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Eating and Shopping on Capitol Hill


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Saturday night, after the rain stopped, we went over to 8th St to find someplace casual to eat. Since moving to Capitol Hill, I’ve been desperately looking for a nearby place that could be my regular hangout. Looks like that Belgian place (Belga?) is pretty close to opening. Took a look at Marty's but decided against it. The Chinese joint didn't look promising. So we went to the Starfish Cafe and got a table outside.

The service was disorganized to say the least, but we eventually were served a bottle of wine and got a chance to get our orders in. The Oysters Bienville was forgettable but the "Caesar's" salad was remarkable. Well, remarkable in the sense that I'd like to make some remarks. It did have Romaine lettuce. And it was served on a plate. But that's where any similarity ended. Something off-white and waxy was grated over it. It may have been some kind of cheese, but it could just as well have been grated candle. The dressing seemed to be made of plain vegetable oil and water.

My girlfriend’s chicken encroute was the highlight of the evening, but that ain’t saying much. It was edible. I ordered pistachio encrusted sea bass with crawfish. I don’t know what it was I was served—it had the texture of fish, and there were nuts involved, but I can’t be sure. There was one whole steamed crawfish on the plate, and what seemed to be a few hard heavily fried crawfish tails. Or pencil erasers. I dunno.

I wasn’t expecting much, but there was such carelessness in the way everything was prepared that I wondered what the point was in this place existing at all. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say that I could have had a better meal at Ruby Tuesday’s or some similar dreck factory. Why can’t there be a reliably decent restaurant in Capitol Hill?

The search continues…

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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I find myself ordering out from Pacific Grill more and more. The grilled chicken with rice noddle is competently prepared time after time, and nicely priced for $10.

The chicken makhani at Aatish is a winner

the burger at Mr. Henry's is usually solid, especially when eating outside.

the 25 cent tacos at the Cap Lounge on Wednesday nights.

Hanger steak at Montmartre

Most things at the Tortilla Grill Cafe across from Eastern Market.

and most things are La Plaza and Las Placitas are solid.

Dining on the Hill is all about find the one or two dishes on the menu that are done well and then ordering them everytime!

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I can't believe you actually ate there. At least go down a block further to the Irish Pub so you can get a decent beer. That spot is a restaurant death trap. Nothing has ever been good there, at least in the last 30 years.

Have you tried the Italian place next to Banana Café? For the Hill, very good. For the rest of the city, not to bad.

The Belgium place looks a little pricey for the neighborhood. I'm not holding my breath.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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Trattoria Alberto next to Banana Cafe can be very good, but then again your standards for Hill restaurants have been so lowered that you may think it's exceptional.

One of my favorites is the bisteca that Las Placitas serves. Very tasty. I like Aatish too. Then again, there's the Tune Inn for a true "nostalgie de la boue" experience....great corned beef hash !

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I find myself ordering out from Pacific Grill more and more.  The grilled chicken with rice noddle is competently prepared time after time, and nicely priced for $10.

The chicken makhani at Aatish is a winner

the burger at Mr. Henry's is usually solid, especially when eating outside.

the 25 cent tacos at the Cap Lounge on Wednesday nights.

Hanger steak at Montmartre

Most things at the Tortilla Grill Cafe across from Eastern Market.

and most things are La Plaza and Las Placitas are solid.

Dining on the Hill is all about find the one or two dishes on the menu that are done well and then ordering them everytime!

Good point. There are a few things at a few restaurants that I have learned to gravitate toward in order to avoid major disappointment. I have had a few good dishes at Aatish, Meyhane, and Tortilla Grill, and I've always been delighted with Montmartre. So I shouldn't have made such a "sweeping slam" of the offerings in my area.

But so many places aren't even trying-- Starfish, Taverna the Greek Islands, Barolo, Park Cafe, Cafe Berlin, Two Quail, White Tiger, and La Brasserie. Are they interested in repeat business from local customers? Do they strive to be an integral part of the neighborhood that Mr Bourgault (from eunny's post) rightly takes pride in being a part of? I'm not expecting each of these restaurants to be a Nectar, Palena, or Firefly, but have some freakin pride man!

It just seems to me that, as DC neighborhoods go, Capitol Hill has the least going for it food-wise and that's a real pity. Montmartre is a diamond in the rough. With your on-target advice, Tweaked, a few other restaurants have diamonds in a gopher turd in the rough. The others are just turds without a sliver of cubic zirconium between them.

