Toughest Tables in Town
Dining out in Washington can be thrilling – if you can get a reservation, that is
B Y A N N M A H
With a proliferation of hot, new tables, Washington’s restaurant scene is suddenly buzz-worthy. But along with great food comes long waits – sometimes it takes weeks, or even months, to get a table. Recently, I tried to reserve at some of the city’s most popular restaurants, discovering policies that ranged from difficult to daunting. My request was simple: A table for two, on a Friday or Saturday evening at around 8 p.m. The shortest wait was at The Source (575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW), which offered an easy, efficient reservation policy as well as a wait of only one week. If only all my experiences were so easy.CityZen (1330 Maryland Ave. SW), took five weeks; Komi (1509 17th St. NW) took three; and Restaurant Eve’s Tasting Room(110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria, Va.) took five weeks to get a table. All asked me for a credit card number to secure my reservation. If I was unable to come, and neglected to cancel at least 24-48 hours before, they would charge me from $50 to $100. “It holds people accountable,” says Mark Politzer, general manager of CityZen. “There’s a high demand, particularly on the weekend and we want to accommodate as many people as we can.” At Komi, reservations are only taken one month in advance, or exactly four weeks before the day you wish to dine there, a policy that seems rather inconvenient for the forgetful – or those who don’t have a lot of time to make phone calls. But perhaps the city’s most extreme reservation policy is at Minibar (405 8th St. NW).
The longest wait was at Citronelle (3000 M St. NW) – eleven weeks, or almost three months! Reserving was easy, however, with the hostess thoughtfully making a note of my email address.
She sent me an e-mail “reservation reminder” within a half-an-hour of my phone call. Their sister restaurant, Central Michel Richard (1001 Pennsylvania Ave., NW), could seat us in only two weeks, but did not offer an e-confirmation.
With only six seats, the tiny restaurant within Café Atlantico only accepts reservations exactly one month in advance. The phone lines open at 10 a.m. (they recently pushed the time forward by one hour, due to customer requests) and the seats usually fill within five minutes. “It’s like trying to get through to Ticketmaster for a Bruce Springsteen concert,” Brian Zaslavsky, general manager of Café Atlantico and Minibar, says of the ringing phone lines. Lucky enough to snag a spot? If you must cancel, make sure to do it at least one week in advance, or risk getting charged $60 per person.
Those who forget to cancel and simply don’t show up get charged the full price of a meal: 120 clams – and that is anything but “mini.”
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MINIBAR:“It never hurts to call
within the month,” says general
manager Brian Zaslavsky, “we fill a lot
of seats from the cancellation list.”
THE SOURCE: “We serve the dining
room menu in the downstairs bar, where
we don’t take reservations,” says executive
chef Scott Drewno. Alternatively, visit the
restaurant during its new lunch hours.
CITYZEN:Perch at the bar, where
a reduced menu of three courses is
offered for $50. “If we have any lastminute
cancellations, we’ll seat you,”
says general manager Mark Politzer.
KOMI:“Be flexible with the hours
you want to come in,” says Derek M.
Brown, general manager and sommelier
at Komi. He recommends the shoulder
hours of 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. or 9 p.m.
to 9:30. p.m. “It’s outside of the bustle,
I think it’s almost more enjoyable.”
CITRONELLE:“Always try a walkin,”
says Mel Davis, public relations
coordinator, and former maitre d’hotel
at the restaurant. There’s also an upstairs
lounge, which serves an abbreviated
menu – and there’s no dress code!
RESTAURANT EVE:“Mondays are
great days; it’s quiet and good for a
romantic dinner. The staff can really
pay close attention to you,” says
Evan Zimmerman, sommelier. A “no
reservation policy” at the bar means
walk-ins can enjoy the full bistro menu.