Mmmmm, Restaurant Week!

Forget your New Year’s resolution to lose weight — the DMV is brimming with restaurant week specials through May. Resolve to not care when you have to start using the last hole on your belt and consider it money and time well-spent.

Restaurant weeks are traditionally held after the holidays because it is a slow time for the industry. Consumers see their bills from Christmas start rolling in, they start their diets again and they just don’t want to go out in the cold. So the restaurant industry lures us out with irresistible specials.

With the government shutdown and so many employees furloughed, more people have time on their hands to go out for dinner and drinks. Unfortunately, they don’t have much money. Fortunately, that’s what restaurant weeks are about — special deals. Eat more, spend less!

We compiled a list for you of restaurant weeks that will keep you ordering off the menu through May 2.

Baltimore Restaurant Week (Jan. 11-20): When it comes to Baltimore versus DC, each city has a long list of merits, and for this reason, it’s absolutely worth it to drive out to Baltimore next week to try out one of their restaurants. Many have $12-20 specials for lunch and $20-$35 specials for dinner, so go with your sister or your buddies or for date night.  

Bethesda Magazine Restaurant Week (Jan. 11-20): Bethesda is all about restaurants, so don’t miss the opportunity to try some special prix fixe menus. Take a picture of your meal, post it on Instagram with #BmagRW in the caption and tag @BethesdaMag to be entered in a contest to win a gift card from one of the participating restaurants.

Metropolitan Washington Restaurant Week (Jan. 14-20): This event includes over 250 of the most sought-out restaurants in the DMV with prix fixe menu items ranging from $22-$35 for lunch or dinner. Some restaurants offer brunch as well. Check out the Diner Rewards Program.

Baltimore County Restaurant Week (Jan. 18-Feb. 2): Baltimore County Restaurant Week is different from Baltimore Restaurant Week, as it is organized by the Baltimore County Office of Tourism and Promotion, which includes the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. It runs a little longer than most restaurant weeks (16 days) and encompasses a larger area.

Alexandria Winter Restaurant Week (Jan. 18-27): Down and around historic Alexandria, you can choose from among 65 restaurants featuring a $35 three-course meal for one OR a dinner for two in Old Town, Del Ray, Carlyle and Eisenhower and the West End. Just over half the participating restaurants will also offer lunch menus at $15 or $22 per person. Brunch will be offered at the same price at 10 restaurants.

Harford County Restaurant Week (Jan. 18-27): Just north of Baltimore County, Visit Harford is promoting a week of delicious dining throughout Harford County, Maryland.

Howard County Restaurant Week (Jan. 21-Feb. 4): Howard County Restaurant Week includes more than 25 restaurants in and around Howard County, Maryland for 15 days in January and February. Text “HOCORW” to 555888 for the chance to win a gift certificate from a participating restaurant.    

National Harbor Restaurant Week (Jan. 26-Feb. 1): Indulge in some of your favorite foods from local eateries, including celebrity-chef owned restaurants. Enjoy other special offers during this event such as 20% off Capital Wheel Tickets when you mention Restaurant Week or free cover at Bobby McKay’s Dueling Piano Bar with same-day receipt from participating restaurant.

Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week (Feb. 8-17): Vegan dishes are becoming more common, but it can be hard for followers of this diet to find delicious 100 percent plant-based dishes. Maryland Vegan Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity for vegans to discover new restaurants that accommodate their preferences.A number of Maryland restaurants will participate in this challenge by offering vegan specials, and you can vote for your favorite one. Check the website for a voting link early next month.

Annapolis Restaurant Week (Feb. 24-March 2): Participating Annapolis restaurants offer a two-course breakfast or lunch or three-course dinner for a special price throughout this event at the end of February. Reservations recommended.

Frederick Restaurant Week (March 4-10): Check out one of the many restaurants in Downtown Frederick and the surrounding area participating in their restaurant week at the beginning of March. Reservations recommended.

