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Meetings East, August 2008

August 9, 2008

by Ruth A. Hill
Meetings East, August 2008

Metro Washington, D.C.
Culinary Capital

It used to be a meat and potatoes town where politicos with little taste for sophisticated fare and variation chewed on the nation’s problems. But the dining and club scene in and around the nation’s capital make no apologies to anyone these days.

Internationally renowned celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck and talented homegrown contributors are serving creative cuisine infused with local ingredients and plenty of elan. Election year is adding some fun dimensions as well, like politically themed campaign cocktails at several of the city’s restaurants and bars.

Washington, D.C.

The capital is a hot food town, and a visitor often has only to look as far as their hotel dining table to find the latest and greatest cuisine.

Ed Rudzinski, general manager of the newly refurbished Marriott Wardman Park—the city’s largest convention hotel—is one among D.C.-area hospitality denizens who’ve watched the region ramp up its dining lineup. Stone’s Throw, the hotel’s signature steakhouse restaurant, is one of the city’s new upscale hotel tables.

“D.C. is really getting to be known for its restaurant and bar scene,” he says. “Georgetown has always been hot, but now you have neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and the U Street corridor in the spotlight. The meeting attendee has always had our free museums and local heritage to enjoy. But there’s so much new in the way of entertainment, clubs and dining options adding to all that these days. Our association clients tell us now they are seeing record attendance when they meet here. We’re also seeing a lot of new interest from international tour operators because D.C. seems to be the place to be.” 

Lynne Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), says international influences are part of the capital region’s dining scene as never before.

“The Washington metro area is now a magnet for many of the most exciting restaurant concepts to open in the nation,” Breaux says. “So much so that our judges panel for the annual RAMMY awards could not select only five finalists for ‘New Restaurant of the Year.’ They expanded the category to include six finalists for 2008.”

The Source by Wolfgang Puck was among those winners. It shares a roof with the exciting new Newseum near the capitol building, and it is the in-house caterer for Newseum’s multiple event spaces. Known for its American cuisine with Asian influences, The Source features items like lobster spring rolls, American Kobe beef and Puck’s signature pizzas. Multiple private dining and reception options for up to 300 guests are available on the restaurant’s three levels.

One of the newest concepts on the D.C. restaurant scene is CommonWealth, a British-inspired “gastropub” that offers British “modern classics” lightened up by a focus on fresh local ingredients. It’s another venture for executive chef and owner Jamie Leeds and operating partner Sandy Lewis, who also have two popular Hank’s Oyster Bars. Brit bands play on the sound system, British football airs when available, and backgammon and chess are set up in the pub area. There are the expected menu choices, like fish and chips, Cornish game hen and a selection of pots and pies. CommonWealth’s Sunday Roast is an afternoon supper featuring a selection of roasted meats like lamb and rabbit, accompanied by sides served family style. The extensive beer list features American microbrews and top labels from the U.K.

Election year has several restaurants and bars in the capital playing with the lighter side of politics by offering creatively themed cocktails.

At JW Marriott’s 1331 Lounge, guests may consume Left Wings flavored with spicy Asian sauce or Right Wings flavored with honey barbeque sauce on Bipartisan Tuesdays through Election Day.

Sam and Harry’s and The Caucus Room are serving up politically themed libations, or Poli-tinis, and conducting mock elections. Guests may support their party and cast their vote by ordering either the red GOP Cosmo or the blue Dem Margarita-tini. Each cocktail comes with a collectible martini glass featuring party animals on each side.

Campaign cocktails are also on the ballot at Topaz Bar. Republican customers may order All-In Elephant, a mix of Malibu Rum, Bacardi Orange, amaretto, and fruit juices. Democrats can sip a Double-Down Donkey, a concoction of citrus vodka, Blue Curacao and champagne. Independents and undecideds can join the fun, too, with The Independent Player, a blend of Stoli and aloe vera juice, or The Undecided, a mix of all three campaign cocktails.

