Got Plans: Advice from the Going Out Guide

Jan 16, 2014

Every Thursday, the Going Out Guide staff discusses concerts, happy hours, cheap date ideas, weekend getaways, new exhibits and other ways to have fun in the Washington D.C. area.

This week, the staff will be chatting about the annual Essential Eats issue, where we ask readers to select the 40 dishes every Washingtonian must try in 2014. What's the one appetizer, entree or dessert you can't live without? (For reference, here's the 2013 list.)

Welcome chatters, today, we're discussing the best dishes in Washington right now, and we're hoping you've got nominations to make right now. I'll share mine: G's cauliflower sandwich -- crazy, crazy good. But then there was Woodlands Vegan Bistro's vegan fried chicken, Rose's Luxury's veggie take on its pork and lychee salad. And our readers have already given their nods for Astro Doughnuts' creme brulee, Neopol Smokery's Salmon BLT, Ambar's sweet forest gnocchi, Frenchie's buttery-good croissants and the (hangover-curing) quiche at Le Diplomate. What do you love? Can you do better? Let's get going.

Best Bars to Watch the Game...WITH Sound. In this case, I'm thinking Sunday playoff football and I know PQST, Buffalo Billiards, Maddy's, but I'm looking for other options. Dupont, Logan, or downtown preferred. Thanks!

In my experience, games with sound are something you usually find at a team-centric bar. This weekend, for example, Town Tavern will have the sound on because it's a 49ers bar, and Penn Quarter Sports Tavern will have sound on because it's a Seahawks bar, but if you went to one of those places to watch a Broncos game during the regular season, you wouldn't necessarily get the audio. Does that make sense?

Because it's the playoffs, though, and there's only one game on at a time, I think things will be different. Some places I'd try might include BlackFinn and the Bottom Line downtown, Public Bar or Lucky Bar in Dupont ... having trouble thinking of a sports bar in Logan proper, so maybe head north to Touchdown on U Street?

Do you know of any bars that are having viewing parties for Downton Abbey and/or Sherlock? I'm looking for some place to watch both this weekend.

Strangely, I don't know of any organized viewing parties for either. I would have thought that our local would have planned something, but its calendar comes up empty. 

I received the e-mail with Graffiato's RW menu. It states group participation only. Does that mean if one person wants to order from it, everyone at the table has to order off the RW menu? Is there a list somewhere yet of which restaurants are extending their RW menus past the 19th?

Hi, you're right, all diners have to do the Restaurant Week menu if one person is doing it. It's great that Graffiato is doing a four-course meal, since so much of its fare is smaller plates, but we just did this piece on how to craft your own four-course meal there for (slightly) less. The benefit is that you can order an array of dishes beyond what's available on the Restaurant Week menu, like those popular brussels.

I can't picture the neighborhood where Rogue 24 is. Is there street parking? Thanks!

Shaw, by the Convention Center. Plenty of street parking around 9th and M, usually.

Read his review on Water & Wall which is right across the street from my building. Got stuck on the sweetbreads part with hot sauce partially because I'm not an offal seeking foodie. But, he was so right.... I only have to cross the street for them but even if I had to cross the river I would do it. That and their duck confit.

Oh, that is an endorsement. I am so excited to see Tim Ma's newcomer get a nomination, and this is a very good one. Thanks!

Have the Brussels Sprouts at Graffiato or Zaytinya been on a previous list? They are both awesome.

The brussels made the list last year! (I am looking for a photo   for those who haven't tried these things.) Have another suggestion? We'd love to hear it!

I work an odd schedule and often have weekdays off. I would on occasion enjoy having a nice lunch at a somewhat fancy restaurant bar alone (including a cocktail of course!). Price is not important but I would like a leisurely meal with an atmosphere enjoyable for a single diner. Also, I am interested in all cuisine and bonus points for places that would be less crazy/crowded at lunch than dinner. Thanks!

In Arlington, lunch is the easiest time to get a seat at the bar at the Liberty Tavern. (I know you want fancy, but I'm partial to their sandwich-and-pint combo deal, especially the skirt steak burger and a draft beer for $15.)

In D.C., Fiola offers a main plate and a drink for $18; 701 has a three-course "bipartisan" menu with multiple choices for $25; Proof's "Lunch Crush" provides one of five rotating entrees and a glass of red or white wine for $14.

