Washington, DC is not unlike any of the larger cities with an abundance of restaurant options, which can fluctuate more than Kirstie Alley’s weight in terms of quality of food, service and atmosphere. The DC dining scene has continued to grow each year, and is now home to a pretty amazing collection of restaurants and international chefs. I completely understand that it’s often difficult to find and keep quality servers and kitchen staff, but with the stiff competition today, restaurants cannot afford to disappoint the locals, as well as the large group of individuals who are very frequent visitors to the DC area for both work and pleasure.
It’s a town that loves to eat out among the DC neighborhoods, and I also enjoy taking a weekend from time to time to experience some of the restaurants making headlines. I don’t claim to be an esteemed food critic, but I do often work with restaurants, chefs and others in the industry. I feel that this work provides me a look at the behind-the-scenes of the industry, and often an added amount of compassion towards the restaurants, as I understand the extreme amount of drama that comes with the restaurant business.
So I took a weekend to visit several very popular restaurants without huge expectations, but wanting to get the full experience. While one of the restaurants was a pleasant surprise; the second restaurant was a disaster from start to finish; and the third was quirky, yet very enjoyable. Here’s my experience at Graffiato, P.J. Clarks and Daikaya…
Graffiato | The Good
Graffiato | The Good
After all this time, there is still a great amount of buzz surrounding this DC favorite. Not a huge restaurant, and oftentimes very loud when it comes to trying to talk to others at your own table, but the food here proves to maintain the highest of standards set by Chef Mike Isabella. Many know and love him from his reality show days on Bravo’s Top Chef, but in the kitchen, he is all business. The seasonal options combined with the local sliced ham and cheese plate favorites provide a unique experience each time you visit. The small plates allow your table to order multiple dishes and savor all these sensational flavor combinations created by Chef Mike Isabella while enjoying selections from the very fairly priced wine menu. For any first-time visitor, I would suggest trying the Broccollini, cloud-like Gnocchi, Smoked Pork Belly and leave room for the Countryman and Jersey Shore pizzas.
P.J. Clarks | The Bad
P.J. Clarks | The Bad
I chose to visit the DC location of P.J. Clarks for Sunday Brunch, and with the Upper West Side location in New York being one of my favorite restaurants, I had rather high expectations for this meal. Large windows allow great light into the dining room, complete with a great wrought-iron solarium guarding the door that leads down to the private dining room, making for a fairly positive first impression. With only a handful of people in the entire restaurant this early, we were seated immediately. However, instead of seating us in the main dining room, they escorted us to a small overflow dining area by the bar. In busy situations, this would be acceptable, but it was not busy, and we had to even squeeze by several tables that had not yet been setup for the day and had been dragged into the middle of the floor. A very shaky first impression of the kind of service we were to expect.
However, the server was very professional and knowledge and attentive to our needs throughout the meal. This was the only element of the meal saving this experience from being a total disaster. The menu offered more lunch/dinner items than I remember from the New York locations, but the food proved to be far worse than anything experienced at other P.J. Clarks locations. Each of the meals had major issues, and decided that taking the time to send the meals back would only result in additional headaches. The Maryland Crab Benedict was very fishy tasting, dry and served with cold brunch potatoes. The hamburger was much smaller than normal, and also dry on a cold bun with lettuce far from fresh. The other sandwich was also not warm, but made worse with a horrible presentation I would expect to see at a roadside truck stop. Always looking for something positive, the shoestring fries were amazingly hot, fresh and delicious. Sorry, but that is the only true positive note I have to contribute here. When all was said and done, the average prices for this lunch was $25, per person, and know without an ounce of hesitation I would have been more satisfied with a scone and coffee from Starbucks down the street for $5. It was a very disappointing brunch to say the least, and only hope that they learn to better their customer service and food preparation before it’s too late to save this location.
Daikaya | The Quirky
Daikaya | The Quirky
In this case, when I refer to this experience as “quirky,” I mean this in the nicest of ways. This is an endeavor developed by the passion of these three founders who wanted something special in their DC neighborhood. The result was Daikaya – two restaurants in one 2-story location serving authentic Japanese cuisine in a fun, inviting and relaxed atmosphere. The lower floor is the ramen shop, which is about as authentic as you can find outside of Japan. Upstairs, Isakaya serves comfort food, Japanese style with a few American influences to find creative ways to combine these two cultures they know so well. The words diverse and immense don’t seem to give this menu justice. Regardless of you being in the mood for Cod Roe Spaghetti, Fried Chicken or Beef Tongue Skewers, they have you covered. It will take many more visits to try everything, but would recommend the Assorted Sashimi, Grilled Avocado and Pork and Brussels Sprouts Skewer. The newest late night menu is also receiving rave reviews for anyone looking for something out of the ordinary – options such as Pop-Tart Ice Cream Sandwiches and Fried Chicken Nugget Bao are keeping people coming back for more. Delicious food, good service and a relaxed atmosphere resulted in a very positive overall experience… quirky, yet positive.