Our nation’s capital offers much excitement, talent and variety when it comes to dining out. A commingling of cultures and nationalities, a sense of history and American political myth, colorful characters galore, plus the flavors and ingredients native to the region come together artfully in the local restaurant scene. From the fanciest, most formal of dining rooms to the humblest of neighborhood diners, D.C. and the vicinity easily provides whatever sort of meal you crave.
    As always, our restaurant recommendations are a compilation of personal favorites, top picks of local and national food and wine critics and input from local friends and associates. While we make specific comments in the brief reviews, ratings, from ◊ to ◊◊◊◊◊, are overall ratings, most heavily influenced by the food, but also factor in ambiance, décor and service. Our cost estimates are based on dinner compared to other restaurants in the area: $ inexpensive; $$ moderate; $$$ expensive; $$$$ very expensive; and $$$$$ is really expensive, more than $70. (*Denotes restaurants within walking distance of the Washington Convention Center, or just a short cab ride away.)
    Keep in mind that in Washington, D.C., as everywhere, restaurants and clubs open and close, change hours, credit card policies and even move with very short notice. We recommend calling ahead to address special needs. Feel free to mention Chuck Klein Productions.
    We hope you enjoy our recommendations, and we’d like to hear from you about anything you especially loved or loathed (you can find us at www.ckponline.com). We wish you a hearty appetite, good eating and a concierge who can arrange those difficult-to-get reservations.

—Shelley Babcock and Chuck Klein

THE TOP FIVE

*Citronelle – Latham Hotel 3000 M St. NW (30th St.) – 202-625-2150 www.citronelledc.com ◊◊◊◊◊ $$$$$: This is the top of the food chain…about as good as it gets here and anywhere. Chef-owner Michael Richard wrapped up the 2007 James Beard Award for outstanding chef, along with sommelier Mark Slater for outstanding wine service. Condé Nast Traveler calls Citronelle “one of the world’s most exciting restaurants.” There’s a show kitchen, and it’s not unusual to spy chef Richard himself creating a new dish, like a tuna napoleon niçoise, just for you. Cuisine, described as New French, is devised from the freshest seasonal ingredients and the most lavish imagination. Try the beluga pasta appetizer, served with chunks of lobster. As you’d expect, the wines are superb and the service is stellar. Expensive, and should be.
 
*CityZen – Mandarin Oriental 1330 Maryland Ave. SW (bet. 12th & 14th Sts.) – 202-787-6006 www.mandarinoriental.com/hotel/535000039.asp ◊◊◊◊◊ $$$$$: Five Diamond, AAA and Four Stars Mobil plus tons of honors from all the foodie press, including Food & Wine Magazine’s “Hottest Restaurants” list, just begins to describe the buzz generated by CityZen. Modern American cuisine created by chef Eric Ziebold is to die for. Fun options, like a mini three-course tasting menu served at the bar, underscore the comfortable elegance that regulars love. Other fan faves are the open kitchen, the “wall of flames” bar, the complex tasting menus and the cute little mini-Parker House rolls. Seriously expensive.

The Inn at Little Washington- (Wash, VA) 309 Middle St. (Warren Ave.) – 540-675-3800 www.theinnatlittlewashington.com ◊◊◊◊◊ $$$$$: For the ultimate in special occasion destinations, this charming country inn, located about an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C., is the last word. The complex seven-course menu is full of spectacular choices in every category. There’s even a fully vegetarian option, if that is your wish, and the menu changes daily. You’ll feast on lobster, veal, rabbit and beef, done up with divine sauces and presented with panache. A charming sommelier will guide you through the 40-page wine list, and the wait staff is expert in pampering of every sort. At meal’s end, try the 7 Deadly Sins—a gorgeous sampler of tarts, tortes and chocolates. Very expensive…the prix fixe meal costs about $130-$170 per person, not including wine, tip or tax.

