Capitol Hill Serves Up Meals for All Tastes

Posted November 12, 2010 at 9:03am

New Members and staffers may have heard a few things about the dining scene.

Some may have heard this town is all about dark, boring steakhouses. Others may have gotten the message that there’s no variety in the cuisine. While this may have been true at one time, the Washington of today offers some of the best restaurants in the country.

D.C. has undergone a major food transformation in the past few years. While the steakhouses still exist — and likely always will as long as there are fat cats with expense accounts roaming the streets — the city is also home to innovative chefs such as José Andrés and Michel Richard.

Diners can find a range of options, including sushi, Indian food and good old-fashioned American dishes, within the District’s limits. And there’s no need to go far off Capitol Hill, with a slew of new and interesting restaurants.

• For a Senate-side treat or a romantic evening out with your better half, swing by Bistro Cacao (320 Massachusetts Ave. NW). Since it opened, this restaurant has been doing double duty as a great go-to lunch spot as well as a dimly lit evening haunt.

The bistro is broken into three dining rooms. The first is the highly trafficked entranceway, while the second is a sunny room featuring wooden tables, a wall of wine and beautiful chandeliers. The third room is dark and sets the mood for romance. Tables for two line the walls, and each is slightly shielded from the room by curtains.

Chef Kemal Deger is at the helm and has created a decidedly traditional French menu complete with all the trappings. You’ll see pâté, fois gras and escargots, in addition to mussels, steak and rack of lamb. Take note — Bistro Cacao is not a place to take your vegetarian friends, as it offers only one vegetable-based entrée.

The Niçoise salad is a standout. This rich salad features grilled tuna, tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers and olives on a plate of mixed greens. The steak sandwich is also a favorite. A large serving of strip loin is topped with Havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado.

• Acqua al 2 (212 Seventh St. SE), the D.C. outpost of a beloved Florence-based restaurant, is cozy and homey. It is the perfect spot to warm a chilly evening with a glass of red wine and a bowl of pasta.

Owned by D.C. native Ari Gejdenson, this Italian eatery features large windows that overlook Seventh Street, a great place to people-watch. The menu is filled with rich pasta, fish and meat dishes. Don’t miss the gnocchi with Gorgonzola. The pasta is light and chewy while the sauce bursts with flavor.

The restaurant is a Congressional favorite; Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) have all stopped in for a meal.

• Looking for a budget-friendly meal on the go? Pop into Seventh Hill (327 Seventh St. SE), a gourmet pizzeria located near Eastern Market.

Don’t let the word “gourmet” fool you; the pizza here is still greasy and delicious. Pies are made to order and can be carried out or enjoyed at a handful of small tables.

The simple menu concentrates on 11 pizzas, all of which are named after Capitol Hill neighborhoods.

There’s the Barracks Row — tomato, mushroom, spinach, red onion and mozzarella — and the Navy Yard, a combination of tomato, Toulouse sausage, oregano and pecorino.

The Penn Ave., a mouth-watering combination of fresh tomato, olive, pesto, pecorino and spinach, is the standout choice. The pie is smothered in spinach and cheese and decorated with huge purple olives, making it clear that Seventh Hill doesn’t skimp on toppings. In fact, there was enough spinach on the pie to make it feel like a healthy choice. In addition to the tasty toppings, the pizza featured a crust that was perfectly doughy while still being crisp on the outside.

The Union Station is another favorite. Cheese-lovers take note: This pizza is a delectable combination of four cheeses on one pie. A white pizza, it includes goat cheese, mozzarella, pecorino and Gorgonzola with garlic. On its own, the pizza can seem a tad dry, but the restaurant is happy to add sauce if a customer asks.

While the specialty pizzas are a highlight, the restaurant also offers basics such as the Garfield Park, a simple combination of tomato and mozzarella. The pizzas range in price from $9.95 to $16.95 and come in 8-inch and 12-inch serving sizes.

• Ted’s Bulletin (505 Eighth St. SE) is a kitschy throwback to the diners of yesteryear. The menu is filled with comfort food such as grilled cheese and tomato soup, sloppy joes and the restaurant’s famous homemade pop tarts. Old films are projected on a wall above diners, giving them a chance to admire the likes of Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn while digging into their food.

The major drawback to Ted’s is the no-reservation policy, except for large groups. During the weekend brunch rush, the wait for a table in the dining room can be up to an hour. But there is a loophole: The bar area has a handful of tables that are seated on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don’t mind dining while other patrons mill around you, this is your best bet for a quick meal.

• Sister restaurant DC-3 (423 Eighth St. SE), a hot dog joint from the same owners as Ted’s, opened Wednesday. Check out the Bay Bridge Pretzel Dog, a beef hot dog on a pretzel roll served with crab dip and Old Bay seasoning.

• If you love wine, Sonoma (223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) is the place to be. This restaurant and wine bar is one of the more grown-up establishments on Pennsylvania Avenue, serving Members, staffers and locals since 2005.

Sonoma features a bar and dining room on the first floor and a cozy lounge — complete with couches and a fireplace — on the second. The second floor is often rented out for parties and fundraisers, but when it is available to the public the spot makes for a delightful place to have an intimate chat with an old friend.

Sonoma offers an extensive wine list. Vino is served by the taste, glass or bottle. Bottles start at the bargain price of $26. Wine is served alongside a menu including locally grown ingredients. The elaborate cheese and charcuterie plates are a real treat.

• The Chesapeake Room (501 Eighth St. SE) is one of the more striking restaurants on the Hill. This Barracks Row eatery is decorated with large oil paintings depicting scenes from the mid-Atlantic region. Images of boats and horses hang alongside a massive, colorful aquarium.

Then there’s the food. Featuring a seafood menu and ample outdoor seating, the Chesapeake Room offers high-quality dishes in a relaxed setting. Try the smoked Virginia oysters, a creative take on the shellfish. The oysters are doused in fresh herbs and olive oil and served with pickled onions, herb mustard and crusty bread. They’re so good you’ll want seconds.

• Over on the H Street corridor, in the northeast corner of Capitol Hill, Granville Moore’s (1238 H St. NE) is a staple. The Belgian gastropub is known for its extensive Belgian beer list and some of the best mussels in town, and it rarely disappoints.

Owner and chef Teddy Folkman has been making a name for himself nationally with appearances on TV shows such as “Throwdown With Bobby Flay” and “The Next Food Network Star.”

• Down the street from Granville’s is Folkman’s other venture, the H Street Country Club (1335 H St. NE). This kitschy bar and restaurant features an indoor miniature golf course and tasty Mexican fare. 

• H Street is also home to The Liberty Tree (1016 H St. NE), a New England-themed pizza and seafood restaurant, and Sticky Rice (1224 H St. NE), a sushi hot spot. More restaurants are slated to open soon.