Enjoy this feature I have running in the October issue of Where Washington Magazine.
Begone mint juleps!
Washington, DC loves wine.
The capital leads the nation in per capita sales and consumption of wine. Could it be those embassy soirees? Those lobbyist-politico schmooze fests? Nooooo. Credit these stats to the growing sophistication of Washington diners, who ask that their food be paired with something more exciting than the house Chardonnay. But wine matters not just at the big-list, power steakhouses. Consider the latest trend: the wine bar-cum-restaurant, in France le bar-a vin, that touts unique and esoteric vintages and contemporary foods to match.
Locale: In the hoppin’ 14th and U zone, 2 blocks from the U-Cardoza Metro and next-door to neighborhood fave and sister spot, Café Saint-Ex.
Feel: Reminiscent of a Parisian wine bistro—dimly lit, exposed brick walls, antique wrap-around wood bar and nautical artifacts. “Pilar,” after all, takes it name from the beloved boat of a famed barfly, Ernst Hemingway. Must see (after a few glasses of vino): the instant photo booth in the rear.
Scene: Casual crowd of 20- and 30-somethings from the neighborhood and a smattering of out-of-towners
List: Small, yet smart and well-priced. Choices range from boutique Italian, Spanish, and French, with a few Californians, to bottles from Greece and Slovenia. Glasses $4-8, bottles $16-70.
Food: Chef Barton Seaver keeps changing his Italian inspired small bites, all designed for pairing. Think potatoes and Moroccan paprika aioli paired with 1+1=3 Xarel-lo, a light and refreshing white from the Penedes region of Spain, or seared ahi tuna with pea shoots paired with Rose of Cabernet from Domaine de Montmarin of the Languedoc region, southern France.
1833 14th Street, NW, 202.265.1765
Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar
Locale: Two blocks southeast of the Capitol on a bustling stretch of Penn Ave.
Feel: Upscale bistro with exposed brick walls, cozy seating and a long bar for mix-and-mingle. Upstairs an intimate lounge with sofas.
Scene: An energized crowd of late 20s-30s Hill-staffers, Capitol Hill denizens and maybe a Congressman or two.
List: Over 40 wines “on tap” (à la cruvinet) by the glass and half-glass and 100 by the bottle, most from Sonoma County, CA and Italy.
Food: Drew Trautmann’s unpretentious Mediterranean cuisine, honoring organic ingredients and local produce. Think squash blossom-goat cheese ravioli with Margaret Anne Tocai/Arneis of Mendocino County, a zingy, fresh white with notes of green apple, lemon and racy acidity. Or local sweet corn risotto, chanterelles and in-house prosciutto with Ascheri Dolcetto d’Alba, a light, fruity Piedmontese red.
223 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, 202.544.8088
Locale: Hip Clarendon ‘hood in Arlington, Virginia at Washington Blvd. and Pershing Drive. Façade’s neon sign says EAT!
Feel: Unpretentious pair of lounges plus dining room and adjoining wine shop for take-out.
Scene: Neighborhood spot for after-work crowd—bureaucrats, young professionals, even Boomers.
List: More than 70 by the glass or half glass, 300 by the bottle, some “boutique” bottlings under catchy heds like “tickling your nose,” “wickedly ponderous.”
Food: Nathan Anda’s spins on classic American include fried green tomatoes paired with Champalou Vouvray, a slightly off-dry white with notes of peach, white flower and zingy acidity. Also seared foie gras and caramelized pineapple with Lillypilly Noble Blend, an intense, luxurious dessert wine with notes of orange blossom and tropical fruit. Note: the Amuse Yourself menu of bites like baby burger with black truffle butter, duck spring roll, beer-battered corn dog, steak tartare.
2761 Washington Boulevard, 703.778.5051
Oya Restaurant & Lounge
(Yours truly developed this wine program.)
Locale: One-half block north of the Gallery Place Metro and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery in the hoppin’ Penn Quarter.
Feel: Show-biz LA meets Miami with a red crocodile skin bar, white leather lounge seats, 2.5 ton chain-link curtain and a 20-foot waterfall.
Scene: A mix of late 20s to 40s crowd with the occasional celebrity (recent sightings: Hillary Clinton, Wolf Blitzer, Patrick Ewing). Weekday sushi cocktail hour.
