Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Tim Carman at Young & Hungry sums up my feelings on dining out on V-Day pretty well. Basically it’s amateur night and what is meant to be a romantic evening often becomes a rushed, tense affair with a disappointing pre-fixe menu and a staff trying to get you out the door. We really prefer to spend the evening in, cooking a nice meal and enjoying each other’s company. But you can still keep the spirit of the holiday alive all year with some relaxed, low-key dates. Here are three no-fail places with a permanent slot on our favorites list:
Busboys and Poets
Owner Anas “Andy” Shallal created Busboys and Poets with a grander intention than filling bellies. He has created a progressive, mixed-use space that combines a fully loaded restaurant and bar, coffeeshop, book store and performance space. Named for poet Langston Hughes, Busboys and Poets is unpretentious and relaxed (although it can get a little loud). Busboys & Poets has expanded from its original U St location to also include footprints in Shirlington, VA and 5th and K NW. You can have about 7 completely different dates here if you take advantage of everything the restaurant has to offer. You and your date can wander the shelves of the bookstore, which specializes in local authors and subjects, grab a latte and settle into one of their many couches for an evening of conversation. Or grab a beer in the bar and head into the open mic performance to hear some local poets. The line-up in the coming weeks is interesting, including Pulitzer-prize winner author and journalist Anthony Shadid and a filming of the Oscar winning documentary Born Into Brothels (which I highly recommend). The food in the restaurant is even ideal for dates – plenty of options for both vegetarians and the unadventurous. While I will admit the menu is sometimes a little less than inspiring, I’ve always enjoyed the food I ordered and the service is friendly and accomodating and the atmosphere is a unique experience in DC.
Two more great spots for a low key date after the jump.
Just down the street from Busboys and Poets is HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues. Don’t let the museum-like name dissuade you. HR-57 is a stripped down jazz joint that is packed every weekend night within an hour of opening. Those who plan ahead and arrive early will have their choice of second-hand couches, cozy tables in dark corners or seats front and center with the band. The also-ran seats can include metal folding chairs (the kind you expect to find in a church basement) but it doesn’t matter – there isn’t a spot in the building where you can’t hear the music. One of my favorite elemens of HR-57 is the BYOB policy – a rarity in this area. For a moderate corkage fee ($10 for a bottle of wine on our last visit), you can bring your own poison to enjoy with the music. Glasses are provided. Don’t care to bring something from the wine cabinet? No problem, HR-57 serves beer and wine along with an abbreviated menu focused on southern soul food. The service is as equally bare bones as the venue: that order of collared greens and friend chicken will arrive on a paper plate.
Eatbar, the gastropub sibling of Tallula, is an unassuming neighborhood watering hole for Arlington. Located near Ballston but just off the beaten path, Eatbar is a cozy gathering space with 70 wine-by-the glass options, seasonal cocktails and an impressive menu of small plates ranging from steak tartare to mini corn dogs. On a recent visit my entire party fell in love with the Hollywood cocktail – a champagne cocktail with a wintery kick from aromatic herbs. The atmosphere is congenial, casual, and often high energy when the after-work crowd pours in. Those looking to add an entertainment facotr to their dates should stop by on a Sunday evenings for cinema night (this Sunday is Casablanca) or Wii bowling on Mondays.