By Tom Price and Susan Crites Price
The next time you visit Washington, D.C., don’t focus entirely on the world-famous monuments and museums. The nation’s capital has become a top-tier dining destination as well.
Bon Appetit magazine named Rose’s Luxury, a Modern American spot on Capitol Hill, the United States’ best new restaurant of 2014, for example. After a year eating in cities across the country in 2015, Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema concluded that D.C. belongs in the top 10 food-friendly towns. Rasika is the best Indian restaurant in America, he said, and Jaleo is best for Spanish tapas.
Despite its reputation, we hesitate to recommend Rose’s because it takes reservations only for groups of at least six, and waits for seats often are measured in hours. Jaleo and Rasika, however, epitomize our favorite way to sample Washington’s biggest names in food without busting our budget: small plates. We usually can satisfy our appetites by sharing five dishes and running up a food bill of less than $25 each.
Jose Andres — now a nationally-renowned chef with restaurants from South Beach to Beverly Hills — opened Jaleo, his first, in Washington’s Penn Quarter entertainment district in 1993. Recently renovated, Jaleo is bright and lively with large windows looking to the busy sidewalks outside. Our favorite dishes here include sauteed spinach with pine nuts, raisins, and apples; shrimp sauteed with garlic; and chorizo sausage with mashed potatoes and cider sauce.
At Rasika — just a block away and also recently remodeled — the most remarkable dish is a salad called palak chaat: baby spinach that’s lightly breaded and deep fried, then served with sweet yogurt and Indian date chutney. It’s hard to understand how chef Vikram Sunderam can transform Popeye’s favorite leafy vegetable into something so light and crispy. To round out the meal, try mango shrimp with cashews, ginger, coriander, and mint chutney; crab cakes with onion, garlic, and ginger in a spicy beet sauce; the refreshing cucumber with yogurt relish; and a side of garlic naan.
At Range, in the Friendship Heights shopping district of Upper Northwest D.C., the palate-popping equivalent of Rasika’s spinach is an irresistible basket of breads and spreads. Sweet corn bread and peppery biscuits (among others) pair marvelously with bacon marmalade and pepper jelly among a half-dozen spreads. This American eatery is the creation of celebrity chef Bryan Voltaggio, a two-time Top Chef finalist who studied at the Culinary Institute of America and apprenticed at a Michelin three-star restaurant in France. Because diners do not live by bread alone, we’ve also become fond of his selections of hams, cheeses, and vegetables, and especially the Everything Mashed Potatoes which are enhanced by generous additions of butter, garlic, onion, and other ingredients.
To dine upon the small plates of two other cuisines, we circle back to Penn Quarter for more Jose Andres creations. Oyamel, named one of America’s best Mexican restaurants by Travel + Leisure magazine in 2014, features sauteed grasshoppers for the adventurous diner. But the don’t-miss dish is tres leches cake soaked in rum and served with pineapple salsa and caramel ice cream. Mediterranean mezze fill the menu at vegetarian-friendly Zaytinya, a strikingly modern dining room with one wall of candles and another of windows. Our favorites here include the traditional spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese in phyllo pastry) and keftedes kapama (meatballs and feta cheese in tomato sauce).
Jaleo: 480 7th St. NW (plus suburban locations); 202-628-7949; www.jaleo.com
Rasika: 633 D St. NW; 202-637-1222 (also at 1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-466-2500); www.rasikarestaurant.com
Range: 5335 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-803-8020; www.voltrange.com
Oyamel: 401 7th St. NW; 202-628-1005; www.oyamel.com
Zaytinya: 701 9th St. NW; 202-638-0800; www.zaytinya.com
If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.