Neighborhood: Dupont Circle
It's funny. When Official Co-Writer of DCWD CC and I came up with this blog, Kramerbooks was the example I would use; at least, when you first move here, it's exactly the kind of hidden place that is perfect for dates (then, you realize that everyone knows about it). I've been avoiding writing this entry for some time because, at the risk of overshare, my overt fondness for Kramerbooks led to some personal drama (as one friend mildly put it, "I feel like the word is out on you and Kramers"). To a certain point, I got so wary of going back to Kramers, like a catcher who has problems throwing the ball back to the pitcher (or as Yankees fans know it, "Chuck Knoblauch" Syndrome). But there are only so many places in DC open past 10pm on weekdays (one of the driving facts of my love of the place for late night dates), and so a little bit of luck, and a lot of hunger drove me back to Kramers on two occasions, once with Official Friends of DCWD Chi, Wills, and Runner, and once with Official Friend of DCWD Kelly, the meal which I'll use here.
Kramers is the shorthand for Kramerbooks/Afterwords, the former being an independently-owned bookstore, the latter the restaurant/cafe that sits in the back. I always find a certain creature comfort in small bookstores, and this is no different. I've never been in there when there's been less than twenty people perusing the pretty varied, and eclectic mix of books, even at two in the morning on a Tuesday.
As for Afterwords (which I will heretofor refer to as Kramers, because frankly that's what I call it), it's a little bit of everything in terms of seating. Regular four-tops right as you walk past the host stand, and above that a balcony of larger tables where live music plays occasionally. Beyond that is the main room which is basically different configurations of two-tops. The decor is simple, black everywhere, straight line furniture, with the accents of silver and red here and there, and the overarching motif of ampersands (also known as the bane of editors everywhere). On colder days, this room is enclosed, but as we move into spring and summertime, the walls are opened up and the whole area becomes a large patio. I'll even go ahead and say that Kramers has one of the best patios in DC to eat on.
There are some problematic aspects of Kramers for dates; the two-tops are pretty much right on top of one another, and there is the always annoying needing a token from your server to use the bathroom. Service is also here and there; the night I went with Chi, Wills, and Runner, service was great, but the night I went with Kelly, it took 10 minutes just to get us water, and it always took just a little bit longer to get everything (which adding up caused Kelly to miss her late night bus). To their credit, this was a Wednesday night after 11, so they were short-staffed, and I find that at Kramers, the staff make up for the wait time by being genuinely friendly. So there's that.
Kelly and I had just come back from a concert at 9:30 Club and were absolutely starving. And that's why, even though I would probably have never ordered it otherwise, she and I decided to split an appetizer of mussels, and a surf and turf entree.
I love mussels (see: Masa 14, Brasserie Beck, and Granville Moore's) and consequently have fairly high standards for them. These particular mussels were steamed fairly conventionally with shallots, garlic, white wine, basil, and butter. Despite my expectations, they were actually fairly good, something augmented by the focaccia bread they gave us to dip in the sauce.
I'm not someone who orders surf and turf regularly (if at all, actually) But we couldn't decide what we wanted, and we just wanted as much food as possible. So we went with the surf and turf, a half lobster stuffed with crabmeat with a center cut filet mignon, served with butternut squash, mac and cheese, corn and lima bean succotash, and asparagus. I guess I have to give credit to the fact that it was lobster and filet mignon; if the ingredients aren't terrible, it'll be a decent meal. But I was decently surprised by the kitchen, especially the mac and cheese, which was up there in terms of the high end mac and cheeses that I've had. I will say that the lima bean succotash was weird, and not something I would eat again, but as a whole, it was a good dish.
And then dessert. The main thing I love about Kramers is that it makes late night pie/cake dates possible. And frankly, this is what makes Kramers so good: the amazing dessert. I can't stress this enough: amazing desserts. For this particular dinner with Kelly, we split an almond cake with strawberries, which was so beyond delicious as to be to die for (though I have a soft spot for almonds in dessert). I think in the six years I've been in DC, I've had every single one of those desserts, and with few exceptions, they are all exceptional, especially the fruit crumb pie and the red velvet cake.
I guess the only other thing to rave about is the secretly versatile beer and wine selection. For a place not known for their beer, they have a great rotating selection, which includes my personal favorite Allagash White, as well as some other nice craft beers.
I can't oversell Kramers despite my love for it. While the meal was surprisingly good, objectively it wasn't anything crazy. But, if you're looking for a late night meal, or a cake date, this is the place, bar none. So this will be one of the few places that I'll give a split rating for. As for the date rating, I can't understate how much I love the bookstore, so the fact that by definition you're going there when you go to Kramers (thus making it sort of the pairing), it adds to the charm.
Food Rating: *** for dinner, **** for dessert (out of 5)
Date Rating: 4 Hearts (out of 5)
Dress Code: Casual
Bar Rating: Hipster Hangout
Vibe: Chatty to energetic
Cost: $$ for dinner, $ for dessert (out of 5) ($75-$100 for two)
Pairing: Like I said, because you're in the Kramerbooks' bookstore, and I LOVE bookstore dates, this'll be its own pairing. Especially because it's a particularly charming bookstore at that.