Restaurants in 2009 – The Good (Part 1 of 3)

I eat out a good amount.  Some weeks, more than I should.  I do get a little upset when I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a good value for my money and with so many great restaurants in the DC area, why should I be okay with eating a bad meal?  This past year I have been mentally compiling notes on restaurants that I frequent; which ones are improving, which ones are on the decline, which ones are new that I’m excited about and which have become staples in my dining life.  I have boiled it down to a short list…so read on!

On the way up:

Restaurant 3: I admit I had written off this place earlier this year.  The first time, all the food was smokey tasting, the second time, the food was just not good.  What has changed?  Since January, they have changed and expanded their menu to include a lot less expensive items on the menu.  The fried green tomatoes, scallops and grits, and burger were all hits with me.  I’m glad that they seemed to address the issues with the menu.  Combine that with a decent happy hour (goes til 8pm!) I’ll be going more often.

Spider Kelly’s – I have only gotten drinks here previously, but tonight I tried their Spider Kelly’s burger (with pork fat!), black bean burger, wings and ‘cardiac’ macaroni and cheese.  Not bad!  I agree with Tom Seitsema about the Spider Kelly’s burger having a funny taste to it, but overall I’ve heard decent things about their food, and I’m happy to say that I think it makes it into my rotation.  With the decline of Liberty Tavern (more on that in a later post) – Spider Kelly’s sneaks back onto my radar.

What do you think?  Have you found a restaurant that has made a rebound this year?  Let me know in the comments.

Next up – restaurants that are on the decline…

Review: Restaurant 3

The growth of new restaurants in the N. Arlington area has somewhat slowed down as builders continue to put up new condos and apartments. Welcome Restaurant 3 to the Clarendon night scene. Restaurant 3 is the latest creation of involving the owner of one of my favorite burger and beer spots – Whitlow’s. It occupies the lot that, thankfully now defunct neon-green eyesore Mama Quan’s used to claim. The old building was knocked down, and a new, very nice looking structure was put in its place about a month and a half ago.

I finally got around to meeting with some friends for dinner there, and so far it got off on the wrong foot…At first sight, the place looks very nice, the menu a little sparse, but all the essentials were represented (beef, chicken, vegetarian, duck, etc.). We sat in the bar dining area, which turned out to be very loud, but bearable. Average entree price ranged from $14-$28, pretty standard. I started with the grilled Brie platter for the table, and noticed a very strong charcoal taste. It wasn’t bad, but turned out to be a theme with everyone’s dinner later…

It turns out that I’ve become a huge fan of pork chops. It’s such a simple thing to order at restaurants, but when you get a pork chop done right, it’s amazing. (yeah, I said it – amazing.) I ordered it medium as usual, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, and diced apples. Here starts the bad news, the chops were dry. Nowhere near medium, and also had the strong charcoal taste. Two strikes. It wasn’t just me, the fillet mignon that was ordered was cooked correctly, but had the same overpowering smoky taste. Not good.

I’ll have to give it a “just ok” and temporarily withhold judgment as it’s less than two months old and they still have some kinks to work out, but in the highly competitive N. Arlington restaurant business, you don’t have that long to get things working right. Some suggestions: clean the excess residue off your grill, check the temperature of your meat before you serve it, and put in some noise muffling in the bar area somehow and you’ll be ahead of the game. Until then, for those in the Arlington area, I’d recommend another favorite of mine, Tallula. It has similar prices, superior pork chops and better ambiance. If you’ve been to Restaurant 3 and disagree, let me know what you thought!

Website: Restaurant Three

Update 01.05.09: I’ve been here 2-3 times now, and still haven’t been impressed.  I plan on only going here for drinks and not much else.  For another excellent restaurant in the same family as Tallula, check out Evening Star Cafe in Del Ray/Alexandria – haven’t had a bad dish there yet.