Turning the Tables
8 ways we're dining differently-from fast-casual to small plates to Instagramming our meals
Understanding what’s in your craft cocktail can sometimes require a quick Google search on your phone.
Here’s the scoop on four unorthodox ingredients.
Lemon zest, star anise and ginger perk up this tropical-minded sweet syrup, which gets a buzzy boost from a healthy dose of white rum. Try it in: the “Potomac Park Swizzle” at MoCo’s Founding Farmers.
Ghost pepper tincture
The world’s hottest pepper is infused into whole-grain alcohol, creating a boozy elixir with a glowing after-burn. Try it in: the “Back Porch” at Quench in Rockville.
These icy spheres are made with an umami-rich mixture of meat scraps, tomato juice and spices, such as fennel and bay leaves. Try it in: the “Vegan Sacrifice” at Range in Friendship Heights.
Herbaceous and slightly spicy, this booze-backed botanical tonic adds a bite to many pre-Prohibition cocktail classics. Try it in: the Old Fashioned at the Co2 Lounge in Bethesda.
5. Beyond Bethesda
Diners are venturing beyond Bethesda in search of new culinary destinations, whether it’s to try innovative dishes at Urban Butcher in Silver Spring or The Grilled Oyster Company in Potomac.
Several restaurants, often offering easier parking and more interesting food, have opened in surrounding communities, including Rockville, Potomac and downtown Silver Spring.
And more are coming with new developments such as Pike & Rose in Rockville and Crown in Gaithersburg.
Rick Dugan, owner of The Grilled Oyster Company, says Bethesda has lots of competition when it comes to his search for a second location for his restaurant.
Bethesda has “gotten so big that it’s no longer the neighborhood it was 20 years ago,” says Dugan, who was scoping out locations at press time. “It’s very crowded and hard to stand out.”
Francis Namin, co-owner of Cabin John’s Fish Taco and Bethesda’s Food Wine & Co., Beer Wine & Co., Don Pollo and the upcoming City Burger, says the amount of business generated in the most-saturated sections of Bethesda can’t support the high cost of real estate there. Rents for Bethesda Row, for example, can range from $80 to $100 per square foot. Namin, who says he pays $50 per square foot at Food Wine & Co. on Wisconsin Avenue, says high rents lead either to high turnover or to minimal profits for the restaurants that do remain. That makes new destinations beyond Bethesda’s borders look all the more appealing.
New Dining HOT SPOTS Beyond Bethesda
1. Cabin John Shopping Center & Mall in Potomac
This throwback shopping center has become an eating destination. The Grilled Oyster Company, Gregorio’s Trattoria, Benny’s Bar & Grill and Attman’s Delicatessen are among the restaurants worth a visit.
2. Park Potomac
The development offers several eateries, including the uber-popular MoCo’s Founding Farmers and Sugo Osteria.
3. Intersection of River and Falls roads in Potomac
The Tavern at River Falls and Mix Bar and Grille are two popular dining spots.
4. Downtown Silver Spring
The bohemian Urban Butcher and Kaldi’s Coffee are great new additions; Denizens Brewing Co., a brewpub, is coming soon.
5. Rockville Town Square
82 Steak Out, a French-style steakhouse, opened in February; Bonchon Chicken, the Korean fried chicken chain, opened last year.
A second location of Robert Wiedmaier’s Brasserie Beck opens this spring in the Kentlands.
7. Takoma Park
The Black Restaurant Group opened the funky and fun Republic in December.
6. Is Fine Dining Dying?
Chalk it up to the Great Recession. Or simply to people embracing a more casual lifestyle. Or maybe to both. Whatever the reason, high-end area restaurateurs are getting the message: They have to change with the times.
When Newton’s Table first opened in Bethesda in 2011, a number of the entrées cost $30-plus. Now there are more in the mid- to upper-$20 range. Chef-owner Dennis Friedman also added a burger, and opened a fast-casual concept last year called Newton’s Noodles in Washington, D.C.; the Noodles menu is available for lunch at the Bethesda restaurant, as well.
Persimmon owners Damian and Stephanie Salvatore not only renovated their Bethesda restaurant and dropped their prices, but opened the Cheers-like Wild Tomato in Cabin John in 2011.
Francis Namin, co-owner of Bethesda’s Food Wine & Co., Don Pollo and Beer Wine & Co., chose the fast-casual Fish Taco in Cabin John and City Burger in Bethesda as his newest projects. At press time, Bethesda’s Grapeseed was planning to expand its bar area and offer a separate menu with casual appetizers and burgers, as well.
But the former Bezu in Potomac wins the prize for the most dramatic transformation.
“In the early days of Bezu, the economy was booming and people didn’t care about the prices,” owner Eddie Benaim says. By 2013, customers were dining there mostly for special occasions, so Benaim gutted the 7-year-old, upscale restaurant, transforming it into a less fancy space with a new name, varied menu and lower prices.
“As an operator, you have to be open to what the market dictates,” Benaim says. “Life has become so much more informal…and with less expensive choices, people will come in more frequently.”
The numbers seem to bear him out: His Mix Bar and Grille, which opened last fall, does 2½ times the volume and produces about 25 percent more in sales thus far than Bezu, he says.
The Scorecard: Bezu vs. Mix
Dining frequency: Special occasions
Dining time: 2½ hours or more
Average check: (For 2, minus tax and tip) $120-$150
Dining frequency: Some diners come: 1-3 times a week
Dining time: 45 minutes to an hour
Average check: (For 2, minus tax and tip) $45-$55
7. Bold, NEW Burgers
Gone are the days of simply choosing between a hamburger and a cheeseburger and a side of regular fries. Plenty of restaurants are playing around with vegetables and primo proteins—such as fish and fowl—plus first-class trimmings to create bold new burgers.
“We want to offer a variety of options to attract different demographics—specifically women and families—that go beyond beef burgers for guys,” says Nate Ripley, president of operations of BGR: The Burger Joint in Bethesda, which offers four nontraditional patties. “Plus these different choices help a restaurant stand out from all the competition, since there are so many burger options now.”