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Circle Bistro

I often wonder what goes through the average Washingtonian's mind when they are deciding where to dine. Maybe because it's summer time and everyone was away for the weekend, but the first time I went to Circle Bistro, it was nearly empty. I made a late reservation at about 9 PM, and when we arrived, there were only two other tables. Now, I knew from my research that Circle Bistro was good, but I'd started to think that maybe I'd missed something. Could the chef recently have changed? Had the restaurant been closed due to a failed health inspection in the last couple days? What the hell??

Lucky for me, all of those questions were answered with a resounding, "NO!" Our meal that night, and every other night we've been to Circle Bistro, has been quite good. Of course, there were some annoyances, but I'll get to them in a bit.

I'll start with the appetizers. Picture two large fried zucchini blossoms, stuffed with goat cheese and pine nuts and served with a colorful, chunky vegetable "salsa" on the side -- I wish I could've taken a pint of the salsa home with me. (Sadly, the fried zucchini blossoms are a summer dish and are no longer on the menu, but they've been replaced by a tomato and zucchini tart.) A soft shell crab fried in tempura batter is also done especially well -- I thought frying the crab in a light tempura batter was a nice touch and kept the batter from getting too heavy.

Executive Chef Brendan Cox, who's trained under such notable local chefs like Todd Gray of Equinox and Roberto Donna of Galileo, has a purpose for every ingredient on your plate at Circle Bistro -- you want to be sure that you get a little bit of each ingredient in every bite. This was so with the hanger steak which I had on my first visit. The steak is seared on cast iron and then served on a bed of baby spinach with roasted fingerling potatoes, and organic sweet onions. Each ingredient on its own is good, but the combination of all of them together does wonders for my mood. If it weren't for my incessant need to always try something different, I'd probably order this on every return trip.

Soups at Circle Bistro are magnificent.

In our first visit, Amy ordered an un-ordinary minestone soup (sadly no longer on the menu either -- serves me right for doing a thorough review after multiple visits). I counted 13 ingredients ranging from rapini (or broccoli rabe) to lima beans. What really made the soup, though, was a fritter (that looked like a wonton) filled with herbed goat cheese. When you cut open the fritter with your spoon and mixed the goat cheese in with the soup, it gave the broth a creamy texture. Brilliant!

Other than the minestrone, you'll find a hearty and spicy gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes and jumbo lump crab remoulade, which just had to be the best damn gazpacho I've ever tasted. I commented to Amy that if she's overdue with our baby boy, we should go to Circle Bistro and the gazpacho might kickstart labor. More recently, there's a yellow pepper soup that's so popular, they ran out last Saturday night when I was there.

Other highlights include just about anything with mushrooms. Brendan Cox is a self proclaimed "Mushroom Maniac" (as am I).  The pan-roasted rockfish with girolle (or small chanterelle) mushrooms and zucchini is evidence of this. The fish is roasted with the skin side up in order to leave the skin extra crispy. As I was eating this dish, I noticed a pleasant salty flavor and I said to Amy, "I taste a slightly salty flavor in this dish, but it's not from extra salt." Then I noticed the little bits of crispy pancetta and it all made sense. Yum. I recall eating a similarly served dorade at Citronelle that wasn't nearly as good as this dish.

Of course, Circle Bistro isn't The Most Perfect Restaurant In The World like I've made it sound so far. The nights that I've been there when they were actually busy, I noticed that the kitchen would get a little behind and there was a noticable wait between courses. Luckily, my wife and I have plenty of things to talk about, but if I was on a first date with someone, it might get awkward.

Also. glasses of wine are more expensive than I like to see, ranging from $8 to $13. They seem especially expensive when you can get a full bottle of the $9-a-glass Kermit Lynch Cote du Rhone for just $28.

In all my trips to Circle Bistro, I've had no complaints about the service. It is always spotless and the servers are very familiar with the menu. I'd say the only tiny complaint would be that sometimes my empty glass of wine wasn't replaced with a new one quite as fast as I like. But honestly, I drink like a fish, and most people can stand to have their glasses empty for a short period of time. I also wouldn't mind if when I order the cheese plate the server explain what each cheese is instead of vanishing instantly. It tends to remove some of the guess work.

