- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Valentine’s Day poses a recurring dilemma in a workaholic town like Washington: How can wonks obsessed with billable hours, markups and million-dollar contracts woo their loves when their cell phones won’t quit, the congressional hearing is running late and the next morning’s briefing starts at 8:30?

No problem: Clear the calendar, squelch the phone and head for one of the many D.C. area rendezvous where a glass of wine, a roaring fire or a private alcove for whispered sweet nothings promise an evening that can take a lover’s breath away.

So listen up, wonks and wonk- ettes. Cultivating your love life is every bit as important as nurturing your political ambitions. Make those reservations for a table for two at the most romantic candlelit bistro in town, and do it today. Following is a guide to some of the best.

Privacy and rose bouquets

Within walking distance of the halls of power on Capitol Hill lies a trysting spot in three joined Victorian townhouses with decor that might make Cupid blush. Two Quail is a rabbit’s warren of curtained-off tables, lavishly upholstered furniture, private alcoves and candlelit fireplaces guaranteed to melt the hearts of the busiest power couple.

A recent visit found Two Quail owner Michele Sullivan and her staff carrying out directions from two suitors to create the perfect settings for romantic evenings.

One of the suitors had planned a private booth and carriage ride, and he and his love were already seated in an alcove behind a yellow-flowered chintz curtain, wining and dining to the sound of soft music, as a discreet waiter politely announced his presence before parting the curtains to present the dessert.

Outside, a flower-festooned carriage hitched to a sturdy Belgian draft horse waited to whisk the lovebirds to a show downtown after their meal.

At a second private table with a view of Massachusetts Avenue on one side and of a candlelit fireplace on the other, a waiter decorated the table with rose petals and a dozen roses in a vase while Ms. Sullivan gave directions to her wine steward to set the champagne chilling.

“There’s going to be a proposal at this table tonight,” she whispered conspiratorially, “although he hasn’t decided exactly when he’ll ask her.”

In a comfortable booth behind another flowered curtain in the front dining room, Ms. Sullivan displayed a wooden heart-shaped box atop a dining table. The box was stuffed with ardent love notes scribbled to “Anne Marie,” to “my sweetheart,” and to other lovers of seatings past, who had pledged their love and then left behind the evidence of their affections as mementos for other diners to share.

“We don’t tell our guests to do it, they just find the box on the table, then write these little love notes to each other on whatever pieces of scrap paper they find,” Ms. Sullivan said, flipping over one poem to show a grocery receipt on the back.

Those who want to rekindle an old flame with their beloved or propose marriage at Two Quail can also look forward to an extensive choice of wines (Ms. Sullivan also gives classes in wine appreciation at the restaurant) and exquisitely prepared meals, from appetizers to Belgian chocolates.

Some of the meals on the seasonal menu for this winter are the eponymous two quail with pumpkin and apple, filet mignon with applewood bacon, spotted golden trout with spinach, and portobello mushroom tower for vegetarians. If you go, look into ordering flowers or a special box of chocolates with your meal, a carriage ride for afterward, and specify that you want to sit at Tables 1, 3, or 318F or 318B.

An elegant country inn

If intrigue and clandestine settings are your idea of romance, Old Angler’s Inn by the C&O Canal may be just what you are looking for. Think French-country-inn-meets-the-horsey-set, throw in a great wine list and a seat by a cozy fireplace surrounded by overstuffed couches in the English pub setting at the downstairs bar, and you’ve got the general idea.

Reached by a long, winding drive up MacArthur Boulevard from Georgetown, or down Falls Road from Potomac proper, Angler’s Inn is secluded enough during the winter from the capital’s hustle and bustle so that a couple wanting privacy can find it in one of the candlelit corner tables, but is not so far from civilization that a discriminating pair of diners cannot eat an excellent meal served by an able wait staff.

Maitre d’ Ahmad Nazari says he gets many requests from amorous suitors for his waiters to deliver diamond engagement rings on glass-covered serving dishes, particularly at Tables 6 and D-2, by the windows, which overlook the canal.

Old Angler’s also seems to draw Washington celebrities — the restaurant has hosted newsman Ted Koppel and local TV news mainstays Doug Hill and Jim Vance. On Christmas Eve several years ago, TV weatherman Bob Ryan was spotted dining with his family.

The place may look casual during spring and summer, when rubber-suited kayakers and Lycra-clad bicyclists crowd the graveled parking lot across the street, but during the cold months the indoor dining tables are quite formal. Couples dress to the nines here, and an observer can easily spot elegantly thin blondes in designer dresses on the arms of older gentlemen in natty suits and ties.

The menu offers chateaubriand, Muscovy duck breast, and a range of seafood dishes as entrees. Angler’s Inn will provide foie gras or caviar as appetizers, and such delicacies as creme brulee or Black Forest cake for dessert.

Private rooms, romantic fireplace

Tucked away on N Street Northwest, just two blocks from the noise of Connecticut Avenue and Dupont Circle, the Hotel Tabard Inn is a late-1800s retreat of three joined townhouses featuring an inviting fireplace and sitting room, several rooms of private and public dining tables, and a 40-room bed-and-breakfast-style hotel upstairs.

The Brookings Institution, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies’ Foreign Policy Institute and the Human Rights Campaign are nearby, and during the lunch hour the inn’s dining rooms are filled with what appear to be consultants and policy experts debating issues of the day.

