City Paper is not for tourists
Restaurant Week always sounds like a magical opportunity. Twice a year, many of the city’s best restaurants open their doors to the plebeians who can’t normally afford their financially destabilizing fare. For $20, you get a three-course lunch. For $30, you get a three-course dinner. That’s three to four star dining on a half-star budget. Unfortunately, the experience doesn’t always live up to the hype. Servers and hostesses can be downright disrespectful to the invading middle-class masses. Some eateries only offer a few entree choices on their “special” menus and keep their best dishes at full price. You don’t need to be a professional eater to know that you’ve been gypped. This week, we’re breaking down our RW experiences for you.
The restaurant: The Caucus Room, 401 9th St. NW, (202) 393-1300.
The usual menu: Framed American flags, hulking leather easy chairs, and wall-to-wall mahogany? You’ve arrived in “Washington, D.C.”! As far as edibles are concerned, that high-rollin’, deal-makin’, elbow-rubbin’ sensibility translates to a menu heavy on the steak and seafood. Entrees will set you back more than a pittance: $20 to $40 on average.
The RW menu: Even during restaurant week, the Caucus Room knows how to separate the proles from the bourgeoisie: They offer three different price-fixed dinners, at $30.08, $45.08, and $65.08. My group opted for the “cheap” one. The first course offered the choice of split yellow pea soup with bacon, or a “hearty” green salad. The second course featured either beef tenderloin medallions, chicken breast with wild forest mushrooms, or the vague “Jet fresh seafood: Selections flown in daily.” A sweet third course–fresh fruit shortcake or chocolate-crusted mango sorbet–rounded out the menu.
The sneaky little surcharges: On the $30.08 menu, substituting your entrée with filet mignon will set you back another $15; the ribeye will cost you $18. On the $45.08 menu, fork down another $20 for KC Strip. And on the $65.08 menu, pony up another Hamilton to dump some jumbo lump crab, au poivre, or bleu cheese atop your entrée.
The total cost of my meal: Fifty bucks even–including tip, a side of mashed potatoes shared between five, and the cheapest bottle of Shiraz for the table. More than I’ll spend on food for the next week.
The condescension factor: The various hosts, servers, bussers, and bartenders who tended to us seemed a shade cavalier, but then again, I’m not used to a restaurant with such “discerning service.” My party of 20-somethings was seated in a back party room clearly sectioned off for Restaurant Week patrons, and we had to ask our waiter for the wine list. To be fair, we ended up speculating at length on what make and model of jets were en route with our mystery seafood, so I can’t really blame the staff for dropping us off at the kiddy table.
Would you go back? Sure, next time I’m looking to finesse senators on my ag. bill or need a place to show off my hired escort: Never. The food was good all-around: My jet fresh seafood (lobster from an unknown aircraft) was delightful, the greens were fresh and “hearty” enough, and the Shiraz, for what it’s worth, got me pleasantly tipsy. Still, the place made me feel a little bit, well, poor. The Restaurant Week check was a bit of a doozy; I don’t want to know what a dollop of jumbo lump crab will set you back on a regular night.