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Great Escapes: 2011 DC Restaurant Week

A Time to Reconnect with Old Friends in an Elegant Tea Room

I am not a fan of fine dining downtown in the District of Columbia. Many of the celebrated restaurants are merely venues for “Spot the Politician” and lobbyist feeding grounds. Deals may be sealed but the food runs to steak and pommes frites.

Other restaurants are trendily precious, serving up tiny—but pricey—plates with miniscule bites of unrecognizable ingredients drizzled with foam. Foam! On food!

D.C. Restaurant Week, however, is a chance to venture into unexplored culinary realms, for set prices. This year, a group of friends and I chose for our destination—the Café Promenade, an elegant chandeliered and frescoed tea room straight out of a Merchant and Ivory film.

The Café Promenade is a hotel restaurant—I hear shudders from the trendy foam lovers—but The Mayflower hotel on Connecticut Avenue is rich with history. The Mayflower, which opened in 1925, was a favorite of President Harry S. Truman—a no-nonsense sort—and its website proclaims that its Grand Ballroom has hosted inaugural balls from the Coolidge to the Reagan eras.

For Restaurant Week, Café Promenade offered a three-course prix fixe dinner with optional wine pairings. Appetizer and entrée portions were generous, but not overwhelming. The menu offered vegetarian selections as well as fish, poultry and meat choices.

For the appetizer course, I sampled the generous bowl of heirloom tomato gazpacho; the golden tomatoes tasted like sunshine. Another friend savored the seared ahi tuna and the third tried the watermelon, tomato and feta salad.

The main course also came in plentiful, but not overwhelming portions. I was more than happy with my grilled free-range chicken breasts with balsamic vinegar and the panzanella salad. My friends enjoyed the veal scallopini and the grilled codfish.

The desserts were light and refreshing. I am still thinking about my ginger lime tart paired with green tea ice cream, the tartness perfectly balancing with the cool ice cream. My friends both ordered the tiramisu and pronounced it divine.

The service was attentive and leisurely, which allowed all of us to catch up on the news about jobs, family and friends. Restaurant Week  provides a good excuse for reconnecting. We parted with vows to not let so much time pass before we see each other again.

DC's Summer Restaurant Week may be officially over but many restaurants are extending their Restaurant Week selections through this week. A few of them are even extending their specials through next week.

But taking time out of busy lives and reconnecting with friends over a leisurely meal shouldn’t be restricted to one or two weeks out of the year. You don’t have to wait until Restaurant Week to enjoy specials on fine dining.

Poste brasserie in Penn Quarter, a past Restaurant Week favorite, offers “pre-theater” specials before 6:30 p.m. during the week. Co co. Sala chocolate lounge and boutique, another Penn Quarter Restaurant Week discovery, offers a three-course chocolate brunch. 

And even though Café Promenade isn’t extending its Restaurant Week menu, it offers a special afternoon “Tiara Tea” monthly, on third Saturdays. It also donates a portion of the proceeds to the BabyLove DC charity and serves as a collection point for donations of baby gear, clothing, toys and other children’s products.

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