- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

What does it take for a restaurant to survive 20 years in Washington? Ask the fans of Perry’s, the Adams-Morgan eaterie that marked its two-decade anniversary with a not-to-be-missed bash Wednesday night.

“Definitely a great rooftop,” said arts consultant Sarah Tanguy, who arrived early and stayed late to schmooze with friends in the 300-strong crowd. “Perry’s is the best place in town to have dinner and watch the sunset.”

“Good sushi,” suggested Winston Bao Lord, who fondly remembered tossing California rolls at friends on the sidewalk below back in his twentysomething days. (He’s focusing on somewhat larger projectiles these days as director of the Washington Baseball Club.)

For chiropractor Louis Ziegler, maintaining a “neighborhood hangout” atmosphere is the reason the restaurant has remained so popular over the years. “It doesn’t have a ‘Mardi Gras environment’ like most of the other places in Adams-Morgan,” he noted as seasoned staff served exquisite sushi, beef tenderloin, foie gras, medallions of duck breast and other delicacies to hungry revelers.

An eclectic clientele may be another reason. That certainly would explain why, at one apogee moment, one saw New Republic Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier greeting developer Conrad Cafritz, who had just been conversing with Washington Life Editor Nancy Bagley, who then chatted up lobbyist Juleanna Glover-Weiss and Source Theatre Artistic Director Joe Banno as double-Pulitzer-winning Washington Post photographer Lucian Perkins squeezed past man-about-town John Cecchi double-kissing celebutante Blase Mills, who was soon sighted single-kissing a Perry’s waiter who “gives the best massages in Washington.”

A circus, to be sure, but ably directed by ringmaster Saied Azali, 45, who started out as a waiter and eventually ended up owning the place. Now he is nearing the end of the sixth total renovation of Perry’s ($1 million for “clean lines,” muted tones of green and “lighting fixtures handmade in France”), which includes a change in chefs and a new direction in cuisine.

The sushi bar and late-night disc-jockey scene will stay much the same, but Mr. Azali has moved in another direction as far as the restaurant’s fusion of non-Japanese, “companion menu” selections are concerned. Offerings now are totally organic, with everything cooked in grape-seed oil rather than olive oil or butter.

“I’m older and mellower,” Mr. Azali said between congratulatory hugs from loyal customers. “Now I want to eat healthy, delicious food in a comfortable atmosphere, and I am re-creating Perry’s to reflect that path.”

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