Hi there. My dad generously gave my husband and me money to enjoy a "nice dinner." My husband and I don't usually do nice and are looking for ideas of places to go. Constraints are that we'd prefer Montgomery County (two young kids = babysitter = time crunch) and we don't drink, so don't let the wine selection guide you. Also, my husband loves a good steak. Any suggestions? Thanks!

I really like Woodmont Grill for this - on a Friday or Saturday night, there's live music, the service is top-notch, and their food is fantastic (have the kale salad, whatever you do). It's a great sophisticated date night, plus, there is a parking lot. In Bethesda. So no fussing with meters or finding a space on the street. Genius!

going to see a show at 930 club tonight. as it is restaurant week, what's a good option for a place to go for dinner nearby that's not participating?

It looks like many of the restaurants nearby aren't among the RW crowd -- you could try to grab a seat at Right Proper for fried chicken sandwiches and beers, or at Eat the Rich around the corner. There's also the brand new Dunya, which we haven't tried yet, on 8th and Florida, for Mediterranean bites. I'm also partial to Bistro Bohem, especially in the wintertime - their pierogi really warm you up.

I submitted a few ideas for essential eats and drinks on Twitter with the hashtag #40eats - are you guys recording those or do I need to do this another way?

We are keeping a record, don't worry! I may have mentioned your nomination in the intro, but want to share them here anyway, just to have a little dialogue?

I'm going to throw the wasabi guacamole at Sei into the mix. It's so yummy!!

Thanks for the nomination! That's kind of a genius combination. I've seen wasabi mashed potatoes, but they're never what I want them to be.

Hi Gurus! Partner wants to go out to dinner for his birthday next Saturday. His wish list in order of importance: good food, good scotch/whiskey list, no need to dress-up too much. We don't really have time to do both dinner and then a bar visit before/after dinner (to fulfill the scotch/whiskey request), so what is your pick for a restaurant with the best food and a good scotch/whiskey list? I am pretty stumped because I would not know what a good scotch/whiskey list even looks like. DC is preferred and budget is not a concern. Thanks so much for your help!

The best whiskey selection in D.C. is at Jack Rose, but I haven't eaten dinner there in ages. If he's into whiskey, he'll be like a kid in a candy store.

I think the most under-the-radar whiskey list in the city is Acadiana's, as it's loaded with great bourbons in the $9-$12 range, though it's an all-American list. (Since you spelled whiskey with the E, I'm assuming you don't just want Scotch.) The menu's full of delicious Southern-style dishes: grillades served over jalapeno cheese grits;Louisiana gumbo with jumbo lump crab, crayfish, shrimp and oysters; crispy roasted duck over dirty rice. 

The lobster waffle from B Too (savory waffles are amazing, who knew??), the soft serve at Doi Moi, and the life-changing pina colada at 2 Birds 1 Stone.

YES. I saw this, thanks!  Love these nominations, because a.) Brunch is everything. and b) because calling a pina colada "life-changing" is pretty gutsy.

I know this is a lame question but: are there any clubs or bars that come to mind that are bumping starting around 9 rather than 11:30? I love to dance, but that's a little late for me most of the time. Just wanted to ask - thanks!

Honestly, not many -- especially now that Daylight at Liv has ended its run. Sometimes you'll find this at U Street Music Hall if there's an early show or event, but no matter where I find myself these days, dance floors seem dead until 10:30 or later. I blame pre-gaming.

Anything in DC fun or new and exciting to check out this coming Saturday night?

Saturday will bring the opening of the new 14th Street concept Den of Thieves in the former Hanoi House.  If you're a fan of Thievery Corporation, know that Eric Hilton will be breaking in the new DJ booth. Should be a blast.

My new boyfriend is visiting me in DC for the first time next weekend (yay!), and he is a DJ and a property owner, and thus wants to check out some good record stores and antique/junk stores. Where should we absolutely go that would most fit the bill? He specifically mentioned wanting to get his hands on some reggae, and he loves digging in and finding potential gems, both in records and household items. Thanks!!!

Som Records at 14th and T is the must-do, especially if he's looking for reggae, Caribbean, or world music. (I'm also a big fan of Joe's Record Paradise in Silver Spring if you don't mind going that far out.)

My top itinerary would be Som, and then wander down 14th to Miss Pixie's for household items and bric-a-brac (just because), then driving up 14th Street to Ruff & Ready at 14th and Crittenden. Amazing place for vintage furniture accents (everything from old globes to antique suitcases to "arty" lamps), old glasses and dishware sets -- you never know what you're going to find.

