Just got back from 5 days, 4 nights in DC. Too much to do in too little time. Somehow I got through the Holocaust Museum, the Air & Space Museum, the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, the National Gallery, the Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the White House (well, outside) and every monument and memorial in between and still had time to eat some pretty darned good food, thanks, in part, to the DC Chowhounders. (Even debated the right and wrong of eating meat with the folks at cok.net and got my picture taken with the "foreskin is not a birth defect" sign in front of the capitol building.) I wish I could have tried more food, but not every travel partner can be a Chowhound unfortunately.
DC has some really good eats and even the most fancy places let you relax. None of the places I went had a formal dress code. I felt totally comfortable in a polo and slacks. Definitely something I prefer and a contrast to my food trips in Dallas and Chicago. Even one of the restaurants in San Francisco for my food trip there next month requires jacket (Masa's) -- and that's the home of the Grateful Dead. Very good service, too. Pleasant and professional, skilled at keeping my father from feeling stupid for not knowing what a pilau is and not knowing how to pronounce French words, etc. He commented on the waiters several times, preferring the service he received in DC to the "snooty" service he's received at upscale restaurants in New York.
I know that several Chowhounders have been disappointed with Inn at Little Washington, but it's the best restaurant I've ever been to. Note, however, that I've never made a food trip to NYC and that next month I will be doing a food trip to San Francisco, and these are arguably the best food cities, especially for upscale food, in the US. But I have done a food trip to Chicago and I think reasonable people out there would argue for at least the number two spot. I visited Charlie Trotter's, Tru, Spiaggia, Topolobampo, and Arun's while there. All restaurants that have made exclusive lists by critics, are well represented in Zagat, and came recommended from Chowhounders. I@LW was better than all these and the three other dinner places I went in DC (it's also better than any restaurant I've been to on other food trips, two to Dallas, one to Mexico City, and a short one to Seattle, plus my hometown, Portland). Its service was comparable to Charlie Trotter's, though Trotter's still retains the edge there. It's beautiful inside and out and very regional-appropriate. And the meal was about as good as it can get. Everything was good, with several things that were great, from start to finish. Sure, it was $108/person, but Trotter's is $125 and The French Laundry is about the same. Recently in Dallas, a friend paid $54 for an entree at the Mansion at Turtle Creek (and it was a damned good entree, too). It's about the experience. I've paid over $100 for a round of golf in Hawaii only to feel like throwing my clubs off the cliffs to keep my golf balls company. I felt only contentment and delight (maybe a little bloating) after my meal at I@LW. The dishes were imaginative and always flavorful.
Second favorite dinner was at Vidalia. I love the menu. I love the little things, like cornbread, onion butter, and pork jowl vinaigrette. The pork loin dish was excellent; they cooked the meat perfectly with a well-seasoned searing of the outside, something that's not always carried off at even the nicest restaurants. I like that even the desserts had a regional emphasis.
Next was Kinkead's. They are a seafood place and they didn't disappoint. Probably the best all-around seafood I've had. Everyone had seafood for dinner though only one of the four of us is a seafood lover. The other three of us would usually choose meat or fowl first. But all of us really enjoyed what we got. I tasted everything and it was all cooked perfectly. I expected to dislike several of the dishes just on the ingredients but instead found everything to my liking. I was really pleasantly surprised by the seafood on the whole trip. This trip, really, has made me second-guess whether I should always be looking at the meat dishes first when I go out to San Francisco. Especially crab. Usually it's a flavor I loathe. But I tasted crab dishes several times on this trip and liked every one. Is it the quality of the crab? The quality of the preparation? The water screwing with my palate? I don't know. But it's made me rethink the ugly sea spiders.
Last in preference for my dinners, but by no means unsatisfying, was Galileo. I really wish I could have done the Laboratorio but it wasn't available. Though several of the dishes there were just decent (nothing was bad), two of the dishes were fantastic, the veal with porcinis and the peach soup. That was my meal from the first night and I can still taste those dishes. I'm still pissed that my wife ordered the peach soup so that I had to order something else.
For lunch, I tried to do the common man thing a bit, but didn't have too much of a chance. I got a half smoke with chili and cheese, but not at Ben's Chili Bowl as I had hoped. I also got some Peruvian rotisserie chicken at El Pollo Rico (what a cool dive; I love places like that -- off the beaten path, cheap, and fantastic). Everyone enjoyed it. Did the dim sum brunch at Cafe Atlantico (by myself, unfortunately). A great way to try many dishes. The duck confit with passion fruit oil knocked my socks off. Loved the quail two ways. Lots of beautiful Latinos and Latinas coming in and out. Did Jaleo the next day and enjoyed that as well (though not quite as much, because of my palate, not the quality of dishes). The rabbit in dried fruit sauce was as good as anything on the trip. Tried to do Georgia Brown's, but they had stopped serving by the time I got there.
Also looked around the markets at Dupont Circle and the Eastern Market a little. Interesting, but a little under whelming compared to what I'm used to here in Portland (Oregon). Did have a nice snack one day of local cherries and walnut butter cookies at Marvelous Market in the Dupont Circle area.
Overall, though, probably the consistently best food on any of my trips so far, especially among the upscale dinner spots. Most things were good, some things were great, some things were only decent, maybe a little boring or flavorless, but I can't think of anything that was bad. DC Chowhounds should be proud.
PS: Detailed notes to follow soon in this thread.
PSS: Follow the link to see my recent report from my trip to Dallas.