Hungry on 17th Street?

If you get hungry on Connecticut Avenue, near DuPont Circle, no problem. Ditto, if you walk east about 5 blocks to 14th Street. But what if you are in-between, on 17th Street, between P and R, another strip with a large number of eating places? You may be in trouble.

We wanted to get dinner before a 7:30 curtain at Theater J on Saturday night. We first walked into Hank’s Oyster Bar, a popular small restaurant on Q Street, just off 17th. It may be fine if you want oysters or some other crustacean to eat, but if you want fish? The choices were sable and Portuguese sardines, neither a strong favorite. Want meat? Well, on Thursday night, it’s pork chops. Ditto, again.

We thought of the other restaurants that we were familiar with. Sushi Taro has become much too upscale, Komi even more so. Annie’s, Trio and Peppers have the opposite problem. Bua Thai is too boring, Cafe Luna the same.

We decided (with time moving along) we needed to go somewhere new, and that somewhere turned out to be Floriana, which has opened sometime recently in a building that used to house the Mercury Grill. It was just about 6 when we entered this old red-brick townhouse with its New Orleans bordello-lite decor, and we were the only customers (there might have been some in the English basement bar; there were, when we left an hour later). To our surprise, after sitting and eating for an hour or so, we were still the only ones in the restaurant. Thursday night is a pretty busy night. Is this typical? If so, how long can they last?

On the positive side, on Thursday nights, you can get drinks made from Skyy vodka for $3. That’s quite a bargain (and may explain the crowd in the bar below). On the negative side, the dinner rolls looked like they had been made before the turn of the millennium and just taken from the freezer. (My father used to judge a restaurant by its coffee – if it served good coffee, you could be assured that everything else would be good. I once spent some time with the late seer-real estate agent Jeanne Dixon, who told me that she judged restaurants, on the same basis, by the quality and variety of their potato dishes. I tend to extrapolate from the bread.) Once, the rolls were served, I figured it might be downhill from there.

And it was. My wife had tuna, which was fair. I had chicken, which was fair. Not good, not bad. Certainly, you had no problem eating it, but you never would say: I think we ought to come back and have this again.

Our waitress seemed friendly and attentive, until I asked her why she charged us $2 more for the tuna than the menu price. She then turned very cold and said, “Georgio [I think] the manager will handle that.”. He told me that they just lowered the price on the menu and the computer must not have caught up. I doubt this; certainly, it did not look like we were given brand new menus. He told us he would adjust the computer, and then he gave me 2 one-dollar bills. He was very brusque, which I didn’t appreciate, so rather than simply take the $2, I told him that there was a sales tax (10% for restaurants in the District), a tip based on the full cost, etc. I would have expected that they would have redid the bill – but they didn’t. He grumbled, and handed me another dollar, saying, strangely, “we don’t have quarters”. OK, I said, and left, never again to visit Floriana.

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