- - Thursday, April 18, 2019

Georgetown is no longer the staid old lady of yore. She may not have the buzz of 14th Street, the trendiness of Shaw, Petworth or the H Street corridor, or even the cool of Columbia Heights, but the Georgetown restaurant renaissance is in full swing.

Sixty years ago, haute cuisine in Georgetown was the province of Place Vendome at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, now long gone, replaced by a clothing store. A few old timers remain: Martin’s Tavern, opened in 1933, where presidents from Harry S. Truman to George W. Bush came to dine, and John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier; Clyde’s, opened in 1963; and La Chaumiere, the cozy French restaurant and neighborhood favorite since 1976.

Georgetown (named for King George II) was established in 1751, incorporated in 1789, as a tobacco port and shipping center. During the American Revolution, it served as a depot for the collection and shipment of military supplies. The town contained a textile mill, a paper factory and flour mills. After the Civil War, freed slaves created an African-American community in Georgetown, which became part of the federal city of Washington in 1871.

Georgetown fell into decline after World War I, but recovered with President Roosevelt’s New Deal. It was not until after World War II that Georgetown became a center for Washington’s rich and powerful. Senators, cabinet ministers, journalists and art collectors moved in.

With the turn of the 21st century, new dining neighborhoods flourished: 14th Street, Shaw, Petworth, Capitol Hill, and recently the Wharf project in Southeast. Georgetown no longer was the place to go, and many favorites closed, including fondly remembered Nathan’s, Le Steak, Apana, Au Pied de Cochon and Bistro Francais, as well as Britt’s cafeteria that was open 24 hours every day.

But Georgetown is regaining its former vitality and popularity with some old and some new restaurants from upscale elegance to casual diners. Among the former are the 1789 Restaurant (1226 36th Street), beloved by parents of Georgetown University students since 1960, although ties are no longer de rigueur; elegant steakhouse Bourbon Steak (2800 Pennsylvania Avenue) in the Four Seasons Hotel; and newcomer Reverie (3210 Grace Street), a nouveau American restaurant from chef Johnny Spero.

Less formal are Jose Andres’ take on American classics at America Eats Tavern (3139 M Street); Cafe Milano (3251 Prospect Street,NW); and seafood restaurant Dyllan’s Raw Bar (1054 31st Street).

Chaia Tacos (3207 Grace Street) re-imagines the taco with vegetarian fillings in house-made corn tortillas, accented with house-made salsas and toppings. The 1310 Kitchen & Bar (1310 Wisconsin Avenue) is the new restaurant in the recently refurbished Georgetown Inn, where local chef Jenn Crovato has created a menu of “just straight forward good food.” Guapo’s (3050 K Street) on the Georgetown waterfront is part of a small local chain offering traditional Mexican fare in a casual setting.

Soon to open are Asian-inspired Bandoola Bowl (1069 Wisconsin Avenue) and Reren Lamen Bar (1037 Wisconsin Avenue).

High Street Cafe (1303 Wisconsin Avenue), opened in November 2018, is named for Wisconsin Avenue as it was known until 1895. The restaurant is owned by Manuel Iguina, a native of Puerto Rico. It’s an open, friendly restaurant, an affordable place serving good modern American dishes with Latin overtones. Mr. Iguina treats his guests as friends and wants to contribute to the well-being of the Georgetown community.

Start dinner with the restaurant’s crispy goat cheese noisettes, creamy-on-the inside and crispy-on-the-outside bites, or tuna tartar which mixes sweet and salty with toasted sesame, mango and a touch of orange cream. Both are delicious. Best of all is the restaurant’s take on roasted calamari, a succulent dish of tender calamari and mushrooms in a garlicky, herb-rich sauce, enhanced with a charred half lemon. Lamb meatballs, served on a bed of yogurt tzaziki, is excellent as well.

Main courses include a delicate dish of scallops with wild mushrooms, enhanced with a sherry cream and accompanied with spinach and saffron risotto. The Latin influence is strong in lobster mofongo, a seafood stew created around mashed plantains, and in a tasty fricassee of braised goat with green peas, carrots and fingerling potatoes.

Pizzas, made in the pizza oven in the open kitchen, are always on the menu. The lunch menu contains a variety of salads and sandwiches, including a rich roast pork (lechon) sandwich with a pesto-like sauce of cilantro and herbs on crusty bread and excellent French fries. Be sure to leave room for the flourless chocolate cake.

Tuesdays are High Cafe’s whole pig roast nights (lechon asada); on Thursdays evenings, there’s live Latin music; Fridays is lobster and shrimp mofongo night; and Sundays will soon be Sunday supper club nights.

Georgetown offers a wide variety of cuisines, including French, Latin, American, Asian, Italian, classic and nouveau American, as well as a pretty tea room (Lady Camellia, 3261 Prospect Street), fast-food establishments and six bakeries, most of which offer not only very good bread and pastries, but light fare as well.

• Corinna Lothar is a Washington writer, critic and frequent contributor to The Washington Times.

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