*Le Paradou – 678 Indiana Ave. NW (bet. 6th & 7th Sts.) – 202-347-6780 www.leparadou.net ◊◊◊◊◊ $$$$$: The dining room is done in soothing and delicious shades of caramel and cream, with accents of lavender and periwinkle blue. A magnificent gold and purple hanging glass sculpture, lit from within, illuminates this elegant space. In the kitchen, chef Yannick Cam, a French native, creates his award-worthy New French cuisine; Le Paradou won Wine Spectator’s “Best of” Award of Excellence. Your meal starts with a duo of amuses-bouche—perhaps a tiny tea cupful of English pea soup and the miniature salmon tartare in phyllo dough, drizzled with caviar. Next, try the delicate lobster claw and avocado salad, then follow with the heavenly rack of lamb, accompanied by wild mushrooms, young peeled asparagus and a savory, wine-infused au jus. And for dessert, the fresh fig tart, s’il vous plaît! P.S.: Bring lots of money.

Maestro – Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, 1700 Tysons Blvd. (International Dr.) 703-821-1515 www.gruppoftf.com ◊◊◊◊◊ $$$$$: For some, this elegant Ritz dining room is the last word in D.C.-area fine dining. They claim it’s half the price of the Inn at Little Washington (about $150 a head), a shorter drive (from D.C.) and twice as good. You absolutely must ask for a seat with a view of the open kitchen. Apparently the show is not just informative—it’s also entertaining, with much squabbling, kibitzing and ridiculing taking place amongst the crew. Regulars advise choosing wines by the glass since the choices are so phenomenal, and the sommeliers are so very, very good at what they do. The seven-course meal is flawless. The wait staff is perfection. For dessert, everyone says the cheese cart is the way to go…it’s whey good! Don’t worry about missing the sweets—a plate of exquisite chocolates arrives with your check.


THE BEST OF THE REST

*Acadiana – 901 New York Ave. NW (9th St.) – 202-408-8848 www.acadianarestaurant.com ◊◊◊ $$$: The latest offering from the creators of Ceiba and TenPenh, Acadiana is all things Louisiana, including roux, rémoulade, bisque and étouffée. Design elements like big, old, sparkling crystal chandeliers, elaborately wrought giant urns and alligator sculptures are elegant and whimsical. Turtle soup, gratinée of jumbo lump crab, fried green tomatoes and grilled gulf redfish are just a few of the mouth-watering treats in store. And for dessert, warm bittersweet chocolate bread pudding sounds just about perfect. So does the location—right across from the Washington Convention Center.

*Asia Nora – 2213 M St. NW (bet. 22nd & 23rd Sts.) – 202-797-4860 www.noras.com ◊◊◊ $$$: Thai décor and authentic Asian artifacts are a serene backdrop for the simply sensational flavors created by chef Nora Pouillon. Created from all organic ingredients with a flair for natural flavor and bold color, the Pan-Asian delicacies are sure to delight. Especially good: ginger-touched dumplings, wonderful tuna tartare, Thai seafood stew and sesame-crusted ahi with wasabi potato puree.

*Ben’s Chili Bowl – 1213 U St. NW (bet. 12th & 13th Sts.) – 202-667-0909 www.benschilibowl.com ◊◊◊ $: There’s a whole lot of history around this legendary U Street tradition. Some call it a landmark, others say it’s a dive, but since just about forever, Ben’s has served its legendary and addictive chili dogs and chili cheese fries to a loyal clientele. Non-meat eaters do just fine here—this great little joint serves veggie dogs and veggie chili, too. The chocolate shakes are stellar. Open till 2 a.m. weeknights, 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Sunday from 11 a.m. till 8 p.m. only.
 
*Butterfield 9 – 600 14th St. NW (bet. F and G Sts.) – 202-289-8810 www.butterfield9.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$: CableWorld editor Seth Arenstein turned us on to this snazzy spot in the heart of D.C.’s theater district. It looks and feels like that movie-land supper club from the glam old days. Décor features stylized black & white prints of ’40s and ’50s vintage fashion, and Butterfield 9 references the phone number of cinema detectives, Nick and Nora Charles, of the classic Thin Man films. The lunch entrée of giant shrimp and soft-shell crab in niçoise sauce with arugula and herbs is fantastic. For dinner, try the chipotle-marinated grilled quail appetizer, followed by the porcini-crusted black cod with smoked onion gratin. Expensive, but the pre- and post-theater prix fixe menu is a great deal…three courses for about $35.

