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Best spots for Valentine’s Day dining options in D.C.

Del Mar, Fiola Mare among hot spots offering prix fixe menus

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Valentine's Day dinner, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. has no shortage of intimate spots for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.

Those looking for love using a fork and knife in D.C. this year have plenty to celebrate. At restaurants across Washington on Valentine’s Day, everything’s coming up roses. And since many restaurants are stretching celebrations all week, you may have more than just Feb. 14 to get your V-Day deal in.

Refinement comes alive at the St. Regis (923 16th St., N.W.), a downtown hotel. It’s offering an air of the Mediterranean this year with a three-course prix-fixe deal, along with an optional bubbly pairing. Beyond dinner Feb. 14, the exec chef is hosting a soufflé cooking class and champagne tasting on Saturday, Feb. 10, which also includes passed hors d’oeuvres and a parting gift. Plus, every Saturday in February, following the daily 6 p.m. champagne sabering, guests can take part in the St. Regis Chocolate Indulgence experience, which features themed Valentine’s Day cocktails and a chocolate buffet. Yes, a buffet entirely of chocolate. 

Down by the water, sustainable-forward Fiola Mare (3050 K St., N.W.) brings home the seafood-as-aphrodisiac philosophy, along with an Italian twist. The three-course prix fixe ($95) includes antipasti, main and dessert. The creamy Buffalo mozzarella burrata is a good start, followed by options including red king prawns, creamy lobster ravioli and risotto al tartufo (black truffle shavings optional). Dessert brings panna cotta, among other treats. 

Fabio Trabocchi’s celebrated new entrant Del Mar (791 Wharf St., S.W.), also by the river on the Southwest Waterfront, is going all out for its Valentine’s Day options. There are two menu options: the five-course Menu de Los Enamorados ($135) and the four-course, more prosaically named Valentine’s Day Menu ($95). In the former, you’ll enjoy tuna ceviche, a braised veal cheek dish called “Beso en el Cachete” (literally, kiss on the cheek) and more. The latter provides more choices, including one tapa starter, an appetizer, main and dessert. There are also specialty cocktails, like the tequila-based Lunas Rotas (broken moons) as well as optional wine pairings. 

Valentine’s Day is meant to be hot. City Tap Dupont (1250 Connecticut Ave., N.W., suite 105)) warms it up with smoky cocktails and dinner specials. Guests can dig into hop-smoked mussels with bacon jam and burnt lemon, smoked-beef tenderloin with grilled orange cauliflower and a “Bourbon Biggie” s’mores dessert with burnt marshmallow fluff. 

From smoky to sour, sister restaurant City Tap Penn Quarter (901 9th St., N.W.) puckers up with a “mini tap takeover” by sour beers. Dishes tend toward the rich side to stand up to the beers, with options like lobster pappardelle, a charcuterie board and four-layer chocolate cake with red-velvet sauce. 

A Washington institution, Bombay Club (815 Connecticut Ave., N.W.) is elegance suffused with saffron. The restaurant has come back into the news with the opening of its flashy new little brother, Bindaas in Cleveland Park. For Valentine’s Day, there will be a four-course menu for ($85). Start with the popular crispy kale chat, enjoy delicately spiced curries and stay for sweet finishes. Live jazz will be performed throughout the night. 

Decadence is also on the menu at the Source (575 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.), available all week long (Feb. 9-17). To provide a taste of what the five-course tasting menu entails, the extravaganza begins with oysters and royal Osetra caviar, paired with Lanson “Black Label” Champagne. Other courses include lobster and black truffle soup, a 28-day dry-aged steak and a Marjolaine pastry. You might want to break out the cocktail dresses for this one. 

Befitting an establishment dedicated to vino, Cork (1805 14th St., N.W.) is hosting its eighth annual champagne dinner ($100), featuring six champagnes from diverse wine traditions. The dinner will take place in the restaurant’s brand-spanking-new private dining room, which seats 24. Wine experts Ed and Barbara from Wine Traditions will be featured to speak about the hand-selected producers.

The day before Valentine’s Day, Town Hall’s (2340 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.) hosting a Galentine’s Day celebration, with half-price bottles of wine and a delightful Nutella brownie. No word if Leslie Knope will make an appearance. 

Galentine’s Day is also on the menu at Pennsylvania 6 (1350 I St., N.W.), but instead, for brunch. Gather those gal pals on Feb. 10 or 11 from 11a.m.-3 p.m., and you’ll be treated to a complimentary glass of sparkling and shareable dessert for the table with mention of “Galentine’s Brunch” when making reservations. On the big day itself, the resto goes retro with its Valentine’s Day dance-themed dinner. There’ll be a three-course prix-fixe “sweetheart menu” complete with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine ($50). Straight from the middle-school gym, get ready for photo ops in front of the balloon arch and sing aloud to blast-from-the-past-tunes. Optional but encouraged? Corsages, of course. 

