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DC’s Hidden Dining Scene

by Rebecca Cooper

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The secret key that opens Mari Vanna on Mondays.

Note: This will be Rebecca Cooper’s final article for UrbanTurf. Our wonderful food writer has accepted a position with the Washington Business Journal as their restaurant/tourism reporter. We wish her the best of luck!

Sometimes, you want to go where nobody knows your name. Or the bar’s name. Luckily, when it comes to eating (or imbibing) under wraps, DC’s got you covered.

In addition to secret menus at some area Chinese restaurants, and a secret key system for VIPS to get into Russian restaurant and lounge Mari Vanna on its dark night, the region has an ever-growing list of supper clubs, speakeasies, and pop-up dinner tables. Here are details on some of them.

Supper Clubs: Seasonal Pantry Supper Club hosts a multi-course meal served in the back of the gourmet grocer at 1314 9th Street NW in Shaw four nights a week. The set menu changes frequently and can include items that run the gamut from foie gras to parsnip velouté to guinea fowl manicotti. (Chef Dan O’Brien got a boost early on from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema, who gave the restaurant 2.5 stars.) Reservations are accepted for tables of up to six, and the price ranges from $90 to $130 per person. Be sure to check two weeks in advance for reservations; they fill up quickly.

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A table for 12 at Seasonal Pantry. Courtesy of Seasonal Pantry.

Around the corner, Blagden Alley Social Club has been gaining some attention from local food lovers. It’s a supper club for up to 14 people hosted by GoodWood owners Dan and Anna Kehoe, Washingtonian reports. The club operates out of the Kehoe’s stunning Blagden Alley home, and includes a multi-course meal cooked by Chef Jeffrey Jew (he of recent Top Chef fame). Sample dishes that have been served include shrimp and grits, caviar and lobster canapes, chocolate peanut butter pot de creme and root beer cake. The meal costs $150 per person and reservations can be made by emailing anna@goodwooddc.com.

Tom Madrecki is hosting a much cheaper — but no less ambitious — supper club in his one-bedroom apartment in Clarendon. Chez le Commis offers a six-course meal for diners at $50 per person, including wine. Madrecki is a publicist who spent time working for free in some of the world’s most notable kitchens: Noma in Copenhagen, Le Chateaubriand in Paris and DC’s own Zaytinya. (Washingtonian critic Todd Kliman listed the Chez as one of his best meals in 2012, even if it was a bit uneven.) Reservations are available by emailing chez.le.commis@gmail.com, but it is not taking reservations for the rest of February due to an emergency.

The supper club scene is nothing new for Hush Supper Club, the vegetarian Indian supper club operating in the U Street neighborhood since 2009. Hush chef Geeta cooks vegetarian dishes originating mostly from the northwestern Indian region of Gujarat, explaining the spices and cooking methods for each one. She can seat 12 diners at each meal, and the cost is $85 per person — which is billed as a “donation.” It includes a cocktail, but the meal is otherwise BYOB — or in the case of brunch, BYOC (champagne). Reservations can be made here.

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Harold Black’s rules. Courtesy of Eat More, Drink More.

Deceptive Holes in the Wall: Another category within DC’s hidden restaurant scene are the sleeper cells; spots with delicious food that you would completely miss if you didn’t know they were there. Thai X-ing is one of them, although its prominence has grown in recent years as it has been named the city’s favorite Thai restaurant by Washington City Paper. The cost is $30 a person on weeknights and $40 a person on weekends for a set menu of Thai dishes prepared by chef Taw Vigsittaboot in a row house tucked away at 515 Florida Avenue NW. A sign partially obscured by vines and other garden growth advertises the name of the restaurant, but that’s pretty much the extent of advertising Thai X-ing does. Reservations are available through the restaurant’s website.

Two years ago, The Washington Post let DC know about the wonders of the downstairs dining room at China Boy in Chinatown, but the noodle factory with lunch service has since closed up the dining room area. They’re still churning out massive quantities of noodles to sell to restaurants, however, and patrons can still stop in to try them at one of two tables in front of the counter — or take out, although that might make your noodles mushy, notes one Yelper. The menu is all in Chinese, but ask the woman behind the counter for recommendations: they have fresh rice noodle dishes, including chow fun, beef crepe, and tripe or pork noodle soups.

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The menu behind the tiny counter at China Boy in Chinatown.

Speakeasies: Is a speakeasy still a speakeasy if everyone knows about it? Good question. The number of these types of bars in DC has risen in recent years, although most of them are so well known (see The Gibson, PX) it’s hard to categorize them as such.

Harold Black, a small bar on Capitol Hill from the owners of Acqua al 2 and Suna, is the city’s most recent addition that seems to be living up to its covert label. The bar, which is named for owner Ari Gejdensen’s father, was going for a true speakeasy, i.e. word-of-mouth, business, and thus doesn’t have a website or a Twitter handle, but their phone number is available through a quick Google search. They’ve recently decided to pair up with City Eats to take reservations electronically, but for now, the most efficient mode of making a reservation is via text. When you get there, check in with someone at the front of Suna. The spot at 212 7th Street SE has a menu of nine elixirs (inventive cocktails), as well as a range of beer, wine, liquors and bar snacks. Also, be sure to abide by the bar’s rules.

Did we miss any hidden gems in your neck of the woods? Let us know in the comments section.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/d.c.s_hidden_dining_and_drinking_scene/6660

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