Edited by Al_Dente (log)

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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Fear not, Al. I've been nagging Tim Giamette for ages about letting me open 2Amys2 down on the Hill and I think we've finally come to an arrangement. I'll raise all the money and he'll take all the profits. Between lunch carry out for the House office building hordes and your bar tab in the evenings, we're all gonna get richer than Dick Cheney!

(PS: This is fantasy, but you've got to admit that a decent pizza place down your way would be a fizucking goldmine. $15,000 gets you in on the ground floor. :biggrin:)

"Mine goes off like a rocket." -- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, Feb. 16.

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My not so well thought out theory is that since Capitol Hill is off the beaten track for DC nightlife mediocre restaurants can survive.

DC's main nightlife hotspots are relatively close to each other and can poach customers from surrounding neighborhoods. To go from Cleveland Park to Adams Morgan/U Street/Dupont/Penn Quarter is an easy metro/cab ride away. Therefore a) the better chefs tend to open their restaurants in those areas b) since these areas tend to be where people are spending their evening (theater, MCI Center, club hopping etc.) the customers demand that the restaurants are better if dining is the way they are kicking off their big evening out and about in the city. I guess it has to do with having greater expectations. Also factor in your corporate/expense account money for lunch and dinner in these areas.

Very few people go out on Capitol Hill for the nightlife other then the local residents. The bars aren't all that special and it's a pretty good trek via metro/cab from other parts of the city. Since it's mostly a residential neighborhood, I think the expectation of the evening is lower since most of the dining is much more casual in manner. A quiet dinner with the SO or neighbor, rather then dinner and a show. Since the expectation is lower the quality can be lower and restaurants can get away with it. Or, people like us have discovered the couple good dishes on a menu and we order that dish over and over again.

However, what I don't get is why no restauranteurs realizes the potential for better dining on the Hill. The area is affluent (just look at the housing prices) with a good mix of young people, couples, married with kids, and longtime older residents. Everyone in my little neighborhood appreciates fine dining and would spend money on the Hill if fine dining was available. Honestly, I think small places serving high quality food would do very well, something along the lines of a Bardeo for instance would kill. I don't think anyone on the Hill is clamouring for a Laboratorio or Maestro to open, but someone serving Firefly or Komi or Ray's level of food would do very well.

I guess in a way it boils down to a chicken and the egg situation. People don't come because they think the dining sucks, the dining sucks because people don't come to spend their money on the Hill.

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(PS: This is fantasy, but you've got to admit that a decent pizza place down your way would be a fizucking goldmine. $15,000 gets you in on the ground floor.  :biggrin:)

I'm in.

Oh yeah, my girlfriend reminded me about another thing, the sauce on her chicken was the same as the sauce on my fish. They were described on the menu as a cognac demiglace and a shallot tamarind sauce respectively.

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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The Hill is indeed a disappointment for food. There are a bunch of really poor, underachieving places that are nonetheless packed. Look at Marty's, Tortilla Coast, Bullfeathers, Radicchio, Tunnicliffs, Taverna Greek Isles, Thai Roma (I could go on and on). Why offer Kobe Beef, when gristle will do? Despite the bleak scene that it currently is, it has improved dramatically since even three or four years ago. At least we now have a few bright lights, like Montmartre and Barolo (when it's on). I'll claim Bistro Bis and Charlie Palmers for the Hill too, even though that's arguable.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

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Sigh

Eating on the Hill. It has always been difficult. The south side, from Mr. Henry's up to 8th has better options than it has in years, but it still sad. Twenty years or so ago there was a pretty decent place on 8th where the Irish pub is called Bookbinders but it is long gone.

The revitilzation of 8th street has brought a glimmer of hope, but just a glimmer. Marty's is a good option for bar food, and the El Salvadorean place a few doors down is great. Personally I think BC has gone way down hill since it opened, but that is just me. I know people who have lived on the Hill since the Carter adminstration and they have always gone elsewhere, even to Shirlington, to eat.

I agree with Tweaked that the lack of social life on the Hill, other than the bars down by the Capital, is a major part of the problem. The Hill has never been a neighborhood to consider as a place to go to eat.