*Ceiba – 701 14th St. NW (G St.) – 202-393-3983 www.ceibarestaurant.com ◊◊◊ $$$: A sky-blue domed ceiling, walls done in splashes of crimson, cocoa, ice blue and green, primitive murals, textured Mexican limestone accents and curved glass bay windows make this one of the prettiest dining rooms in town. From the creators of DC Coast and TenPenh, Ceiba’s specialty is South American, Cuban and Mexican cuisine. To start, the ceviche sampler is a must, but make sure someone orders the shredded duck confit empanadas. Favorite entrees: The whole, crispy fish is terrific…likewise, the braised pork shank, done feijoada style. All kinds of great rum and tequila cocktails; and another nice touch—complimentary caramel corn comes with your check.

*City Lights of China – 1731 Connecticut Ave. NW – 202-265-6688 www.citylightsofchina.com ◊◊ $$: White House workaholics are regulars here, and also buy lots of takeout from this long-standing D.C. fixture. The price is right, the food is good and the three-tiered dining room with leather booths and banquettes is comfortable and low-key. Best dishes include a crisp-fried Cornish hen, Chinese eggplant in garlic sauce and Peking duck. Full bar, too.

*Clyde’s – Georgetown Park Mall 3236 M St. NW (bet. Prospect St. & Wisconsin Ave.) – 202-333-9180 www.clydes.com ◊◊ $$: This mega-popular chain of food saloons has its winning formula honed to a T, with the Georgetown location at its epicenter. Juicy burgers, a serious bowl of chili, and terrific crab cake sandwiches are the draw, along with a Sunday brunch so well-attended, they serve it on Saturday as well. Also delish: the steak and eggs! Bar note: 10 draft beers on tap, and wines are half-price on Sunday nights.
 
*Cosi Sandwich Bar -1275 K St. NW – 202-408-1119 www.getcosi.com ◊◊ $: Part of a nationally known restaurant chain, Cosi is a good, fast and inexpensive choice for freshly made and tasty sandwiches, melts, soup and salads. The tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich on warm flatbread is really good.

*DC Coast – Tower Bldg. 1401 K St. NW (14th St.) – 202-216-5988 www.dccoast.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$: This beautiful space, designed with classic Beaux Arts panache, features a giant mermaid sculpture at the entryway. Cuisine is mostly seafood, with a Creole accent. Start with mussels, served in a heavy pot, swimming in sweet broth. The “tower of crab” is a must…a yummy stack of soft-shell crab, a crab cake and tangy corn relish. Fried oysters are served like buffalo wings, with a crumbled blue cheese, butter and hot sauce dip. The whole striped bass, fried to perfection, is extremely good. (Meat lovers note: There’s a sensational pork chop with sweet potato puree on the menu.) For dessert, either the hot chocolate soufflé or the lemon meringue pie do the trick.

Eve – (Alexandria) 110 S. Pitt St. (bet. King & Prince Sts.) – 703-706-0450 www.restauranteve.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: This New American in Old Town boasts a Food & Wine 2006 “Top 10 Best New Chefs” winner—Dublin-born Cathal Armstrong, rocking the kitchen. (He’s also nominated for a 2007 James Beard Award!) Local ingredients are key to his fabulous food, with 150 local farmers and purveyors providing the bounty. Especially good: the house-made charcuterie, the confit of house-cured pork belly and the Muscovy duck leg with lentils. For a special treat, visit the tasting room and sample Jerusalem-artichoke velouté with black truffles.

*Filomena – 1063 Wisconsin Ave. (bet K & M St.) – 202-338-8800 www.filomenadc.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$: Simply wonderful Italian cooking so authentic that real Italian mammas and grandmas can be seen kneading the pasta dough in the storefront window. Décor is a charmingly over-the-top overload of plants, statues and art, which somehow works. Portions are huge and very affordable…the $10 lunch buffet is a steal. Filomena is loved by tourists and locals, power players and just plain power eaters, and has been a pit stop for Presidents Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton. Try the ravioli stuffed with Italian cheeses and spinach, or filled with smoked chicken and cream. They make a spectacular veal dish with a Marsala and mushroom sauce that’s to die for. The risotto with seafood…there are no words. Finish with scrumptious cheesecake and tiramisu. A gem!
 
*Galileo (Il Laboratorio Del Galileo) – 1110 21St St., NW – 202-293-7191 www.robertodonna.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: Our sister-in-law Sami is a big foodie (and a gourmet cook), and she’s lived here for ages. She has nothing but raves for the Neapolitan cuisine at Galileo, and especially loves dining at the glass-enclosed (and very hard to reserve) chef’s table. Outstanding dishes include the roasted rack of lamb served with porcini mushroom tart in black olive sauce, and the homemade ravioli filled with ham, mozzarella and buffalo ricotta in a meat ragu. While overall very expensive, some good deals can be found on the lunchtime bar menu, which offers pastas, pizzas and some entrees.