A fresh entrant to the dining scene, Supra (1205 11th St., N.W.) is bringing high-end Georgian cuisine to Shaw. For Valentine’s Day, it’s writing a love letter to Georgian painter Niko Pirosmani. The legend has it that the artist sold all his belongings to buy the object of his adoration, a French actress, a million red roses to fill the square in front of her hotel. While going that far might not be recommended, a meal here may get you close. Start off with rose-themed cocktails, like Ring Around the Rose-y, with gin, rosewater and a rose-powder rim. V-Day-only specials include seared duck with black walnuts and baked trout over herbed asparagus salad. 

RareSweets (963 Palmer Alley, N.W.) will have several treats available in store and for pre-order Feb. 9-14. Look for the Love Song Lyric cookies featuring iconic romantic hits, along with heart-shaped cookies. Kick it up with  the spicy chocolate cake covered in chocolate icing with cayenne pepper and topped with toasted marshmallow. 

While juicy chicken might not be an aphrodisiac, balls of fried dough just might do the trick. Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken (1308 G St., N.W.) is offering a Valentine’s Day Mini Box ($22), with orange blossom, raspberry rose, Crème Brulee, and other flavors. A sweet finish to the holiday. 

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Dining

Jane Jane brings throwback joy to busy 14th Street

Cocktail bar characterized by warm Southern hospitality

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(Photo courtesy of Deney Lam)

There is no standing at Jane Jane, the new classic cocktail bar in the heart of 14th Street. Its 850 square feet is for sitting and savoring, drinking in the relaxed retro vibe and the thoughtful craft cocktails. 

At the foot of the mixed-use Liz development where Whitman-Walker is the major tenant, Jane Jane’s creative use of a shoebox-sized space brings throwback joy to a busy thoroughfare. 

In the pre-COVID days of 2019, Whitman-Walker approached the Jane Jane owners, hospitality veterans Jean Paul (JP) Sabatier, Ralph Brabham and Drew Porterfield, all gay men, to make good use of the vacant parcel, and ensure it would be run by LGBTQ entrepreneurs. “It required some gymnastics because of the layout,” says Brabham, “but we came up with this cozy classic cocktail concept.” 

The hangout spot is an effort by the trio to “celebrate hospitality. We want everyone who walks into the space to feel like friends of ours we are having over for drinks or a bite. Its a cocktail party in our home,” he says. They felt connected to the idea of a tiny bar—a space where they would want to have a drink.

Named for Brabham’s mother, Jane Jane is as alluring and lively as it is intimate, each detail in the experience characterized by warm Southern hospitality—right from the bowl of spiced nuts that swiftly appear at each table at the beginning of service.

Sabatier, who has held stints at D.C. institutions like Rappahannock Oyster Bar, Maydan, and Compass Rose, oversees the bar and cocktail program, organized by spirit. (For their part, Brabham and Porterfield, romantic partners, also act as co-owners of Beau Thai and BKK Cookshop; Porterfield is also the current Curator and Director of Long View Gallery in Shaw.)

Sabatier has presented classic cocktails with a few noteworthy nods to current zeitgeist, as imagined by his lengthy experience behind the bar. The booklet-like menu includes a broad selection of familiar favorites like a Negroni, Manhattan, martini, but also features Sabatier’s handpicked favorite classics like the Boulevardier (a whiskey Negroni), Last Word (gin married to herbaceous green chartreuse) and Air Mail (rum, honey and cava). Drinks fall in the $13-$16 range; a “Golden Hour” runs daily until 7 p.m. featuring beer and wine specials and a punch of the day. 

Sabatier’s creative juices flow on the first page through cocktails like the vividly named Tears at an Orgy, with brandy, orange and maraschino, as well as the best-selling, highly Instagrammable Crop Top, a gin cocktail with a red-wine floater—and a name that matches the look of the bi-color drink. “It’s fun, delicious, and speaks to the space,” says Sabatier. He notes that their vodka of choice comes from Civic, a local, women- and LGBTQ-owned distillery.

Sabatier, a classically trained chef and Culinary Institute of America graduate, also oversees the small selection of bar bites (the space has no kitchen, part of the required “gymnastics” to make it functional.)

Beyond the complimentary vessel of rosemary-flecked mixed nuts, other bar snacks run from pickled vegetables to a Southern-style Pimento cheese dip and an onion dip creamy enough to make your grandmother blush. The “Jane’s Caviar” dish is a spread of trout roe and crème fraiche and comes with a towering mound of shatteringly crisp chips. A weekend brunch is in the works, which will serve goodies from local bakeries.