At night, these policy mavens come back with their spouses and amours “for a relaxed, leisurely dinner,” says Tabard Restaurant Manager Kristin Sposito.

With the warm and relaxed setting that the dining and sitting rooms provide, it’s not hard to see why couples in love return. The sitting room, adjacent to the restaurant’s bar, is decorated in dark woods and muted tones, and features several comfortable sofas surrounding a warm fireplace — a spot that encourages closeness and cuddling.

Ms. Sposito says the fireplace is lit whenever the temperature outside drops to 40 degrees or below. A cozy, fully windowed dining room in the back affords a fine view of a patio and offers several candlelit tables for courting couples.

Diners can look forward to some gourmet offerings — everything from a vegetarian dish like buffalo ricotta and mozzarella ravioli to prosciutto-wrapped rabbit loin — as well as an enormous choice of wines, and either raw or cooked oysters, well-known aphrodisiacs.

Probably the best feature of the Tabard Inn, however, are the private rooms (one, called the “Elephant Room,” doesn’t require a rental and provides a charming, semi-private setting for a romantic dinner), two with decorative fireplaces, that can be rented for less than $200, and an upstairs dining room with eight tables in a charming Arts and Crafts style room overlooking the outdoor patio.

“This is particularly inviting when it rains and snows,” Ms. Sposito says, adding that she gets many requests from couples for tables in Room 52 during the dinner hour.

There’s also that possibility that a romantic dinner will lead to a romantic night in one of the Tabard Inn’s historic rooms, just a short walk up a flight of well-worn wooden stairs from the restaurant below.

Zen-like seclusion

Asia Nora restaurant is an excellent find in Washington’s West End for lovers who adore Asian food and enjoy peaceful settings that might delight a Zen master. From the cobblestone entrance to the restaurant one flight below street level to the wooden paneled and two-story mirrored dining area, Asia Nora projects serenity and warmth.

Service at Asia Nora is deft and unobtrusive. Couples are seated almost cheek to cheek (and thigh to thigh) in cozy booths that promote low, intimate conversations and hand holding. Jazz fusion music piped in from the bar area is soothing and relaxing, contributing to a feeling of well-being, as do the drinks, which include generous portions of alcohol.

Unlike many Washington restaurants, where the din raised by the conversations of other diners and constant clinking of glasses and silverware draw attention away from your dining partner, the oasis of calm that is Asia Nora allows you to catch every nuance of meaning in your beloved’s discourse — a boon if the two of you need quality time together.

While some of the food choices may bewilder those more accustomed to Western fare, waiters are super-friendly and eager to describe and recommend choices, such as pan-roasted pork loin with coriander and maitake mushrooms, or roasted Peking duck breast with mirin-glazed turnips.

The service is unhurried, yet diners always seem to have some cooling drink, exotic tea or delicious delicacy before them, such as the chef’s roasted kabocha squash with creme fraiche, a soupy puree that is drunk out of a cup rather than scooped up with a spoon.

For couples who care about the quality of the ingredients in their meals, most of the meat and vegetables served at Asia Nora are organically raised and grown.

Probably the best table in the place is Table 1, located in an alcove on the bottom level, although it normally seats four or five. Other good choices are Table 38, upstairs by the window; or Table 26, a particularly romantic setting for marriage proposals because it is tucked away in a corner.

So bring on Valentine’s Day. The wonks are ready.

Taking your valentine out

Romance is contagious and catches on very quickly in a dining room, says Two Quail owner Michele Sullivan.

“Once some diners see a marriage proposal at one of our tables, the joy spreads, and they start thinking about their own romances, and want similar experiences,” she says.

So lovers who want to reserve a good table for Valentine’s Day should get their requests in early. And, since the holiday falls on a Wednesday this year, it’s a good idea to ask the management about any plans to extend Valentine’s holiday specials to this weekend and next.

Here are details:

• Asia Nora: 2213 M St. NW, in the West End. Asia Nora is offering a five-course dinner, at $98 per person, for Valentine’s Day. Open 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 202/797-4860 for reservations. See www.noras.com.

• Old Angler’s Inn: 10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac. On Valentine’s Day, the inn will offer a full-course menu, including the choice of an appetizer or salad, entree and dessert, for $85, and is giving away roses to the ladies, according to maitre d’ Ahmad Nazari. Lunch noon-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; dinner 6-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 6-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 6-9 p.m. Sunday. 301/299-9097 for reservations. See www.oldanglersinn.com.

• Tabard Inn: 1739 N St. NW (Dupont Circle area). Tabard Inn is offering a fixed-price four-course menu for Valentine’s Day, for $75 per person. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch and lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday; dinner 6-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 6-9:30 p.m. Sunday. 202/331-8528 for reservations. See www.tabardinn.com.

• Two Quail: 320 Massachusetts Ave. NE (Capitol Hill). Two Quail will offer a $75 four-course meal during Valentine’s Day week, including the weekend before and the weekend after. Owner Michele Sullivan will also accommodate requests for parties, private or otherwise, with special flower arrangements or party favors designed by master florist Charles Hudman of Surroundings design service at Massachusetts Avenue and Fourth Street Northeast. Lunch and dinner 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday; dinner 5-11 p.m. Saturday and 5-10 p.m. Sunday. 202/543-8030 for reservations. See www.twoquail.com.

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