Talbot County Restaurant Week (April 7-13): The annual Talbot Restaurant Week, sponsored by the Talbot County Office of Tourism and the Talbot County Tourism Board, is in its 10th year. Participating restaurants will offer prix fixe menus with special dishes and menus.

Salisbury Restaurant Week (April 8-14): Participating restaurants will offer 2-3 course, fixed-priced menus throughout the week, with chefs showcasing their best dishes and testing new recipes.

Ocean City Restaurant Week (April 28-May 11): Participating restaurants will offer fixed-price menu options for $10-$40. Reservations recommended.


Flavor from Down Under

I spent the last few hours of DC Cocktail Week 2018 Sunday evening at one of the few participating Arlington establishments, the authentic Australian-themed Oz Restaurant and Bar in Clarendon. Located on the corner of North Garfield and Clarendon Boulevard, a vibrant shopping and entertainment district popular with millennials, Oz is distinctive for its front window display of adorable koalas climbing Australian white birch trees.

The interior color and décor have an Outback theme, with burnt orange cushions, bamboo chairs and tawny paneling contrasted with a sky-blue ceiling.

Parliament Funkadelic was playing when I took a seat at the bar around suppertime, and I had the place almost to myself. The friendly bar manager, Eva Ramirez, said she was grateful for the lull after “the craziness of brunch.”

The restaurant’s pairing was the Oz toddy with spiced chimichurri shrimp. Ramirez was enthusiastic about Cocktail Week and said she really enjoyed making the toddy, a concoction of house-infused bourbon with maple syrup and tea, served with a rosemary sprig garnish in a rocks glass. The smooth drink has a hearty, rich flavor — perfect for autumn — with a mellowness that balanced the intense heat of the chimichurri shrimp, mouthwatering garlic-sauteed prawns covered in an Argentinian sauce. Ramirez was nice enough to share Chef Brad Feickert’s ingredients: parsley, oil, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes.

The menu features favorites from owner Michael Darby’s native Melbourne, with lots of meat pies, lamb and seafood and flavors that reflect that city’s diversity. I tried the corn appetizer, made with feta, sour cream and pumpkin seed and jalapeno, a generous portion for $7. Hands down, this was the most delicious dish I have had in years. The texture was soft and creamy with a salty smokiness that could only come from bacon — only it’s vegetarian and gluten-free. The zip of the jalapeno lingered but wasn’t overpowering. I cooled my palette with the Sydney, a refreshing blend of chilled vodka, grapefruit juice and basil leaves served in a tall glass.

Oz offers a dinner special of unlimited small plates for $36 and bottomless drinks for an extra $14. Happy hour is 4 to 7pm every day.

Oz Restaurant and Bar, 2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va.; 703.664.0693.




Fig & Olive is a Bit of the Mediterranean Right Here in D.C.

DC Cocktail Week wound up this past Sunday, culminating a week of bargain-basement-priced pairings of cocktails and small bites at more than 65 restaurants througout the DMV.

I stopped in to try the offering at Fig & Olive, an upscale Mediterranean place at the end of Palmer Alley NW, which stretches from 9th to 11th St. NW.

The alley is delightful this time of year, transformed into a shiny corridor of white-lit trees, sheltered from the noise and bustle of D.C. traffic. The pace here slows down with visitors browsing high-end shops and taking selfies under hanging ornaments.

The Fig & Olive was busy Saturday night, the bars and tables full on both spacious floors. Manager Ian Kitzmiller and bartender Yimi Rivera said they have been busier than usual since last weekend, and that typically Fig & Olive has a big afterwork crowd, but lunch is heaviest.

It may be due to the start of the holiday season, or perhaps it’s the success of its Cocktail Week offering: the Fig & Olive Fizz with two rosemary and lavender madeleines for $15.

Rivera expertly mixed the Fig & Olive fizz and set it on the bar for me with two madeleines on a small white plate. The cocktail, a vibrant tangerine color that matches the ceiling over the bar, was topped with a perfect layer of foam. The proportion of sweet to tang is similar to a margarita’s, but warmer, with hints of caramel and fig. The madeleines were lightly browned and sweet, with a lovely soft texture.

