When friends ask me where to dine before the theatre I try to respond authoritatively. But, alas, my brain turns to porridge as I mentally scroll through the limitless options. I try to hone it down by asking: Which theatre are you going to? What kind of food do you prefer? Do you need parking or Metro nearby? Want something hip and trendy, white linen chic or bold ethnic flavors? As an early diner there are great deals to be had before the swells arrive. Here are a few dazzling spots to choose from before the curtain rises on the evening’s entertainment. Madly sorry if I left out your favorite!
Both Rasika Penn Quarter and the new Rasika West End have a three-course pre-theatre menu for $35.00 Monday through Fridays from 5:30 till 6:30 PM and Saturdays from 5 till 6:30 PM. Dishes are derived from regions all across India. There’s Palak Chat and Sev Puri among other specialties and mains like Chicken Makhani, Lamb Roganjosh and Tandoori Salmon. Desserts register with Carrot Halwah with cinnamon sabayon and Gulab Jamun with ice cream.
These two stylish Indian restaurants are on the “Hot List” making it an affordable way to sample their wares. In the West End 1190 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20037. For the Penn Quarter location 633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004 www.RasikaRestaurant.com
At Ceiba the three-course early dinner is a mere $29.00 a pop. This upscale contemporary Latin-inspired resto gives you choices like Yucatan Shrimp or Peruvian Seviche and Cuban Black Bean Soup with ham and cheese croquet. Entrees are straight from the Dinner Menu with a $9.00 up charge for the Brazilian Seafood Stew, Churrasco Beef and Tower of Crab.
A delicate Flan or Chocolate and Banana Mousse Cake and seasonal sorbets wrap up the Conga line. Served Monday through Saturday 5:30 till 6:30PM. Sunday from 5 till 6:30PM. An extensive small plates Bar Menu for pre- and post-theatre is half price, and signature cocktails drop to a cheery $5.00. Check the site for exact times. 701 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 www.CeibaRestaurant.com
Dinner at the Oval Room across Lafayette Park from the White House is spectacular anytime but a three-course dinner served from 5:30 till 6:30 nightly is a mere $35.00. One of my favorite chefs in town, Tony Conte, wields an elegantly spare paradigm on Modern American cuisine. What a terrific way to experience his exceptional cuisine for half the price of a regular dinner! Is this really legal?
Try the Corn Soup with sorrel, pine nuts and brown butter or Sashimi of Tuna with smoked tapioca, tamarind and buttermilk to start. Then it’s on to entrees like Rockfish with pumpkin seed pesto or Prime Rib with a cherry-chili relish. Conte gets playful with dessert and I’m all in on a Chocolate S’more Bombe with salted caramel. But wait! A Cherry Pie with pine nut brittle ice cream? Hmmmm…. Shouldn’t we just have dessert first? 800 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20006 www.OvalRoom.com
At 701 Restaurant Executive Chef Ed Witthas created a stunning three-course pre-theatre menu for $32.00 with lots of options to choose from. Appetizers like Fig and Arugula Salad with goat cheese, crispy guanciale with a vanilla vinaigrette; or Salmon Crudo with porcini powder, English peas and lemon agrumato oil raised my gastro antennae. Two of the entrées got my attention too – NY Strip Steak with corn-cheddar grits and zucchini relish, or Duck Leg with mango curry, jasmine rice and bok choy.
Did I mention dessert? There are several options, but bring on the Pear Thyme Crème Brulee with spiced fruits and thank you very very much, Chef. Curbside valet parking is $8.00 with dinner validation Monday through Saturday. What a steal! 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004 www.701Restaurant.com
Just off Pennsylvania Avenue is Fiola – the brainchild of celebrated chef Fabio Trabocchi, who was chosen to create last year’s Garden Café Italiano at the National Gallery of Artto complement the Venetian Exhibit. His $35.00 pre-theater menu served in a sleek modern setting doesn’t stint on elegance or ingredients.
