Especially Jay’s. A recent, rare surgical strike into the wilds of NoVa to meet friends led us to Clarendon and dinner at The Liberty Tavern (3195 Wilson Blvd.), about which we had heard good things. Bar downstairs, dining tables upstairs, and despite the separation, conversation was still difficult over the constant ambient noise. We were glad for the separation, though; the bar was packed full of twentysomethings there to drink and see and be seen and drink some more and hook up and regret and continue drinking — you had to throw lots of elbows in order to get to the restroom, partly due to sheer number of people and partly because not a single one of them appeared to have any self-awareness at all, or any interest in normal social cues like moving even a few inches to let someone slide past.
Happily, the food was great. Bread basket with several varieties, all good; short but well-chosen beer list — Mrs. Me enjoyed her Dale’s Pale Ale and I loved my Bell’s Winter White. $2.50 for a Diet Coke seems steep, but hey, Clarendon (except, no — see below). Best dish was a grilled octopus starter: tender, perfectly cooked, lots of flavor, on a bed of greens, olives, and shaved fennel. A fabulous plate of food, though not much of it.
Mrs. Me ordered the popular Amish Chicken, which disappeared along with the mashed potatoes, but not the reportedly too-bitter braised greens. My lamb special was perfectly medium-rare and very good, but the bed of baked beans that the server claimed were “savory, not sweet” were in fact too sweet, and cloves dominated the sauce more than they should. Lots of bacon/pork fat was also involved, and that worked out pretty well. Friends enjoyed the skirt steak, scalloped potatoes, trout, and gnocchi: not a disappointment in the bunch.
So: fine dining, but not really our scene, so to recalibrate we walked two frigid blocks to Jay’s Saloon & Grille (3114 10th Street), a total dive — an oasis of Wheatonian ferality in Clarendon! — that doesn’t even have a website despite being around for many years (here’s some Yelpage). Jay’s doesn’t have much seating, and the beer list could be bigger and/or better, and the ceiling needs work, and when food falls to the carpet you’d better observe the zero-second rule and throw that morsel right out, but we loved it anyway (or maybe exactly because of those things). We loved the efficient, friendly staff; we loved the scruffy regulars hanging out at the bar while the much younger, less scruffy semi-regulars hung out at tables; we loved monitoring the (casual, not all Libertyed-up) twentysomethings playing a rollicking game of quarters at the next table. We loved the fun cover band (can’t go wrong with Greg Kihn covers! Seriously! They just don’t write ’em like that anymore!), though admittedly that’s why we were there in the first place. We didn’t order food, but will next time. Not sure how much a Diet Coke costs, but can’t possibly be over $2.
Not that we’re likely to return to Clarendon anytime soon. But if we do, we will probably skip Liberty and head straight for Jay’s. Liberty is the Omegas and Jay’s is Delta house, and we’ll hang with Bluto over Marmalard any night.