Suburban Maryland

Life enters another zone at Pose Ultra Lounge in the new 2,000-room Gaylord National Resort Hotel and Convention Center at National Harbor, a 300-acre waterfront destination downriver from D.C. in Prince George’s County, Md. Pose features contemporary Vegas-style drama inside its mood-changing, high-tech environment. A $250,000 circular steel and glass Infusion Bar is the centerpiece. Its illuminated bar top and a ring of lighted flavor disks identify spigots of chilled spirits that lure sleek-looking hipsters to Pose’s most scenic corner. Shot choices like Bloody Smokin’ Hot, Dreamsicle and The Spicy Redhead elevate the killer floor-to-ceiling views of national monument icons even more.

The Gaylord’s Old Hickory Steakhouse is getting raves for its global wine collection and unique artisanal cheese cave, supervised by a professional maitre d’fromage, who purchases and ages cheeses from around the world. Cheeses may be presented tableside as a beginning course or the grand finale.

Montgomery County has become increasingly popular with groups that seek a suburban setting with easy access to D.C. The county has 50 hotels and conference facilities, and it’s home to hundreds of restaurants with global ethnic profiles in communities such as Bethesda, Silver Spring, Rockville, and Gaithersburg.

Annapolis boasts three centuries of history, and groups can get inside the heritage as they tour historic sites and dine at taverns serving 21st century creations the Colonial fathers wish they could have eaten. Some favored stops are Middleton Tavern, Aroma d’Italia, Big Cheese, Inn at 30 Maryland, Hammond-Harwood House, and the Maryland Inn.

With Chesapeake Bay seafood still the most popular staple around Annapolis, visitors enjoy water tours available through Watermark and Annapolis Maritime Museum that focus on the role of wetlands, the natural history of oysters and the cultural history of people who have harvested and processed them.

Suburban Virginia

At its historic Potomac River waterfront location, Alexandria is rising as a chef-friendly town. Publications such as The New York Times have noticed the trend, publishing the article A Town Takes Its Place at the Culinary Table, which spotlights award-winning chefs like Cathal Armstrong (Restaurant Eve, The Majestic, Eamonn’s) Morou Ouattara (Restaurant Farrah Oliva), Frank Morales (Rustico), and Anthony Chittum (Vermilion).

Alexandria’s newest hotels have chef-driven restaurants on-site. Westin Alexandria, with executive chef Nadine Thomas, offers Jamieson Grille and Trademark Bar. Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group serves up Jackson 20 at Hotel Monaco Alexandria under the direction of executive chef Jeff Armstrong, while executive chef Dennis Marron oversees The Grille at Kimpton’s Morrison House.

Meanwhile, the Carlyle Club is a new Carlyle district dining experience that offers upscale dining and big band entertainment in a 1930s-era setting.

“Meeting attendees rate food as one of the most memorable aspects of their meeting experience in Alexandria,” says Lorraine Lloyd, vice president of sales for the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association. “Our sales staff works creatively with Alexandria’s celebrity chefs to design award-winning culinary events to complement the most discriminating corporate meetings.”

Arlington’s neighborhoods of Rosslyn, Crystal City, Ballston, and Clarendon are laden with ethnic dining choices, and the city has installed an ambassador program to help visitors find their way to the tables and other attractions. Touch-screen information kiosks in Rosslyn guide visitors, and “rolling concierges” (ambassadors in red shirts) ride Segways and use “onboard” tablet computers and wireless phones to assist visitors with restaurant recommendations and reservations, as well as hotel, entertainment and attraction information.

Fairfax County is another dining hot spot, home to thousands of restaurants with a rich array of global cuisines—from Mexican and Moroccan to Indian and Italian. It’s also the location of a locals’ favorite dining choice: the family-run Alsatian-style L’Auberge Chez Francois in leafy and quiet Great Falls, which continues—as it has for 22 years—to capture Washingtonian readers’ choice as the best restaurant in the D.C. area.

For More Info

Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association    703.838.4200

Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau    410.280.0445

Arlington Convention and Visitors Services    703.228.0808

Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County, MD    240.777.2060

Destination DC    202.789.7000

Fairfax County Convention & Visitors Corporation    703.790.0643

Prince George’s County Conference and Visitors Bureau    301.925.8300