Young and Hungry

Inauguration Eats: Where to Turn When the City’s Elite Restaurants Are Booked

Who are you kidding? You think you're going to get a reservation at Citronelle or CityZen on Tuesday evening at this late hour in the inauguration madness? You've got a better chance of crashing Obama's inaugural speech wearing fatigues and a crazy glint in your eye.

So don't fool yourselves that some of the city's finest restaurants—the very ones hyped by everyone for the past week—will have a spot for you and your guests. They won't. But you can still eat well. Below are three places, each well-regarded by critics and diners alike, that still have spots available for Tuesday night. (Or they did yesterday when I checked—sorry, I've been out of commission for 24 hours.)

  • PS 7's has a number of seats available, which is great, because you'll have a chance to taste one of the most creative chefs working in town. Peter Smith has put together a special, multi-course tasting menu for the inauguration; it will include mini-Chicago hot dogs (much like the mini-dogs he already serves but with the standard Windy City condiments), Chicago thin-style pizza with spicy diablo sauce, Illinois pan-seared trout, and a slow-roasted pork loin with a sauce of ginger and crack seeds. Crack seed, for those who don't know (including me before I talked to Smith), is the name given to a variety of preserved fruits popular in Hawaii; Smith ate the snacks as a kid in Hawaii, where his Army father was stationed. 
  • Vidalia was booked up for Inauguration Day, but things quickly changed when a bunch of diners got their hands on ball tickets, says chef R.J. Cooper. "We had a lot of large parties that have canceled within the last three days because they were celebrities or politicians that were invited to balls," he says. The only problem with trying to book a reservation at Vidalia is that you won't be able to reach the restaurant by car; the streets around the place will be closed, Cooper says. You'll need to take the Metro or the bus. It should be worth the hassle. Cooper has constructed a build-your-own inaugural tasting menu from a wide number of Vidalia dishes, including smoked Carolina mountain trout, a sweet onion crepe, Rhode Island skate wing, Wagyu short ribs, and rabbit saddle. But he's also put together a killer bar menu, available all day, that features chicken fried steak, a charcuterie board, a deep-dish "Obama Mama Pizza," and Cooper's very first ground-beef hamburger (on onion focaccia bread) at Vidalia. "It's food you like to eat when you're tipsy," he says.
  • Ardeo, unlike the other restaurants in Ashok Bajaj's group such as the Oval Room or 701, has tables available on inauguration night. That has more to do with Ardeo's location in Cleveland Park, far away from the downtown crush, than with the quality of the cooking. Alex McWilliams was hired as chef last year, and from what I've tasted, he's well worth putting on your list for a visit. I'm tempted, in fact, to call McWilliams' wild striped bass with sunchoke puree and oil-cured olives the dish of the winter. Bajaj says that McWilliams will have a few surprises on the menu for Inauguration Day diners.

Photo by Charles Steck

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