I'd be remiss if I left out details about the desserts. Heather Chittum, Circle Bistro's pastry chef, makes a bad-ass madeleine -- one shouldn't leave Circle Bistro without trying them. Others worth noting are the profiteroles with homemade mint ice cream and chocolate sauce and a bittersweet chocolate mousse with raspberries.

And finally, if you get a chance, stop by the Circle Lounge, Circle Bistro's bar, for happy hour from 5-7 PM, Mon - Fri, where all glasses of wine, beer and cocktails are half off. Make sure you order the pomme frites with garlic aoli (butter) and ketchup -- they're a guilty pleasure.

Circle Bistro
One Washington Circle Hotel
One Washington Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 293-5390
Circle Bistro Web Site

See the Circle Bistro web site.

Dress Code: Business Casual
Smoking: Allowed at the bar
Closest Metro: Foggy Bottom
Parking: Free Valet at the hotel!
Reservations: Taken
Amy's Bathroom Rating: Hotel restrooms are always pretty clean, although the location right next to the hotel's basement-like laundry room is a little weird.



Great food


A far cry from the places you've listed under your French section, but have you tried Bistro du Coin at Dupont Circle? One of my fave go-to places for French cafe ambience and the big pot o' moules (mussels)for $13.95 served with a bowl of great french fries. Good for sharing. I've always gone with the moules mariniere (a light wine/broth/garlic sauce), but recently tried the moules in curry sauce. Heaven!


Circle Bistro was not nearly what I expected, particularly since it was one of your top 5. Our service was absolutely horrible....the waiter was innattentive, slow, and ambivalent about us being upset. He poured only 1/4 of a glass of wine (we had to ask for a full one!), he forgot to put in our entree orders which caused us to have an hour wait for them! He also forgot to bring us the bill 2 times. The food was mediocre.....I did like my steak, but dessert was a madeleine cookie with cherry compote, which was oily and greasy. I would not reccommend this restaurant to anyone. There are far better restaurants such as Vidalia and Corduroy


Given the date of this post, I imagine you went during Restaurant Week. Even so, that kind of service isn't really excusable. But one ordered the steak? Boooring! There are much better items on that menu. Sit in the bar area and order something like the duck or one of the fish dishes, and next time you'll have a much better time.


I truly urge you to get Circle Bistro off your top 5. The food was above average but the service was inexcusably bad. We had an hour and a half to eat before a show and we let the waiter know that we absolutely needed to leave by a specific time. To make things easier, the 3 people at my table ordered the pre-theatre menu. To make a long story short, the courses came very slowly, we had to take our dessert to go, my niece's birthday was never celebrated, and the host yelled at us that it was our fault. According to the host, we gave the wrong departure time to the waiter and we needed 2 hours for the pre-theater menu. All in all, an awful dinner experience and sadly, a below average birthday for my niece.


:O Wow. Not good. 2 hours for a pre-theater menu? That doesn't make sense since most are in more of a hurry than that and pre-theater menus are usually only available for 2 hours.


Took a job candidate there for lunch a couple of days ago and they are doing construction so it's very very noisy (the room almost vibrates). But, had the roasted chicken with fingerling sweet potatoes and mustard greens and it was delicious.


I don't know why Circle Bistro in on dcfoodies' top 5. I have been to Circle Bistro and the service was SO SLOW!!!!! Two tables sat down next to us, and they ordered drinks, appetizers, entrees, and dessert on their pre-theater menu before they took our dinner plates away on the SAME PRE-THEATRE MENU! We had to rush through our desserts in order to make a show! The waiter and host were oblivious to the timing! Even though the food was pretty good, only go if you have 2.5 hours to spend there.

Tom in DC

INSULTING PORTION SIZE - we ate here last night for my partners birthday dinner. My $15.00 seared scallops appetizer had ONE scallop. And the entree of fluke was almost as small. This is a terrible value. We eat out a lot - we would never go here again.

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