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D.C. Dining: Where to Find Bison Ragu, Howard Hughes

Filet Mignon
Filet mignon at Charlie Palmer Steak. It is served with five types of mustard. Source: Charlie Palmer via Bloomberg

The federal government may shut down but Washington’s restaurants keep going. Here are some places to try when visiting the U.S. capital.

Charlie Palmer Steak: This restaurant near Capitol Hill is known for power dining. It’s also a good place to hang out when nothing much is happening. Charlie Palmer deserves to be recognized for its good food and service.

Executive Chef Jeffery Russell serves carefully sourced American dishes such as Chesapeake clam chowder with Yukon potato, sweet corn and Littleneck clams ($15); filet mignon ($28), which comes with five types of mustard; and classic vanilla cheesecake ($8).

The hand-cut fries with ketchup and chipotle aioli ($7) are excellent. The hushed dining room is light and bright and the service is professional without being snooty. The prix-fixe lunch is $25.

Information: or +1-202-547-8100.

Chinatown Express: Washington’s Chinatown has no shortage of restaurants. This family-run business stands out for the freshness and authenticity of its dishes. The noodles are made by a chef who stands in the window.

It isn’t a fancy place. You may find yourself crammed in with families, and service is focused on food to go as much as restaurant customers.

The noodle soup with duck was listed by the Washington Post as one of 40 dishes every Washingtonian must try. China Express (which closes at 11 p.m.) is great for a late snack.

Information: or +1-202-638-0424.

Le Diplomate: This Logan Circle establishment is a homage to the French brasserie, with dishes such as onion soup gratinee ($11.50), escargots ($14) and steak frites ($28).

Le Diplomate is particularly popular for brunch, when the options include various types of coffees and cocktails, as well as burgers and pastries. It’s more memorable for the buzz than the food. There’s outdoor seating and the place fills quickly so book ahead.

Information: or +1-202-332-3333.

St. Regis Bar: The hotel bar, newly redesigned by the Rockwell Group, is a good place for after-dinner drinks. It looks like an English club and serves a very good martini.

The hotel opened in 1926 as the Carlton, two blocks from the White House. President Ronald Reagan was a regular visitor to the hotel’s barber, according to the website, which mentions Jacqueline Onassis, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor as guests. (I didn’t spot any of them.)

Howard Hughes kept a permanent suite, it says. (No sign of him, either. Spooky.)

Information: or +1-202-638-2626.

Social Reform: This Penn Quarter bar and kitchen is a good place to drop by for drinks.

It was quiet when I visited on a Friday evening, which may be good or bad, depending on what you are looking for.

(That’s in dramatic contrast to the Ultra Bar, where a crowd of young people queued along the street.) I didn’t try the food, but there was a friendly group around the bar, some of them watching sports on TV. The absence of buzz was made up for by the speed in which you could get a drink.

Information: or 1-202-393-1300.

Rasika: You’re lucky if you find first-class Indian food in the U.S. and this Penn Quarter restaurant may be the jackpot.

Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj has won many awards. His chefs employ a range of cooking techniques -- including the tawa griddle, sigri barbecue and tandoor ovens -- to produce contemporary dishes from across India. The flavors and spicing are spot on, and the food is accessible to those unfamiliar with the cuisine.

The service is informative and accommodating, without being condescending. The best seats are at the counter, where you can watch the chefs at work.

Information: or +1-202-637-1222.

Table: Chef-owner Frederik de Pue serves imaginative food at this American restaurant, where dishes are built around seasonal ingredients. While there’s no shortage of cooking skill or technique, the focus is on bringing out the quality of the produce.

Dishes may include king crab served on a bed of spinach with lemon verbena beurre blanc ($16); duck with fig, rum-raisin, savory crepe confit ($31); and coconut ravioli with mint coulis and green-tea sorbet ($8). The best seats in the house are two tables for two right beside the open kitchen.

Information: or +1-202-588-5200.

Teddy & the Bully Bar: This Dupont Circle restaurant and bar is inspired by Theodore Roosevelt, reflecting his love of hunting with comical hunting trophies mounted on the walls.

If the room is quirky, chef Michael Hartzer gets down to business with the food. Options include baby buttermilk onion rings ($7); poached cod with parsnip puree, root-vegetable Lyonnais and red-wine reduction ($14); and bison ragu, with carrot puree, root vegetable, pumpkin gnocchi and citrus granola ($15). The cocktails are not to be missed.

Information: or +1-202-872-8700.

Zaytinya: The set lunch I ate at Zaytinya was my most enjoyable meal in Washington and --at $25 for four courses -- the best value.

Chef Jose Andres serves small plates inspired by Turkish, Greek and Lebanese cuisines. Dishes may include fattoush, a salad of tomato, cucumber, red onion, green pepper, radish, pita chips and pomegranate vinegar dressing; and Adana kebab, with skewered ground lamb, house-made harissa, grilled tomatoes, sumac and onions.

The flavors are intense and yet clean and fresh.

Information: or +1-202-638-0800.

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include the London and New York weekend guides, Lewis Lapham on history, Warwick Thompson on theater and Greg Evans and Craig Seligman on movies.

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