When you think of the Fig & Olive, don’t confuse “upscale” with “stuffy”; Kitzmiller and the staff are warm and friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed and casual.

In the intimate bar, lighting is dim but warm, and the absence of background music allows for easy conversation. A plate glass wall gives guests, seated on upholstered chairs around small, low tables, a full view of the Palmer Alley courtyard and walkway, with its sparkling fountain and screen projecting trippy images. The interior is simple and elegant, with a high ceiling and lots of blonde wood and cream stucco.

As expected for a Mediterranean-style eatery, the menu is dominated by creative combinations of herbs and vegetables, cheeses, seafood and lamb, in Italian and French styles. The priciest single-person entrée is the lobster primavera ravioli for $37, but a cash-strapped diner could get a taste of the chef’s style with the marinated olive assortment for $7. Sharing is encouraged: A group of friends can order the plateau de fruits de mer for $49. A Thanksgiving menu is now also available, offering items such as a burrata with squash, lemon chicken or caramelized pumpkin and chestnut risotto for $89.

Take a break this holiday season and stop into the Fig & Olive for friendly service and a creative cocktail.




Lobby Bar, Exactly What You Want

DC Cocktail Week is over, but the fun has not been forgotten.

I headed out to National Harbor over the weekend, where three area restaurants were participating in the event, which pairs a cocktail and a small bite for a special price.

Fish by José Andrés offered their salt air margarita with a shrimp and grapefruit cocktail for $30. Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse offered a pulled pork option with a specialty cocktail for $30.

Since I am allergic to shellfish and I don’t eat pork, I decided to hit the Lobby Bar. Despite the fact that it’s called Lobby Bar, you’ll find it on the upper level above the MGM Casino. The views of the actual lobby below are fabulous, especially with all the lavish Christmas decorations. If you’re not into decorations, you can people-watch — or, watch a football game on one of the bar’s big TVs.

Although Lobby Bar’s Cocktail Week offerings were unorthodox — no food pairing, no single special cocktail, the amazing service made up for it. Yelpers rave about the attentive bartenders here, always willing to spend some time getting your drink exactly the way you want it.

My experience was no different. When I asked about the Cocktail Week special, my bartender Whitley told me she would make a cocktail for me based on my preferences. I told her I was a gin man, and she made me an Aviation, which is funny since I worked with the Federal Aviation Administration for years (and they never served me any cocktails).

She expertly mixed the gin with maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and a splash of lemon juice, poured the cool concoction into a martini glass and garnished it with a cherry.

I could see why they called it the Aviation. A bright purple, the cocktail was the same color as a cloud-striped sunset or the skies after a big storm.

If you’re at National Harbor over the holidays checking out the sights or visiting Gaylord Hotel’s Christmas on the Potomac, stop in to the Lobby Bar at the MGM  where the friendliest bartenders will let your Christmas Cocktail wishes come true!
Lobby Bar, MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, 101 MGM National Ave, Oxon Hill, Maryland; (301) 971-5000

Try Some Asian Fusion at Doi Moi

It’s the end of DC Cocktail Week — your last chance to snap up the incredible pairings at participating restaurants throughout the DMV.

A friend and I tried Doi Moi, a cute little place in Logan Circle specializing in Southeast Asian cuisine. At 9 on a Friday night, it was still crowded, but we were able to get counter seats, which was fun because we could watch the food being prepared.

Doi Moi’s Cocktail Week pairing featured the Five O’Clock Somewhere, made with Spring 44 vodka, Thai tea, lemongrass ginger beer, lemon and Angostura bitters. Our server told us they were out of this cocktail that night and offered a similar substitute in its place. Served in a tall glass and garnished with a lemon wedge, the drink looked festive adorned with a green-and-white striped paper straw. It was refreshing and fizzy, with ginger and lemon combining to give it an Asian flavor.

