Looking for somewhere to enjoy a romantic dinner in the District? While many of the city's restaurants are tailored towards business meetings and political affairs, a closer look reveals plenty of creative restaurateurs intent on indulging your sentiment, with everything from unique menus to tableside cooking presentations. A wide variety of cuisines is available in this cosmopolitan environment, but New American, French, and Mediterranean are especially popular date night choices. Multi-course, prix-fixe tasting menus offer the opportunity to try a variety of novel dishes that are often served with wine pairings. Lasting about 2-3 hours, these dinners are perfect for couples who prefer to linger at the table and enjoy each other's company. Other fun options for parties of two might include sharing food at a tapas bar or attending a wine tasting.
If you want to eat at one of the area's most prestigious establishments, book early, especially for a weekend or holiday night. Assuming money is no object, there's nothing quite like the delicate, French-inspired creations produced by trendsetting chef-owner Michel Richard at Citronelle, right before your eyes in an awesome exhibition kitchen. Richard plays with traditional dining conventions, so that you'll encounter visually stunning recreations of familiar fare like escargot, rack of lamb, and crème brûlée paired with a rare bottle of wine or champagne. To enjoy the ultimate feast, reserve spots at the Chef's Table for a ten-course tasting menu.
Spectacular four- to seven-course gigs at Marcel's – gulf shrimp in white bean ragout, slow-cooked Icelandic salmon with olive and tomatoes, roasted Cervena venison – are slightly more affordable, and the ambience is charming. Adorned with rich red carpet, wrought iron, and stone accents, the old-world decor sets this dining room apart from many of the sleek, ultra-modern bistros, and live piano music fills the wine bar.
I've never known anyone who doesn't like the elegant regional faves and exquisite homemade desserts served in Vidalia's dimly lit, multi-level dining room. Thoughtfully executed dishes such as rabbit saddle stuffed with sweetbread mousse, heirloom carrots, and herb spaetzle integrate regional flavors, and a sophisticated selection of wines from far and near includes many labels available by the glass or half-bottle. Whether you want a decadent five-course meal or just dinner and a slice of heavenly lemon chess pie, here you can't go wrong.
A more exotic option in the same neighborhood is Komi, an intimate dining room that serves impressive Greek dishes, with several created for sharing, such as spit-roasted katsikaki with homemade pita bread. Inspired by eateries on the islands of Greece, the atmosphere at Komi is quaint and the service unhurried, giving you plenty of time to chat over the food. Similarly, the adventurous five- and nine-course tasting menus at Restaurant Eve are the talk of Old Town, from the tartare of yellow tail snapper with radish and homemade goat cheese to the pan-fried sweetbreads with duck confit. Reserve a table by the fireplace in the delightful tasting room.
Diners who appreciate the trappings of history as much as they do tasty, interesting fare are intrigued by 1789 Restaurant, an establishment housed in a beautiful 19th-century home. Artwork and maps connected with the city's heritage, antique furnishings, and artifacts offer character to several distinct dining rooms and the British-style pub. The menu's traditional in format, but the savvy kitchen staff frequently adds new recipes and ingredients. Flavorful mains are the focus, from organic chicken with brussel sprouts, country ham, and fingerling potatoes to grilled tuna with lentils, pancetta, and dandelion greens.
Not everyone cares about shelling out big bucks to eat on fine china, and there're plenty of terrific local kitchens that promise flavor and personality without hefty price tags or stuffy environs. Cozy and inviting, Firefly Restaurant in Dupont Circle is also a great pick. An artificial tree, strewn with mini-outdoor lanterns, hovers over the dining area, and the menu features reasonably priced, nostalgic eats such as chicken matzoh-ball soup, spaghetti and meatballs, and fresh fish, with locally grown vegetables and comforting sides like mac 'n three cheese and celery-root mashed potatoes. Start off with the local beer and cheddar fondue and cocktails. On special occasions, such as Febrary 14th, Firefly kicks it up a notch with a prix fixe menu and champagne.
Fun to share, especially when accompanied by great drinks, tapas are a great choice for casual diners, too. Trendy small-plates champion Jaleo has several locations in the region where you may split a bowl of paella or sample bites like fried chicken fritters, homemade chorizo on garlic mashed potatoes, and Spanish cheeses with apricot marmalade. Jaleo's Crystal City branch offers live music on Friday nights and occasional wine dinners. Another Latino find, Taberna del Alabardero serves similar flavors in its flamboyant dining room, which is adorned with red walls, intricate molding, and elegant chandeliers.
For those who live on the culinary edge, a night at Minibar at Café Atlantico with celebrity chef Jose Andres is perhaps DC's best experiment in dining. It's just the ticket for hardcore foodies, assuming you're willing to be in close quarters with several other guests. Andres presents an inventive tasting menu that might include dishes such as chicken curry popcorn, cotton candy foie gras, and cauliflower in textures. You'll become enlightened about every aspect of the food, from flavor to texture to presentation. While it may not be the traditional romantic dinner, it's definitely a thrill worth sharing.