The retro-style interior recalls both California and the South, with only 32 seats inside and a 14-seat patio. Cozy booths done up in a hunter green as warm and inviting as a cool aunt are slung below walnut-wood walls and bar. Bright patterned tiles run the length of the floor; the back wall has playful cocktail wallpaper. A charming needlepoint by the restrooms kindly requests of guests, “please don’t do coke in the bathroom.”

The owners note that while Jane Jane is not explicitly a gay bar, its location in a traditionally gay-welcoming institution means that it has LGBTQ in its bones.

“Supporting LGBTQ people, businesses, and causes has been in Jane Jane’s ownership’s DNA at every establishment at which they have been involved,” they say, having supported local LGBTQ+ organizations like Casa Ruby, Victory Fund, SMYAL and the Human Rights Campaign, among others. 

Porterfield says that they were surprised that, given the locale, people assumed Jane Jane was a gay bar. “It’s not a gay or straight bar, just a fantastic cocktail bar that welcomes anyone to hang out with us,” he says. 

Nevertheless, the owners have taken into consideration the significance of being in the Liz development, as both gay men and as part of the hospitality industry. “It highlights the lack of representation as gay owners in this bar and restaurant world,” says Porterfield. They note the lack of women, LGBTQ and BIPOC representation. 

“It’s very special to us that we opened in this space,” says Porterfield, “so we want to show that we have opened a place that is all about inclusivity.”

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Dining

Seven new restaurants to try this fall

D.C. restaurant scene thriving again after rough year

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Le Diplomate, dining, food, French cuisine, gay news, Washington Blade
If you like Le Diplomate, you’ll love new concept Bread Alley in Union Market offering, you guessed it, Le Dip’s famous breads. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The fall dining scene is as hot as ever. Here are some of the top tickets to look out for:

RAMMYs: Sept. 19 marks the annual D.C.-area restaurant industry awards, the RAMMYs. Many of the categories this year are unique to the challenges restaurants faced in 2020. Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the awards “created timely categories that speak to all the ways the region’s uniquely met those challenges,” according to the RAMMYs. Such categories include “most innovative to-go packaging”, “outstanding COVID-safe redesign,” and “most impressive pivot to provision or market.” 

Jane Jane (1705 14th St. NW): 

Highly anticipated retro-chic cocktail bar Jane Jane quietly opened after more than two years in the making. Co-owned by gay men Drew Porterfield, his partner Ralph Brabham, and friend JP Sabatier, Jane Jane’s mid-century-style throwback offers classic cocktails and upgraded bar snacks. It’s located in the new Liz development on 14th Street.

Thirsty Crow (3400 11th St. NW):

Part sports bar, part cocktail bar, Thirsty Crow opened just last week in Columbia Heights. It sits in the subterranean level of Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning Makan, serving cocktails and bites inspired by Malaysian flavors, like its sister restaurant on the ground level. Chef James Wozniuk of Makan is overseeing the menu of snacks like shrimp chips and larger plates like spicy fried chicken with sambal.

No Goodbyes (1770 Euclid St. NW):

The Line Hotel previously played host to a suite of restaurants: A Rake’s Progress, Brothers and Sisters, and Spoke English. When these restaurants left this Adams Morgan hotel, the spaces sat mostly vacant until No Goodbyes slid into the ground floor. An all-day dining place that “taps the farmers, fishers, and small-time ranchers in DC’s own backyard,” according to its website, the menu sits squarely on a Chesapeake Bay foundation. Mid-Atlantic dishes, from fish to fowl, play large on the menu.

Bread Alley (1250 5th St NE):

The intoxicating tower of carbs that greets diners when they walk into buzzy Le Diplomate is getting its very own dedicated space, aptly named Bread Alley. A tiny location in the Union Market area, the shop just launched selling only the three types of bread that arrive complimentary at the start of any Le Dip meal: thick-crusted classic baguette, multigrain boules, and cranberry-walnut boules. It will eventually also sell pastries, jams, butter, honey, and other accouterments. Bakers begin their craft at 3:30 a.m. and offer their wares starting at 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. or sold out, whichever arrives earlier.

Bistro Du Jour (99 District Square SW) 

Bistro Du Jour will be gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design’s third waterfront venue at the Wharf. A café in the Parisian style, it will lean heavily on croissants and cappuccinos during the day, moving to Champagne and larger savory dishes by night. The bistro will sell current partner Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery’s fresh baked goods and pastries, and will showcase traditional fare like coq au vin, French onion soup, steak frites, and foie gras for lunch and dinner. The bistro will display an extensive bubbly section, as well as a chic espresso bar and an outdoor patio. Brunch is in the works.

