Two new steakhouses close to convention center

Since opening on 15th Street, Bobby Van’s Steakhouse has become a favored downtown haunt for lobbyists and members of Congress, particularly those from New York.

Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) have all held fundraisers at the restaurant, owing in part to the pedigree of Bobby Van’s locations in Manhattan and the Hamptons.

The steakhouse has also hosted Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, a friend of co-owner Joseph Smith, a native of Belfast.

No wonder, then, that Smith and partner Joe Hickey would expand.

Bobby Van’s Grill, opened last month, is a slightly more casual version of the mothership. Call it Bobby Van’s lite.

The wood and the dominant color — marble green — are lighter than the dark paneling at the downtown location. The menu, too, features some lighter choices and (slightly) smaller portions.

There’s no shortage of variety here. At times, the menu feels like an Epcot Center-like tour of world cuisines. A simple sesame-crusted tuna with miso vinaigrette gives a nod to Asia, hearty if imperfect rigatoni Capresi and orecchiette pasta make an Italian connection and St. Louis ribs and chicken-fried steak will keep any Southerners in your party happy.

At lunch, the kitchen offers 10 different salad choices as well as six egg dishes.

Prices are also dialed down here. Entrees all clock in between $15 and $25; lunches are $15 and under. Even the wine list appears to have escaped steakhouse markup syndrome; plenty of good bottles can be had for $50 and under.

That’s not to say if you’re on an expense account, you can’t still live large here. Bobby Van’s “steakhouse classics” — prime and dry-aged — are still available here.

The porterhouse for two or more ($39 per person) makes a feast worthy of Dionysus. Filet mignon, bone-in sirloin and broiled lamb chops (all $37.50) also make the cut, but my personal favorite is the bone-in veal chop — large, tender and flavorful. The high-heat char keeps in the juices.

This is a huge restaurant, the dining room stretching back and around the atrium of the office building in which it resides. The private rooms downstairs look as if they could feed the entire House of Representatives.

Service here, like the downtown location, can be uneven. Usually friendly and knowledgeable, it can also be quite slow.

Still, the crowds that have assembled already in the bar and the dining room here lead me to believe the owners are onto something: a carnivore’s menu at prices that won’t eat you up. 

Bobby Van’s follows the opening of Finn & Porter, only two blocks away in the new Embassy Suites Convention Center.

Tucked in the corner of the building, it’s also a big restaurant — 265 seats — but it feels smaller, thanks to its many nooks and corners. It relies mostly on natural light, the floor-to-ceiling windows bathing the dining room with sun at lunch and appropriately darkening it at night.

Its logos extol its “Steaks, Seafood & Sushi.” My advice is to stick with the latter, which has much to recommend it.

On my visits, the fish has been uniformly fresh; the sushi chefs skillful with their knives.

On the paper menu, which diners mark with their selections, you’ll find some 60 selections of nigiri, maki and combination platters. It’s tough to go wrong with the chef’s special rolls, however.

Among the 18-odd choices are a Baja California roll, with crab, pineapple and avocado; a bomb roll, which pairs cooked spicy salmon and cucumber; and the amigo roll, which combines salmon, tuna, yellowtail, cilantro and jalapeno.

The Finn roll arrives as a long finger of shrimp tempura, rolled with tuna, salmon, crab and avocado. Delicious.

Show up between 4 and 7 p.m. on weekdays and each piece will only cost you a buck — one of the best happy-hour deals downtown.

The rest of the menu is more of a mixed bag, although it certainly doesn’t lack choices. The large sheet of paper, printed daily, is divided into raw bar, starters, salads, sandwiches, daily features, fresh catches, specialties and steaks and chops.

Pork dumplings arrived hot and spicy, set off nicely by pickled cucumber and sake duck sauce. A fris�e salad, shaved grana cheese and truffle oil topped a tasty carpaccio of filet mignon.

Artichoke-dip-stuffed rainbow trout was a nice idea, and a bargain at lunch for $10.

Lobster and chips was a creative variation on an old favorite. A whole lobster tail came fried tempura style, but it couldn’t quite redeem the pale, flavorless fries.

Crab cakes smacked of too much filler, not enough crab. And the slight oyster selections lacked the better cold-water varieties from northern waters. Even the normally reliable Blue Points came out old looking and mealy tasting.

For Washingtonians used to perfect cuts of beef, Finn’s selections will be disappointing. A rib-eye steak is listed as prime but emerged from the kitchen thin and gristly; a New York strip not much better. At $20 and up for each steak dish, diners should expect better.

Here, the chef seems hamstrung by the constraints of hotel budgets: Cooking to make money, not to please the guests. The service is hotel-like as well: too often slow and indifferent.

It is disappointing, because chef Andreas Georgakopoulos was known for his creative cooking at the Finn & Porter location in Alexandria. Gone even are most of his Greek specialties that won many fans in Alexandria.

With the prime location of this restaurant, here’s hoping he can reassert himself.

Bobby Van’s Grill
1201 New York Ave. N.W.
(202) 589-1504

Finn & Porter
900 10th St. N.W.
(202) 719-1600