Hi all, where can 12-14 of us go to dinner on a Saturday night? We're set on the 25 so not much planning time. Hopefully a place that allows for conversation without shouting and good food. Please. Oh and downtown. Thank you!

Oh wow - a group of that size is going to be tough on such short notice. Looking at Open Table, most of the kinds of restaurants that are downtown and can accomodate a group that big tend within a week tend to be the types that cater to private parties and out-of-towners --  i.e. Carmine's, Morton's, McCormick & Schmick's. You won't get four-star dining, but they're places to have a pleasant enough meal, and they may even block off a semi-private room for you. Depending on how stringent your downtown requirement is, you could also try the Ping Pong Dim Sum in Dupont, or Eatonville on U Street, or the new Agua 301 at the Navy Yard.

MLK Day? Thinking presentations or events rather than a volunteer day this year.

You're in luck, we (by which I mean the talented Macy Freeman) just put together this list of must-see MLK weekend events. I'd also consider a stop at the American History Museum to see "Changing America," an exhibition looking at the period of history from the Emancipation Proclamation to the March on Washington, an eventful 100 years. I'd follow that with a stop at the MLK Memorial and/or the Lincoln Memorial, where there's a small marker on the steps noting where King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. It's one of my favorite places in the city, because you can look out over the whole Mall and see what he saw. Pretty moving stuff.

Gurus, I hope you can help -- I really just want a laidback bar that plays current country where I can get a beer with friends. I don't need the line dancing of Nick's (none of the music is current country) or the gimmicky-ness of Hill Country. Do I just need to open this bar myself?

You went to Nick's and *didn't* hear Florida Georgia Line or Jason Aldean? That sounds like an off night.

I have to say the live music at Hill Country has been fantastic lately if you like alt-country and new bluegrass: Whiskey Shivers last week was packed and electric, even if six different types of Shiner served in Mason jars can be a little gimmicky. Mockingbird Sun and Whiskey Gentry are coming up in the next month, and both are highly recommended.

I haven't been to Toby Keith's I Love This Bar in Woodbridge yet, but -- seriously -- they're doing concerts co-sponsored by WMZQ, which is about as a big of a stamp of approval as popular country gets around here. Dustin Lynch, who had the #2 hit "Cowboys and Angels" a while back, is there on Jan. 30.

But if you want to open your own honky tonk that plays current country, do it. I feel like there's certainly a market for it. 

Hi, I'm running out of ideas for indoor birthday party ideas for 7 year olds. My son's friends recently had celebrations at Lucky Strike and ice skating. It seems like the zoo is booked. Does anyone have any ideas? Thank you so much.

I put this question on On Parenting columnist Amy Joyce, who replies:

The National Building Museum has a good birthday program that includes a building project led by a museum teacher. National Geographic has a Young Explorers birthday party (scavenger hunts, hands-on projects) that I bet is good, though I've never been.

And hey, there's always Chuck E Cheese. New one just opened in Takoma Park last year, I believe.

I am super excited to have tickets to this show this weekend. Do you know when the Post's review is coming out? Thanks!

You're going to catch it before our critic, actually! It looks like our review will come out the last week of January -- theater critics usually give a show a week to get settled before they see it. In the meantime, you can read a preview here. Enjoy!

TJ Stones in Old Town tends to have the sound on for most big games - football, hockey, baseball, soccer... It gets jammed early, but decent food and great beer selection.

Hi Gurus, this happened to me a couple of times recently, at different establishments, but I was drinking 1 or 2 drinks and then moving on to a new place. I paid with 20's and they gave me $5 bills and no singles. I'm wondering if that is the new etiquette/expectation or what gives? Thanks

So they didn't give you the full amount of change you were owed? That's illegal, unless there's some sort of automatic gratuity on the bill.

I think I saw the Queen Vic is doing Downton Abbey viewing parties

I saw that the Queen Vic hosted a premiere party but haven't heard a peep since. I'll check on this. Also, do you really want to watch the Anna aftermath in a bar, people?

UPDATE: Queen Vic does show Downton Abbey upstairs on Sundays.

I'm looking for a bar or restaurant to host my mother's 60th birthday party (70-100 people). She wants to serve drinks/ appetizers with music and dancing -- and would rather all of those things be available at one place (rather than finding a caterer/band/etc). She's a young 60 in terms of lifestyle, but classic child of the 60s/70s in musical taste. She's willing to spend some money on this one. Thanks!