SUCCOTASH Prime (915 F St., NW)

After a yearlong hiatus, SUCCOTASH Prime recently reopened at the end of August. SUCCOTASH Prime, also run by gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design, is an updated version of the restaurant, still with Chef Edward Lee at the helm. The refreshed SUCCOTASH opened as a southern steakhouse with an Asian twist, featuring smoked steaks, fried oysters, collard greens, ham, and kimchi side dish. Live music is also planned.

Via Roma (4531 Telfair Blvd #110, Camp Springs, Md.)

Via Roma is a restaurant where you can enjoy the pies, you just can’t call it “pizza.” Just opened a few weeks ago, the restaurant serves pinsas, a pizza-like dish using dough made from a heady mixture of wheat, soy, and rice flours, and then proofed for more than a day. The spot calls itself the first Pinsa-certified restaurant in Maryland, and aims to reflect the laid-back, Mediterranean atmosphere of Naples (the owner also runs an Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana-certified restaurant in Maryland). Beyond Pinsa, it also serves Maryland crab tater tots, panini, pasta, salad, and Aperol spritzes.

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Dining

D.C. Restaurant Week returns

Celebrating a revitalized dining scene after COVID closures

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A sample of what’s available from The DC Restaurant Group, which owns spots like Shaw’s Tavern and 801 Restaurant. Entrees include lobster and grits and salmon over succotash. (Photo courtesy DC Restaurant Group)

After being confined to a to-go program for the last two iterations, Washington, D.C.’s Restaurant Week is back this summer to celebrate the revitalized dining scene in the city. Summer Restaurant Week 2021, run by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), is scheduled to kick off Monday, Aug. 9, and last through Sunday, Aug. 15. 

The signature summer dining event returns to a one-week promotion this year, though restaurants have the option of extending their promotions. Diners can enjoy three-course menus at a range of indoor/outdoor comfort levels at more than 200 restaurants, ranging from fast-casual eateries to fine-dining destinations. In addition, the to-go family-style options that were introduced last year are not gone, however, as many restaurants will also offer this off-premise option. Of course, many spots plan to include a cocktail pairing as well.

Dinner is the main event for participating restaurants, with the classic three-course dinner priced at $35 per person. Several restaurants with higher overall price points are also offering an elevated $55 dinner with exclusive items. Three-course lunches run $22, and weekend brunch is also $22. 

Finally, many restaurants will also offer “RW-To-Go” dinner meals, available at two price points: $60 or $120 for two people and $100 or $200 for four people.

These RW-To-Go dinner meal packages are available for takeout or delivery, and diners can order RW-To-Go either directly from the participating restaurant or check their delivery app for the offer.

D.C. restaurants remain open at 100 percent capacity, but Mayor Bowser last week reinstated mask mandates for indoor spaces.  

New restaurants participating in Summer Restaurant Week include Angolo, ANXO, Flower Child, Le Sel, GATSBY, Glover Park Grill, Gypsy Kitchen, and Truluck’s in D.C.; and Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in Virginia.

“This year’s Summer Restaurant Week is not only providing diners with great options at great prices for dining out, but is also the first time all restaurants across our region are able to accommodate diners at full capacity both indoors and outdoors,” says Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. “Being fully open is a step toward recovery for the industry and also toward a return to our dynamic local restaurants in their spaces which help to elevate the dining experience.”

RAMW is the regional association representing restaurants and the foodservice industry in the D.C. Metropolitan Area. RAWM also runs the RAMMYs, the awards for the food and beverage industry. 

Restaurant operators themselves reinforced how important the promotion is to them. “Restaurant Week is an opportunity for us to showcase our resilience and commitment to serving our staff and community,” says Salwa Laaraichi of Station 4

For Eric Heidenberger, a partner at The DC Restaurant Group, which owns spots like Shaw’s Tavern and 801 Restaurant, the past year has been a challenge. But RAMW, he says, “has been very supportive to the D.C. restaurant community and a key a resource in helping us navigate the challenges of the pandemic. We’re excited to participate in the first “normal” restaurant week in almost a year and a half. Restaurant week is a great opportunity for us reach new diners and showcase new dishes to our regular/repeat customers.”

All of gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design’s locations are participating in Restaurant Week. Co-owners Jason Berry said that he hopes that Restaurant Week “offers a way for diners to begin dipping their toe by taking advantage of these well-priced promotions. Restaurant Week brings a much-needed lift to August revenue and is especially meaningful this year as so many restaurants have been hurting these last 16 months.” 

As for what’s going to be offered at his restaurants, which include Gatsby, The Grill, Mi Casa, Mi Vida, and Succotash, most of which debuted just this year, “each of our restaurants takes a unique approach to offering seasonal additions, fun new items and crowd pleasers so that all guests have something for them during Restaurant Week.”

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