The special pairing came with Doi Moi’s Laotian stuffed lemongrass served with a smoky Thai jaew dipping sauce. In this offering, a tasty morsel of marinated pork is secreted away inside a lemongrass cage and lightly fried.

Next, we tried out a couple of other cocktails recommended by our waiter — a Lion’s Tail and a Buton Tonic. The first, a deep orange drink made of bourbon and infused with allspice, was perfect for a chilly fall evening. The second, made with Spring 44 gin, house cassia tonic and lime juice, was straightforward and satisfying.

Doi Moi, in its fifth year, keeps attracting crowds with its dynamic Asian fusion menu. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema called it “authentic” and “vivid” in his review when it opened in 2013. Yelpers rave about it, calling the food “fantastic” and the waitstaff “impeccable.”

Doi Moi also serves breakfast and lunch in their Bird’s Eye Coffee Bar & Eatery, featuring Vietnamese coffee and tea (hot or cold) and tasty selections such as chia seed pudding and banana blossom salad.

When you’re in the neighborhood and in the mood for some inventive, tasty Asian food and a fabulous cocktail, give Doi Moi a try!

Doi Moi, 1800 14th St NW, (202) 733-5131.


Colada Shop Cocktails Magnífico

Tomorrow is the last day of DC Cocktail Week, and if you’re out clubbing around U Street, make sure to hit Colada Shop first for an amazing cocktail.

This Cuban-inspired gem is literally a bright spot on T Street Northwest, its turquoise and red façade standing out among all the browns and grays surrounding it. It looks like someone plucked this building out of the tropics and plopped it in the middle of buttoned-down Washington, D.C.

I hesitated when I saw the waitresses in aprons behind the counter and the menu affixed to the wall behind them. Wait, this is a bar? Yes. And a coffee shop. And a lunch spot. And a great place to get dessert. Or a smoothie. There’s really no reason to ever leave, except they eventually close at night.

My friend was late in joining me for their Cocktail Week special, so I asked the bartender to recommend a different cocktail to try while I waited. She made me a Hemingway daiquiri, mixing the ingredients to achieve the perfect combination of sweet and sour. Colada Shop’s version, made with grapefruit juice, rum and maraschino liqueur, is pretty and pink. It’s so refreshing I can imagine accidentally drinking a half-dozen out on the patio on a warm day.

But it isn’t warm in D.C. right now, so it’s great that they offer their Cocktail Week special — a carajillo — hot or cold. This traditional Spanish drink combines coffee with rum, a grownup version of an Irish Trash Can.

While this cocktail is sometimes made with brandy or whiskey, Colada’s carajillo is made with dark rum. The rum, Licor 43 and syrup combine to produce a sweetness that’s nicely tempered by Havana blend espresso. The result — heavy, dark and frothy — is excellent, hot or cold.

For Cocktail Week, the Colada Shop pairs this beverage with a sweet potato and queso fresco croqueta. Hot, sweet and cheesy, the croqueta is a superb accompaniment. At $8, the carajillo and croqueta is one of the least expensive of all the Cocktail Week pairings.

Our server, Brittany Lofton, assistant general manager at Colada Shop, told me their most popular drinks are the piña colada and babalu. She made our piña colada — sweet, icy and fruity — with shredded coconut on top. The babalu, made with rum, passion fruit, palo santo syrup and lime, wasn’t just delicious — it was beautiful too. It almost made us want to Move to Miami.

The sudden winter cold that has set in here in D.C. didn’t stop patrons from heading to the rooftop bar, which the shop kept snug with patio heaters. Other customers were happy downstairs at little tables, stools at the counter and even a small couch.

If you miss Colada Shop’s Cocktail Week pairing, don’t despair. All their cocktails are reasonably priced at $8 every day, $6 at happy hour, 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can get a half-dozen croquetas for $8.50, and empanadas are $2 at happy hour.

Stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, for a quick snack or a leisurely drink. Colada Shop has it all.

Colada Shop,  1405 T St NW; (202) 332-8800.