Scoring dinner reservations at Central's table no. 73. Keeping a private reserve of wine on hand at Cashion's Eat Place. Sneaking a mariachi band into Ris.
These whale of a tales, and others, are the stories of Washington's elite dining class, where no bottle of wine is too expensive and no event detail too small. Eater DC spoke with three general managers or owners at popular restaurants to learn about some of the extravagant requests and odd desires of the dining upper class.
Central prides itself on catering to all diners' needs. The restaurant's general manager says they will never bump a reservation in favor of a more important person. But, they do keep manager slots aside for regulars, including lobbyists, lawyers and business consultants. Sometimes, when the guest is particularly important, extra measures need to be taken.
For instance, when Michelle Obama stopped by for lunch, the restaurant was essentially on security lockdown. It prevented David Hale, Central's general manager and sommelier, from getting his bike inside the building.
"I was riding to work, and when I got there, the agents wouldn't let me bring my bike in because they said it posed a security threat," he said. "They even threatened to destroy it."
Hale says "the cat's out of the bag", though, on Michelle's favorite table. She enjoys dining at table no. 73, a semi-private area with curtains that open to the exhibition kitchen and with a partial view of the cooks in the kitchen. This just happens to be their hardest table to get, too.
Celebrities like Kathy Griffin and Ray Romano have dined there. Hale says one of his most gracious VIPs was actor Jack Nicholson, who stopped by to eat while shooting the romantic comedy "How Did You Know?" in 2009. According to Hale, Nicholson did not leave the restaurant until snapping photos with staff and shaking hands with all the servers.
If you're planning to host a private party at Central, bring your credit card. The private dining room seats about 16 people and has a $1,000 food and beverage minimum with a flat $150 room fee that can vary depending upon the time of year.
Meanwhile, to reserve a private party at Cashion's Eat Place in Adams Morgan, you'll need to shutdown the restaurant because of space's size and configuration. That can set you back by as much as $10,000 to $20,000, says general manager Justin Abad. His largest private party was 65 people, and Cashion's will literally roll out the red carpet and truck-in the shaped topiaries, like they did for one private party.
The restaurant's high-end regulars hail from the neighborhood, mostly the Kalorama section of Northwest. It's a place for people with intense jobs to unwind and enjoy a casual dining experience, Abad said. His high-end patrons come from an international set of ambassadors, World Bank-ers, and lobbyists with interests abroad.
"We offer a different experience for the 'high roller.' Many live in the neighborhood and this is their reprieve from the more conventional dining spaces of K Street and Georgetown," Abad said.
For one of the Cashion''s most loyal customers, Abad keeps a hidden supply of Spanish wine behind the bar. You won't find it on the menu, but the restaurant keeps the wine by the caseload. The hard-to-find, imported brand comes from the Priorat region of Spain, located just outside Barcelona. A bottle will run you about $400, and Abad says he can go through two to three cases when the customer stops by with a large party.
But, why only drink a certain bottle of wine from an obscure Spanish wine region? Bragging rights. The customer first drank the wine with a Spanish prince in Madrid, and it's a story that he likes to share with friends again and again, Abad said.
Ris on the West End also has international appeal. Chef Ris Lacoste says her restaurant serves as an outpost for the State Department. Government officials meet there for lunches and dinners, but Lacoste would not disclose which higher-ups dine there.
Ris also sees its fair share of private parties. These are mainly family or wedding celebrations, Lacoste said, and can come with particular requests, some odder than others. Past parties have been able to sneak in mariachi bands and opera singers to help lighten the mood.
"We certainly don't want everyone to start requesting mariachi music. We hesitate on certain requests, but we try to keep it short and sweet and fun. It's about giving the customer whatever they want," Lacoste said.
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[Photo: Ris Lacoste]