The opening act is either Prosciutto with rhubarb and Monte Enebro cheese, or Burrata made with buffalo mozzarella. Then choose from Branzino with a prosecco zabaglione; slow-cooked Ossobuco; or a light pasta dish. Desserts are Hazelnut Crusted Caramel Tart or the traditional Zuppa Inglese – a trifle made with raspberry and lemon granita. From 5:30 till 6:30PM. 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004. www.FiolaDC.com
Central Michel Richardhas a brand new pre-theatre dinner for $35.00. So new it’s not even posted on their website yet! Richard’s consistently lovely at-your-Grandmére’s French cuisine will be a real treat for theatregoers and I heartily recommend it. Begin with a choice of Green Lentil Soup, Goat Cheese Caesar Salad, or Deviled Eggs with fresh boquerones – tiny marinated sardines. A trip to Atlantic City last week to try his new outpost at Revel afforded me the opportunity to sample some of these delicacies. (More deets on that in next week’s column.)
Entrees are Mussels in white wine; Garlic Salmon with lemongrass emulsion; or Chicken Julia, a crisp roasted chicken named after Childs. End with Chocolate Lava Cake or Fig Tart both served with housemade ice cream or sorbet. You can even return to enjoy your dessert after the show! 1001 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20004 www.CentralMichelRichard.com
Johnny’s Half Shell is James Beard Award-Winning Chef Ann Cashion’s temple to Chesapeake and Gulf Coast sustainable seafood. This Capitol Hill destination is known for its Saturday night live Jazz and Blues performers and laid back atmosphere.
The three-course dinner is very specific and starts off with a mixed green salad before moving on to New Orleans-style File Gumbo Fillet of Catfish with shrimp and sausage risotto or Chicken Etouffee. Dessert is Angel Food Cake with Caramel Sauce. It’s $35.00 and is served nightly from 5 till 6:30 PM. We love the complimentary validated parking in an adjacent garage. 400 North Capitol Street, Washington, DC 20001 www.JohnnysHalfShell.net
Executive Chef Shannon Overmiller, formerly of Restaurant Eve, helms the kitchen at The Majestic – a cozy circa 1949 retro American restaurant in the heart of Old Town and within minutes of MetroStage and The Little Theatre of Alexandria. If you’re Metro’ing just hop the free trolley from the King Street station and exit at the front door. The cuisine is rustic with a decidedly modern twist. The $35.00 “Royal-Fixe” menu is available all evening. You simply select an appetizer, entrée and dessert from the regular dinner menu. Entrées come complete with sides – no need to order veggies a la carte. But do look for items identified with “crown” icons that have a clearly marked upcharge.
Still I like the Wild Mushroom Soup with caramelized onions and Appalachian cheese crostini, followed by the Amish Roast Chicken or the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Stew – no additional charge on any of these dishes! Desserts are plucked right from the dinner menu and include Brownie Sundae, Churros and Pumpkin Cake. 911 King Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 www.MajesticCafe.com
José Andrés’ ever-popular Jaleo outposts include the Downtown, Bethesda and Crystal City locations. All feature a three-course pre-theatre menu priced at $30.00 but items vary slightly. I noted a Gazpacho with Endive and Ensalata Russo as starters, Garlic Shrimp or Pan Seared Scallops; and for dessert a Flan from Andrés’ mother’s recipe, Arroz con Leche, or Hazelnut Mousse Cake. Check available times and locations on their website. Be sure to try the dinner-plus-ticket offer for Synetic Theater in Crystal City where there’s also free adjacent parking after 4PM. www.Jaleo.com
P.S. If you’re lottery-flush and with plenty of time to spare (I only mention it because some of us have been waiting for this news for a long time), his exceptional destination restaurant, Minibar by José Andrés, has reopened at last in a new location – 855 E Street, NW. Call months in advance for a reservation.