Feb. 14 is D-Day for romance — the annual Valentine’s Day celebration of affection between intimate companions or those looking for it.
So consider a few ways to show your affection with food, by dining out on the day itself.
For sushi lovers, the new Tsunami Sushi and Lounge on 14th Street, N.W., between N and Rhode Island Avenue is a great start.
There are many types of sushi, but most often we think of it as what is actually “sashimi,” when it’s simply raw fish that’s been sliced, or as “nigiri,” when it’s a mounded rectangle of rice topped with something.
Bottom line: Sushi is sexy. To the eyes — and on the tongue. Just ask Vena (but her intimates call her “Wee”) W. Doungchan, the stunning and seductive Thai-born hostess and marvelous manager at Tsunami. But the restaurant and bar’s slogan nevertheless is “we don’t make waves, we make sushi.”
Born a boy biologically in small-town Thailand in 1973, Vena (a name she chose for herself to replace her male name, Weerasak, says she knew from at least age 6 that she was not a boy but a girl. When she could, though never at school, she often dressed in skirts from then on and when she went to university at 18 to study hotel management, she says “I grew my hair, put on make-up,” and a year later began hormone therapy.
She moved to the United States in 2000 and after a number of years first in San Francisco and then New York City, she was asked last year by the owner of Thai Tanic, the restaurant located beneath second-floor Tsunami, to come to D.C. and help open what was at first planned only as a bar and lounge but later expanded to the sushi menu, under the skilled culinary baton of Vietnam-born but Ohio-raised executive chef Nick Vu Hoang. Not to be missed are several of his favorites, such as a tuna tartare topped with a quail egg or duck-breast nigiri topped with luscious seared foie gras and miso-flavored pineapple and plum.
Like Vena, the restaurant and bar are sleek and stunning, and include an intimate third-floor loft area, with a modern look of contrasting white and black leather chairs and sofas.
Switch cuisine gears now for the new Italian Renaissance in the casual but upscale brasserie style of Ristorante Posto, also on 14th Street, N.W., serving classic and modern Italian food (but with a clear accent on the latter mood) that is simply “delizioso,” accessible comfort food to set your love thermostat on warm. A little-sister restaurant to the even more upscale downtown D.C. trattoria-like Tosca (1112 F St., N.W.), Posto is presided over (like Tosca) by its executive chef — a maestro famed among foodies — Massimo Fabbri, born just 30 miles north of Florence who as a boy aspired to become a chef, who moved when grown to London and then in 2001 to D.C. where he worked for a time at Tosca, revisited Italy for a several-year stretch, but then returned to D.C. and now lives with his wife Alexis just a few blocks from Posto.
Located only steps away from the Studio Theatre in a onetime car dealership, with floor-to-ceiling windows, simple cool lighting and stark furnishings and bright artwork, Posto has become a stylish mecca for trend-spotters and is known especially as a recent haunt for Obama White House and administration heavy hitters like former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and political strategist David Axelrod.
Posto’s fare includes a tasty array of nine kinds of pizza fresh-baked in a custom-built wood-burning oven. But its appetizers — like a dish of smooth, creamy polenta topped with rich tomato sauce and chunks of sausage — are already legendary. Also try the antipasti such as wild boar salami and duck prosciutto or the “capra” of fresh goat milk cheese with chives and black pepper.
Turn now to another great source of comfort food but in the form of contemporary American cuisine — the Beacon Bar and Grill, at the corner of 17th Street and Rhode Island Avenue, N.W.
Helmed by its affable general manager, Iranian-born Kamran Vakli, with a menu styled by executive chef Steve Hunter, and the new look in decor created by D.C. interior designer Walter Gagliano, BB&G is a triumph thronged by crowds drawn by its festive Sunday brunch, considered among the best in D.C. and also called by one reviewer D.C.’s “best bet for dinner.”
In its new interior makeover, with its palette of bold colors in fabrics and lighting choices, designer Gagliano (he’s created the signature look and feel for more than 25 D.C. eateries) took inspiration from the classic elements portrayed in Vermeer’s portrait “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” aiming, says Gagliano, for a “cleaner, more contemporary vibe.” And executive chef Hunter, who declares that, “the future is going green,” boasts of the restaurant’s reliance on local sources for seafood and veggies and that “we produce our own charcuterie and fresh sausages from organic beef and pork.”
For sure, on Valentine’s Day try one of the offerings priced (according to the selected entree) from $24.95 to $34.95, such as the crab empanadas with mole amarillo and avocado cilantro mayonnaise, grilled Amish chicken breast, or a surf and turf of fillet steak and grilled shrimp.
For women seeking a friendly environment, try Lace. Opened in late 2008 and located in Brookland at 2214 Rhode Island Ave., N.E., Lace is owned by lesbian Linda McAllister, a small-town girl originally from North Carolina who moved to San Antonio, Texas to “come out” and also earn her undergraduate degree there in social work. In 1995, she moved to D.C. and now lives in Brookland where she eventually decided to open an upscale restaurant, the fulfillment of her long-held dream, where “every night is ladies night,” for women of all ages but also open to LGBT and straight alike.
The slogan is “sophisticated. mature. sexy. diva. you.” Though located in a former tattoo parlor, from its chic decor, with jeweled chandeliers and textured walls and dim lighting — and its relaxed dance floo — Lace is decidedly upscale and offers dinner only, open just on weekends Friday through Sunday. The eclectic food itself is also a big draw, such as the sauteed crab cakes, the tempura seafood dish with a Cajun twist and a mouth-watering veggie quesadilla.
D.C. suffers from an embarrassment of riches when it comes to LGBT-friendly places to dine on Valentine’s Day. Here are more options to consider when booking your big night out:
Banana Café, 500 8th St., S.E., bananacafedc.com
Black Fox Lounge, 1723 Connecticut Ave., N.W., blackfoxlounge.com
Café Berlin, 322 Massachusetts Ave., N.E., cafeberlindc.com
Café La Ruche, 1039 31st St., N.W., cafelaruche.com
Commissary, 1443 P St., N.W., commissarydc.com
Logan Tavern, 1423 P St., N.W., logantavern.com
DC Noodles, 1410 U St., N.W., dcnoodles.com
Freddie’s Beach Bar, 555 S. 23rd St., Arlington, Va., freddiesbeachbar.com
Le Chat Noir, 4907 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., lechatnoirrestaurant.com
M Street Bar & Grill, 2033 M St., N.W.
Rice, 1608 14th St., N.W., ricerestaurant.com