*Georgia Brown’s – 950 15th St. NW (bet. I & K St.) – 202-393-4499 www.gbrowns.com ◊◊◊ $$$: CKP staffers cannot resist the temptation that is Georgia Brown’s. Southern-fried everything, smothered in country gravy, with heavenly biscuits and glorious cornbread alongside…slathered with butter, of course. Just listen to these appetite-inducing phrases…fried green tomatoes, crunchy fried chicken and mashed potatoes, crispy catfish fingers, gumbo, crab cakes. Dessert pick: bourbon pecan pie with a scoop of Jack Daniel’s ice cream. Expect to see a few power folk here, especially during lunch.
 
*Gerard’s Place – 915 15th St. NW (bet. I & K Sts.) – 202-737-4445 www.gerardsplacedc.net ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: Quiet, low-key, elegant and all about the superb New French cuisine created by chef-owner Gerard Pangaud. You’ll spot a famous face or two swooning over yummy treats like the poached lobster in ginger-lime sauce, the confit of osso bucco with a gratin of potatoes and the veal with prosciutto, artichoke and mushrooms. Overall, considered quite pricey. For a good deal, try the three-course prix fixe lunch for $30.

The Grill – Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City 1250 S. Hayes St. (bet. Army Navy Dr. & 15th St.) – 703-412-2760 www.ritzcarlton.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: The décor of the Grill is typical Ritz-Carlton, which, as we all know, is a very good thing. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served in this lushly wood-paneled dining room. However, the signature Sunday champagne brunch (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) is its most celebrated meal and should not be missed. Readers of The Washingtonian have voted this Sunday tradition “Best Brunch” for the past two years, and why not, with more than 75 specialties served, including numerous omelet and crêpe stations, a raw bar with oysters, shrimp and crab claws, made-to-order sushi, roasts and a full array of sumptuous desserts. If you are going to be in town over the weekend, make reservations for this luxurious dining experience.

*Jaleo – 480 Seventh St. NW (E St.) – 202-628-7949 www.jaleo.com ◊◊◊ $$: The last word in tapas, D.C. style. Head chef Jose Andres is considered the headmaster when it comes to creating these tasty tidbits. His specialties include a grilled bread layered with fresh tomato puree and anchovy; a warm goat cheese served with crispy toast points; a grilled chorizo sausage, skewered and set atop garlic mashed potatoes; the Manchego cheese and apple salad, and a savory mushroom tart. Spanish wines and sangrias can be had by the glass. Crowds abound at lunch and dinner. Wednesday nights feature flamenco dancers at 7:45 and 8:45 p.m. Way fun.
 
*Kinkead’s – 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (I St.) – 202-296-7700 www.kinkead.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$: A favorite of CableWorld’s Seth Arenstein and Paul Maxwell, Kinkead’s is known for super fresh and mouth-watering seafood served to perfection in a cozy, comfortable, brasserie setting. Regulars, politicos and visiting celebs swear by their favorite dishes, especially the fried Ipswich clams, the cod topped with crab imperial (and served with sweet potato puree and spoon bread infused with ham) and the pepita-crusted salmon, done with chilies, shrimp and crab. Late afternoon gets a sizable drop-in clientele here; options like fish and chips, soups and lobster rolls are available for those who wish for light fare and a substantial drink. Good jazz piano can be heard nightly in the bar.

L’Auberge Chez Francois – (Great Falls, VA) 332 Springvale Rd. (Beach Mill Rd.) – 703-759-3800 www.laubergechezfrancois.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: About a half hour’s drive from D.C`., this rustic French inn serves up hearty Alsatian fare to many a Washington heavy hitter, along with myriad regular folks who just adore great food. Specialties include the fabulous foie gras, the choucroute with sausages and the veal sweetbreads sautéed with truffle sauce and wild mushrooms, done up in puff pastry. Note: Reservations should be made well in advance…literally, about four weeks ahead.