I wonder how much Hill staffers play into it? Those who are being taken out head downtown to Penn quarter. The rest can't afford to eat out and instead spend their money on drinks after work. Who can blame them?

Yes, a Ray's/Komi type of establishment would be great, but with the price of rent skyrocketing, it's hard to believe it will happen.

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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When you have 4 or 5 bars with in a 2 block walking distance from the House Office Buildings all offering cheap beer and bar food specials and a captive audience of 20 somethings not making much money, you know these bars are all going to make a killing!

That said, I'm a 30 something, make decent money, and I'm still a regular at the Cap Lounge, so what do I know :biggrin:

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Well, at the risk of sounding like a shill, I would in all honesty say that Bis is NOT a bad place to hang out and eat.

I grant you that you can't dine there every day if you're not Sen. Kennedy or whatever. But the bar is packed every single weeknight. There's a bar menu. There's mussels and fries. There's flowing booze. There's a late-night dessert menu. There's a thickly-accented hostess. It may not be a mom-and-pop joint you may want it to be, but as far as I'm concerned, a very serviceable way to spend the night nevertheless.

Oh, and I come for brunch all the time and I honestly think it deserves more notice.

Resident Twizzlebum

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I think BC has gone way down hill since it opened, but that is just me.  I know people who have lived on the Hill since the Carter adminstration and they have always gone elsewhere, even to Shirlington, to eat.

***

Yes, a Ray's/Komi type of establishment would be great, but with the price of rent skyrocketing, it's hard to believe it will happen.

I don't think BC was ever that good to start with, but I agree. These restaurants are always bustling, so I don;t know how one can say there is no nightlife. If you build it, they will come.

As for rents, how is it that we keep getting new dry cleaners if rents are so steep? Are those businesses so profitable? I had great hopes that the old McDonald's space next to Remingtons might be transformed into a cool eatery. Alas, I learn that it is to be a Mattress Discounters.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.

Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)

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  • 2 weeks later...

Belga Cafe will be opening for service "probably Friday or Saturday," according to the appropriately-accented person answering their phone this evening. You can sign up to their email list on the Web site if you want to be the first to know. So much great beer! I feel like a seal that's just won a lifetime supply of really oily fish in the annual rookery raffle.

"Mine goes off like a rocket." -- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post, Feb. 16.

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I find myself ordering out from Pacific Grill more and more.  The grilled chicken with rice noddle is competently prepared time after time, and nicely priced for $10.

I ordered take out last night from this place. The Pho was quite good but perhaps lacking much beefiness in the broth and the spring rolls were tasty. My GF enjoyed their fried rice. I look forward to trying Pacific Grill some more. I now have a glimmer of hope for my hood "all the way over there on Capitol Hill". Sheesh-- it's the center of the universe, ain't it? :rolleyes:

peak performance is predicated on proper pan preparation...

-- A.B.

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Long time voyeur, first time posting. Went to Belga Cafe for lunch, but it was not yet open. They are opening for dinner tonight (Wednesday) and will be open only for dinner "for now." Lunch/brunch will also not be available this weekend. While the restaurant does not invoke the blissful experience of a sunny spring afternoon on the sidewalk cafes of Brugge, it looked quite welcoming nonetheless.

I work in SW Washington, and we are desperate for decent lunch places. We frequently travel afar for lunch (even over the river) and are all hopeful for Belga Cafe. Montmarte and the fried seafood place in Eastern Market are favorites, as there is so little appeal to any place in SW or on the waterfront.

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Long time voyeur, first time posting.  Went to Belga Cafe for lunch, but it was not yet open.  They are opening for dinner tonight (Wednesday) and will be open only for dinner "for now."  Lunch/brunch will also not be available this weekend.  While the restaurant does not invoke the blissful experience of a sunny spring afternoon on the sidewalk cafes of Brugge, it looked quite welcoming nonetheless.

  I work in SW Washington, and we are desperate for decent lunch places.  We frequently travel afar for lunch (even over the river) and are all hopeful for Belga Cafe.  Montmarte and the fried seafood place in Eastern Market are favorites, as there is so little appeal to any place in SW or on the waterfront.

Next time you are at Eastern Market, try the take out place Tortilla Cafe across the street, the papusas, tamales, and fried plantains are all excellent and very cheaply priced.

Also Senor Canales of Canales Deli makes a great sandwich...I personally like the pork tenderloin sandwich.

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