Once notable for its lack of good restaurants, Washington, D.C., is now worth visiting for its food alone. Here are my recent favorites.
EQUINOX — Just south of Farragut Square, Equinox is sophisticated but understated, with a plush inner dining room and a conservatory out front. Chef Todd Gray’s menu features ingredients from the Mid-Atlantic region. To start, we tried the warm gougères, puffy little balloons flavored with Gruyère and rosemary. Then I succumbed to my love of sardines and ordered the delicious “salad” made up of crisp little fish with flavorful greens. Best of all was the herb-crusted rack of lamb with a risotto-like tomato farro, pine nut-sherry jus and Parmesan. The wine list was well-assembled and the service engaging and friendly throughout. 818 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. Tel. (202) 331-8118.
FARMERS FISHERS BAKERS — Part of the elegant Washington Harbour complex on the Georgetown waterfront, this restaurant displays a dedication to local products. Its interior reflects an artisanal aesthetic: The chairs are handmade, and the impressive wood ceiling was installed by craftsmen from Canada. We found it a delightful place for lunch. I tried the rich butternut squash soup and continued with the chicken salad club. I look forward to returning for the steak frites with farmer’s whiskey sauce, which I am assured is excellent. 3000 K Street, N.W. Tel. (202) 298-8783.
FIOLA — A D.C. lawyer friend told us to expect sightings of that exotic Washington fauna, the lobbyist, and, sure enough, as we arrived for dinner, a stretch limo duly pulled up, out of which poured K Street’s finest and their clients. They had come for the outstanding Italian food of chef Fabio Trabocchi. We began with the superb ahi tuna carpaccio with smoked caviar, roasted San Marzano tomatoes, olives dressed with yuzu and lemon, and fresh sorrel. We followed with two pastas: a pappardelle with a ragu of wild boar; and a dish of Maine lobster ravioli with ginger and chives. From the extensive wine list, we chose a 2011 Argiolas Vermentino Sardinian white that went well with both the tuna and the lobster ravioli, and a 2010 Castello di Neive Barbera d’Alba, a fine match for the pappardelle. 601 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Tel. (202) 628-2888.
NORA — Restaurants tend to be short-lived, but this bright exception has been humming along since 1979 under the direction of Nora Pouillon, an early proponent of local sourcing. The highlights from our long and enjoyable dinner were a delicious tart filled with balsamic figs, caramelized shallots, Grayson cheese and leeks; and a refined sake-glazed Alaska sablefish with shiitake mushrooms, scallions and baby bok choy in a ginger-miso emulsion. We ended with a flawless blueberry-peach pie. 2132 Florida Avenue, N.W. Tel. (202) 462-5143.
THE SOURCE — This new restaurant, part of the Newseum complex, relies on creative East-West combinations reminiscent of an old favorite of mine: Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main in Santa Monica. The downstairs bar and lounge suffers from that scourge of modern dining: excessive noise. Fortunately, the main restaurant upstairs is more subdued. The Asian fusion food is delicious, and we lingered over the menu trying to narrow down our selections. The star appetizer was “tiny dumplings” packed with pork belly, black vinegar, chili oil, ginger and cilantro. Lacquered Chinese duck with glazed Mission figs in a star anise-plum wine reduction proved an exceptional entrée. 575 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Tel. (202) 637-6100.