Makoto – 4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW (U St. NW) – 202-298-6866 ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: Food so beautiful, you may be tempted to frame it as wall art! This jewel of a Japanese restaurant is adored for its exquisite sushi and sashimi, wonderfully authentic noodle, beef and salmon dishes and for the overall artistry of service and presentation one finds in every detail. Décor reflects the look of a real Japanese country inn: lots of wood, close seating and small…it seats just 25. But the food and flavors here are very large indeed. The chef’s choice menu offers 10 delicate, ingenious courses, each a wow. Oh, and wear socks—you’ll be asked (most politely) to leave your shoes at the door.

*Marcel’s – 2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (24th St.) – 202-296-1166 www.marcelsdc.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: Rough-hewn stone panels, rustic shutters and antique hutches displaying Provençal pottery set a lovely backdrop for the fabulous French/Belgian cuisine at Marcel’s. Try the duck breast with baby turnips, rose lentils and Calvados sauce. The venison with ragout of wild mushrooms and Madeira is wonderful, and regulars just adore chef Robert Wiedmaier’s hearty boudin blanc. There’s patio seating right on Pennsylvania Avenue, and live jazz nightly.

*Marrakesh Palace – 2147 P St. NW (Twining Ct.) – 202-775-1882 www.marrakeshpalace.com ◊◊◊ $$$: Moroccan food, belly dancers, tapestry on the walls, waiters in harem pants…and not a fork in sight. Yes, you eat this feast with your hands. (If you beg, they will give you a spoon for the couscous.) Service is somewhat slow and iffy, but if you can get into the swing and come with a jovial group, you should have a ball. Wine is by the bottle only. Type A personalities should probably avoid this one.

*McCormick and Schmick’s – 1652 K St. NW (bet. 16th & 17th Sts.) – 202-861-2233 www.mccormickandschmicks.com ◊◊◊ $$$: Many branches of this upscale seafood chain are scattered around town. Though the chain is not the most exciting place for seafood in D.C., the fish couldn’t be fresher and the service is consistently excellent. The wood and brass room is comfortable for lunch or dinner, and we love the Dungeness crab cakes, no matter which city we’re in.

Morton’s – 3251 Prospect St. NW (bet. Potomac St. & Wisconsin Ave.) – 202-342-6258 www.mortons.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: Classic, clubby and clearly about the beef, Morton’s retains its ranking as the D.C. big boys’ No. 1 destination for rare, aged and marbled meat. Many big deals have been done over the scotch and sirloin here. Start with the sliced beefsteak tomato served with red onion and blue cheese; it’s delicious but, more important, you’ll still have room for that huge slab of prime rib, snuggled up to the perfect (mammoth) baked potato.

*Obelisk – 2029 P St. NW (bet. 20th & 21st Sts.) – 202-872-1180 ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: This small, sophisticated gourmet Italian is the brainchild of über-talented chef-owner Peter Pastan. The dual prix fixe menus change daily, and are built from the freshest local ingredients. Especially good…the zucchini fritters, the deep-fried risotto croquettes and the sweetbread and porcini ravioli with sage butter. For dessert, the pear spice cake is a knockout. Wonderful Italian and California wines, and all the breads and desserts are baked in-house daily.

*Old Ebbitt Grill – 675 15th St. NW (bet. F & G Sts.) – 202-347-4801 www.ebbitt.com ◊◊◊ $$: With the original founded in 1856, this latest incarnation of the Ebbitt is a stone’s throw from the White House, and is a big-time hangout for staffers, day and night. Tons of bar action, with many bars within to accommodate the crowds, and big, comfortable booths and tables for eating and talking shop. Lots of mahogany, beveled glass, marble and brass as well as a charming oyster bar create this venue’s identity. The food is described as “American Saloon.” Inexpensive, fun, a bit rowdy and loud, and you never know who might drop in.

*Polo India Club Restaurant – 1736 Connecticut Ave NW – 202-483-8705 ◊◊ $$: If you love to dip puffy, fluffy Indian breads into saffron-scented creamy sauces, and you want variety without breaking the bank, try the buffet lunch line at Polo India. Sweet mango lassi, tikka masala, daal makhni and most of your favorites are on the menu. Not gourmet, but very tasty, easy, casual and eminently affordable.
 