I might call Gypsy Sally's, a live music venue in Georgetown that specializes in '60s music and Americana. The main draw here is that, in addition to a concert hall, there's a groovy little '60s-themed lounge with Hendrix and Dead posters on the wall, a vinyl-only DJ set up, Doors and Who records embedded in the bar, and a full-sized VW bus parked by the front door. 

What I would do is check the Gypsy Sally's schedule and see if there's a show coming up that your mom would be interested in, and then call Gypsy Sally's and reserve the bar for a private party. When I was writing my preview of the place late last year, they told me they've booked it for private events before. 

My self-described redneck hipster bro (he lives in Stafford VA, drives a pickup, and owns many pairs of jorts) just converted me to a vinyl LP lover. But as I'm a middle-aged hipster myself, what I'd love is to get my hands on some 70s album rock. Are there any stores in DC that carry them?

There are plenty. Try Joint Custody, where the employees   dress very closely to what you describe above. John Deere hats, flannels, and jean jackets, yes? They sell that stuff too. So you and your brother could do some damage. You also have to put Som on your list. Afterward, you can have a no-name beer or boxed wine at Showtime Lounge, and feel fullfilled in every way.

Hey Gurus, I'm not sure if this is a question better-suited for Tom, but I'm hoping you might be able to help me. I'm planning a party in a few months for about 40 people. I'd like to have it at an Arlington or DC restaurant which has a private dining area for a party of that size. Aside from the private dining room, the most important criteria is that the food is very good/great…..the party is for my father and he considers one of life's greatest pleasures to be good food. So…..any ideas? I'm thinking more of a cocktail party (so no need to sit down for a full meal), so somewhere with great light apps/finger food. The only place I can think of off the top of my head is Acqua Al 2 on the Hill. Any suggestions from you or readers would be greatly appreciated!! Thank you!

The brand-new Alba Osteria, which got a nice first bite from Tom yesterday, has plenty of private party space, and nice small bites and charcuterie from Roberto Donna and Amy Brandwein. Elisir is another Italian option. Woodward Table has a large private space, as does Vidalia. And hotel restaurants, like Poste, are often great at accomodating large groups. Or, if you'd like to take in some views, you could try the Kennedy Center Roof Terrace, which has retooled its menu, winning praise from Tom -- once the other diners depart for their shows downstairs, you'd have the place to yourselves!

I might stop watching the show all together after that... What is with these male show runners torturing their female characters?

Good point. I hope there's an end goal here, and it's not just for entertainment.  I debated giving up on "Breaking Bad" after its terrifying domestic scene in that episode near the end. I felt as if, for all its violence, that was the most atrocious thing I'd seen.

My friends and I are having a girls night out on Saturday. Where can we go dancing after dinner where we won't feel old (we're all in our early to mid-30s)? We're having dinner at Shaw Tavern so some where nearby would be great, but we are willing to cab some where else in the city too. Thanks!!

Wait. Early 30s is "old" to go out dancing these days?

If you want to stay on U Street, the '90s-themed Peach Pit party at DC9 gets a lot of 30-somethings who danced to NSync the first time around -- and younger folks, too. I'd also try the new Den of Thieves, where Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation will be DJing. Marvin has this rep for being a young place, but I think the prices and music keep the crowd in the late 20s-mid 30s. (You want to see an early 20s crowd, go down to Dodge City or Saint-Ex.) Also, go down 14th to Black Whiskey, where John Thornley of U.S. Royalty is DJing. 

If you'll cab, Talib Kweli at RedRocks on H Street, or Little Miss Whiskey's, will have what you're looking for.

I double Fritz's suggestion. LT has some fairly consistent regulars who come in for lunch to chat with one of bartender or friendly faces eating along. You can usually find some really interesting, intelligent conversation, but they aren't the type to impose either - if you want to bury your face in your book or contemplate quietly, they'll leave you alone. Either way, it's a wonderful place to go for a mid-week lunch. -Signed, Liberty lunch regular

Thanks. I've had lunch there (not regularly), but I like being able to sit at the bar and relax, which can be really hard to do at happy hour.

Thanks for joining us today. If you want to submit your Essential Eats nominations, we're still taking names. Send them to 

The post points code is GG0956

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The Going Out Guide
The Going Out Guide staff are the experts behind The Washington Post's Going Out Guide. They write about restaurants, bars, movies, the arts, special events and visitor attractions, and they're out every night to keep you on top of the D.C. entertainment scene.
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