List: Esoteric mix of international wines divided into flavor profiles (think fresh/lip-smacking whites, juicy/savory reds) plus a few Virginia wines from star producers. Wines by half-glass complement small plates.
Food: Jonathan Seningen’s French-Asian small plates and Chef Tu’s sushi rolls. Think hanger steak and horseradish flan paired with Santa Barbara Winery Syrah, an intense red with aromas of black currant, leather and a touch of spice, or seared chicken with peanut dressing and pea shoots served with a glass of Blenheim Vineyards Chardonnay from Dave Matthews’ winery in Charlottesville.
777 9th Street, NW, 202.393.1400
Locale: Cleveland Park’s restaurant row, few steps south of the Cleveland Park Metro and beside fine dining sibling Ardeo.
Feel: Contemporary vibes from sleek purple leather booths, long marble bar and intriguing photography by Russian émigré artists the Gerlovins.
Scene: Smart after-work crowd of young professionals stopping for a quick bite and ‘hood folks, some famed journalists, who can’t resist create-your-own wine flights.
List: Full glass, half glass or flights from interesting Old and New World wines.
Food: Christopher Bradley’s American small plates: goat cheese salad (beets, baby frisée and walnuts) paired with Valdelainos Verdejo, a crisp Spanish white, or tuna melt panini paired with Tyrrell’s “Lost Block” Pinot Noir from Australia.
3311 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 202.244.6550
Locale: Bustling Terminal C at Dulles International Airport, next to Gate C4!
Feel: Atypical, upscale lounge with warm woods, leather club chairs, wrap-around tasting bar and a shop for wine on the fly. The name is a clever play on “wine flight.”
Scene: Mix of business and leisure travelers killing time before their next departure.
List: Organized as eight themed tasting flights (like Taste of Virginia, California Kings, Barbecue Reds).
Food: Snack-sized small plates paired to the themed flights. Sample chickpea and sausage chili paired with Artesa Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, a robust red with black currant, black olive and vanilla notes, or smoked salmon rolls paired with Rappahannock Cellars Viognier, a Virginia wine with intoxicating tropical fruit aroma.
Washington Dulles International Airport, Terminal C, 703.661.1999
Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar
Locale: Beside the glam Hotel Palomar two and a half blocks west of Dupont Circle.
Feel: Swank with dim lights, velvet couches, dramatic wall of ‘U’-labeled wines and open kitchen.
Scene: Hip crowd of travelers and ‘hoodies from late 20s and up.
List: A large book of California, French and Italian wines by the glass or quartino (one and a half glasses of wine)
Food: Imaginative northern Italian and southern French cuisine by Chef Richard Brandenburg. Faves: corn-battered, gorgonzola-stuffed figs with balsamic drizzle paired with Nino Franco Prosecco, a light-hearted bubbly with green apple and pear aromas, or pea agnolotti (sp?) with lobster and chorizo paired with Teruzzi e Puthod’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a refreshing Tuscan white with floral and almond notes.
2121 P Street, NW, 202.956.6650
Charlie Palmer Steak
Locale: One block from the U.S. Capitol anchoring a sleek office building at Constitution Avenue and Louisiana Avenue.
Feel: Power dining without the stuffy steakhouse décor thanks to large, open dining areas, a gurgling waterfall and mod furnishings like oversized leather chairs. Horizontal, showcase wine cellar flanks the passage from bar to dining.
Scene: Powerbrokers from Capitol Hill, K Street lobbyists, plus foodies in the know.
List: All-American wines from 40 of the 50 states. Sommelier Nadine Brown says, “The last 10 states are extremely difficult to source because of antiquated liquor laws.” Amen.
Food: Progressive American fare by Bryan Voltaggio. One fine match of terroir: grilled Idaho wagyu sirloin paired with the powerful and rich Sawtooth Syrah from Snake River, also Idaho. Or grilled peach and blue cheese salad paired with Montinore Estate Gewürtztraminer of Oregon, a white with rose petal and lychee nut aromas and a crisp finish.
101 Constitution Avenue, NW, 202.547.8100
Photos of Oya, Bardeo, Vino Volo courtesy of the restaurants; photos of Bar Pilar, Tallula, Sonoma by Andrew Stover