*The Prime Rib – 2020 K St. NW (bet. 20th & 21st Sts.) – 202-466-8811 www.theprimerib.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$$: Still and always the place to go for juicy slabs of aged prime rib, great steaks and the best cottage fries in town. The waiters wear black tie, the carpet is faux leopard skin, the martinis are hearty and show tunes are played on the baby grand while you drink and dine. Less clubby than you would expect, and according to Food and Wine Magazine, it’s one of the five most romantic restaurants in the U.S. Jacket and tie for the gents, if you please. Expensive.

*Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – 724 Ninth St. NW (H St.) – 202-393-4488 www.ruthschris.com ◊◊◊+ $$$$: The very first Ruth’s Chris opened in New Orleans in 1965. Now, with 100+ locations, they have it down to a science, and they do it well. Known for fine, aged steaks cooked in custom-made broilers that fire up temperatures exceeding 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit, the choice cuts of custom-aged beef arrive in sizzling butter on 500-degree plates. Also on the menu: fresh lobster, stuffed chicken breast and a mushroom stuffed with crabmeat. For dessert, the chocolate Sin Cake is everyone’s guilty pleasure.
 
*Sushi Taro – 1503 17th St. NW (P. St.) 202-462-8999 ◊◊◊◊ $$$: So, where do Japanese diplomats go when they crave ultra-fresh, pristine sushi? Sushi Taro, of course. Exquisite preparation and a gracious staff make every delectable bite taste even better. The sushi bar is D.C.’s longest, and loyal fans thinks the tempura here is the most succulent in town. Fabulous, rich noodle soups make you feel like a kid, and the fried seafood platter is a thing of beauty. Regular table seating is available, of course, but for those who dare, traditional floor seating on Japanese mats adds a bit of exotica. Seriously good food.
 
*TenPenh – 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (10th St.) – 202-393-4500 www.tenpenh.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$: Fun, exciting and stylish not only describes the restaurant and diners, but we’re pleased to say it also defines the imaginative Asian menu at this downtown restaurant. We’ve only gotten here once, but we will be back to further sample the tasty menu and experience the warm hospitality. Although reservations are highly recommended for lunch and dinner, there are also some very pleasant first-come, first-served seats at the big marble bar and the outdoor tables on Pennsylvania Avenue.
 
*Tony Cheng’s Restaurant – 619 H St. NW (bet. 6th & 7th Sts.) – 202-371-8669 ◊◊◊ $$: There’s not much of a Chinatown in Washington, but it seems Tony Cheng is responsible for most of it. Upstairs is an enormous seafood restaurant, offering typical Chinese versions of very fresh fish, Dungeness crab, shrimp, etc. As a matter of fact, some were swimming when you arrived. At lunch, dim sum is also served. Downstairs, you’ll find the Mongolian barbecue. If you are not familiar with this, let me describe it as a salad bar gone crazy. Customers circle the buffet, piling bowls with sliced raw meats and vegetables that the chefs season and cook on a big grill. The browned ingredients are flipped into a clean bowl, and that’s lunch.

*Tosca Ristorante – 1112 F St. NW (bet. 11th & 12th Sts.) – 202-367-1990 www.toscadc.com ◊◊◊◊ $$$: Great ambiance and subdued décor for a power lunch or a romantic dinner. Excellent salmon, steak and pasta dishes, and if you view ravioli as the soul of Italian, look no further. Silky, paper-thin pasta encloses savory veal and prosciutto, or maybe woodsy wild mushrooms, all in just enough creamy sauce. Their risotto is also amazing. As a matter of fact, you’re safe with nearly anything on the menu, and the vast array of dishes presents the best of all of Italy’s culinary regions. First-timers should consider the three-course tasting menu; it offers a fine overview of the cuisine, and is a bargain at $32. Reservations recommended.

*Zaytinya – Pepco Bldg. 701 Ninth St. NW (G St.) – 202-638-0800 www.zaytinya.com ◊◊◊ $$$: Not in the mood for a standard three-courses-and-dessert? Middle Eastern flavors and a ton of culinary imagination are the basis of some 70 varieties of small plates at Zaytinya. Cool Mediterranean shades of blue and white create a sophisticated backdrop for the throngs who share after-work stories over exotic tidbits and rockin’ retsina cocktails. Favorites include dabs of skate, fried in beer batter, sauced with pureed potato and garlic; crusty, petite lamb chops; and lamb-beef sausages in veal stock with pine nuts. A 30-minute wait at the bar is standard, but it’s a really, really fun bar. Lots of pretty people, super-friendly staff and orange blossom-peach martinis.

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