I really like Restaurant Week in theory: top restaurants offer discounted prix fixe menus for lunch and/or dinner, giving people on limited budgets the opportunity to try places with expensive reputations. I enjoy the Restaurant Week buzz—browsing menus, organizing big group dinners with friends, reading recommendations—because it is fun and social. However, I find myself consistently disappointed with the whole experience, both in New York and DC, and this year was no exception.
I am not the first person to feel this way about the Restaurant Week tradition. It seems as though everyone remotely interested in the DC food scene has an opinion about Restaurant Week. Other nay-sayers agree that the menus are often dumbed down and that the $35 dinner price tag is frequently not that much of a bargain. I would think that restaurants would want to put their best foot forward to impress the restaurant week patron so that he or she would want to come back for a full-priced meal. It is unfortunate that so many restaurants fail to do this, leaving some restaurant week-goers feeling like they were tricked into buying a mediocre meal.
Because of my overall negative feelings toward the institution of Restaurant Week, I was hesitant to write this post about my Restaurant Week visit to one of my favorite restaurants in DC, Neyla. I recommended Neyla to a group of friends who wanted to try somewhere new in the spirit of Restaurant Week because I had been to Neyla many times before and was always very happy with my experience. While the regular a la carte menu at Neyla is not outrageously expensive, I still thought it would be a good choice considering its consistency in the past and the Restaurant Week menu offerings (main course options included two of my favorite dishes to order out, short rib and sea bass). Neyla is also a great place to go with a big group; they have big round tables (much better for conversation than rectangle ones) both out on the pleasant outdoor patio and in the funkier main dining room inside.
I’m puzzled as to why Nelya hasn’t gotten more recognition in DC. It has really good Lebanese food in the heart of Georgetown at the intersection of N and Wisconsin. I barely ever read about it, especially compared to the oft-buzzed about Zaytinya. Their beet salad (although I think they might have changed it) was at one point a beautiful mound of red and golden beats tossed with creamy goat cheese. It was perhaps the best I’ve ever had. My sister, who is also a big lamb fan, once shared the most extraordinarily tender leg of lamb with me off of the list of specials there. Neyla also has a very extensive and delicious tasting list of classics including hommus, tabouleh, baba ghannoug, and grape leaves. Their complementary lebneh, which they serve with zatar spiced pita toasts and olives, is creamy, garlic-y, and delicious. The wine list, including a variety of Lebanese choices, is extensive. They even have a belly dancer.
But my Restaurant Week meal was just ehhh. I started with the tuna tartare tabouleh, and the tuna was not great, in both quality and quantity. My friend’s chicken in filo dough appetizer was much more substantial, though also a little bland. I shared both the sea bass and the short rib. Both were decent, but not as interesting as I’d hope considering Neyla’s usually exotic flavors. The desserts were pretty bad. This, for me, is generally Restaurant Week’s downfall. Why don’t they include desserts that would be featured on the full-price menu? The macaroons I ordered tasted like they came from a tin; they paled in comparison to dappervan’s. The sorbet just tasted like standard grocery store sorbet.
So, go to Neyla. Just not for Restaurant Week. And if anyone knows a truly great place for Restaurant Week next time around, let me know. I have yet to be impressed.