I did some interesting eating while I was in Washington, D.C., a couple of weeks ago.
The first night I hit one of D.C.'s best, Palena from Frank Ruta, who cooked at the White House for 11 years for the Carter and Reagan families. Palena actually encompasses a market, casual cafe and high-end dining room all under one name. We ate in the more expensive dining room.
I can't remember the last time I saw consommé on a menu, but it was here, a rich golden broth bobbing with tiny agnolotti, coin-sized slices of foie gras (tasting even better now that it's forbidden in California) and swatches of greens. I was also introduced to shoat that night, a pig just slightly older than suckling evidently -- lovely morsels, tender and subtly porky. Ruta’s skillful, inventive cooking is slightly undermined, though, by a dated dining room and service that felt like nobody was home.
Lunch at C.F. Folks in Dupont Circle was something different, too -- a lunch counter with a skilled chef turning out the usual sandwiches, but also a long list of old-school daily specials such as bratwurst with Swiss sauerkraut, a silky veal stew with mushrooms and crème fraîche served on rösti potatoes and a perfect steak frites (flat iron steak with Bordelaise sauce and terrific house-cut fries), all from a miniscule kitchen. Most dishes run $13 to $15. To find this level of cooking at a simple lunch counter was a wonderful surprise.