Julien Jouhannaud executes Ducasse’s vision. A vegetarian tasting menu has been added, and you can work the dough in a $75 pastry class.

Where: On K Street, the avenue of lobbyists who can afford it.

When: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Bar: The handsome bar has a menu with salads and sandwiches.

Private Room: Semi-private, seats eight.

Sound level: Hushed. Everything is quiet except the flavors.

2. Bobby Vans: 809 15th Street N.W. Information: +1-202-589-0060, or http://www.bobbyvans.com/Bobby_Vans_Steakhouse/15th_St_DC.html

What: The website refers to the restaurant as “a player in the wheeling and dealing of lawmakers, lobbyists and CEOs.”

Why: The waiters are disappointed if the customers don’t order a thick slab. So are the customers.

Where: The website says it’s a block from the White House. Well, a long block.

When: A $39 filet mignon and a glass of red wine on the patio in summer feels like a victory at the polls.

Bar: Far too small to comfortably enjoy the good grub such as the mini-burger trios.

Private Room: Four private rooms; as many as 100 people.

Sound level: Inside, the only sound is the quiet murmuring of disapproval from waiters if you don’t order a steak, and rare.

3. Ceiba: 701 14th Street N.W. Washington. Information: +1-202-393-3983 or http://www.ceibarestaurant.com

What: Caribbean food. Begin with Cuban black-bean soup ($10) and continue with Parihuela Peruvian Fish Stew ($17) for an invigorating minitour of the region.

Why: Because it’s not steak or pasta -- again.

Where: On 14th near New York Ave. It’s the unofficial Bloomberg Washington bureau cafeteria.

When: Fills up quickly at lunch. Parties of two will be seated at tables half the size of your desk.

Bar: Nice happy hour. One of the few places that has proper ingredients for a Pisco Sour. Now all you need is a tolerance for the taste.

Private dining: Yes, entire restaurant, which seats 171, can be rented.

Sound level: It isn’t a drawback. The tiny tables are.

4. Charlie Palmer Steak: 101 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington. Information: +1-202-547-8100 or http://www.charliepalmer.com.

What: Cool, stylish cuisine, precisely executed and expertly served.

Why: This is the most popular restaurant for lawmakers, and its proximity to the Capitol isn’t the only reason: Try the tuna tartare and the hanger steak.

Where: Only steps from the Capitol, Charlie Palmer is frequently the site of political fundraising events.

When: At $25, the prix-fixe lunch is a steal. While dinner is an expensive indulgence, your clients will swoon.

Sound level: Quiet and discreet. This is the place for negotiating, lobbying and toasting successful efforts.

Bar: A handsome, roomy space.

Private Room: Rooms can accommodate as many as 70 people for dinner. A rooftop terrace with a spectacular view of the Capitol dome can serve 250.

Sound level: Like a library that serves dinner.

5. Filomena: 1063 Wisconsin Ave. N.W., Washington. Information: +1-202-338-8800 or http://www.filomena.com

What: Italian.

Why: Irresistible appetizers, lobster-studded linguini cardinale and a heavenly tiramisu. Bottles of amaretto and sambuca are delivered to each table with dessert.

Where: Georgetown.

When: Birthdays, anniversaries and when you’re going to propose a merger.

Bar: Yes.

Private Room: No.

Sound level: Tables are so close together you can share your neighbors’ conversations.

6. Founding Farmers: 1924 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., at 20th Street. Information: +1-202-822-8783 or http://www.wearefoundingfarmers.com/

What: When they say “farm-fresh” believe it. They’re owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union, a 42,000-member cooperative.

Why: Don’t care how green and sustainable? The Low Country Shrimp and Grits or the steak with spinach and cheese enchilada will may make you a tree-hugger.

Where: Three blocks from the White House.

When: Busy, busy, busy. Make a reservation to avoid a communal table.

Bar: The pre-prohibition style bar makes Grandma’s Blackberry sours and mixes St. Germain elderflower liqueur, Plymouth gin, Charles de Fere Brut and orange bitters, and calls it a Farmer’s Fizz.

Private Room: No private rooms.

Sound level: Noisy.

7. Moon Bay Coastal Cuisine: at the Gaylord National hotel at National Harbor. Information: +1-301-965-4000 or http://www.gaylordhotels.com/national-home.html

What: Flavored cotton candy for dessert makes this large roomy place more fun than sophisticated.

Why: The steady stream of conventioneers keeps it a popular spot for deal making, even if the negotiations are occasionally interrupted by a dancing fountain show in the center of the atrium that houses the restaurant.

Where: One of three main restaurants at the enormous Gaylord hotel and convention center just south of Washington D.C. on the Potomac River.

When: At Christmastime, Easter weekend, any time most people are off work and enjoying themselves -- that’s the time to avoid the crowds. Come back on a weeknight and enjoy.

Bar: The large open-air bar offers shrimp risotto fritters $8 and mini salmon burgers at $9.

Private room: Yes. Moon Bay can accommodate 100 people for a sit-down dinner or 125 standing.

Sound level: The patio is within range of the water show music, not so much inside.

8. Old Ebbitt Grill: 675 15th Street N.W., Washington. Information: +1-202-347-4800 or http://www.ebbitt.com

What: A classic American restaurant.

Why: Established in 1856, the Old Ebbitt is a local favorite. Waiters are genial and efficient, the place oozes history and the food is fresh. Sit in a velvet booth eating trout parmesan with a martini and try to think of a complaint.

Where: Just a block from the White House, Old Ebbitt is easily identifiable by the crowds waiting outside.

When: Lunch is busy, dinner is mobbed.

Bar: Three bars, the one in the back is big, airy and relaxing. The other two are mosh pits for people in suits.

Private Room: The cabinet room on the lower level seats 50; the oyster bar can hold 80 people standing. There is also a 250-seat atrium.

Sound level: You have to TALK LIKE THIS!

9. Westend Bistro: The Ritz-Carlton, 1120 22nd Street N.W., Washington. Information: +1-202-974-4900 or http://www.westendbistrodc.com

What: While New York chef Eric Ripert’s Washington outpost offers quick lunch specials, you don’t actually have to hurry.

Why: Blood-orange walls softened by candlelight, oversize booths with a view of the vibrant city.

Where: Its street level windows look out on the fun neighborhood between downtown and Georgetown.

When: The after-work crowd peaks by 7:30 p.m., but you should be finishing a small pot of ratatouille by then.

Bar: Bustling, fun, expensive.

Private Room: No.

Sound level: Loud near the bar. Sit at a booth in the back for an island of quiet.

(Jim O’Connell writes for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This report is the third of the 2011 series of Bloomberg Dine & Deal. The weekly articles survey top cities and offer informed tips on good restaurants for business and pleasure.)

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