Finding a restaurant with character and charm is often hard to do in a large city. Trying to avoid the large chains, monstrous spaces, and bustling atmospheres can be difficult, but DC does have its fair share of unique options that can work perfectly for an intimate setting.
Last night I met two old friends for dinner at Darlington House in Dupont Circle. The upstairs restaurant is small and quaint, and the space is lovely and inviting. You feel as though you are in someone’s home, and then you realize you sort of are since you are in a narrow rowhouse on Dupont Circle that is over 100 years old. The restaurant opened in 2008 and took over the former Childe Harold space that was a known Washington establishment for over forty years. Darlington House is beautifully decorated with upholstered chairs, cozy benches, wood floors, and a nice sized bar towards the back. It is also quiet and comfortable, and the perfect place to talk with friends or a date for a long period of time without feeling rushed or eager to leave.
The food itself is dubbed "rustic Italian cooking with an American soul". The menu consists of many salads and appetizers such as fried calamari and shrimp or the caprese salad with fresh mozzarella, a wide range of pastas such as potato gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce, butternut squash tortelloni with butter and sage sauce, or traditional favorites like fettuccine bolognese. In addition to the 10+ pasta options, there are multiple fish dishes and meat courses such as a traditional grilled new york strip steak making Darlington House the perfect mix of Italian and American cuisine.
I had the pleasure of ordering a special appetizer last night which was the bresaola salad served with arugula, olive oil, lemon and parmesan shavings. For those who might not be familiar, bresaola is a salty air dried mountain beef that is tender and sliced incredibly thin and served like a carpaccio atop of a salad. The salad was refreshing and absolutely wonderful. For my entree I had the chicken breast paillard marinated in fine herbs with mixed grilled vegetables. The portion size was generous with a large helping of deliciously grilled zucchini, red peppers, eggplant, squash, red onions and more. The chicken itself was pounded paper thin and was piping hot with beautiful grill marks and excellent herbed flavors. A friend at the table ordered the butternut squash pasta which looked fantastic and got a thumbs up.
Darlington House also has a very happening Cantina Pub which has an entrance on the street level and is separate from the upstairs restaurant. The pub serves great bar food as I've sampled the burgers and flatbread pizzas before and have not been disappointed, and it's also decked with flat screen TV's to create a casual gathering space for drinks with friends (and sports viewing).
It seems to be a great concept to marry the casual bar with the upscale dining in order to appeal to a mass audience and create something doable for all scenarios. However, I think the dining room itself is unique and quite charming, setting itself apart from many other places in town and making for the perfect spot for a quiet and enjoyable evening with someone special.